After a week of scrutinising plant-based food options available in the city, here are my top picks for finding amazing vegan food in Chicago.
The Chicago Diner
“Meat free since 1983” is the slogan emblazoned across the walls of this diner, and everything in the establishment is wonderfully eighties-kitsch, from the stacks of VHS tapes behind the bar, to the booths and even the clothes worn by waiting staff.
Staff are a delight, and the menu is huge. And – as if having multiple choices for three courses, plus sides, isn’t enough – the diner also offers vegan milkshakes. The full brunch menu is also available until 15:00 every day and, arriving at 14:45, my Chicago-based friend Dan and I had a truly mind-boggling array of options before us when we visited. Diners can also select a drink from a lengthy list of vegan beers and cider.
We ordered a Reuben (Dan) and a seitan steak with mash and gravy (me), plus a side of soup. The portions were enormous, and the soup was probably a step too far, but at just an extra $2 when ordered with a main course, I couldn’t resist the bargain. Luckily, we arrived after having cycled for around 10 miles, so we had an appetite and managed to devour most of the dishes before us, which was not a chore at all. Food was fresh and delicious, and the diner was pleasingly busy, with a laid-back, eclectic vibe. The two branches can be found in N. Halsted Street, Lakeview, and N. Milwaukee Avenue, Logan Square.
Native Foods Cafe
Of all the places I ate at in Chicago, Native Foods was one of my favourites. It’s a canteen-style, take-a-tray-and-order-at-the-counter place with a distinctively no-frills vibe, but the menu is innovative and plentiful. I loved it so much that I visited twice – once for lunch and once for dinner (not – I should add – on the same day!). My pick from the menu, which is entirely vegan, is the orange cauliflower, although also sampled were a burger and “chicken” tenders – both fabulous. The oat cookie and peanut butter cream dessert was also one of the sweet-treat highlights of my week, and an absolute steal at $2.50.
Takeout is available all day, and prices are very reasonable. Soft drinks and an interesting mix of specialist beers are available. There are four branches spread across the city. You can find them at W. Belmont Avenue, Uptown, N. Milwaukee Avenue, just South of Bucktown, S. Clark Stree in The Loop, and – further downtown – E. Harper Court.
Uncommon Ground is not an exclusively vegan place (although all beers are vegan and gluten-free), but there are several options on the menu, and several more which are vegetarian. Tested in this place by myself and Dan in the Lakeview branch were the roasted cauliflower and roasted garlic houmous to start, and vegan tacos as a main option. In true US style, the starters were the size of main course and, as such, we had to get half of our main courses wrapped to take with us (which staff were more than happy to accomodate). The restaurant has a relaxed and warm atmosphere, with outdoor seating for summer months, and live music often taking place inside. You can find it on N. Clark Street.
Revival Food Hall
Revival is not a restaurant, but an enormous space housing a collection of 15 different food outlets. What makes it really special is that it can be found on the ground floor of one of Daniel Burnham’s 1907, 20-floor skyscrapers, the National Building. Walk through the back entrance and you will find yourself in an exhibition on the history of skyscrapers and architecture within the city, which is well worth visiting.
There are no exclusively vegan outlets, but I ate well at Aloha Poke Co, personalising a rice bowl with fresh and flavoursome toppings. Vegan-friendly extras, such as avocado, can be added at no extra cost, which is refreshing. Coffee outlets stock dairy-free milk, if a break for a hot drink is what you require. You can find the National Building at 125 S. Clark Street, in the heart of the Loop, just around the corner from Monroe Station.
East Monroe Street Food Trucks
I stopped at these food trucks on a day in which I had a full schedule of tours, and minimal time in which to grab a bite to eat. Lined up at the North side of the Chicago Art Institute were several food trucks, offering a range of international dishes. I selected the Mexican van and ordered a vegetarian burrito (just be sure to remind them to leave out the cheese, if you need a vegan option). Cooked fresh while you wait, with an array of choices of fillings, it was a satisfying lunch, eaten in the sun, gazing at sculptures from a bench in the Institute gardens before taking in the sights of Millennium Park.
If you’re touring the amazing street art in Pilsen, make sure to take a break at Intersect. Not exclusively vegan or vegetarian, but serving a range of options, it’s the perfect stop for an afternoon coffee and slice of cake. There were several vegan options on offer during my visit, and a choice of non-dairy milks.
The cafe itself is relaxed and stylish, with art on the walls and happy, friendly staff. And whilst you’re in the neighbourhood, pay a visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art, which is less than a five-minute walk away. You can find Intersect on W. 18th Street, a couple of hundred yards from 18th Station.
TAC (Thailand’s Authentic Cuisine) Quick offers many vegan options in the way that many Thai restaurants do, but with delicious, authentic food, and deceptively spacious surroundings. This place was close to where I was staying, and I walked past it every day without really noticing it was there, so make sure you don’t make the same mistake! The tofu yellow curry and coconut rice were a dream, and so reasonably priced. Takeout is also available, and you can find TAC Quick just around the corner from Sheridan Station on W. Irving Street.
Supermarket Pick: Whole Foods
Of course, it’s not always possible to eat out every day when travelling on a budget, and neither did I. My supermarket pick for vegan food is Whole Foods – which I might start harrassing to open some branches in the UK! Full of so many fresh, organic, and vegan options, it’s pricer than some other grocery chains, but you will find everything you need to make any vegan meal. Also on site is a coffee shop, and there are discounts available for food purchased in the supermarket if you are a US-based Amazon Prime account holder.
There are several branches throughout the city. I shopped at the one on N. Ashland Avenue in Lakeview.