Though it might not immediately come to mind as a vegan-friendly city, Chicago has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years with its offerings for herbivores. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of vegan dining options:
The Chicago Diner – A Chicago vegan institution, even though the Diner isn’t actually entirely vegan. (C’mon guys, how hard would it be to just cut cheese and eggs from the menu! DO IT!) Good sandwiches, great shakes and really good desserts too (especially the cheezecake).
Pick Me Up Cafe – Again, not entirely vegan but they seem to be adding more vegan options all the time. I love this place because it’s open late and the vegan breakfast options are delicious. You must try the vegan French toast!
Handlebar – This restaurant/bar has some really amazing vegan offerings. Their vegan ranch dressing is delicious and their biscuits and gravy are the best I’ve had in Chicago so far.
Native Foods Cafe – A transplant to Chicago from California, this chain now has 3 locations here (Wicker Park, Lakeview and the south Loop). All vegan, all the time!
Karyn’s Cooked – I’ve eaten here numerous times but have yet to try her raw place or the slightly more upscale Karyn’s on Green (the latter of which I’m told is delicious but pricey). I’ve never disliked anything I’ve ordered here.
Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur – A new favorite of mine. Soooo close to being an all-vegan Mexican place. They have Daiya cheeze available and a multitude of faux meats, as well as pumpkin flower and cactus. So good and inexpensive too! A word of warning, though, they’re closed on Saturdays.
La Cocina – Another vegan-friendly Mexican option. No faux cheeze (yet?) but they do carry Upton’s seitan. And it’s cheap! (FYI: Closed on Sundays)
Chicago’s Pizza – To my knowledge, this is the only place you can get a vegan Chicago-style pizza in the city. No vegan cheese (yet) so you have to get it cheeseless. But IMHO, it’s filling enough without the cheeze.
Ian’s Pizza – Not Chicago-style pizza, but they do carry Teese and Upton’s seitan! You can get a vegan pizza made-to-order any day and on Thursday evenings, they have pre-made vegan slices available for sale.
Mista Pizza – I am told they carry Daiya, though the website makes no mention of it. Obviously I’ve never tried it.
Apart Pizza Co. – The crust is vegan and you can order cheeseless. I ordered once before when I lived near Andersonville and I like it but my partner, who was raised on thick, Chicago-style crust, hated it because it’s all thin crust there.
The Boiler Room – Several friends of mine have raved about the vegan pizza here. They carry Daiya and several varieties of Upton’s. I have never been because I’m allergic to hipsters.
Pie Hole Pizza Joint – I have loved this place solely for the name and the sheer gayness since moving to Chicago and I just found out that they carry Daiya! I am definitely going there soon!
Santullo’s Eatery – No vegan cheese here but they do now carry a few varieties of Upton’s seitan.
Dante’s Pizzeria – Brand new pizza place in Logan Square, doesn’t even have a website as of this writing (but you can find them and the menu on Facebook). They offer tofu as a topping! I haven’t tried it yet but a vegan friend vouches for it.
Fritz Pastry – Not only do they have vegan doughnuts, they also carry a veganized verson of a Chicago favorite, paczki (pronounced ponchkee or poonchkee, depending on who you ask).
Sweet Cakes Bakery – Lots of vegan options here! (You just have to ask what’s vegan. The owner doesn’t label each item because omnis tend to get scared away from anything marked “Vegan”.) My sister ordered a bunch of mini cupcakes from here for my 30th birthday. Not only were they really good, they were creative, unique flavors like root beer float, which was a nice change from the usual chocolate and vanilla.
delicious – A cute little cafe where vegan is the default (if you want dairy milk you have to ask for it). They also have sandwiches and desserts.
The Loving Hut – Part of the chain of restaurants brought to you by the Supreme Master. Yeah, it’s a little creepy due to the cult-influence, but the food’s good.
Urban Vegan – Newish in town, this all-vegan(!) restaurant specializes in Thai food but also offers American standards like veggie burgers and wraps.
Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches – Vegan pho as well as 3 different yummy Vietnamese sandwiches. (2/15/12: I think they added a new sandwich too!)
Yummy Yummy Asian Cuisine – Tiny little Chinese place that has a separate vegan menu. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not within delivery distance.
Amitabul – An all-vegan Korean restaurant that’s kind of a haul for most city-dwellers but worth it.
Arya Bhavan – All-vegetarian and mostly-vegan Indian place. Good buffet. When I went, the naan on the buffet wasn’t vegan so the server brought us out some that was.
Dragonlady Lounge – I have yet to go to Dragonlady but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. There used to be a weekly vegan buffet but now it only happens once a month apparently. I’m told they’ve got the best veggie burgers in town.
Irazu – Costan Rican food with a few vegan options, including their famous oatmeal shake, which can be made vegan!
Sultan’s Market – If you want cheap, delicious falafel, then Sultan’s is your place. They also have vegan spinach pies. Did I mention they’re super cheap?
Salam – Although I love Sultan’s for the price, I think I love Salam’s falafel more. As a whole, it’s not a terribly vegan-friendly place, but it’s worth a trip to Albany Park for their falafel.
Noon O Kabob – Just up the street from Salam. I feel like this place is kind of a hidden treasure, especially to vegans. They’re super friendly here and have several vegan dishes. I used to order from here all the time when I lived in Albany Park.
Soul Vegetarian East – Okay, so I’ve never actually been to the restaurant but I’ve had food from Soul Veg at festivals and via the prepared foods section at Whole Foods. Home-cookin’, done vegan.
Soul Veg also operates a vegan food truck, in conjunction with Ste Martaen gourmet vegan cheeze.
Aside from all that vegan yumminess, Chicago also has its own vegan pedicab, MVP Rickshaw (who often delivers food for Soul Veg/Ste Martaen downtown) and its own vegan animal rescue, Broad Shoulders Animal Rescue. Aaaand we now have our own festival, Chicago VeganMania, which gets bigger each year. Chicago Soy Dairy, the creators of Teese, Temptation Ice Cream and Dandies marshmallows, is local, as is Upton’s Naturals seitan. Oh and we kind of have our own sex shop too. Early to Bed, an awesome queer-owned, feminist sex shop, carries lots of vegan items.
Of course, vegans have some unique challenges in Chicago, as it is notorious for its horrendous winters. But you truly don’t need sheep fur or duck feathers to stay warm, I promise! I have a fantastic, super warm, down-alternative parka that I got from Land’s End. Yes, it’s ugly and it went against every femme fiber in my body to buy it, but it does its job well. I also have a pair of comfy, sturdy ToeWarmers boots that do a pretty good job of keeping wetness and cold away from my perpetually frigid feet. Both items were expensive but worth it. I’m also a huge fan of fleece…socks, gloves, scarves. I might look like Randy from A Christmas Story but dammit, I’m warm. Fashion goes out the window for me when the temperature drops into the single digits.
However, when it’s not quite so frigid outside, there are certainly many more stylish winter options available, one being a line of coats (and now earmuffs, scarves and hats too!) created by Chicago’s own Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart. Vaute Couture is her brainchild (and I have one of the very first coats from the very first line!). Absolutely gorgeous, beautifully made coats that are eco-friendly as well. And there are numerous sellers on Etsy who make beautiful vegan hats and scarves.
So we might not be Portlandia, but I think Chicago is doing pretty damn well on the vegan front.
Chicago vegans, did I miss your favorite place? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it!