The Best Vegetarian Restaurants In Chicago

By Staff in Food on May 1, 2013 4:00PM

Just because Chicago has a hackneyed, over-blown reputation as a city where everyone eats steaks and pork chops three meals a day doesn't mean it's true. In fact, there are a ton of great vegetarian restaurants in Chicago, and even meat-eaters could enjoy a meatless night once in a while. Check out some of our favorite places to get vegetarian food.

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Tempura veggies at Green Zebra. Photo by Laura Stolpman.

While Green Zebra most likely isn't a place you'll eat at every week, it's great for vegetarians to have a high end option. As someone who consumes meat on a regular basis, I can say that I've eaten there multiple times and never felt like the meal was missing anything. The food is inventive, flavorful, and deeply satisfying. Personally, I think the mushroom pate they do isn't just one of the better vegetarian dishes I've had over the past year, it's just one of the better dishes I've had, period. It also doesn't hurt that the place has a solid, and often overlooked cocktail program, along with great selections of wine and beer. — Jason Baldacci
Green Zebra is at 1460 W Chicago Ave.

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Soul Veg.
East 75th Street is an underrated stretch of culinary gems, including the long-running Soul Vegetarian East restaurant. Inspired by the African Hebrew Israelite beliefs of owner Prince Asiel Ben-Israel, "Soul Veg" has proven for decades one needn't go low on the hog to enjoy quality soul food. Their menu ranges across a wide cross-section of culinary styles including Mediterranean, Asian, Southern, and good old-fashioned American cooking. Even an indiscriminate omnivore like me can enjoy Soul Veg's Sloppy Joe (made with seitan and served on a whole wheat roll), steamed vegetables and tofu served up so many different ways you'll forget you aren't eating meat. — Chuck Sudo
Soul Vegetarian East is at 203 E. 75th St.

It’s tiny, but the food at Vegetarian Express has big flavor. For starters, there are fresh squeezed juices that you can doctor up with a shot of wheatgrass. The menu has a Mexican slant, so there are tofu, seitan, or soy chicken enchiladas and fajitas, plus vegan sushi, kale salad, and several veggie burgers. They also deliver, so you can keep your takeout vegetarian as well. — Amy Cavanaugh
Vegetarian Express is at 3109 N. Halsted St.

More than 15 years ago, I was a vegetarian living in Chicago. At that time, Chicago was not the vegetarian-friendly city that it is today. Cooking at home was difficult since the natural foods that are now commonplace in grocery stores were non-existent back then. Dining out for vegetarians went from nothing more than a pasta dish or a plate of steamed vegetables at a “regular” restaurant to completely natural with odd ingredients (read: not very tasty) on the other end of the spectrum. That’s why a trip out to Evanston was a welcome relief. Blind Faith CafĂ© is a family-style restaurant that incorporates both worlds. Admittedly, the menu is all over the place; a virtual who’s-who of vegetarian dishes encompassing many different cuisines. Hummus is next to a Warm Onion Gruyere Tart and entrees can be Asian, Indian, or Mexican. However, with a varied menu, there is guaranteed to be something for everyone. Even now after going back to eating meat, I will get their Barbecue Seitan sandwich with sweet potato fries. It is comforting and tasty and for a few minutes I forget that it isn't meat. The fact that they have been around since 1979 proves they must be doing something right! — Paul Leddy
Blind Faith Cafe is at 525 Dempster St. in Evanston.

Most of the world is vegetarian by default, but for some reason "vegetarian" restaurants tend to get pigeonholed into serving a Birkenstock-wearing kind of clientele. In southern India, both for religious and practical reasons, the majority of the population omit meat from their diet. However, one visit to Udupi Palace, even for an omnivore, is a step into a flavor country so engrossing, there's no way you could miss the meat. Udupi is famous for their dosas, but I recommend checking out the spicy chili pakora and any iteration of the Veda, lentil donuts that can be served with yogurt or the specialty soup, rasam — a sweet and sour delight that goes beautifully with a dry cider. — Erin Drain
Udupi Palace is at 2543 W Devon Ave.

