By Dan Morgridge
So you’ve got a friend, or a loved one, or a dining companion of any kind that has a thing for eatin’ animals. And you, you enlightened political activist or health-conscious lovely creature, you probably want to avoid watching said companion consume parts of an animal while you converse or cavort. But man… it’s a bummer trying to inflict vegetarian dining on someone. So why not just do it covertly? We’ve picked out five places that shouldn’t set off major meatless alarms in the average carnivore’s head. But all of them are vegetarian, all of them offer great food, and hopefully they’ll love the meal by the time they figure out they’ve been beefboozled.
2311 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Being as bike-friendly a bar as one can possibly imagine, the Portlandia vibe of Handlebar is hard to ignore. But of all these restaurants, Handlebar does court the pescatarian crowd – fish tacos, blackened catfish, and a tempeh-or-shrimp Po Boy mean that your meat eater could still get away with some murder. But overall, you’d be hard pressed to find any bar with a menu as good as Handlebar’s, vegetarian or otherwise. The Handlebar omelet (with smoked gouda, walnuts, and pears) is divine, and the little PB&J dessert pies are everyone’s idea of a good time.
Quesadilla Reyna Del Sur
2235 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Quesadilla Reyna Del Sur boasts a fairly non-descript storefront, with nary a vegetarian buzzword to clue in your hapless meat-eater friend. Sitting down with the menu will reveal an array of burritos, quesadillas, tortas and more – all of which sounds pretty delicious (your carnivore doesn’t need to know that items like the flor de calabeza (pumpkin flowers) quesadilla isn’t some delicious dry-aged sausage. Distract them with one of the house-made juice blends, and their guard should slowly drop. The ruse should hold until the first bite is taken, which should prove to be delicious enough to distract from thoughts of animal flesh for the next 18 bites or so. (And hopefully beyond!)
218 South Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60603
Native Foods isn’t totally shy about their plant-based cuisine, but the appearance and taste of the food alone should cause serious doubts in even the toughest meathusiast. Offerings like the Scorpion Burger pile on blackened tempeh, chipotle sauce, romaine, carrots, avocado and onions, creating a two-handed “burger” that’s too decadent to give away that it’s meat-free. Their crispy battered Native Chicken is convincing enough that your meat-eater should be left staring profusely in between bites.
3936 W. 31st
Chicago, IL 60623
For those who think that vegetarians only live on the Northside, think again. El Faro is a hidden gem of a diner with handmade tortillas, soy chorizo, and one fine chile relleno. There is in fact meat available, but we had to give props to a quiet little storefront on 31st that has a great array of fake meats and a creative use of them in their veggie items.
1756 W. Division
Chicago, IL 60622
The holy grail of vegan dining for years, Chicago Diner has the history to live up to their name. Since 1983, the Diner has been serving classic vegan and organic cooking to the locals of Lakeview and anyone who’ll make the trek. The fare is about as varied as you could ever dream – gyoza here, seitan gyros there, or just a massive black bean burger if you’ve got a true diner appetite. Just save room for desert: your dining partner may not get meat, but you can fatten them to your heart’s delight with a chocolate chip cookie dough vegan shake. Oh, and you know what else is vegetarian? Mimosas and margaritas.