Welcome to the first Friday of Lent! Many of you are probably having fish tonight, which somehow crept into the Church's definition of "not meat" (here's the history of that). This restaurant round-up is for you guys, and for any full-time vegetarians/vegans out there. And you know what, this one is for the carnivores, too. Just because you do eat meat doesn't mean you have to at every meal, and I challenge anyone who scoffs at vegan cuisine to try any of the places listed below.
I personally consider myself an eater, above all things. I eat meat, but not a lot. Vegetables are my jam. I haven't had dairy milk in several years, but I'll be damned if I stop eating real cheese. When I eat out at vegan places, it's not because I don't think animals should be eaten or because I don't like the taste of meat. It's because, just like chicken or beef or pork, sometimes seitan is what's for dinner. When I eat out, I like to choose places that serve something I wouldn't normally make, and my vegan repertoire in the kitchen isn't very developed.
Also, considering I'm dating someone who is also in a relationship with protein (generally meat-based), I've been to a lot of vegan places in Chicago and I can speak to a meat-eater's experience at these places. Jesus and I both like trying new things, and we always leave these places with full and happy bellies. Vegan doesn't mean pasta or salads to us - it means a night out at one of our favorite restaurants, no label needed.
The Chicago Diner
Good For: low key dinner dates, high energy brunches, people-watching, (non) milkshakes.
Ambiance: their Halsted location looks and feels like a classic diner, while Logan Square feels very...Logan Square (think reclaimed wood and naked light bulbs).
Notes: when I think vegan food in Chicago, I think The Chicago Diner. They've been around since 1983, so they know what they're doing with their non-meat ingredients. Both locations feature the same great service and food. Their menu is huge, so EVERYONE should be able to find something here.
Good For: Valentine's Day, getting off the beaten path, dinner and drinks.
Ambiance: intimate, close seating in a small-ish space (though I hear they have outdoor seating in the summers).
Notes: having only been here on a holiday, I can't say what Ground Control is like on a normal night. When we went it was busy, but we didn't feel rushed while eating. Our server was great at explaining the menu. I had the Po Boy, which was super good/filling.
Good For: Birthdays, exploring new neighborhoods, meeting unique Chicagoans.
Ambiance: bright, cozy, and casual deli/sandwich shop/bakery feel.
Notes: the owner/chef/waiter/busboy (seriously, this guy does everything) is amazing. He made Jesus and I feel very welcome in the small space, made sure we had whatever we needed, and answered any questions we had. I loved being able to support this local business and only wish it was closer to me so I could go more often! BYOB.
Native Foods Cafe
Good For: quick food, lunch, a change from the usual.
Ambiance: trendy/upscale fast food, but better for you.
Notes: yes, Native Foods is a chain, but for vegan amateurs on a budget, it does the job. Service is quick and friendly, menu options are varied yet comfortable, and the prices are right. Plus, if you have the Native Foods loyalty card you get freebies throughout the year and can build up points for credit.
On My To Try List
I'm pretty pleased with the vegan options near me, but I would like to someday make it up to Delicious Cafe in North Center. I'm thinking on a sunny day, when I can bike there and sip some coffee while enjoying a dairy-free pastry. Sigh...spring, where are you?