Generally speaking, you enjoy eating healthy things. Theoretically you like vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and legumes. That being said, just because you want a salad for dinner doesn’t mean you won’t feel like following it up with a skillet cookie for dessert. Or maybe having a couple of french fries on the side. Or not even getting the salad after all, and going straight for a burger instead. When you want to have healthy options (but reserve the right to change your mind), here are 14 places that work.
Someone told us a long time ago that vegetables were good for us, and it turns out they were telling the truth. Well, you’ll find plenty of them at The Warbler in Lincoln Square - in dishes like ponzu-glazed cauliflower, grain bowls, and a variety of salads. But this place also has a fantastic cheeseburger, and a skillet cookie that reminds us why skillet cookies exist in the first place. It gets pretty crowded in here, but there’s a large bar area where you can sit eat, too, whether you’re solo or with a group.
Lula is a casual farm-to-table restaurant in Logan Square that’s been around since 1999, before farm-to-table was really a thing. The menu always has a strong selection of new and different vegetable options, and the best strategy is to order a bunch of those - like the chickpea tagine, or squash with collard greens. But the pastries are also excellent, so it’s a good idea to order at least one of those.
Based on what we’ve seen on The CW, California seems like a pretty healthy place. And since Ema does a Californian version of Mediterranean small plates, it’s a perfect dinner option. The menu has options like hummus with crudites, grilled octopus, and kebabs that are are reasonably portioned. But if you’d prefer to focus most of your attention on halloumi and the housemade pita, you can do that, too. This spot is great for groups, so the fact that it caters to a variety of tastes is helpful.
Aba is the bigger, trendier sister restaurant to Ema, and it’s where to go if you want a sceney dinner in the West Loop. The menu is largely the same as Ema’s - except with more meat and seafood options. More importantly, it’s also possible (and advised) to order the bone marrow, just in case all the hummus and vegetables starts to get on your nerves.
Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
The menu at Blue Door in the Gold Coast focuses on light, seasonal dishes - for instance, roasted salmon, or a quinoa and tomato salad. But you can still get fried chicken and mac and cheese here, too. We’ll let you decide. Either way, you should sit on their patio.
Little Bad Wolf
Your friends mostly want to go to Little Bad Wolf because of the excellent cheeseburger. But surprisingly, this bar in Andersonville also has fantastic salads that are more than substantial enough to be a full meal. For example, a delicious caesar, and a grilled romaine salad that has lots of fresh vegetables. If you decide you do want a burger after all, just convince everyone to share the sliders (they come three to an order).
Blue Door Farm Stand
This Lincoln Park spot has a Midwestern farmhouse theme, and fittingly, the interior is decorated with plants and little watering cans. The menu has nutritious-sounding things like roasted chicken, salmon, and a very good brussels sprout and kale salad. Basically everything will remind you that Chicago is pretty close to actual farms. But there are also fried cheese curds, because these are Midwestern farms we’re talking about.
Sushi-san is a very good place to get some raw fish in River North. It’s a fun and upbeat spot that plays loud rap music, is good for groups, and has a menu with a mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes, including excellent nigiri and sashimi. But we also like the tempura and the sizzling rice bowls (like the very rich king crab, or the beef with egg). The important thing is that somebody orders the Japanese pancakes for dessert.
Summer House Santa Monica
California’s healthy reign of terror continues, this time in Lincoln Park. The name and the light-filled atrium alone will make you feel like Summer House is healthy. And much of the food here is - with dishes like roasted chicken, kale salad, and wood-grilled mahi mahi. But but they also have pastas and a pastry case full of cookies and brown butter rice krispy treats.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
If you’re playing a word association game and someone says “Avec,” there’s a very good chance the response will be “bacon wrapped dates.” As it should be - they’re fantastic, and what this restaurant is known for. But there are other delicious things here, too, such as roasted fish or chicken, farro salads, and lots of vegetable entrees. Try one of those, but don’t pass up the opportunity to have the dates as well - it’s required by law in Chicago, so play it safe and at least get a half-order.
Sunda is a sceney Asian fusion spot in River North, and it’s great to hit before going out downtown. The menu has lots of sushi, plus plenty of vegan options and light dishes like a Thai lemongrass salad. But there are also things like oxtail potstickers and lobster sushi rolls topped with wagyu and a foie gras aioli. It doesn’t really matter what you get - it’s all delicious.