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Where Can I Find a Vegan Restaurant in Chicago?

Eat at these spots and you won't miss meat at all.
Friday Oct 31, 2008.     By Centerstage Chicago Staff
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Zinny Fandel
Nope, no meat in this.
Let's face it, it's hard being vegan in a city known for its steaks, hot dogs, pizzas and sausages. So, it might be surprising to find that restaurants of the meat- and dairy-free kind are abundantly available in this town. Looking for dairy-free mac and cheese, rich chocolate chip cheesecake or even barbecue "ribs"? These places may serve faux meat, but they'll satisfy any taste buds, vegan or not.

Cousin's Incredible Vitality
Raw foodists believe that cooked foods lose vital enzymes necessary to the human body, so instead of sauteing, baking and frying, they dehydrate, soak and sprout for the healthiest, tastiest food that fills you up without slowing you down. While Karyn's Raw serves more of an upscale meal, Cousin's packs 'em in with a casual vibe and a reasonably priced menu, including a $7.95 all-you-can-eat lunch special live buffet. For those serious about the raw diet, Cousin’s also offers chef training and monthly "live box" meal preparation for people who don’t know a dehydrator from a sprouter.

Rumor has it that Chef Dave refuses to hire a wait staff at his vegan, Korean Buddhist restaurant, and for that the service definitely suffers. But you’ll be too busy eyeing the menu to notice an empty water glass. Dave uses no oil in any of his dishes, and while that might be the kiss of death for flavor at most restaurants, the homemade sauces make the dishes taste as complex as any meaty item you’d find at a traditional Korean place. Take a chance on the chef’s surprise: tea, soup, entrée and a dessert for only $16.

Karyn's Cooked
The queen of Chicago's raw-food scene, Karyn Calabrese, opened this much-needed downtown vegan restaurant for hungry locals and tourists needing to refuel after a day of shopping on the Mag Mile. This cozy restaurant serves everything from ultra thin crust pizzas to barbecue ribs and everything is completely vegan. There's also a daily raw special for Karyn devotees who can't make it to her Lincoln Park locale.

The Balanced Kitchen
Another addition to Chicago's meat-free dining scene is not only strictly vegan, but is also gluten-free, organic whenever possible and sustainably built. The menu changes often at this small, family-run restaurant, but nothing is ever disappointing. To really experience the future of clean, green eating, reserve a spot at the wildly popular six-course Sunday brunch ($35).

Chicago Diner
Since 1983 the Chicago Diner has changed the opinions of many Midwesterners about what vegetarian food is. Much of the menu is vegan, especially on the sweeter side with a large selection of vegan shakes, cakes and cookies. If you can't make it to the Boystown restaurant, be on the lookout for Diner desserts (like the rich chocolate chip cheesecake) at Whole Foods Markets throughout the Midwest.

Soul Vegetarian East
This South Side restaurant has become a destination for vegetarians looking for comfort on a plate. Ran by the African Hebrew Israelites who eat a vegan diet (including honey), Soul Veg serves meat- and dairy-free soul food like mac and cheese, BBQ tofu, nut meat chili and wonderfully seasoned collard greens.

Handlebar Bar and Grill
Handlebar serves up vegetarian and vegan cuisine for the bicycle enthusiasts of the city. There’s even a fish dish or two for the peddling pescetarian. Occasionally, the menu changes, but standout items like the African ground nut stew and the black beans maduro are mainstays. The full bar and craft beer selection keeps Handlebar busy at night. Expect to wait for a table during brunch and the weekend dinner rush.

Alice & Friends Vegetarian Cafe
This Korean-inspired vegetarian cafe serves a mostly vegan menu, even going as far as to note the items prepared with honey and whey powder. Alice and Friends is known for its faux meats, especially the Peking-style veggie duck. The folks behind this cute little restaurant follow the Quan Yin method of Buddhism, and truly believe in peace and happiness to all animals on Earth, so servers are always as sweet as soy ice cream.

Veggie Bite
What do vegans eat? At Veggie Bite, it's Philly cheese steaks and chili cheese dogs. Possibly the only fast food vegan restaurant in America, Veggie Bite recently expanded to a second location in Wicker Park that's already bustling with curious carnivores and vegans craving a greasy meal. Just be warned: While Veggie Bite's meat-free and dairy-free burgers, wraps, nuggets and fries are better for you than the tradition fast food offerings, they're far from a healthy meal.

Earwax Cafe
When this Wicker Park restaurant crossed the street to its current digs, it added more than a few meat items to the vegetarian menu. But meat-free offerings still reign supreme, including the vegan banana walnut pancakes for brunch, vegan soups and stews for lunch and the seitan jerk sandwich for dinner.

Lake Side Cafe
Veg heads can indulge in everything from gluttonous gyros and veggie Polish sausages to organic tofu bowls, salads and fresh squeezed juices at this Rogers Park restaurant. Check the Web site to stay up to date on cheap buffet days and cooking classes.

Each week, Centerstage Chicago's crack staff will answer a question you have about the city, showing you some of the best places around in the process. Did we miss something? Tell us. Got a question you want us to answer? Ask us and we'll get right on it.


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