Even in a metropolitan foodie mecca like Chicago, the Midwestern meat-and-potatoes stereotype is hard to shake. Especially compared to more beachy cities like Miami and LA, Chicago’s vegan scene has been slow in catching on, but recently the city has seen a huge uptick in meatless options that are refreshingly free of meat substitutes and more focused on fresh produce. These new vegan restaurants and menu items are further proof that dishes need not contain meat (or potatoes) to be delicious and satisfying.
True Food Kitchen
The butternut squash pizza at True Food Kitchen, the first Chicago outpost of the health-minded Arizona brand, will leave you swooning. It’s just as filling as any thin-crust pie. And that ricotta cheese on top? It’s actually a vegan almond ricotta, which adds a creamy accent to the pungent smoked onions and earthy kale. Pizza is just the beginning here, though. While the restaurant isn’t entirely vegan, or even vegetarian, the wholesome ethos weaves its way through numerous nourishing vegan options, like charred cauliflower with zesty harissa tahini and Medjool dates, or kale guacamole with slivers of grapefruit and heady roasted poblano, or ancient grain bowls brimming with miso-glazed sweet potatoes, snow peas, grilled mushrooms, avocado and hemp seeds.
1 W. Erie St.; 312-204-6981
Vegan cuisine got the fast-food treatment at Uptown’s new Kal’ish. Eschewing grain bowls and cold-pressed beverages for straight-up Americana comfort food, the menu boasts everything from burgers and cheese fries to grilled cheese and barbecue sandwiches. Using legumes, roots, nuts, yeasts, wheat and vegetables in lieu of meat, Kal’ish features vibrant choices like a pulled braised jackfruit sandwich, rendering the hearty tropical fruit tender and succulent, glazed in a smoky sweet barbecue sauce. It also offers breakfast all day, with items like biscuits and vegan gravy.
1313 W. Wilson Ave.; 773-293-7768
Left Coast Food + Juice
In Lakeview, Left Coast Food + Juice is the type of sunny cafe you’d expect to see in Venice Beach, where kale-infused juices and semolina avocado toast are par for the course. Vegan items make up a sizable chunk of the all-day cafe menu, with items like Madras curry bowls brimming with roasted yams, green beans, pickled sultanas, basil, mint, toasted coconut and brown rice. The cafe also blends colorful juices and smoothies. Try the Going to California, a green-hued cold-pressed juice of kale, spinach, apple, cucumber, ginger, lemon and sea salt, or for something richer and more dessertlike, Sophia’s Strawberry Milk features cashew milk, strawberries, beet juice powder, agave and vanilla.
2878 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-880-5338
This Downtown hot spot recently implemented a “You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan” series, which showcases a different vegan dish each week. With an emphasis on reimagined classics, Hub 51 has cooked up vegan chili, fried rice and sloppy joes, the latter swapping out the beef for roasted red peppers, jalapeños and onions simmered with black beans and tomatoes. The restaurant also added a new veggie burger, dubbed the anti-burger. It comes with American cheese by default but can easily be made without it. The patty incorporates quinoa, lentils, farro, chickpeas, caramelized onions, white miso, cumin and shiitake mushrooms, which altogether form a nutty, mildly spicy burger.
51 W. Hubbard St.; 312-828-0051
Usually laden with butter and injected and/or iced with custards, creams and frostings, donuts typically aren’t the go-to vegan pastry. But Do-Rite Donuts pays special mind to vegan offerings, including a daily vegan donut, with rotating flavors like chai, blueberry, pineapple, birthday cake and hummingbird, a banana-glazed donut with toasted coconut and pecans.
West Town Bakery
Pop-Tarts have gone vegan at West Town Bakery, where breakfast hand pies are so buttery and flaky it’s hard to believe they’re entirely butter-free. Each square-shaped confection, made with vegan pastry dough, is molded around fillings like brown sugar and apple and glazed with powdered sugar icing.
1916 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-904-1414
Acclaimed chef Iliana Regan's newly minted Japanese restaurant is full of tricks and twists. A particularly illustrious ramen dish eschews typical additions of pork and egg for burnt miso and vegetables, which are cooked into an "ash" that makes the noodles a striking jet-black color. They also lend enough flavor and body to the dish that you won't miss the meat.
4229 N. Lincoln Ave.