You know how whenever your friends visit the city from “out of town,” you always seem to drift toward the same places? Much to my chagrin, these places are usually located in Wicker Park or the North Side. Much to my dismay, these places usually involve waiting in a stupid long line at a stupid late hour when we’re all hungry, half-crazed, and probably counting our change. Much to my disappointment, these places are usually the Handlebar, the Chicago Diner, or Earwax—oh wait, no! It’s closed! My friends begin to panic–Wherever shall we eat? Wherever in the entire city of Chicago will they find a vegetarian restaurant that serves sandwiches for under $15?! Um… have you ever heard of a little place called THE SOUTH SIDE?
I know it sounds crazy, but just hear me out: there is a land of green greatness, seitan splendor, and sparkling soy surprises just waiting to be discovered by all you North dwellers. From wholesome organic eats to home style Mexican to drool-worthy meatless soul food, there’s something to satisfy even the pickiest member of your vegan posse. The prices will also be pleasing to your poorest members with a wide range of items for less than $5.
3267 South Halsted Street
For upscale dining with a conscience (and without the snooty attitude), South Side vegans favor Bridgeport’s Nana. This charming family-owned eatery offers a menu of organic hormone and preservative-free foods, harvesting from over 30 local farms, orchards, and “artisan craftsmen”. (Longaberger baskets! Tasty!)
Here, you will find a scrumptious range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes ranging from simple tofu scrambles to seasonal veggie fondue. You will also find an impressive wine, cocktail, and microbrew beer list. Chase your dinner date with a distinguished Sidecar or a Dark and Stormy, wind down the evening with a Ginger Vodka Lemonade, or try something kind of weird like a Roasted Poblano Bloody Mary. If it sounds weird here, it’s probably good.
El Faro Restaurant
3936 West 31st Street
It’s not something we like to admit, but most vegetarians could wax longingly about a former favorite meaty treat. Mine was Cuban pork sandwiches, deliciously savory, smoky, spicy, juicy Cuban pork sandwiches. Lucky for me, El Faro serves up a Veggie Cubana to die for, complete with faux bacon, chorizo, black beans, and a fried egg. A bite of this thing is like a visit from a much beloved ghost… a ghost who looks way sexier in the after life. In a recession, this sandwich is truly a thing of beauty, offering enough food to split for just $3.75.
El Faro also provides a full range of fine vegetarian tacos, homemade tortillas, soups, and classic bean and rice dishes. Diners of the raw persuasion will appreciate the wonderful fresh-squeezed juice selection with everything from your standard orange to your less standard beets and acai.
3129 South Morgan Street
My stomach starts to growl whenever I’m within three blocks of Zaytune. I think it’s the garlicky smell of those magical herb fries, those precious, precious, precious herb fries. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I hardly ever have room for them after I’ve plowed through a sizzling veggie wrap or a pile of crispy falafel.
Zaytune offers a relatively small menu of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern specials, but everything on it is fresh and outstandingly delicious. The flatbread is always hot, baked in house and grilled to order. The Tahini is spicy and never watered down. The red pepper hummus is heaven itself, if heaven were a hummus. The food is all healthy, but so good that you could get fat if you wanted to. Life, as they say, will find a way.
Brother Tim’s Vegetarian Fast Food
1711 East 87th Street
If you don’t want to work quite so hard to get fat, head on down to Brother Tim’s! After all, sometimes even the most devoted vegetarian needs some honest to goodness fried greatness. Neighborhood favorites include fish nuggets, soy pizza, and $1 tacos. (After all, who can argue with $1 tacos?)
Between the snack-sized portions and the snack-sized prices, this place could get truly addictive. The first time I visited Brother Tim’s, they even offered me samples of every dessert! (I recommend the banana pudding.) You see what they did there? I do, and I’m loving it.
Soul Vegetarian East
205 East 75th Street
Soul Vegetarian East is very old school for a vegan-friendly restaurant, dating all the way back to the dark ages of the 80s. Since ’82, this cozy eatery has brought you mouth-watering collards, tangy barbeque, old-fashioned mac ‘n cheese, and creamy, incredible pies. The BBQ Protein Tidbits (not to be confused with the BBQ Tofu Tidbits) are truly the finest tidbits I have ever tasted. And I would not joke about that.
All kidding aside, Soul Vegetarian East has a huge menu and everything on that menu is dynamite. They also offer an equally dynamite Sunday brunch and Monday night jazz show. Even the service is memorable (leave a nice tip for my favorite waiter, an elegant man who looks a bit like Vincent Price.)