Restaurants and people that aren’t necessarily 100% plant-based are increasingly turning to plant-based protein alternatives. In fact, “33% of consumers are actively trying to reduce their meat consumption (without sacrificing taste)” according to a Technomic consumer trend report. Additionally, in 2018, plant-based food sales grew by 20%, reaching $3.3 billion and outpacing other food sales significantly.
Plant-based dieters used to have limited choices, but as the popularity increases, there are plenty of chef-quality, plant-based meal options. With 35% of Americans having consumed plant-based meat in 2019, and 90% saying they would do so again, it’s no surprise that plant-based restaurants are a fast growing segment of the industry.
This is especially true in Chicago, with its bustling food scene. Chicago, named the food and drink capital of the world by a global survey, offers a wide variety of cuisines. The “Windy City” is simultaneously an epicenter of high-end cuisine and amazing casual, inexpensive fare like deep-dish pizza and Chicago dogs, making it one of the top food destinations in the United States.
Best 5 Plant-Based Restaurants in Chicago
1. The Chicago Diner
The Chicago Diner was ahead of the curve when it comes to plant-based menu offerings. The iconic restaurant proudly promotes that it’s been “Meat Free Since ‘83.” At the time, it was pretty revolutionary to open a 100% vegetarian diner, but their longtime success is a testament to how delicious the food is.
The Chicago Diner is known for its award winning vegan milkshakes made with vegan ice cream and soy milk. They’re available in a variety of flavors including your classic chocolate and vanilla, as well as more full-flavored options like Cookie Dough Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chip.
Their flagship sandwich, the signature Radical Reuben, is made from chewy seitan and vegan mozzarella, and is praised by vegans worldwide. It’s a must-try!
If you’re looking for plant-based fine dining, this is the place to be. Althea offers globally inspired, locally sourced, seasonal plant-based menu items that are sure to wow. Located on the seventh floor of a downtown Michigan Avenue building, the restaurant also offers a fantastic view of the city streets below.
For an appetizer, locals recommend the surprisingly delightful vegan cheese plate. Popular entrees include spicy Kung Pao Cauliflower with Quinoa, or cacio e pepe made from kelp noodles and a rich and creamy cashew cheese sauce. The food at Althea is so rich and decadent, you would never know it’s all completely plant-based!
Sunda is a trendy Japanese fusion restaurant that tends to be loud, crowded, and draws in big groups of young people with its contemporary vibe.
While Sunda isn’t a completely plant-based restaurant, it has an extensive separate vegetarian menu. You can get vegan-friendly sushi, tofu pad thai, and fan favorite appetizers like crispy eggplant bao buns or avocado crispy rice.
If you’re looking for a grab-and-go restaurant, try Uncooked in one of two locations at Fulton Market and Bucktown. The restaurant has a cool casual vibe, and the food items are highly praised by Chicago locals and tourists alike for their freshness and ingenuity. Even self-proclaimed skeptics are impressed by the depth of flavor in the dishes at Uncooked.
The Chicago establishment is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and serves coffee, smoothies, elixirs, juices, and a long list of entrees and desserts, all of which are 100% plant-based, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.
As a bonus, Uncooked is a zero-waste restaurant. Their takeaway containers are all compostable, and they’ve partnered with Collective Resource for their resources and educational tools to make composting easier for Chicagoans.
Handlebar offers a long list of vegan and vegetarian comfort food items. It’s the perfect spot for a hangover brunch with menu items like breakfast burritos and chimichangas, french toast, and country fried portobello mushrooms—all vegetarian with vegan options, too! They also have a full bar with cocktails including a bloody mary topped with a fried pickle.
Handlebar is more than just brunch though—they are also open for lunch and dinner. Locals go for the comfort food appetizers like nachos and chili cheese fries (veggie chili of course, with an option of regular cheese or vegan queso).
Plant-Based Eating is Here to Stay
Plant-based restaurants are continuing to grow in popularity across the nation. This list is only the beginning of great plant-based meal options that are available in the Chicago area.
According to Katrina Fox, founder of Vegan Business Media, chefs have felt pressured to up their game and get more creative due to the development of next-generation plant-based meat products, and that trend is likely to continue. That’s one reason why Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts launched three plant-based culinary arts programs: to help the next generation of chefs stay abreast of changing consumer values related to food.
“By adopting a more plant-centric diet, you’re going to be forced to be more creative, or you’re going to be forced to investigate ingredients that you never thought you’d cook with. And as a result, I think it’s actually kind of an expansion of your culinary capacities to cook plant-based.”
Shane Witter-Hicks, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate & Private Chef
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