Updated: Jun 13
Summer is here, the pandemic seems to be coming to an end, and restaurants are reopening! After a nearly fourteen month break from dining out, Joanne and I have visited several exciting new restaurants in the last month, including Sestina Pasta Bar in NYC, Joi Cafe in L.A., and Kale My Name in Chicago. I’ll be posting about all of these soon and checking in and updating my “go-to” local favorites, which are listed below. For now, please check out my newest entry, Spirit Elephant, located in Winnetka, IL.
This list was first published on May 9, 2016 and most recently updated on June 13, 2021. I've included cafes, a few fast food joints, bakeries, and even some favorite restaurants outside of The Windy City. Scroll to the bottom for amazing dining options in NYC, Philadelphia, Boulder, Los Angeles, Rome, Turin, and more. Enjoy!
Chicago Favorites (listed in no particular order)
1. Spirit Elephant - Located in Winnetka, IL (about a 30 minute drive from Chicago), this new 100% plant-based restaurant and bar is absolutely beautiful - modern, chic and delightfully welcoming in every way. The bar is gorgeous, and the relaxed “summery” outdoor patio is a wonderful complement to the vibrant ambience inside. Most important, the food is delicious and the staff knowledgeable and kind. Spirit Elephant is an absolute North Shore gem and we'll definitely be back soon. Highly recommended! Located at: 924 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, IL; (847) 348-9000.
2. Paulie Gee's Pizzeria - One of the few things that I initially missed when I went vegan was the pizza experience. That cherished tradition of gathering with family and friends for a pizza and beer was at first a little hard to replicate. Sure, my wife and I found a place here and there that was ok, and we could always put together some sort of cheeseless pie, but it was never quite the same. Enter Paulie Gee's! With a wood burning oven, a hip Logan Square location, and most importantly, eight different types of vegan pizzas, we're back in business!!! Featuring dollops of cashew ricotta, my pie of choice is the "In Ricotta Da Vegan." They take a lot of care in what they do at Paulie Gee's and each of my visits has been outstanding! Save room for Pie, Pie My Darling dessert! Located at: 2451 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647; (773) 360-1072.
The Korean Vegan and I love Paulie Gee's so much, we rented out the whole place for our Chicago wedding reception!
3. The Chicago Diner - "Meat Free Since '83" is how one of Chicago's oldest and best vegan institutions bills itself. We quickly became regulars after visiting a few years ago, and now that we live only two blocks away, we're there all of the time. The "Cajun Black Bean Burger" is my go to dish, while my wife's favorite is the "Portabella Truffle Melt" sandwich (and their amazing milkshakes - see below). They offer a separate gluten free menu, a kid's menu, and vegan desserts are plentiful. The original location is at 3411 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60657; (773) 935-6696. The newer Logan Square location is at 2333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647; (773) 252-3211, ext. 1.
Joanne enjoying one of Chicago Diner's award-winning vegan milkshakes! Pure bliss!
4. Sultan's Maket - Let's just start by saying that with a falafel sandwich priced at $4.75, you aren't going to get more bang for your buck at any restaurant that I know of. But the best news is that you're also not likely to find a more delicious falafel sandwich, or any other middle eastern dish for that matter, anywhere. Vegan options are clearly labeled (see picture below), and the authentic and unpretentious atmosphere is cool and inviting. I absolutely love this place and I am already fairly certain that I will frequent it more than any other food establishment in 2020. Cash only. They have two locations: 2521 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, 60614 (Lincoln Park), 312-638-9151; and 2057 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL, 60647 (Wicker Park), 773-235-3072.
The Sultan's Market menu at the Lincoln Park location. It's casual, fast, inexpensive, and delicious!
5. Alice and Friends Vegan Kitchen - Goodness abounds at this Korean vegan eatery and I always leave smiling. Favorite dishes include "Dol Sot Bi Bim Bop" and the "Love Letter From the Earth" salad (below). Desserts are fantastic and if I had a "Top 3" list, this would be on it!! Located at: 5812 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60660; (773) 275-8797. Check out their menu here.
Love Letter From the Earth Salad at Alice and Friends.
6. Handlebar - I only recently learned of this casual neighborhood hang, but I absolutely love it! Located in Wicker Park, they serve "made-from-scratch vegetarian and vegan comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week." They also offer a separate gluten-free menu, Glutenberg gluten-free beer, Pie, Pie My Darling desserts, an outdoor patio, and a super cool and relaxed vibe. They don't take reservations, so you may catch a wait, but, it's definitely worth it! My favorite dish is the Black Bean Maduro!! Located at: 2311 W. North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60647; (773) 384-9546.
