In some cities, the restaurant outlook for vegetarians is bleak. But a ton of interesting vegetarian (or mostly-vegetarian) spots have opened in Chicago recently, joining reliable favorites we’ve known about for years. This is our guide to the best places, new and old, for vegetarians and vegans - as well as the meat-eating friends they know, love, and still want to eat out with.
Consider it a vegetarian hit list, and enjoy.
Check out the rest of our Guide To Being A Little Healthier.
At Clever Rabbit, the kitchen seems to be having a lot of fun with the general vegetable theme. Our favorite example of this is the huge crudité platter that’s basically like a garden on your table. Most of the menu items are vegetarian or vegan, with dishes like carrot dumplings and braised mushroom fettucine - but there are also some meat and fish dishes for your non-vegetarian friends. There’s a large outdoor patio, too, and the casual space makes this in general a very likable spot to hang out.
Left Coast is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and everything on the menu sounds like something you plan on eating when you finally make it to that yoga retreat in California. You’ll find stuff like tofu wraps, grain bowls, and avocado toast with orange slices, ricotta, and sunflower seeds. They have two locations (one’s in River North), but we prefer the Lakeview space for its beach house feel and outdoor patio.
True Food Kitchen is a sit-down spot in River North that’s great for a healthy lunch or dinner during the week, but also nice enough to be a weekend evening option. Come for sweet potato grain bowls, spaghetti squash casserole, and quinoa burgers. Many of the dishes here are gluten free as well as dairy free, and there’s an interesting cocktail menu, not to mention some sort-of-healthy desserts. Take your SoulCycling boss here while she’s in town.
Kitchen 17′s menu is a good reminder that not all vegetarian food is supposed to be healthy. This place doesn’t even have a salad - it serves vegan bar food, like pizza, nachos, and burgers. All the vegan cheese and seitan is made in-house, and it doesn’t have that overprocessed taste some meat and cheese substitutes do. Kitchen 17 is BYOB, but the space feels like a bar (dark, with lots of wood and dim lighting). Just don’t come looking for something light and fresh, and you’ll enjoy it.
If you’re trying to convince meat-eaters to eat at a vegetarian restaurant, usually you have to say, “Just try it, it’s not that bad.” Bad Hunter isn’t like that. It’s an excellent, all-purpose West Loop restaurant that just happens to be mostly vegetarian. Even Ron Swanson would appreciate this type of vegetable-focused menu with things like tempura fried lemons, maitake mushrooms, and a veggie burger we’re still not totally convinced isn’t partially made of meat.
Handlebar is a mostly vegetarian restaurant that anyone can appreciate. Anyone who likes fried avocado tacos, that is. The friendly neighborhood atmosphere here also makes Handlebar a great casual place to hang. Make sure to check out their backyard garden, which will entice you to order a cocktail or two. A healthy cocktail, obviously.
“Meat Free Since ’83.” That’s the motto at the Chicago Diner, which first opened up in Lakeview and now has a second location in Logan Square. Both are worth visiting, and whether you’re looking for something vegetarian or vegan, you’ll find plenty of options. There’s a massive diner-style menu that even has some good fake-meat options. (We’re not saying go on a seitan-only diet, but the seitan gyro here is pretty good, and this is coming from people who like real gyros.) Make sure you get a vegan milkshake, too - they’re really good.
Cumin is an excellent restaurant in Wicker Park serving Nepalese and Indian food. The menu is so big that it’s impossible not to find something you like, and there’s an extensive vegetarian section with options like vegetable pakora (chickpea flour fritters), samosas, and too many entrees to list. White tablecloths and a full bar make it a good choice for date night, or a nice weekend dinner with friends.
Mana Food Bar is the kind of hip vegetarian and vegan restaurant that we think would fit in nicely on the streets of LA. You have the option to order each dish as a small or large plate, which means you can get a few things and figure out what you like. Try some baked goat cheese with spicy tomato sauce, tofu bulgogi, or a Mana slider mushroom burger with brown rice and spicy mayo. Just like LA, but with fewer small dogs sitting in large purses.
Come to Urban Vegan in Lakeview for some very good Thai vegan food. You’ll find dishes like tofu satay, Thai basil with soy chicken, and a number of excellent curries. It’s a small sit-down spot that gets crowded fast, so consider getting takeout.
Little Beet is at the bottom of a high-end apartment building in the Gold Coast, and has a farm-to-table thing going on. The food here is mostly healthy, with vegetarian dishes like cauliflower steak and a chickpea and beet veggie burger. It’s light and bright, and kind of feels like a gallery space with exposed painted brick and large pieces of artwork on the wall. Come here for lunch, or a low-key weeknight dinner.
Five dollars can’t get you much these days, besides street parking in Lincoln Park for 30 minutes - and an awesome vegetarian Pakistani-Indian meal at Ghareeb Nawaz. This Devon Street favorite is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and everything on the menu is good, fast, and cheap. Try the channa masala (chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and spices).
All raw everything. That’s what’s happening at Chicago Raw - fully uncooked, 100% plants. That also means 100% good for you, unlike half-assed sports drinks that claim to be good for you but are really just sugar. (We may have learned that the hard way as kids.) Try something creative, like a garden burger with “the ultimate ratio of seeds and vegetables without an ounce of oil or nuts,” or just eat a basic kale salad with lemon dressing and avocado like we often do.
High fives. Finger painting. Putting Bugles on your fingers to pretend you have witch hands. These are three pretty awesome things things you can do with your hands. You know what else is fun to do with your hands? Eat. And at Demera, an Ethiopian restaurant in Uptown, that’s what you’ll be doing. Use the injera, a traditional Ethiopian bread, to scoop things up. The menu is heavy on vegetarian options, and if you’re new to Ethiopian food, there’s a nice little glossary that will walk you through it all.