Chicago may be an historically meat and potatoes town, but there's good news for vegans, vegetarians and meatless dabblers—even non-vegetarian restaurants are putting tons of thought into their plant-based offerings lately, which means it's easy to find a great restaurant for birthday dinners and group meals that include veggie lovers. For those who think a meatless meal is hard to find at restaurants known best for their meat, fish and fowl, these steakhouses, seafood restaurants, Italian restaurants let mostly Midwestern veggies (and fruit) shine.
Though Acanto’s four seasonal pastas are listed as primi dishes, each could make for a satisfying entrée—with the vegetarian gnocchetti proving deceptively filling. A sunny-side duck egg covered in shaved summer truffles sits atop ribbed pasta shells and ripe cherry tomato slicked with sweet basil pesto and aged pecorino. Hiding under all that is a smear of rich potato puree in this decadent ode to early fall. Don’t fret if you miss the fall version; the winter gnocchetti will trade summer truffles for (chef Chris Gawronski’s preferred) winter truffles and keep the fried duck egg, served over pasta and sweet braised quince in earthy, roasted chestnut pesto.
This occasion spot in Lincoln Park is oft-lauded for its refined, modern takes on fish, meat and game, though it also sticks pretty strictly to the Midwest’s fleeting seasons. Its rotating vegetable entrée stars a roasted vegetable—most recently singed broccoli trees dressed with mild, milky goat gouda; toasty pine nuts; intensely sweet jewels of roasted grapes; tangy pickled mustard seeds and a smear of broccoli puree. As colder weather descends, broccoli will give way to wintry cauliflower, while in warmer months, eggplant three ways (roasted, pickled and pureed) will take center stage with prickly mustard greens and roasted fennel jus. Many starters are veggie-centric too, like roasted beets with crème fraîche, hazelnut and honeycrisp.
Listed somewhere between the house charcuterie, whole fish and a formidable list of steaks on the meat-heavy menu at Old Irving’s Community Tavern is a no-less-formidable rotating vegetarian option. In summer and fall, a cocotte of roasted vegetables, sweet basil and house-pickled mushrooms are tossed with al dente beluga lentils and salty whipped feta, delivered under a teetering crispy-edged fried egg. In chillier months, pillowy Parisian gnocchi are tossed with roasted seasonal veggies and house-pickled mushrooms enriched with nutty brown butter and soft, tangy goat cheese.
This wood-accented spot offers a refined yet comfy homage to the Netherlands’ melding of Dutch and Indonesian food, meaning shellfish and pork abound. The nasi goreng is listed as a first course, but this generous bowl of fiery vegetable fried rice makes a fine meal. On a recent night, the toothsome, curry- and sambal oelek-laced rice was chock full of corn, scallions and haricot verts. Customize it further with a plate of Indonesian accoutrements: ground peanuts and toasted coconut, two sambals (a sweet-tart tomato and a nuttier candlenut) and little slabs of lightly pickled cucumber to cool your mouth between bites. The only non-vegetarian garnish, shrimp krupuks—Indonesian crackers—can be easily swapped out for the light-as-air cassava version.
Formento's may nail meaty classics like veal piccata and meatballs, but chef Tony Quartaro puts as much thought into his menu's meatless dishes, from fettucini alfredo to eggplant Parmesan. Oval eggplant slabs are grilled to coax out a smoky, dare-we-say meaty quality, then dredged in bread crumbs, matzo, garlic, Parmesan and oregano and fried to order. They’re stacked like an oval deck of cards between layers of sweet house marinara, basil, house-pulled mozzarella and (more) Parm, and served with an appropriately Italian-American spaghetti marinara side. (Note to unapologetic sauce drinkers: They’ll bring more for dipping.)
It’s not hard to imagine that a restaurant sourcing produce from its own rooftop garden would have an impressive list of veg-heavy dishes, but you won’t see a vegetarian or vegan entrée on Homestead’s oft-changing menu. Don’t worry; just ask. “We like a challenge,” says executive chef Chris Davies. On a recent night, the kitchen whipped up slow-roasted romanesco cauliflower and broccoli soaked in saba with charred red cabbage in Concord grape agrodolce served over black walnut quinoa and lemony romesco sauce. This followed late-summer Parisian gnocchi with smoked goat cheese sweet corn, tangy preserved cherries and a few potent watermint leaves in Calabrian chili butter. Improvisation approved.
It’s hard to find a dish that isn’t shellfish-centric or flecked with chewy chorizo at this Spanish seaside-inspired Lakeview spot. But the vegetarian fideous, which channels the pervasive Spanish paella in pasta form, has been a staple of the menu since it opened last year. In this satisfying, soul-warming hug of a dish, vermicelli is oven-toasted till nutty, then simmered in saffron-scented veg stock enriched with cream and laced with a piperade of bell pepper, tomato and the mild heat of poblanos. Round out your meal with a thoughftul rotating "from the soil" dish, like seared corn salad or carrots with lemon butter.