7 Chicago Restaurants Reducing Their Carbon Footprint in Innovative Ways (While Dishing Up Incredible Food!)

7 Chicago Restaurants Reducing Their Carbon Footprint in Innovative Ways (While Dishing Up Incredible Food!) (Uncommon Ground)

If you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that the global environmental outlook isn’t just bleak, it’s cause for panic. As we all look for ways to reduce our environmental impact, it’s important to be aware that the food we eat directly and indirectly accounts for nearly a third of our global carbon footprint. Consider the restaurant industry: From the food itself to natural gas, electricity, and water, a single restaurant utilizes a huge amount of resources to operate day in and day out. Fortunately, many of Chicago’s top chefs and restaurateurs are passionately committed to reducing their carbon footprint. Here are seven notable spots leading the charge in Chicago to dish out delicious food with a healthy side of environmental responsibility.



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In the pantheon of Chicago restaurant groups, DMK is a leader among the pack. Their 14 restaurants around the city serve up everything from burgers, to seafood, barbecue, and new American cuisine. One of DMK’s biggest waste-tackling initiatives came back in 2017 when they decided to eliminate plastic straws company-wide. According to the National Parks Service, Americans discard nearly half-a-billion plastic straws every day. More often than not, these straws end up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife populations and healthy food chain patterns. This step from DMK made a big statement in the industry and has lead many other restaurants and coffee shops in the city to follow suit. Various locations

Frontera Grill


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Rick Bayless is considered by many to be the Godfather of the Chicago food scene. Not only is his regional Mexican cooking among the best in the country, but his approach toward running sustainable businesses has also garnered him multiple James Beard Awards and a dizzying array of other accolades. Bayless’ flagship restaurant — Frontera Grill — is designated with a LEED Gold Certification, meaning they’ve met strict standards for lowering carbon emissions, saving electricity costs, and repurposing food waste through composting. Frontera also sources much of their produce and ingredients from local, sustainable farmers, limiting the resources needed to transport ingredients across the country. 445 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-661-1434  

Uncommon Ground

With the increasing popularity of the farm-to-table dining philosophy, on-site growing operations have become fairly commonplace in restaurants. Before this movement really took hold, though, a little Chicago restaurant called Uncommon Ground decided to develop a rooftop garden. They figured it’d be a great way to limit their food and material waste (no shipping materials or packaging needed) while keeping their ingredients as local and fresh as possible. In 2007, Uncommon Ground became the first restaurant in the entire country to have a certified-organic rooftop farm. Today, they continue to promote and educate others on green business practices while churning out some seriously delicious food for their customers. 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-929-3680; 1401 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, 773-465-9801 



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When talk turns to famous Chicago restaurants, Paul Kahan’s Blackbird and Avec are usually at the top of the list. As pioneers of the seasonal produce-focused restaurant concept, both of these spots highlight myriad farmers and ingredients from the Midwest, showing diners the best of what the region has to offer. This commitment to local sourcing has earned them a Guaranteed Green rating, which honors restaurants utilizing sustainable purchasing practices for ingredients, cleaning products, and food service wares as well as healthy management of energy, water, and waste. Avec: 615 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-377-2002; Blackbird: 619 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-715-0708 

Big Jones

As Chicago’s authority on traditional Southern coastal cuisine, Andersonville’s Big Jones often gets questions surrounding the fish varieties featured on their menu. Think delicacies like shrimp and grits, fried catfish, and po-boys, many of which feature fish that tend to be overfished or unsustainably raised. The restaurant really took these concerns to heart and made it a goal to develop sourcing practices that were as sustainable and healthy as possible. They utilize the Shedd Aquarium’s Rite Bite Program, which serves as an educational resource for all things seafood as well as a reference base for healthy sourcing options. Big Jones also prioritizes sourcing seasonal, organic produce from upward of 20 Midwest farms. 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-275-5725  

Simone’s Bar

When it comes to promoting sustainability and curbing waste within restaurants, the food itself often gets the most attention. However, the physical design of a restaurant can make a world of difference when it comes to waste reduction. Simone’s Bar in Pilsen is a prime example — not only does it boast a 3-Star Green Restaurant designation (meaning it meets high standards for recycling, composting, and staff education on sustainability), much of the restaurant was outfitted with reclaimed materials. Rooftop solar panels also significantly cut back on the bar’s energy use, while the rooftop herb garden allows them to grow fresh, local ingredients as needed. 960 W. 18th St., Chicago, 312-666-8601

Blind Faith Café

Evanston’s Blind Faith Café has been a pioneer in the green restaurant movement since its opening in 1979. As a Certified Green Restaurant, the beloved café implements more than 48 different steps to limit their waste, including offering 100 percent vegetarian food, composting, recycling, conserving energy/water, and sourcing as many sustainable ingredients as possible. When it comes to the food, you really can taste the difference, with vibrant meatless options that give vegetables new life. Also, the vegan chocolate cake will make your heart skip a beat. 525 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-328-6875

Maddie LaKindMaddie Mays is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer, and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore, and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends, and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers. Get in touch with Maddie at madonfood.com




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