17 Jun

Chicago restaurant and bar recommendations with plant-based options

A hand selected, or shall I say sensory selected, list of over 40 Chicago bar and restaurant recommendations for your feasting pleasure

I am a Chicago native and have a profound love for eating and drinking. I have worked in the food industry for over 15 years and have traveled near and far in search of noteworthy gastronomical experiences.  I eat out often and am particular about where I fuel up. When not writing or eating, I work full time as a Business Development Manager at Daiya Foods. I contribute to Eater Chicago, Taste Savant and Cheeky Chicago.

My career in food has taken me to some of the nation’s best restaurants and finest dive bars.  Every restaurant recommendation below has a plant-based option (or three). Hope you enjoy. Please leave a comment below if you know of other Chicago gems I should check out and potentially add to the list.

This list will be updated on a regular basis as I continue to try new spots in my sweet home, Chicago. Bon appétit!

The Chicago List.

Italian/Pizza

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.: cash only pizzeria in an vintage building in the heart of Lincoln Park. Go for crave-worthy individual pizza pot pies, homemade salad dressings, a great flatbread appetizer and grinders

Balena: exceptional, rustic, Italian fare. Go for dinner, order pizza and try a house-made pasta, the Tuscan kale (sans sardines) and glazed carrots. Chef will help you order according to your dietary needs, eating plant-based is a breeze. If you want to splurge, the “Sessantanni” San Marzano Primitivo is one of the tastiest wines you will ever sip

Francesca’s Restaurants- I never get sick of Francesca’s. Solid house-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas, greens and a good wine list at affordable prices. Chicago, you have five urban locations to choose from. The original, Mia Francescas, has a cozy coach house and back garden for private dining. Each location is unique, cozy and buzzing

Piccolo Sogno– an elegant Italian staple serving up fresh pastas, rustic pizzas, salads, grubbin sides and an impressive Italian wine list. Eat on the patio when it’s warm. Evviva!

Anteprima – seasonal Italian small plates set in a fresh, trendy atmosphere. Nibble on the house made bread sticks and sip on a couple glasses of vino while you nosh away. Try the farro, both bean dishes and the orecchiette (vegetized) and all of the vegetable sides; there is plenty to choose from

Blaze Pizza – California based fast casual pizza chain with a Chicago location near the Belmont red line stop. Head in for a pizza made your way in less then 5 minutes. Add a sprinkle of  Daiya mozzarella cheese and an abundance of veggie toppings, including Chi-towns favorite, giardiniera, for spectacular pie. Gluten free crust is available

Zia’s Trattoria– Edison Park based Zia’s Trattoria serves rustic Italian fare suitable for every diet. The atmosphere is cozy. The complimentary house-made giardiniera is to die for.  The service is spectacular and the wine list is extensive and priced right. Be on the lookout for $20.00 bottles of red and white on Saturday night

Apart Pizza– swing by either of Apart Pizza’s two locations for tasty pizzas and salads with options for all diets including gluten free and vegan (with cheese!)

Vegetarian & Vegan 

See BYOB and Asian below for more vegan and vegetarian spots

Handlebar Cafe – laid back, solid grub and drinks with a total hipster vibe. Try the fried pickles with house-made vegan ranch, buffalo “chicken” wrap and head in for their weekend brunch. In the warm months be sure to snag a spot on the patio and sip on something good

The Chicago Diner– vegan and vegetarian twists on classic American comfort food. So good, I’ve inquired about a line of credit. Order the Reuben and chicken wings with a side of ranch. Desserts include milkshakes, cheesecakes and chocolate sundaes. Oh my

Green Zebra– contemporary vegetarian and vegan cuisine in a funky environment. Affordable and seasonal.  Chef’s tasting menu is a solid choice

Mana Food Bar – upscale vegetarian and vegan cuisine with an Asian flare. Order at least 2 items from each section of the menu and save room for the house-made sorbets

