The birthday weekend continues with delicious plant-based fare across the Windy City. Read on for Chicago vegan options.
Chicago Vegan Options
After our lunch at the vegan brewery, we ventured on to the Windy City and the Logan Square location of Chicago Diner. I especially like that location, because it typically has less of a wait time than the original location, pleasant ambience, and fast and friendly service.
Chicago Diner is a vegetarian restaurant, but they serve their meals as vegan by default. So unless you specifically request dairy-based cheese, for example, it will come with non-dairy cheese on top. The place was packed when we got there around 9:30 pm on a Friday night.
As someone who used to frequent diners regularly in my pre-vegan life, I find it especially cozy to flip through a menu with nachos, melt sandwiches, and buffalo (seitan) wings.
We were off to a great start with the special recipe wings – one of my favorite foods from the weekend. They were perfectly crisp on the outside with just the right amount of chew and plenty of spicy buffalo sauce. (They also offer a choice of barbecue sauce if you prefer.)
I strayed from my usual reuben order and went with the smoked tofu club. This sandwich really took me back with seitan bacon, deli slices that were reminiscent of hickory smoked Tofurky, crisp lettuce and tomato on three layers of bread per section. The club was plenty for two meals, and I actually ate half of it for breakfast the next morning. It came with a choice of sides, and I went with the flashed greens, which are delightfully heavy on garlic and ginger.
David wasn’t feeling his taco salad, unfortunately. This salad was topped with tortilla chips, tomato, onion, corn, black beans, seitan chorizo, non-dairy cheese, avocado, and a generous amount of vegan sour cream. He’s not a huge sour cream fan, and there was quite a bit of it piled on top. After shoveling most of it off of the salad, he thought it was okay, but not something he’d order again.
The following evening, we ventured back to the same location when the movie we were seeing let out late. Chicago Diner is open until 11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
We were seated underneath a blinding light, and so all of the pictures from that evening’s meal look like our food was being interrogated. (It was innocent! I swear!) Still, it was too delicious not to share.
I’ve had this country fried steak once before, and it’s a monster of a meal. It’s huge and filling with crisp breading and toothsome seitan underneath. It was topped with their creamy gravy on a bed of mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
David returned to the buffalo chicken seitan, this time on a salad in the chick’n ranch salad. He was much happier with this salad topped with tomato, onion, cucumber, bell pepper, and lots of spicy buffalo seitan.
El Nuevo Mexicano
Sarah, a Chicago local and blogging buddy, had noticed on Instagram that I was in Illinois and recommended a couple of her favorite restaurants. She tagged me in her photos of El Nuevo Mexicano, and it instantly became a “must” on the list for the weekend. The Mexican food in our town is underwhelming and is one of the many things I miss about living in Southern California. Whenever we’re in a city with good options, I live it up.
El Nuevo Mexicano is a non-vegan restaurant, with a few vegan options on the menu. They use seitan from Upton’s Naturals, which also has its headquarters in Chicago.
We met up with a couple of friends for lunch and started with guacamole, chips, and salsa.
David and I both ordered the chimichangas vegano. The flour tortillas were nicely crisp on the outside and stuffed with plenty of seitan chorizo, mangos, plantains, peppers, raisins and almonds. They were a zesty mixture of spicy and sweet. On the side was a salad with jicama and mango.
We also visited Native Foods a couple of times that weekend. The first time, we got several things to share. First up, native nachos. This platter of chips was smothered in cashew cheese, black beans, chipotle sauce, roasted corn, salsa, and fresh peppers. On a hot day, the raw, cool elements on top kept it from feeling overly heavy.
The grilled avocado plate is a seasonal special. The charred avocado wedges were served on top of greens along with radishes, tofu bacon, and crispy corn tortilla strips. They were tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. The tart lemon and crunch of the strips worked nicely with the mild avocado. David loves all things sweet potato, and so he added on some sweet potato fries as well.
We picked up Native Foods again before we headed out of town. I got the Mexican cobb salad, which was terrific. This meal-sized salad was topped with barbecue seitan, black beans, roasted corn, avocado, pepitas, and cool chunks of jicama. It was tossed in refreshing jalapeno-cilantro dressing.
David couldn’t hold out any longer on his favorite sandwich there, the chicken run ranch. The battered and fried seitan cutlet was topped with romaine and carrots on a whole wheat bun.
We also picked up an oatmeal crème pie to go. When I was in high school, packaged oatmeal cream pies were my daily breakfast, believe it or not. This fresh baked version was a world away. It had thick whipped vanilla filling inside chewy oatmeal cookies. It was more than enough for two to share.
There were so many more places that we wanted to visit or re-visit, but there’s only so much time and room in one’s stomach. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we’re back again.