People on the coasts tend to think of Chicago as a meat and potatoes town. And sure, we have plenty of great steakhouses and nobody will be mad if you suggest Pequod’s for dinner, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. Most of us do our best to limit our Italian beef intake to three servings per week, and vegetarian options aren’t exactly in short supply - we’ve had a vegan diner in this city longer than we’ve had a Super Bowl ring.
When it opened a few years ago, Bad Hunter carved out its own space on Restaurant Row as a destination for vegans and vegetarians. It was special not only because its menu was almost entirely plant-based, but because it was making food you couldn’t easily find elsewhere in the city. A fire kept this place closed for nearly a year, but now Bad Hunter is open again and feels refreshed - there are more meat dishes on the menu than before, but still includes plenty of the exciting vegetable-focused dishes that made it a destination in the first place.
The menu is split into small, medium, and large plates with more must-order dishes than you can fit on your table. Tender and buttery with a little kick, the butter dumplings are the perfect bite to start with. The crispy togarashi carrots should come next - they’re what poor, deluded sweet potato fries see when they look in the mirror, dressed up with sorrel and coconut flakes that help differentiate these from the one-note fried appetizers you’ll find at other spots.
The larger plates are where they’ve revamped the menu most. While there are still plenty of excellent vegetarian options, they’ve added a few dishes with meat that we really like too. The mezze maniche pasta takes what would already be a unique element of the dish - a spicy arrabiata sauce made with whole black cherries - and adds chewy bits of pancetta. The juicy adobo roasted half chicken is a great example of Bad Hunter’s versatility, too. But if you’re looking for a meal you can’t find just anywhere, you should go with the giant charred cauliflower head with a massive serrated knife stuck in it - maybe as a warning to any other cauliflower passing by on the street - served with a homemade sambal.
The restaurant is bright and busy, with plants and stone tile tables that make it feel like an urban greenhouse. And just like at most greenhouses, the staff here is attentive and knowledgeable, and even if you have multiple food allergies or aversions, you’re probably not going to throw them for a loop. The biggest downside here is that for what you’re paying, you’ll wish some of the portions were larger. While you’re encouraged to share most things, there’s generally not much to go around if you’re in a group of more than two people. The delicious corn on the cob, for example, is served with salmon rillette and crushed pistachios that are much more exciting than butter and salt, but not so much more exciting that you want to pay $16 for three small half cobs of it.
Price point aside, Bad Hunter isn’t just one of the best places to eat vegetarian food in the city - it’s worth coming here for delicious, interesting food, period. Your friend visiting from LA might even change their opinion of Chicago after seeing what Bad Hunter can do - just don’t tell them what everyone’s lining up for next door at Au Cheval.
It’s hard to go wrong when you’re starting with Publican Quality Bread, but what makes this worth ordering is the sunflower crema - a dip that falls somewhere between hummus and sour cream in taste and consistency.
These are like a battered fish fry with a lemon squeezed on top, minus the seafood. They’re light and airy, with a nice crunch.
Cucumbers two ways (charred spears and fresh slices) served with a foamy buttermilk and some barely-there jalepeño jam, neither of which do much to add any real flavor. These are pretty disappointing.
If you’re like us, you’re going to immediately gravitate toward anything called “butter dumplings” and would probably still be happy if you ended up with overcooked pierogies. Luckily, these aren’t that - they’re tender and a little crispy, and the rich corn cream offsets the spice of the chile peanuts sprinkled on top.
This is topped with nutty parmesan and crushed pistachios, and the smoked salmon rillette is great for spreading on the corn like butter. The downside is that there are only three small half cobs - hardly enough for two people to feel like they’ve gotten a good amount.
These have some good coconut flavor and come with a sweet takoyaki dipping sauce - imagine if sweet potato fries lived up to their promise, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what these are like.
This is a great arrabiata pasta dish with a small tweak: full black cherries. They play off of the spicy sauce extremely well, and the entire plate is generously coated in parmesan, because that’s the best way to serve any pasta.
Prepared with ginger, peanuts, and housemade sambal, this is spicy and just as satisfying to eat as it is to carve up.
Roasted chicken might not be the most exciting choice, but this is definitely worth ordering. The adobo flavors work really well with the labneh and farro.
The meat is well prepared, but this is one of the few dishes on the menu where the vegetables involved don’t come together in an interesting way. There’s a bean mixture and some raw radishes that don’t add much, but you could order this on the strength of the meat alone.