Located on traditional unceded land of the Potawatomi Nation and on the western shores of Lake Michigan is Chicago, Illinois. This Midwestern city is home to exquisite architecture, major league sports teams, and landmarks people come from near and far to visit. Though Chicago is home to almost 3 million people, making it the third most populous city in the U.S., it’s a city filled with some really unique hidden treasures (many of which are a vegan person’s dream!).
When the Great Chicago Fire devastated the city in 1871, Chicago’s resiliency prevailed. Its population grew rapidly and its contribution to the nation’s urban planning, art, transportation, and economy sectors skyrocketed. The refrigerated railcar, telegraph, and open-heart surgery all had their firsts in the Windy City. And, besides its beautiful views of Lake Michigan, Chicago is also home to the Chicago River: the world’s only backwards-flowing river!
With one of the oldest park districts in the nation and nearly 10,000 acres of greenspace, Chicago’s commitment to sustainability has made the city a joy to live in for its residents. The Chicago Sustainable Development Policy put in place in 2004 has also allowed the city to be a leader in environmental innovation. Notably, Chicago has over 500 LEED-certified buildings and development projects!
Whether cruising along Lake Shore Drive, checking out chic shops along The Magnificent Mile, or exploring the charming streets of Wicker Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, or another one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, visitors are sure to find something they love about this remarkable Midwestern city. And, while the city may be known for its deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, its plant-based food scene is top-notch to say the least.
Check out some of Chicago’s must-try vegan spots!
From sushi, dumplings, and noodle dishes to their brunch menu, PLANTA Queen is a dream for anyone who loves Asian food. Being at PLANTA is an experience in and of itself: the food is divine and exemplifies the power of plant-based ingredients, the wait staff are knowledgeable and elegant, and the atmosphere is electrifying. It’s difficult to find food like that found at PLANTA; many of their plates are made to share, so get ready to expand your flavor palate. Some of our favorites are the Crispy Rice sushi, Wonton Soup, Bang Bang Broccoli, and Pineapple Fried Rice. And if you go for brunch, getting the Cinnamon Bun (which comes with a chai icing- need we say more?) is a must. Although its River North location just opened its doors on the very-happening Clark Street on September 29, 2022, it has already become a beloved favorite for foodies all around Chicago!
Alice & Friends’ Vegan Kitchen
Alice & Friends’ Vegan Kitchen offers an extensive array of plant-based Asian dishes filled with rich flavor combinations that are often missing from other restaurants’ veganized options. The menu at Alice & Friends’ changes with the seasons, so naturally, they feature as many ingredients that are in season as possible. From appetizers like Satay Skewers, Dumplings, Wonton Soup, and Agedashi Tofu to entreés like Chow Mein, Royal Pho, and Grace’s Teriyaki, the food at Alice & Friends is heavily inspired by classic dishes from a variety of Asian cuisines. Whether you choose to order something with mock meats or without, you are guaranteed to feel a genuinely comfortable level of fullness after your meal at Alice & Friends’. And, if you have more room, we strongly recommend finishing a meal here off with a scrumptious house-made dessert; we especially love their Mocha Cake and Chocolate Mousse Pie! Alice & Friends’ is also a Woman and Minority-owned business and supports the animal rescue Lulu’s Locker Rescue, which we are all for!
Vegan Plate is the place to go if you’re looking for quick and creative plant-based Asian eats. The majority of their dishes can be made gluten-free and soy-free, so this restaurant is allergen-friendly and will meet nearly everyone’s dietary needs. We strongly recommend starting with the Gyoza, Garden Rolls, or Veggie Miso Soup. And as for entreés, their Drunken Noodle dish is fantastic, and the Wonton Noodle Soup is perfect on a chilly winter day. We’d be doing a disservice if we didn’t also mention that ending on a sweet note at Vegan Plate is a must. Our go-to? The Banana Spring Rolls: they’re light and crunchy with a perfect level of sweetness.
