Until recently, “vegan Chicago” wasn’t much of a thing–but these fabulous vegan Chicago restaurants are changing all of that!
I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois. I did not make the transition to a plant-based lifestyle until I was living and working in Washington, DC a couple of years ago. If you have ever been to DC you know that there is a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian restaurants to choose from. Even if the restaurants aren’t vegan, I have never had a hard time finding vegan food on the menu.
Needless to say, Chicago is a little different.
Despite having the reputation as the odd-ball of the Midwest, the Chicago restaurant scene is distinctly Middle-American. Restaurants serve copious amounts of meat and cheese-laden entrees–heck, two of the most famous Chicago dishes are deep-dish pizza and hot dogs! However, in the last few years, a vegan food scene has emerged–restaurants have been cropping up all over the city. My last visit to Chicago was a mouthwatering journey to some of the most imaginative restaurants I have ever seen.
1. The Chicago Diner (Two Locations: Logan Square, Halsted)
Titanic BLT Burger
Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough Milkshake
When I started looking around for vegan restaurants to try, The Chicago Diner was the first that stood out to me. With a slogan like, “Meat free since ’83,” how could I not try it?
The atmosphere of the restaurant is distinctly diner-chic, so I decided to order some more traditional fare. I placed an order for the Titanic BLT Burger and the Spicy Chicken Sandwich and both sandwiches were so similar to their meat counterparts that I was a little stunned. Both sandwiches were full of flavor, delicious sauces, and perfectly complemented with sweet potato and waffle fries. The Chicago Diner is also known for their delicious milkshakes, so I went with Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough–an excellent decision. The creamy, sweet, and filling dessert was the perfect way to end the meal. I highly recommend The Chicago Diner if you are looking for a casual restaurant serving vegan reimaginations of simple American foods.
Fried Avocado Tacos
Vegan Queso Fries
My second restaurant was Handlebar, a hole-in-the-wall spot on the Northside of Chicago. This restaurant is not vegan but serves a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan food dishes. I went with the Fried Avocado Tacos that come with brown rice, slaw, and a homemade vegan ranch dressing. I also tried the queso fries that are made with a rich cashew cheese queso sauce. My sister–and omnivore–swore she would not have known the queso was plant-based by the taste–a huge compliment for any vegan restaurant. Handlebar is the perfect restaurant for a late dinner with delicious drinks, great music, and a festive atmosphere.
3. Native Foods Cafe (Three Locations: Loop, Wicker Park, and Hyde Park)
Watermelon Poke Bowl
If you are a vegan in Chicago and have not tried Native Foods Cafe, you need to stop reading right now and go find your local chain. Native Foods Cafe originated on the West Coast but in 2011 they decided to build three locations all over the Chicago-land area. I was utterly blown away by the delicious food creativity that I saw at this restaurant. Hands down, my favorite dish was the Watermelon Poke Bowl, with marinated watermelon chunks and vegetables over a bed of sushi rice. I was equally amazed by the flavorful paella and satisfying loaded nachos. I ended the meal with a perfect chocolate chip blondie. Native Foods Cafe is definitely leading the way with creative, innovative, and well-executed vegan foods that vegans and omnivores can enjoy together.
What is your favorite vegan restaurant in Chicago?
Also by Olivia: Marsala Braised Mushrooms
Related: Vegan Manhattan: How To Stay & Survive In Sustainable Style In The OG Chic City
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Photos: Pixabay, Olivia Parr