The Windy City: a Guide to Chicago

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In the heart of Chicago is Millennium Park, a green space boasting live music, theater, art and a giant bean. Yes, a bean. In a city with a thriving vegan culinary scene, it makes sense that one of its main attractions is a colossal, stainless steel seed. Cloud Gate is a public sculpture affectionately nicknamed “The Bean” because of its smooth, rounded shape, and it stands like a beacon of hope, welcoming all those who seek plant-based adventures in the Windy City.

A rich sensory experience, Chicago is famous for its museums and cultural institutions, jazz legends and blues bars, its architecture and its food, including classic American staples like pizza and burgers. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of tantalizing vegan options – and if you’ve never experienced the miracle of deep-dish pizza, it’s about time you did!

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The Arrival

I was helping my friend move into her new apartment when we stumbled across a small brick building on a picturesque, tree-lined street in the Lakeview area. “Look!” I bellowed and pointed, as if identifying new alien life forms alongside Amy Adams. Scrawled across the front window pane were the words Kitchen 17 Vegan Cafe, and that was the beginning of the end of all of our wishing, wanting and craving for satisfying home cooking, without either of us having to cook. Kitchen 17 is a casual, sunlit cafe offering the best in comfort food including the only deep-dish pizza in town, hardy burgers, gyros and wraps. Chef and owner Don Clements crafts ingredients from scratch with alacrity each day; his deft gastronomy skills also bring to life tasty appetizers like creamy artichoke dip and cheesy nachos as well as rich desserts which include moist cookies, cupcakes and cheesecakes. Expect lots of classic rock along with your milkshake and jumbo slice of pizza.

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The Spice of Life

My mom has always said that food prepared with love tastes better, which leads me to believe there’s a whole lot of love at Arya Bhavan. Kirti Sheth is the talented and creative chef and proprietress of Arya Bhavan, a restaurant offering flavorful Indian fusion cuisine along with an expansive buffet. The petite and passionate Sheth visits tables throughout the day to engage guests in conversation about her holistic approach to food preparation which includes vegan, organic ingredients and gluten-free options. This restaurant, with its warm and convivial atmosphere in West Rogers Park, also serves as a venue for cooking classes where guests can learn basic meal prep using fresh ingredients and learn of the benefits of Ayuverdic Indian spices. Don’t leave without trying the crispy samosas filled with peas and potatoes or the murch pakora, tangy chickpea dipped banana peppers. Enjoy a crunchy kale salad, then indulge in the spicy dal munzara, made with moong lentils. Now, that’s amore.

Queen of Tacos and Tofu

Set in the bustling Bucktown neighborhood is Quesadilla La Reina del Sur, a small, unassuming eatery filled with the smells of delicious and authentic Mexican fare. This pint-sized venue has an audacious goal to create healthy and nourishing menu offerings that rival those of any meat-based establishments and to keep customers hungry for more, of course. Offerings include traditional dishes like pozole, enchiladas, fajitas and tamales as well as fresh fruit juices and smoothies. While their menu and website read “Vegetarian” – this is an entirely vegan restaurant, which means, yes, even their tres leches cake and mango ice cream are yours for the taking. ¡Que rico!

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Power to the Plants

The Chicago Diner has a clever motto: Meat Free Since 1983. I love the history of this little veggie restaurant that could, spearheaded by Mickey Hornick and Jo Kaucher. At a time when everyone in the food industry said a restaurant without meat offerings couldn’t and wouldn’t survive, the cabbage-dealing duo carried on. The appetizers include crispy butternut squash fritters and tasty truffle mushroom fries. Robust salads can double as a meal; the taco salad is loaded with goodness and the Caesar salad is an enduring classic that thoroughly satisfies. For the main course, the Radical Ruben sandwich is my personal favorite, followed by the Buddha Karma burger. The dessert menu has a wide variety to choose from including a delectable cocoa mousse cake and caramel crunch torte. Thirty-three years later, the Chicago Diner has amassed a regular clientele of devoted herbivores, plant-curious community members, and customers who just plain love delicious food. You’ll never be same after one of their smoothies. I recommend all of them.

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Sweet Things

Bad Day Donuts makes artisan donuts, the kind that keep you up at night, wondering when your world will collide with another one of these donuts. The melt-in-your-mouth treats, with their spongy interior and decadent flavors are what donut dreams are made of. Bad Day’s menu offers Classic, Fancy and Filled. Available via special order or you can find them at Damn Fine Coffee Bar in Logan Square or Worm Hole Cafe in Wicker Park. Pie Pie, My Darling offers perfect fruit pies and cakes “for the misfit soul”. If you’re coming into town, pop an email over for an order and pick up {items are baked from home}. Choose from mouth-watering flavors like caramel apple crumble, salted chocolate pecan, and chocolate truffle. Be sure to order two: one for you and one for you. That’s not a typo. That’s just what I would do!

If the Shoe Fits

Once you’ve sufficiently sated your appetite with new flavors and tastes, and you’ve taken in the blue splendor of Lake Michigan {perhaps with or without a side of stiff wind}, then you are ready to be dazzled: an animal-friendly fashion expedition awaits. Alisha Kettner is Chicago’s doyenne of cruelty-free kicks, and she has opened the one and only boutique in the USA offering all-vegan, ethically-produced footwear and accessories for men, women and children, Amour de la Terre offers high-quality, design-led shoes including flats, stilettos, platforms, boots, belts and purses from favorite brands like NAE, OlsenHaus, Cri de Coeur, and Bourgeois Boheme. All the goods in one place!

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Sweet Home Chicago

If you’re in town during the fall months, scoop up a ticket to the annual Vegan Mania fest which raises awareness of the many ethical, environmental and health benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Rahm Emanuel, the city’s plant-powered mayor, has encouraged residents to adopt a plant-based diet as a means of combating chronic disease and has hosted an annual Veggie Pride Parade each summer since 2012, modeled after those in Paris and New York. No matter what time of the year you find yourself in Chicago, just remember to follow the bean!

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Photo credit: Christina Pippin

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Christina Pippin

Christina is an artist, educator and freelance writer who divides her time between Paris and Chicago. She believes in using creativity as a medium for change. she believes in everyday heroes, and she believes in the power of love. She curates a cruelty-free + ethical style guide at finny + dill.

2 Comments
  1. Loved this article – I am a Chicago native (not a vegan) and am looking forward to visiting some of these places! Thank you for choosing establishments that are in safe, thriving neighborhoods. 🙂

  2. I found this eloquent article to be quite delectable as well as informative. Even after just eating a late lunch, my tastebuds were aroused! Thank you Ms. Christina; you brought pride and awareness of this great city, Chicago.

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