Chicago’s Best Veggie Eats

Best Vegetarian Food Chicago

Believe it or not, Chicago has a plethora of vegetarian, vegan and veggie-friendly restaurants. If you’re a Chicagoan, or a frequent visitor you’ll find some classics on this list, but you might find a few places you didn’t know about. I’m writing this with the visitor in mind, though, so I might skip a few places that have a few (lame) veg options but aren’t really worth wasting your precious time at. I’m separating this list into:

  • Cheap Eats – All veggie and/or vegan. Entrees average <$10, ideal for travelers on a budget or people staying a few days who don’t want to blow the bank on food.
  • Don’t Miss – All veggie and/or vegan. These joints tend to be $10+ for the average entree but are well-worth it. I even got married in one of them!
  • Fantastic Options – Omnivore businesses with better-than-average options for the vegetarian and/or vegan. You don’t win friends with salad, and you won’t get stuck eating salad at any of these places.

If you’re a local and you think I missed something great, feel free to say so in the comments. Let’s get started!

Cheap Eats

Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur – Super authentic vegan and vegetarian Mexican food for cheap. Seriously. If you’re a fake meat fan, this is your joint – fake goat, sheep, even pork skin – get it with your choice or dairy or vegan cheese in a quesadilla, huarache, taco or torta. Don’t worry, they also have soy-based chicken, beef, and other “normal” fake meats too. Not a fake meat fan? Try the mushroom, corn truffle or cactus. I usually go for the Veggie Cubana, which is soy-based mexican sausage with soy bacon and soy-based chicken for $5.75! They also do a ton of fresh juices and just started offering vegan desserts to.  View the menu.

 

“Chicken” Run Ranch Burger Photo by Jessica R.

Native Foods – This is a chain, so check here to see if there’s one near you. We have three locations in Chicago, including one right next to the tattoo shop where my ex-boyfriend works, otherwise known as “the one I don’t go to.” This place is 100% vegan, and the menu is mostly American-style sandwiches and salads, with a healthy vegan twist. They make their own soy meats and cashew-based cheese and the vegan ranch on the Chicken Run Ranch Burger is nothing short of amazing. View the menu.

Vegetarian Express – With it’s somewhat odd mix of Mexican and “other” dishes (panini, Thai-inspired smoothies, etc) Veg Express isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it’s dirt ass cheap and if you’re in Lakeview and killing time before you head to Chicago Diner or another less-cheap place, it’s a good choice. View the menu.

Urban Vegan – It’s pretty easy to veganize Thai food (just ask for no egg, no fish sauce, etc.) But why bother when there’s Urban Vegan? Most entrees squeeze in just under $10, and although there are combos available, I recommend sharing an app and getting your own entree. The rice and salad included in the combos aren’t really worth the extra few bucks you could spend on an app or dessert instead. View the menu.

Ground Control – Whereas most Chicago vegan/veggie joints have becoming institutions, Ground Control reminds me more of the quirky vegan restaurants in the Bay Area. The menu changes up pretty often, and they keep confusing hours – two irregularities that hungry Chicagoans normally don’t stand for – but we’re so happy to have an alternative to the long lines at both Chicago Diner locations we’re totally cool with it.

Kitchen 17 – If you don’t feel like waiting for a table at Chicago Diner’s Lakeview location, or you’re just craving a delicious vegan dessert, this is the place. I recommend any of the seitan-based sandwiches. I will say that I’ve purchased two sour slices of cheesecake here (it’s coconut-based) so if it smells weird, ask for something different.

Santullos Eatery – Vegan pizza slices, sandwiches featuring vegan mozzarella, sides of vegan potato and pasta salads… it’s a late-night snack lover’s paradise. View the menu.

Don’t Miss

Chicago Diner – This is an absolute classic. Since 1983 The Diner has been serving up meat-free comfort foods in the heart of Boystown. I am obsessed with the Country Fried Steak, whereas my husband always goes for the Radical Reuben. You get a ton of food for your money, but don’t stuff yourself with dinner because you’re going to want to get a vegan shake at the end of the meal. Take my advice, and get the Cookie Dough Peanut Butter. Oh, and they also have beer, booze and a gluten-free menu. Oh, and did I mention that I got married there? Because I did. View the menu. (Chicago Diner now has two locations – check the site to find them both.)

