After the year that was, it’s only natural to feel the need to cleanse your system. Even if you aren’t planning on going all in and becoming a vegan or vegetarian, we could all use more veggies in our lives. Studies show that people who eat a greater diversity of plant-based foods have lower risk of heart disease and other diseases than those who eat a largely meat-centric diet. As the great Michael Pollan said about the relationship between food and health, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The restaurants on this list — all among the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chicago and on the North Shore — serve up plant-based meals so satisfying, you’ll never miss the meat.
Michelin—and Instagram-worthy vegan cuisine are on chef Matthew Kenney’s menu at this Gold Coast beauty, located inside Michigan Avenue’s Saks Fifth Avenue. He finds global inspiration in creations like “Tortilla Española” made with chickpea polenta and turnips, or Barbacoa Tacos substituting umami-laden maitake and oyster mushrooms for the traditional pork. Smoked almond “ricotta” on his Brussels Sprouts Flatbread pairs perfectly with carrot-caraway purée, sauerkraut, and apple cider gastrique. You’ll never miss the meat. Open Wednesday – Saturday, 11 am – 8 pm; Sunday 12-5 pm. Order on Tock for pickup and delivery.
Blind Faith Café
Even a pandemic can’t keep them down… Blind Faith has been serving up its vegetarian menu for over 40 years. How I love their Huevos a la Mexicana (or sub in sauteed tofu for eggs), the Bibim Bop Rice Bowl with spicy grilled seitan, and the Shiitake Walnut Loaf with sweet potato/squash mash. And sometimes, I’m just in the mood for a Kale Caesar Salad and a Blind Faith (Veggie) Burger. They’ve lasted this long for a reason! Open Tuesday – Friday, 11 am – 8:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 8:30. Order via their website for pickup and delivery.
Chicago RAW Food
Raw food, a subset of vegan cuisine, is hard to do well, but Chicago RAW has been diligently working at it for more than 10 years and they have ably filled that niche. Nuts are the main protein source and are used in myriad creative ways. You’ll find healthy raw juices and elixirs, smoothies (the Cinnamon Crunch with banana, granola, hemp seed, cinnamon, and almond milk will make you a believer), creative entrees (like the Fresh Spinach Lasagna with zucchini “noodles,” cashew cheese and marinara sauce), sandwiches, salads, desserts, and more. The perfect food for a 2021 cleanse. Gold Coast location open every day 8 am – 8 pm. French Market location currently closed. Find order links through their website.
The Chicago Diner
The original Wrigleyville location opened in 1983 and they’ve been going strong ever since — a boon to all customers with dietary restrictions. It’s noteworthy that all menu items are either vegan or have a vegan option, and you’ll find many gluten-free dishes as well. They work magic with seitan, evidenced by their grilled “chicken-style” shawarma platter, complete with hummus, pita, lemon wild rice, fresh veggies and vegan tzatziki, or the “Radical Reuben” with corned-beef-style seitan on marbled rye. Try their Pierogi Quesadilla, a Polish-Mexican mash-up with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, sauteed mushrooms and vegan Cheddar in a griddled tortilla. Both locations (Logan Square and Wrigleyville) open every day noon – 8 pm. Order via their website for pickup and delivery.
All your favorite bar/comfort foods and snacks with a twist that Mike Ditka didn’t see coming: it’s all vegetarian! The Fried Pickles and the Handlesmash Burger and Fries (two house-made black bean patties with cheddar or vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, pickles, and special sauce on a brioche bun) are legendary, but don’t sleep on the Wilted Kale Salad with avocado and quinoa, or the “Sloppy Joe” made with carne de soya and tangy BBQ sauce on a pretzel bun. Open Monday – Friday, 10 am – 10 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9 am – 10 pm. Order via link on website for pickup and delivery.
With storefronts in Naperville, Niles, and Schaumburg, this fast-casual global chain has brought vegetarian Indian street food, all made from scratch daily, to the Chicago area. Uttapam (rice-lentil pancakes), Dosas (thin and crispy rice-lentil crepes filled with savory fillings), and toasted sandwiches with cheese, chutney, and veggies are all on the greatest hits list. Hours vary, closed Tuesdays. Order online for delivery.
Kale My Name
The huge, globally inspired menu of this Albany Park spot is filled with craveable items, like the Buffalo Cauliflower Wings, Fried Mac-and-Cheese Balls, and the Caesar Avocado Wrap. It’s all about vegetarian comfort food here, and there are many vegan (and gluten-free) options as well. Never tried jackfruit, touted as a great meat substitute? Here, you can get them in fajitas, tacos, sandwich wraps, and even on nachos! Hearty soups like Lentil or Cheddar Broccoli will make you forget the Chicago winter chill. Open every day 11 am-10 pm. Order online for pickup or delivery.
All-organic, plant-based foods take center stage at this Winnetka bistro. Even the lemony Carrot Cake feels both decadent and healthy in the best way. Folks rave about the Fig Flatbread with poached figs, mint pesto, vegan cheese, and cherry tomatoes; likewise the spicy Jerk Meatless Loaf served with fried plantains, black beans and rice. The Banh Mi Salad, packed with arugula, radicchio, cilantro, basil, pickled carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts, is topped with sriracha aioli for a nice kick. Open Tuesday – Thursday, noon – 8 pm; Friday 10 am – 9 pm. Order online for pickup or delivery; heated outdoor patio available as well.
They had me at Mango Sticky Rice, my favorite Thai dessert. But you’ll find all of your most beloved Thai dishes — even a “Seafood” Tom Yum Soup made with soy fish and soy shrimps — veganified. “Chicken” Satay with peanut sauce, made with charbroiled and marinated soy chicken? Got it. Larb “Chicken” Salad with lime juice and rice powder? Check. Sweet Chili Fried “Fish?” Yup. They tick all of the boxes here. Open Monday, 4 – 9 pm; Tuesday – Sunday, 11 am – 9 pm. Order online for pickup and delivery.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.