Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders
– Carl Sandburg, Chicago
When Carl Sandburg famously personified Chicago as the ‘hog butcher for the world’ in 1916, the image stuck. And with good reason; Chicago had been the world’s leader in beef and pork production since the 1860’s. Though the city’s meat industry peaked in the mid-1900’s, Chicago is still a city of meat lovers. So, what’s a vegetarian to do?
If you’re asking this question, you’re not alone. Vegetarianism is an increasingly popular lifestyle choice in America (even in the Midwest). Whether you’re in town for a few days or you’re a Chicago resident seeking to lead a vegetarian lifestyle, this meat loving city also offers a variety of non-carnivorous options.
A number of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants have sprouted up over the years and one of the best is Alice & Friends Vegetarian Café. Located at the north end of Lakeshore Drive, the café offers an East Asian-inspired, mainly vegan menu that is well worth the trip. Many of their dishes are made with delicious “unmeat,” but there are also options free of meat substitute. Vegan and non-vegan desserts are also available. The atmosphere of this unique, intimate restaurant is best suited to a romantic evening or a small group of friends. The friendly staff, lavender walls and mix of Alice in Wonderland and spiritual themes all add to the quirky charm.
Karyn’s Cooked – Conscious Comfort Foods is also highly recommended. The restaurant’s downtown location offers many healthy options such as the highly recommended eggplant stuffed with faux goat cheese or you can indulge your sweet tooth with Karyn’s delicious (and often vegan) baked goods. The comfort food tradition contrasts with the bamboo décor and hip, modern interior.
Karyn does more than comfort food. Head to Karyn’s Raw Gourmet for a taste of the raw food movement. Karyn’s Fresh Corner Café is at the same location as the Corner Café. Karyn seems to be the vegetarian lifestyle guru of Chicago; she also has an Inner Beauty Center for pilates, yoga and massage as well as a line of personal care and fitness products.
Indian cuisine is usually a good bet for vegetarians and in Chicago there are a number of restaurants that are all vegetarian. Head to West Devon Street, Chicago’s “India town”. Standout Indian vegetarian restaurants include Hema’s Kitchen, Ayra Bhavan, Annapurna and Udupi Palace. These may not be the restaurants to go to when seeking a romantic ambiance, but they are inexpensive, fast-food or take-out friendly and just plain delicious.
Handlebar is another quirky option, oriented towards vegetarians and bike-lovers. There is plenty of bike parking, bicycle themed decoration, and special discounts for bicycle messengers on Mondays. The food is mostly vegetarian and the dishes – from chili cheese fries to samosas to West African ground nut stew – appeal to a wide variety of taste buds. Handlebar is equally well known for its beer. The late hours (open until midnight or 2 am) make this the perfect stop for a late-night veggie craving.
These are some of the best spots to eat vegetarian in Chicago, but don’t stop there. Just ask your waiter about other great options in the city. And if you find yourself in a restaurant full of meat-lovers, it shouldn’t be a problem; even the local steakhouse can throw together a rudimentary veggie platter. Chicago may be “hog butcher to the world,” but even the hog butcher has to eat his vegetables.
What & Where
Alice & Friends Vegetarian Café (5812 N Broadway St; 773-275-8797)
Karyn’s Cooked – Conscious Comfort Foods (738 North Wells St; 312.587.1050)
Karyn’s Raw Gourmet (1901 North Halstead; 312-255-1590)
Karyn’s Fresh Corner Café (1901 N. Halsted; 312-255-1590)
Hema’s Kitchen (6406 N Oakley Ave: 773-338-1627)
Ayra Bhavan (2508 W. Devon Ave; 773-274-5800 )
Annapurna (2608 W Devon Ave; 773-764-1858)
Udupi Palace (2543W Devon Ave; 773-338-2152)
Handlebar (2311 W North Ave; 773-384-9546)
Elizabeth Nelson is a freelance writer, traveler, bibliophile, and recent graduate of the University of Chicago. She grew up in Washington’s San Juan Islands and now makes her home in Seattle.