 

Chicken-style Legs from Karyn’s

Karyn’s on Green – The website refers to Karyn’s businesses as a “vegan mini empire” and I’m inclined to agree. She also has Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s Cooked, Karyn’s Fresh Corner, and a flipping spa! I’ve eaten my way around the “empire” and On Green is my favorite. The menu is contemporary American broken down into small and large plates. My husband and I always order a lot and share, but the Chicken Legs are my hands-down favorite. It’s a beautiful restaurant, so it’s perfect for date night – but they’ve never turned their noses up at Tony and me when we roll in wearing hardcore shirts and gym shoes. View the menu.

MANA Food Bar – I can’t think of a better endorsement for this place than to say I brought CM Punk there recently and he went back for lunch the very next day. It’s a warm and cozy little place with a selection of small plates that are perfect for sharing. I always get the Salad Sampler, and the Pickled always gets one of those three spots. Never before in my life have I said the words, “Oh my god this salad is so fucking good!” Another go-to is the Mana Slider. I’m not even going to explain it, you just need to shut up and eat like, three of them. Make sure you tell the server if you’re vegan as many items do contain dairy. View the menu.

Blind Faith Cafe – This was one of the first vegan/veggie restaurants I ever went to back in the Krishna-core days. After a Shelter show you could pretty much count on Soul Veg (not on my list because I’m not a big fan) and Chicago Diner would be packed so those in-the-know would pile into cars and head out of the city to nearby Evanston for some Blind Faith yums. It was pricer than I could really afford back then, but nowadays it’s a good date spot and a nice place to bring my mom, who is also a veg head. The menu changes pretty often, but I always go for something with their delicious housemade seitan and dear god almighty, save room for dessert. Blind Faith is home to my favorite vegan bakery on planet Earth. If you eat in the sit-down restaurant, skip the plated dessert menu and order something from the bakery instead – like the Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake – dang. View the menu.

Fantastic Options

I just want to say, this is my favorite section. As much as I love all of Chicago’s exclusively vegetarian restaurants, I love finding hidden treasure even more. These are places that you can go with your omnivore friends (and remind them that they are not carnivores, that really annoys me,) or just go for the veggie stuff because it’s that awesome.

 

Chicago hotdog

Artwork by Betty Turbo

Budacki’s Drive In – I wish I had a video of the day my husband and I discovered this place that I could share with you. We were driving by when Tony thought he saw “veggie dogs” painted on one of the windows of this classic Chicago hot dog stand. He whipped the car around in a sweet Chicago-style U-turn and pulled into the parking lot. There it was, in bold painted letters, “We have veggie dogs.” When we made our way back for lunch the next day we were greeted with multiple $5 “Tree Hugger’s Specials.” Your choice of veggie dog with all the Chicago fixins, veggie burger or grilled cheese with fries and a pop for $5. Sure, you could wait in line all day long for a Morning Star veggie dog from Hot Doug’s, but why would you when you can sit at a picnic table, eating an oniony veggie dog and people watching on Damen Ave?

Estrella Negra – While it isn’t necessarily tough to find veggie options at most Mexican restaurants, it is hard to find ones that make you, if you’ll excuse the expression, totally cream your jeans. Estrella Negra is a healthy, veg-friendly approach to Mexican food. There’s no shortage of tacos and tamales, but it’s light on the dairy, grease and salt, so the ingredients really shine through. The cool Día de Muertos interior made me a happy girl, and the punk rock and heavy metal sound track made Tony a happy dude. Best of all, though, was the Taffy Apple Empanadas with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream I had for dessert. View the menu.

vegetarian sandwich

Artwork by Caged Tomato

Nhu Lan Bakery – Bánh mì oh my! (Sorry, I had to.) Bánh mì is the Vietnamese term for bread, and in the case of Nhu Lan Bakery, it’s a crusty French loaf sliced, and stuffed with crunchy veggies and amazing, pressed tofu. I’m obsessed with the lemongrass tofu, although the ginger tofu is also amazing. I did try the veggie pate and ham and wasn’t a fan, but god damn it, I’m just glad it exists! Did I mention that these gigantor sammies are a mere $3.50 each? Yeah, because that’s ridiculous.

Whole Foods City – OK, that’s our made up name for Whole Foods Lincoln Park, but it’s one of the biggest WF in the country so the name is well-deserved. When you’re done wandering the isles marveling at the array of groceries you never knew existed, make your way over to the food court. Here you’ll find an organic diner with a great housemade veggie burger and veggie dogs, a taco stand with several fresh, tasty vegan and veggie options, and vegan pizza slices just to name a few. We spend a lot of Saturday afternoons at Whole Foods City in the summer, because you can take your food outside and look out at the Chicago River while you dine.