7. True Food Kitchen - Located right off of Michigan Ave., True Food Kitchen is a most welcome addition to the downtown restaurant scene. It has something for everyone and a host of vegan options that are clearly labeled (including desserts). The decor is clean and inviting and it's the perfect place to visit after a day of shopping on the Magnificent Mile, or before a night on the town. Some of my favorite dishes include Charred Cauliflower, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Butternut Squash Pizza, and the Teriyaki Quinoa Bowl. Located at: 1 W Erie St, Chicago, IL 60654; (312) 204-6981.
8. La Cantina - Before my wife and I moved out of the neighborhood (Fall 2019), we probably visited this South Loop hotspot more than any other restaurant on this list. It was right in our backyard, they have a full vegan menu, and my go to dish - the Grilled Veggie Fajitas (below) - are gluten-free when accompanied by corn tortillas (as opposed to the flour tortilla option). The margaritas are fantastic and the pervading festive atmosphere makes this a great locale for celebrations (like marathon PRs for example :-). Highly recommended, but if you go on Friday or Saturday night, be prepared to wait! Located at: 1911 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60616; (312) 842-1911.
9. Amitabul - Although not as accessible nor sleek as some of the other places mentioned here, Amitabul serves Korean cuisine of the highest quality. It's absolutely amazing, all vegan, and if it were closer to my home, I'd be there all of the time. Located at: 6207 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60646; (773) 774-0276.
10. Mild2Spicy - One of our favorite discoveries since moving to Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, this Indian gem offers a multitude of vegan options prepared and served by a welcoming and friendly staff. We've probably eaten here four times in the last month (December 2019), and we recently tried the buffet too, which was fantastic and reasonably priced at $14.99. The majority of the items listed under the vegetarian sections of the menu can be made vegan. The food is delicious and it comes quick too! Located at 714 West Diversey Parkway, Chicago, IL, 60614; (773) 661-6778.
11. FruVe Express Juicery - After falling in love with acai bowls in southern California a four years ago (and assuming that there was nothing similar in Chicago), I couldn't believe it when my now wife discovered FruVe Express Juicery right under our nose in the South Loop. Even better, they make an acai bowl as good if not better than any juicery that I've been to. My go to item is the "Balance Bowl" minus the honey (below). They also offer "nutrient rich, organic, fresh cold press juices, smoothies, cleanses, salads, soups, and paninis for those looking for a healthy alternative to fuel their bodies." Located at: 1130 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 1108 W. Madison Chicago, IL 60607; 312.763.2616. Note: A West Loop location has recently opened, though I have not been there yet.
12. Casati's Modern Italian - It was quite the nice surprise to find an Italian restaurant in our new neighborhood that features an all vegan menu. The appetizers, salads, and pizzas that we've had thus far have been delicious, and though I haven't made my way through all of the pastas yet, I will soon. Located at: 444 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL; (773) 857-1237 | firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ancient Grains Salad at Casati
13. Roka Akor - If you’re looking for an elegant and sophisticated fine dining experience, this is your spot! Best to call ahead to be certain that they can accommodate your vegan request, but on two separate occasions they’ve prepared an exquisite, special, all vegan multi-course menu that far exceeded our expectations. The second time - for my birthday in 2018 - our dinner was not only vegan, but completely gluten-free as well. The dishes were absolutely incredible, the presentations fun and unique, and on both of our visits there were so many courses that we had to wave the white flag and confess that we were full! I don’t think that’s ever happened!! Highly recommended for special occasions and well worth the expense. Located at: 456 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654; (312) 248-7164 | Chicago@RokaAkor.com.
14. Uncommon Ground - Given that there is a location just down the street from Loyola University (where I work), I was especially pleased when I recently learned of the handful of vegan options that are now on the menu. I love the warm neighborhood vibe at the Devon location, and all of the plant-based dishes that I've tried thus far have been great. Located at: 1401 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL, 60660;(773) 465-9801. A second location in Lakeview is at: 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60613; (773) 929-3680.
15. Coalfire Pizza - Though they have considerably fewer vegan options than Paulie Gee's Pizzeria, Coalfire is consistently listed as one of the top pizzerias in Chicago. I especially enjoy the Southport location because it's a few doors down from The Music Box Theater and the perfect place to grab a pizza and drink before a movie. And recently, before Raiders of the Lost Ark, we happily discovered that they had added a second vegan pizza option to the menu, the absolutely delicious Vegan Pesto. Since moving to East Lakeview, Coalfire is now an ideal option for delivery and is working out quite tastily. Located at: 3707 N. Southport Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60613; (773) 477-2625.
