Gone are the days when eating as a vegetarian or vegan was incredibly difficult. These days, Chicago is rife with vegan and vegetarian restaurants dedicated to the craft, built not just for vegetarians and vegans but also the most adventurous omnivores.
The Little Beet Table
Restaurant, Vegetarian, Vegan, American, $$$
The Little Beet Table | Courtesy of The Little Beet Table
Stationed in the Gold Coast, The Little Beet Table is an entirely gluten-free establishment, with a mostly vegetable-friendly menu. Choose from sunflower hummus sprinkled with za’atar and ready to be scooped up with vegetable crudité, or opt for cauliflower and mushroom tacos, stuffed with black beans and avocado. The airy, sun-drenched space offers a not-to-be-missed happy hour, where everything from snacks to cocktails and wine is $7.
Everything from the spicy seitan to the hummus and vegan cheese is made in-house at Kitchen 17. Find the beloved seitan wrapped in fluffy Greek flatbread in the gyro or griddled with cheese and green peppers in the philly cheesesteak. The rest of the menu reads as vegetized versions of your favorite bar food, such as buffalo cauliflower wings, chili cheese fries, veggie burgers drenched in barbecue sauce and personal pan pizzas strewn with crumbles of soy sausage and vegan mozzarella.
Veg lovers flock to this Wicker Park hipster haven for comfort food with a vegetarian twist. Most guests come for the fried avocado tacos, jammed with cabbage slaw, tomatoes, refried beans and house-made ranch, but there’s a bevy of other vegetarian dishes, too, such as a pepita scramble flanked by sweet potatoes, veggie chili mac and cheese, and biscuits and gravy slathered in seitan sausage gravy. A lot of the menu can be prepared vegan; just ask. In the warmer months, crowds spill out into the outdoor garden, nestled under verdant trees and umbrellas.
The slogan at this diner – “Meat Free Since ’83” – certainly rings true. Everything on the large menu is vegetarian and vegan or can be made vegan. Here, you can sink your teeth into Thai chili wings (seitan “wingz” brushed with chili-lime marinade) and spoon into quinoa chili paired with jalapeño corn fritters. In true diner style, there are milkshakes – just without the milk – blended with peanut butter and cookie dough.
It’s all about vegan Thai food at Urban Vegan. Highlights include steamed curry dumplings, soy chicken satay, and veggie puffs swollen with peas and sweet potatoes. All entrées come with your choice of protein – soy chicken, soy pepper steak, seitan, soy fish, tofu, soy shrimp – and flat and round noodles are stir-fried with bean sprouts, mushrooms and other seasonal vegetables.
This postage-stamp-size café is 100 percent vegan. Using organic products, the kitchen transforms simple ingredients into wheat wraps rolled with sweet potatoes and black beans and summer rolls jammed with ginger pesto, avocado, spinach, seaweed and roasted peanuts. The nachos are a local favorite, studded with bits of vegetables and red pepper hummus, or if you’re thirsty, you can walk away with a smoothie, blended with the likes of almond butter, cinnamon, mango and coconut milk.
Bad Hunter’s cheeky name derives from its vegetable-forward personality, where the kitchen cooks up a host of plant-based dishes, such as seared apples strewn with stracchino cheese, plump butter dumplings filled with squash and candied hazelnuts, and crispy brussels sprouts paired with a cumin lentil puree. Vegetables even make it into the dessert section, where you can expect things like sweet potato and peanut mousse and parsnip cake topped with a poached pear.
Now with three locations, Beatrix continues to serve the Chicago community with vegetable-centric fare. Whether you come for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, there’s always something for non-meat eaters. For brunch, plates of quinoa cakes crowned with poached eggs fly out of the kitchen, and at dinner, you’ll want to snack on soft local burrata prepped with oven-dried tomatoes and a vegan eggplant steak showered with breadcrumbs tinged with garlic. On your way out, stop by the coffee and pastry bar, where you can pick up sweets like honey-butter cinnamon rolls, candied orange scones and butterscotch oatmeal cookies.
Clever Rabbit isn’t an entirely vegetarian restaurant – there are a smattering of meat and fish dishes – but the kitchen focuses on showcasing vegetables away from simply pairing them with a protein. Expect innovative plates such as carrot dumplings brightened with ginger, a crudité platter flush with raw and pickled vegetables, goat cheese and smoked mushroom mousse, and ribbons of pasta swirled with marinated tomatoes and seaweed. The place is rather casual, with a cozy bar and an outdoor patio in the back.
Everything is raw at Chicago Raw, so expect a mix of uncooked, plant-based products. The menu is large, divided into many sections: smoothies, elixirs, sandwiches, salads, spreads and dehydrated sweets. Try the fresh spinach lasagna, swiped with cashew cheese, or snag the sunflower seed cheese, ready to be mopped up with onion-flecked flatbread. For Chicago Raw lovers, the café offers a weekly takeaway program – where you can place an order for five breakfast items, one sandwich, four entrées, two salads, one spread, one savory and two desserts – so you’ll have food for the entire week.
At Demera, no one will scold you for eating with your hands. That’s because Ethiopian cuisine is typically eaten by using your hands to scoop up vegetables and lentils with a spongy and porous flatbread called injera. Get a sampling of the bright, colorful dishes, which include split red lentils, slow-cooked collard greens, split yellow peas and sautéed garden beets.
True Food Kitchen caters to a wealth of people, including carnivores, vegetarians and those who are dairy- or gluten-free. The expansive sit-down restaurant serves up elevated café fare such as a cauliflower polenta bowl rife with asparagus and snap peas; an inside-out quinoa burger swiped with hummus and tzatziki; and a spaghetti squash casserole layered with tomatoes, zucchini and mozzarella. Each dish is marked with a ‘v,’ ‘gf,’ or ‘veg,’ so you’ll know exactly what you can order.