Chicago isn't exactly famous for its veg-forward cuisine--after all, the city's most popular culinary traditions are hotdogs, sausage-laden pizzas, and Eastern European meat-and-potatoes type meals. Fortunately for vegans, Chicago's gastronomic landscape has shifted in the last decade or so. Now there are plenty of vegan-friendly spots (and many more that cater to vegetarians). For visitors--or locals--in search of the best vegan restaurants in Chicago, we hope this list will inspire your dining decisions. Check out our top six choices, in no particular order:
1. Chicago Diner (Lakeview & Logan Square)
This vegan and vegetarian-friendly favorite has actually been a mainstay on the healthy dining scene since the early eighties. One of the original pioneers of meat-free dining, they offer diner-style comfort food with vegan proteins. Think seitan sandwiches, or tofu egg scrambles. They've even added a newer location in the up-and-coming Logan Square, which is the perfect home for this kind of health-conscious fare.
2. Handlebar (Wicker Park)
While technically offering non-vegan or vegetarian options, this trendy restaurant boasts a delicious menu filled with vegan dressings, cheese, and proteins. You can find everything from salads with vegan ranch to seitan chicken sandwiches, alongside loads of avocado (seriously, you can add avocado to almost anything on their menu) and other veggies. They also have a beer garden that gets very crowded in the warmer months.
3. Native Foods Café (Hyde Park)
This is a chain restaurant that loses none of its charm or taste for being spread across California and other western states before coming to Chicago. Here you'll find plenty of veg-friendly comfort food, so don't expect a light, salad-based menu. They do, however, use organic and natural ingredients in all of their menu items including exclusively plant-based proteins. Some favorite items include the Asian-inspired orange cauliflower and the BBQ brisket made with seitan.
4. True Food Kitchen (River North)
A casual and relaxed restaurant in an otherwise hectic River North neighborhood is a good vegan oasis. Billing themselves as "eco-chic" might grate a bit, but their menu is filled with health-conscious options alongside comfort food delights. This is also a national chain, but their menu is worth any guilty feelings you might feel about upholding corporate dominance. Try one of their bowls, salads, and pizzas, some of which come in non-vegan options for your meat-and-dairy-eating friends.
5. Chicago Raw (River North & French Market)
Back to local-only options--Chicago Raw, as you might imagine from the name, features an entirely raw menu. It's a great option for the health-conscious, even those who don't adopt a vegan diet most of the time. One of the strengths of their menu is the selection of smoothies, juices, and drinks--all raw, of course--including kefir, ginger tonics, and green juice. Their food is also quite impressive, with everything from "sushi" rolls with raw nori to a burrito made with collards.
6. Ka'lish (Uptown)
Something quite different from the high-end chic of Chicago Raw, Ka'lish is casual, all-day breakfast and lunch place with an all-vegan menu. This "plant-based diner" focuses on comfort food made with seitan, jackfruit, legumes, and more. Some highlights of their menu include the classic "Bad Adz Burger," a non-dairy grilled cheese, and some sumptuous "Mayan Fish'less Tacos." There's even a whole section of the menu devoted to chicken substitutes that will convince even the most dedicated meat-eater than chicken wings are inferior.
Chicago Dining for Vegans
There are several other restaurants in the city that offer partial vegan menus, including two popular projects from Iron Chef and Top Chef Stephanie Izard--Girl & the Goat and Duck Duck Goat. Honorable mention also goes to Sunda (chic Japanese cuisine in River North), Majani (soul food on the South Shore), and Loving Heart Vegan Café (a counter-serve option mere blocks from Ka'lish). As you can see, there's no shortage of healthy, vegan options in a city that loudly declares its allegiance to hotdogs and pizza. So whether you're a visitor to the Windy City looking to maintain a healthy diet on your travels, or a local looking for new brunch spots, we hope this list has been of help.