Native Foods Cafe-vegan twists on traditional American fast casual fare. Think burgers, fries, salads, bowls and tasty treats. Native foods has six Chicago locations (for now)

Pick Me Up Cafe– hipsteresque, open late, great veg food in the heart of Wrigley. Now you can binge drink and eat vegan all @ 1 am

Upton’s Breakroom – home of the acclaimed seitan factory pumping out cruelty free, high protein sandwiches, salads, sides and vegan ice cream. I’m digging the Italian Sandwich and the Sikil Pak Salad. Don’t skip the Fired Bacon Mac featuring house-made cheeze! Specials known at Upton’s as the “employee meal” rotate daily and the soft-serve ice cream flavors rotate weekly

Victory’s Banner-Pop over to Roscoe Village for a killer veggie brunch or lunch. Want brunch? I suggest any of the pancakes, waffles or french toast. Lunch? the chicken salad, Neatloaf or blackened chicken wrap. Not 100% vegan so order with caution if you don’t do dairy

BYOB (bargain dining at it’s best)

Cafe Orchid -simply scrumptious Turkish cuisine that is great for veg heads and meat lovers alike. Good for parties and patio dining in the summer. The Ezme, Piyaz and Green Salad are a must

Urban Vegan – inexpensive, creative, vegan Thai. Order the green curry, green papaya salad and two sides of their brown rice at one of their two Chicago locations

Caro Mio- cozy, cute Italian restaurant in the Ravenswood neighborhood. House-made pastas are served in dishes the size of a sink, so prepare to share plates or bring leftovers home. A great opportunity to splurge on that bottle of Red you’ve been wanting to try

Quesadilla La Reina del Sur Mexican– a hidden gem of gems. Vegan Mexican food on Western avenue with a full juice bar. Order the super burrito, “Garibaldi” style.  For just $9 you can feed a family of four. No joke

Manee Thai- Asian fusion at affordable prices. Bring in a bottle of sake and nosh on green papaya salad and basil tofu noodle at one of their three Chicago locations

O’Cha Thai– you guessed it, Asian! O’cha offers inexpensive Thai with an upscale twist in a modern and fresh setting in Bucktown

Cozy Noodle & Rice-Thai cuisine in a very intimate or shall I say “cozy” setting. Toys surround diners as they grub on their favorite noodles and rice dishes

Special Occasion

Next – if you haven’t heard of Next by now, you may be living in a cave. Next is an award winning themed eating experience. Expect over 15 courses of food, optional liquor, beer or wine pairings and to be unconscious and slightly broke after eating for four hours straight. Here’s to hoping they do a vegan menu again in 2015. Check out the Aviary and The Office after for craft cocktails, if you can get in…

Grace – Flora and Fauna divide the menu in two. Expect 8-12 courses, exotic herbs, spices and a true work of art on your plate. Optional wine pairing and vegetarian menus are available upon request. Keep your cell at home foodies. No pics allowed while dining at Grace

Chinese, Japanese, Thai

Lao Sze Chaun -incredible, authentic Szechuan fare. BYOB with $10 corkage. Order the Ma Po tofu and a side of eggplant. You can thank me after

Oiistar – small space with great food and inexpensive wine in the heart of Wicker Park. Hit up The Debonair after for dance partying with your strangest friends

Sunda – modern Asian fare set in a chic environment in the heart of Streeterville.  Order a few craft cocktails, miso cauliflower, a few rolls and the bang bang salad. Good for private parties

Fat Rice– all the cool kids are eating at Fat Rice. Go, like now and you will see why. Braised fava beans, malay veggie curry, coconut rice. My goodness

*See BYOB listing above for more Asian places

American + Ethnic Spots

Babylon- incredible Turkish cuisine at low prices. Garlic potatoes, hummus, fattoush, foul medammas. You can enjoy a tasty feast for under $30.00