Red Door Chicago – Every Tuesday you can enjoy a $29 prix fixe vegan menu. Red Door calls it #TradeOffTuesday. I personally enjoy watching the chefs walk out to the backyard garden and pick ingredients for my meal – for real! It’s as fresh as it gets and truly delicious.

Honerable Mentions

Here are a few other places where you can find decent veggie and vegan options. They aren’t here because they aren’t good, they just aren’t my personal favorites. Most of these have Tony to thank for appearing on this post.

  • Handlebar – tons of veggie and vegan options, tons of beer and tons of rolled-up jeans and ironic mustaches.
  • George’s Ice Cream and Sweets – a few really good vegan ice creams and if you’re lucky, you’ll see Puppet Bike.
  • El Faro – I honestly haven’t made my way down there in years, but they have tons of soy meat options for pretty cheap.
  • Pick Me Up Cafe – Pros: Open super late, really good vegan French toast. Cons: Way overpriced, apparently does not own a mop.
  • Loving Hut Chicago – Most major cities have a Loving Hut, and it’s definitely the only vegan restaurant run by an Asian cult you’ll find on this list.

So there you have it – the veggie places I recommend time and time again. Did I leave your favorite off the list? Feel free to leave a comment about it!

18 Comments

  1. Holy shit, a veggie Cubana? Holy SHIT.

  2. I have to post twice in a row like a goon to say that the lemongrass tofu spring rolls at Nhu Lan are also really good. An order of those can be a meal…or an appetizer. No judgments.

  3. Also, Dawali’s olive oil is good enough to drink.

  4. Boiler Room – Has vegan cheese pizza, and a bunch of different uptons options for the pie including bacon! ANNND if you use the ATM there (theyre cash only) you can trade your receipt for a shot at the bar.

  5. whoa whoa whoa, you HATE Soul Veg??? Those bbq twists are off the chain. What rubbed you the wrong way that the only mention they got is that you hated it?

  6. Soul Veg is way overpriced for what you get, and way too much of their menu consists of deep-fried foods. The last time I went there they straight up forgot to bring out three of the entrees people at my table ordered, even after we reminded them several times. There are so many better quality veggie places in Chicago with good service to boot, I don’t bother with them anymore.

  7. Most of my favorites were on the list! I’ll also throw Kuma’s Corner out there. Famous for its metal music and hardcore burgers, people are shocked when I tell them that they have the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. The made to order Mac n’ Cheese is great, too. No vegan options though, so only bring your lacto-ovo friends.

    And Quesadilla may not look like much from the outside, but it has amazing Mexican food! Delicious and with very easy and free parking on Western.

  8. I love Soul Veg but my favorite is Victory’s Banner.

  9. I’d also add Yummy Yummy Asian Cuisine to the list. They have a large vegetarian selection, and their fake meat (“soy gluten”) is awesome.

    http://www.yummyyummyasiancuisine.com/
    2901 N. Broadway
    Chicago, IL 60657

  10. YES, Chicago rules at veg food. Good job, Mid West!
    What’s the name of the vegan Korean place? It rules pretty hard.

  11. If you have a car and want to trek out to Arlington Heights, there is a great Indian-ish place called Chopatti.

  12. Soul Veg is awesome, but not healthy. And is expensive. Really though, whenever I get it, I eat every last piece of everything like a pig. It’s that good.

  13. Yay! I’m glad Loving Hut made the list. I loved Alice & Friends and while I’m no longer up that way all that often, I still stop in Loving Hut. I also always sing Lindsey Buckingham’s “Loving Cup” with re-worked Loving Hut lyrics when I’m there. No, nobody else will get that, either.

  14. Melisser, are you thinking of Amitabul? Is that technically a Korean restaurant? Whatever it is, it’s good.

  15. Check out the 90-mile Cuban cafe right near Twisted Scissors hair salon. They have amazing veggie options that I was surprised to find there. Also, I’m a big fan of the veggie options at Hai Yen and pretty much any Indian restaurant on Devon, though Arya Bhavan in particular caters to not only vegans/vegetarians, but also raw foodists.

  16. Actually Boiler Room pizza isn’t vegan. The dough has honey in it. Unless they have changed the recipe in the past few months. It’s a bummer cause going for their PB&J was my favorite.

  17. yes! yes! & yes! LOVE Urban Vegan LOVE Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur …NEVER been to Budacki’s. How have I never heard of this place that serves vegan hot dogs?? My BF is going to DIE when I take him to that place!!!

    If you ever want to take a road trip for damn good vegan food, check out the Unity Cafe in Phoenix, IL. Oh, and do you ever go to Soul Vegetarian??

  18. Great list! I also recommend Flying Saucer in Humboldt Park for brunch.

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