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Review: Mana Food Bar

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 11, 2008 6:45PM

Mana1.jpg Mana Food Bar is exactly the kind of vegetarian restaurant Chicago needs. It’s small and intimate, has a very good alcohol selection, offers small versions of all its dishes for tasting and is relatively inexpensive. Oh, and did we mention that the food rocks?

Owned by Susan Thompson, co-creator of Sushi Wabi, Mana Food Bar offers a multi-ethnic trip through vegetarian cuisine. Italian, Southwestern, Greek, Korean made appearances, but despite the eclectic menu, every dish we tried was spot on. The restaurant offers a small and a large version of every dish, and we stuck to the smalls. We began with some homemade pickled vegetables($4), we got okra, turnip and cabbage. For all of our readers who hate okra, head to Mana; we’ve been converted. We tried a salad of marinated beets, sliced thin and served with apple and arugula ($6). Refreshing and delightful, though a slightly stronger marinade would’ve made it perfect.

Mana2.jpgAlright, so the salads are good. What about the real food? The Mana Chili ($6) blew us away – a substantial southwestern style chili made with black beans, corn, chickpeas and manchego cheese. The spicy Bi Bim Bop, filled with vegetables and brown rice and covered with spicy hot pepper miso, came topped with a perfectly fried egg. Save room for Baja Corn, an ear of corn grilled, split in half and coated with a lime-chili powder. At only $2, it’s a fine-dining bargain you won’t find anywhere else.

The cocktail and beverage lists are also impressive, and the comfortable bar seating means that we’ll be stopping back in for a drink. Mana serves a range of Sake-based cocktails, and we tried one with Watermelon and Mint. In addition to beer, wine and sake, they also have imaginative smoothies; we tried the avocado, pineapple and coconut and it was thick and lovely.

All in all, we had 6 different dishes, a cocktail and a smoothie. Our bill? Under $50. Stop in to Mana anytime you’re in Wicker Park, whether you’re looking for a snack, a drink or an entire meal. We’ll certainly be headed back.

Mana Food Bar is located at 1742 W. Division St. The restaurant is tiny, so be prepared to wait - they don't take reservations. Dress is casual, and street parking is available nearby. Photos by Grant Kessler.