16. Kalish - The Korean Vegan and I finally tried this popular uptown eatery this summer and we couldn't return quickly enough. The food is wonderful and the location is ideal, especially when it's warm enough to sit outside on beautiful Wilson Avenue and enjoy the neighborhood vibes. A lot of care goes into what they do at this all plant-based diner (read the Kalish Manifesto), and I'm always happy when we get to visit. The Woodland Burger, pancakes from the all day breakfast menu, and pretty much all of the pastries are my favorites. Located at 1313 W Wilson Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60640 | (773) 293-7768.
17. Left Coast - A hip, casual vibe awaits you at this popular neighborhood destination offering "simple, fresh, nutritious and convenient food and juice solutions." Vegan and gluten-free options are clearly labeled and it's the perfect hang on a beautiful summer afternoon. My go-to dish is the "Cadillac Curry." Located at: 2878 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657; (773) 880-5338 (Lincoln Park). A second location has recently opened in River North at 717 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654; (312) 877-5500.
18. Girl and the Goat - Voted best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that one of Chicago's hottest restaurants offers a "secret" all vegan menu. In fact, I have been told that all of chef Stephanie Izard's restaurants have a vegan menu. You just have to ask for it - pretty cool! I took Joanne here on her birthday in 2017 and we had a great time. Reservations are hard to score, but it appeared to us that you might very well be able to walk-in if you plan on dining early in the evening as we often do. Stephanie Izard won the Beard award for Best Chef Great Lakes in 2013 and was also named one of Food Magazine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2010. Located at: 809 W. Randolph St, Chicago, IL; (312) 492-6262.
19. Beatrix - Elegant, yet casual, Beatrix now has four Chicago locations: in River North, Streeterville, Fulton Market and Oak Brook (suburb). There are a handful of delicious vegan dishes, and I've generally found the wait staff to be knowledgable and helpful in explaining the options. A fine choice if you're looking for a stylish hang that caters to a wide array of palates. Check website for locations.
20. Chipotle - Since I visit Chipotle more than any other restaurant, I had to list it! If you want the full blown Chipotle experience (i.e. a burrito or bowl), then the sofritas bowl or burrito is probably the way to go. I regularly do that, but I just as often get a bowl of brown rice and black beans. Not only is this one of the healthiest things you can eat, it's super fast and they only charge you for two sides, which at my Chicago location comes to $1.99! Can't beat that!! Chipotle also clearly labels all of their food on this nutritional page (vegan, vegetarian, and allergens). I love this place! Located everywhere!
Vey encouraging to see these signs featured in Chipotle locations recently!
A few places that I didn't include above (mostly because I've only been there once or twice), but that I will happily be returning to include,https://www.cpvino.com/vegan-menu-1 Furious Spoon, and Ground Control. High on my list of places to try is Wheat's End Cafe.
Fast Food, Cafes, Donuts, Ice Cream, and Pie Pie My Darling!
Roti and IDOF - In addition to Chipotle (listed above), I love Roti Modern Mediterranean and IDOF (I Dream of Falafel). While neither of them can quite compare with Sultan's Market (listed above), they both very clearly list their vegan options and are about as delicious and nutritious as you can reasonably hope for out of a fast food establishment. Plus, they have locations everywhere!
Coffee and Tea Exchange - If this weren't the coolest neighborhood coffee store anywhere, with the most delicious double chocolate vegan muffins that you've ever tasted (courtesy of West Town Bakery), I probably wouldn't list it, but it is and they are - so here it is! They do serve coffee, but please note that there is nowhere to sit inside. So if you'e looking for a nice long coffee hang, best to visit in the summer when outdoor seating is available on beautiful Broadway St. Located at 3311 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657; (773) 528-2241.
West Town Bakery - The aforementioned West Town Bakery deserves its own listing as they now have three locations in the city, including a fairly new Wrigleyville location that I'm particularly interested in visiting. Check out their menu for an impressive array of vegan baked goods, including donuts, cakes, cookies, donuts, muffins, and scones. Visit the website for locations in River North, Wrigleyville, and West Town.
Pie, Pie My Darling Storefront - After nearly five years of stocking restaurants with the most delicious vegan cake slices, fulfilling endless special orders via Chicago area pop-up stores and delivery (including our wedding cake!), the prodigious baking dynamo known as Pie, Pie My Darling now has her own storefront. It is currently only open to the public on Saturdays from 11:00am - 1:00pm, with the promise of expanded hours in the future. If you haven't tried her cakes, be sure to do so at Paulie Gee's or Handelbar (both listed above), or get to her new storefront. You won't be disappointed! The storefront is located at 2636 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL.