The Bristol– house made pastas, locally sourced ingredients, laid back vibe and vegan options available. Make a reservation well in advance (I don’t eat meat, but when I did, I had the best pork chop ever here)

Unite Urban Grill – The inspiration behind Unite Urban Grill stems from owner, Joe Krouse and wife, Megan Krouse, uniting their diverse pallets into one concept. Megan prefers lighter, veg-centric offerings, while Joe prefers the carnivorous side of the menu. GM, Jason Lane is a trained sommelier and knows his stuff. Wines by the glass are fantastic. This is the perfect spot for vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers to unite over a bunch of small plates or a big juicy steak

Ras Dashen Ethiopian – eating with your hands has never been so much fun! Sit on the floor with friends and chow down. Go with friends and order at least 7 dishes to try! The food is tastier than it looks and it will be an experience you will remember forever

Mercat A La Planxa – Spanish Tapas set in the historic Blackstone Hotel.  Lot’s of veg options, the quinoa is great, Brussels are tasty and the morel con Bomba arroz is a must. *Hint, Chef will do a vegan Paella if you request it

India House Chicago – Great service with an upscale ambiance in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Highlighting dishes from the Southern portion of the country makes India House a great option for all.  Looking to see what Indian cuisine is all about? Then head out any day of the week for their lunch buffet and sample a wide variety of authentic eats. Locations in the suburbs as well. Great for groups

Found Kitchen & Social House– located just north of the city in Evanston. Incredible locally sourced American fare served in an eclectic artistic setting. Order the roast squash and Brussels sprouts with house-made harissa, cilantro and pepitas. Be sure  check out their moveable feast

*check out my interview with Found’s Chef Nicole Pederson here

Tweet– serving up both traditional and eclectic brunch favorites with an emphasis on health. Gluten free or vegan? Not a problem. Tweet is for everyone. Cash only

Lula Cafe – located in the oh’ so hip Logan Square, Lulu Cafe offers seasonal menus with locally sourced food. Go for the farm dinner on Monday nights and a stellar brunch on the weekend

Vicoery of India– Head up to Devon, aka little India and Pakistan, for some flavor-packed South Indian cuisine. A great spot for sharing a bunch of plates with friends.  A few standouts are the Bhel Puri to start, Chana Pindi, Eggplant Bhartha and the Aloo Gobi Masala with a side of Basmati rice and an Onion Naan with all the veg chutneys

Bars

The Map Room -fine beers from around the globe with free pretzel logs. Over 40 beers on tap with daily specials. Holla

Danny’s  – late night dance partying with funky music and a stellar beer list make Danny’s the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night

Lush Wine & Spirits – great beer & wine by the bottle at retail prices served with decent grub (veg is slightly difficult here).  Good for private parties

Maude’s Liquor Bar – a buzzing vibe in the heart of restaurant row. Head here for a Aperol spritzer and modern French bistro fare

Epic & Epic Sky– a River North hot spot with a great wine by the glass list, free buttery herb popcorn and good looking people. Head upstairs to Epic Sky for a posh roof top scene

Trenchermen– set in an old Turkish bathhouse, Trencherman dishes up seasonal American fare, craft cocktails and has a killer meatless Monday menu. Go. You will not regret it

Soho House Chicago – While the roof deck and other amenities are for members only, civilians can enjoy craft cocktails and affordable bites in a classic environment. A full menu is available in one of their two dining concepts and the waitstaff is helpful and pleasant on the eyes

The Kensington– classy rooftop garden lounge located above boutique club, Parliament. Get dressed up, sip on some bubbly and enjoy the sights

IO Urban Roofscape at The Godfrey hotel– year round indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge set on the 4th floor of The Godfrey Hotel. Relish stunning panoramic views of Chicago while sipping on craft cocktails

Did Ashley leave your favorite Chicago spot out?  Drop a line below.

Check out Ashley’s restaurant round-ups and news on Eater Chicago and Taste Savant for more tasty recommendations

 

 

 

 

 

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