I almost exclusively eat vegetarian at home, and that means I buy a lot of pita, hummus, fruit, nuts, etc. If there’s a better place in Chicago to buy these items than Middle East Bakery & Grocery, I haven’t found it. The bakery has prepared foods like Jerusalem salad, stuffed grape leaves, dill hummus, and outrageously good spicy baba ghannoug, along with different types of pita, olives, and delicious vegetable- and cheese-filled pies. — Amy Cavanaugh
Middle East Bakery and Grocery is at 1512 W. Foster Ave.

Chef Dave Choi picked up his stakes and moved his “simply Korean vegan” restaurant Amitabul over a decade ago from the Southport Corridor to the far reaches of Norwood Park, skipping distance from Superdawg. Choi’s clientele moved with him. That’s how good his cooking is. We don’t need to be a hard core vegan to enjoy Choi’s array of soups, salads, steamed vegetables, tofu patties, fresh-squeezed juices and dry pancakes. This is vegan food with flavor and, although we find the near cultlike fervor of some of Choi’s customers a bit disconcerting, we understand their zeal completely. — Chuck Sudo
Amitabul is at 6207 N. Milwaukee Ave.

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The interior of Mana Food Bar
There aren't a lot of super-hip vegetarian restaurants in Chicago, which is one reason Mana Food Bar stands out. Actually, there aren't a lot of non-vegetarian restaurants as hip as Mana Food Bar, with its gorgeous wooden bar and miniscule interior. There will likely be a wait to get in, but it's worth it to chow down on their gyoza, bi bim bop or ma po tofu. While the menu is asian-inspired, there's plenty of other things on the menu. If you're lucky enough to visit while corn is in season, their fresh grilled corn is one of the dishes that defines "summer" in Chicago. — Anthony Todd
Mana Food Bar is at 1742 West Division St.

Vegetarians and vegans in search of meatless Mexican food typically have two unappetizing options: Consign yourself to a corner of the menu, or concede authenticity and look for Mexican-style items at a vegetarian-specific restaurant. Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur is a perfect antidote to that situation, offering Mexican classics and daily specials with a slew of soy-based products that retain all the flavor and texture of chorizo, carnitas and chicharron. As with many vegetarian restaurants, you'll also find a refreshing diversity of plant- and fungi-based dishes, from nopales (cactus) and flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower) to huitlacoche (corn "truffle," a mushroom that grows on corn). Smoothie lovers will find it worth the trip just for the veritable library of soy milkshakes and fruit/vegetable smoothies and juices. Vegetarianos rejoice: Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur has all the charm of a BYOB hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant without the trouble of having to repeatedly clarify "no meat" to your confused waiter. — Chris Bentley
Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur is at 2235 N. Western Ave.

Native Foods has one of the most diverse vegan menus I've encountered. From seitan sandwiches, tacos and wraps to hearty salads and tofu & tempeh "earth bowls," there's something for everyone. My favorite dish is their sesame kale macro bowl which features perfectly steamed kale, deliciously seasoned tempeh, brown rice, and ginger sesame sauce. Sauerkraut adds a bit of tang and a crunchy seaweed salad on the side makes it a perfect summer meal. I'm also a huge fan of their lavender lemonade and I love that they have such a great selection of beer as well. — Julia Weeman
Native Foods is at 1484 N. Milwaukee Ave.

If you grew up on Chinese takeout, and are missing some of your old standbys after going vegetarian, Yummy Yummy should be on your speed dial. Their creative use of soy protein, soy gluten, seitan, and fresh veggies make dishes from this Lakeview joint a monthly, sometimes weekly, order in my house. Standouts include the Mongolian Seitan, which is crispy, addictive, and served with a sweet and salty glaze, and Szechuan Green Beans, which are sauteed quickly over high heat, which is evidenced by little black blister marks. The beans are then tossed with a never greasy, always pleasantly spicy sauce. When summer hits, I've also been known to devour the entire container of Sesame Cold Noodles in one sitting, supported by an avocado bubble tea. If it's the variations of fried chicken or pork with gloopy sauces you're missing, you cannot go wrong with their take on these familiarly Americanized dishes, which substitute little balls of fried soy gluten for the meat. Their storefront on Broadway is small and unassuming, but what it lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for in amazing food at reasonable prices.— Lorna Juett
Yummy Yummy is at 2901 N Broadway