Vacas Creamery - Ice Cream! More soon, but this new all vegan ice cream joint has been selling out with lines down the block. It's awesome!
Starbucks - For better or worse, they're everywhere and I've become a regular customer, especially after long winter runs. If you're vegan, you've probably figured out what you can eat by now, but if not, bagels! Most of them are vegan with my favorite being the Sprouted Grain Vegan Bagel.
Nice that the bagels at Starbucks are labeled!
Highly Recommended Restaurants Outside of Chicago
The places below are all highly recommended. In my opinion, "must-trys" and the best of the best among the eateries that I've visited. More restaurants and reviews coming soon, including Sestina Pasta Bar in New York and Joi Cafe in L.A.
P.S. and Co. (Philadelphia, PA) - This place is a gem and highly recommended for anyone visiting Philly, vegan or not. We loved it so much that we ate here 3 times in 24 hours while in town for the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon! It was fortunately only a few blocks from our hotel, but more importantly, the food was amazing, the staff and owner Andrea extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and the locale quaint and inviting. In addition to being all vegan, P.S. and Co. is completely gluten-free. Favorites included the scones, waffles, french toast, cheese board, and tiramisu dessert. If I lived nearby, I'd be a regular! Located at: 1706 Locust Street, Philadelphia PA, 19103; (215) 985-1706, email@example.com. Visited in November 2017.
Vedge (Philadelphia, PA) - "Is Vedge the best vegan restaurant in America? It might be one of the best restaurants, period." - Trey Popp, Philadelphia Magazine. Located at: 1221 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA; (215) 320-7500. Visited in November 2016.
Seabirds Kitchen (Costa Mesa, CA) - This was the first great vegan restaurant we went to and I hope to have the opportunity to go back soon. Like other favorites, we enjoyed our first visit so much that we made a special trip there the next day for lunch while driving from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles. Located at: the LAB, 2930 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626; (714) 549-2584. Visited in March 2016.
Ma Va'? (Rome, Italy) - Joanne and I love this restaurant so much that we hosted a private welcome dinner there for all of our guests the night before our wedding. Located in the neighborhood of Prati (not too far from the Vatican), this all vegan restaurant is an absolute gem. It's charming, authentic, everything is delicious, and if you're lucky, you might just get to meet Musetto!! Located at: Via Euclide Turba, 6/800195 Roma, Italia; +39 063729134, firstname.lastname@example.org. We are frequent visitors and were last there in August 2018.
Our Welcome Dinner at Ma Va' with all of our guests and Musetto front and center (July 2018)
Soul Kitchen (Turin, Italy) - Joanne and I decided to visit Torino on our honeymoon after having read that it was "Italy's first 'vegetarian city.'" Boasting over 30 meat-free restaurants, we had a difficult choice to make given that we would only be in town for one dinner (actually two, but the 2nd night was Sunday, when most of the restaurants were closed). In any case, Joanne chose well - we hit the jackpot! Simply put, Soul Kitchen was one of the best meals we've ever had. In addition, the space is hip and inviting, the staff very knowledgeable and kind, and we got the opportunity to visit with the owner and head chef, Luca M. Andrè, who was fantastic! An absolutely perfect evening!! Located at: Via Santa Giulia 2, 10124 Torino, Italia; +39 011 884700. Visited in July 2018.
Soul Kitchen with Owner and Executive Chef Luca M. Andrè (July 2018)
Avant Garden (New York, NY) - This place is a dream! From the New Yorker: "When dining at Avant Garden, you get the sense of having travelled through a wormhole to an alternate universe where animal products never existed, so they could never be missed." Located at: 130 East 7th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village); and 188 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211. Visited in June 2018.
Dirt Candy (New York, NY) - Located at: 86 Allen Street between Grand and Broome Streets, New York, NY; (212) 228-7732. Visited in February 2017 (brunch) and August 2017 (dinner).
Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC (New York, NY) - Located at: 248 Broome St, New York, NY 10002 (Btwn Orchard and Ludlow); (855) 462-2292. Visited in August 2017.
Leaf (Boulder, CO) - Located at: 2010 16th Street, Boulder, CO; (303)-442-1485. Visited in May 2017.
Shojin (Los Angeles) - Located at: 12406 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90066, (310) 390-0033. Visited in March 2016.
Sushi Rolls from Shojin
#Vegan #PlantPowered #Nutrition #Health #ChicagoRestaurants #3GreensMarket #AliceandFriendsVeganKitchen #Pizza #MediterraneanCuisine #PaulieGeesPizzeria #CoalfirePizza #ManaFoodBar #Amitabul #Kurah #TrueFoodKitchen #FruVeExpressJuicery #AcaiBowl