Cuisine: American, comfort, casual
Native to California, we’re certain that Native Foods has been bringing joy to plant-based Chicagoans ever since its Windy City locations first opened their doors. Their reasonable prices, family-friendly environment, and overall convenience make it a one-stop-shop for most anyone. Not only does Native Foods feature a fully vegan menu of from-scratch, classic veganized comfort foods, it also offers monthly dishes, seasonal menus, and it frequently comes out with new and original menu items! The Chicken Run Ranch is one of the best plant-based chicken sandwiches in the world, and we would be remiss to point out their incredible desserts. The Peanut Butter Parfait and Oatmeal Creme Pie are always fresh and mouth-watering, but even a classic Chocolate Chip Cookie from Native Foods will hit the spot. We love that they locally source their ingredients whenever possible, and we admire their mission of serving tasty dishes that prioritize striving for environmental sustainability and animal welfare.
Cuisine: Doughnuts, coffee
Beacon Doughnuts may just be the ultimate hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop in the U.S. Their unique storefront is a walk-up window in an alleyway in the heart of Lincoln Park: a truly hidden, hidden gem! And, from first glance to last bite, even people most skeptical of vegan food would have a hard time realizing that everything at Beacon is vegan. From the classics to seasonal favorites and everything in between, Beacon’s doughnuts are always fresh and their menu is extensive; they also really have a way with flavors! We highly recommend the Blueberry Pancake, Raised Glazed, and Cinnamon Coffee Cake. And, if you’re a chocoholic of any sort, the Oreo Old Fashioned, Chocolate Glazed Brioche, and Mocha Bombolone are sure to fulfill that sweet tooth. You really can’t go wrong when ordering at Beacon; just be sure to place your order before they run out!
Cuisine: Ice cream, pastries, coffee
Vaca’s Creamery is another walk-up window dessert spot home to fully plant-based treats that often go undetected as vegan to anyone who doesn’t already know. Located on a quiet block on the border of Wicker Park and Noble Square, Vaca’s has some of the best soft-serve ice cream in Chicago and is happily devoured by all who visit. Whether you try one of their many flavors of milkshakes, build your own soft-serve or handshake, or choose something that catches your eye from their pastry section, Vaca’s will not disappoint. Their wide selection of toppings makes nearly any ice cream creation you could imagine into a reality, and they always keep their menu interesting by offering seasonal flavors throughout the year. A classic vanilla, chocolate, or swirl soft-serve with your favorite toppings will hit the spot, and we recommend getting it in a cup with a cone on top so you don’t risk any of your toppings falling out. And, if you ever visit while they have their Pistachio or Cinnamon Toast Cereal Mylk Soft-Serves, be sure to at least try a sample!
Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Chicago
These restaurants may not be fully vegan, but we want to highlight their amazing consideration for plant-based eaters navigating a non-plant-based city. Not only are these spots delicious, they also make it delightfully simple to dine with people of all dietary needs.
Cuisine: Diner food, comfort food, mock meats, desserts, casual sit-down
The Chicago Diner is a go-to restaurant for vegans and non-vegans alike. Their slogan is “meat free since ‘83,” and although they offer dairy cheese and real egg options, the rest of their dishes are 100% plant-based and oh-so-delicious. Whether catching up with friends, dining out with family, or grabbing a quick bite solo, The Chicago Diner is timeless and fitting for any occasion. Nestled in the streets of Boystown and Logan Square, the atmosphere of each location is fun and refreshing. Our recommendations for getting the full Chicago Diner experience? Start with your favorite flavor of their award-winning Vegan Shake and an appetizer or two – the Spinach Artichoke Dip and the Nachos are without a doubt some of the yummiest you’ll ever try – and then try a signature sandwich. Their Gyros are outstanding in every way and, if any meat-eating pals are dining with you, they can be sure to enjoy the Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich. If you have more room for dessert, finish off your meal with a Vegan Cinnamon Roll or the S’mores Brownie Sundae. And, if you happen to be there before 3 pm, a Chicago Diner brunch can’t be beat.
Cuisine: Comfort food, drinks, casual
Hoping to find a local restaurant that has clever dishes, phenomenal flavors and options for everyone? Look no further than Handlebar! This small Wicker Park neighborhood restaurant has become a hub for foodies from near and far since it first opened in 2003. In addition to their every-day menu, Handlebar offers a separate gluten-free menu as well as an entire brunch menu! Regardless of which one you’re ordering from, their inventive from-scratch dishes detailed on each page will astonish you. We recommend the Nashville Hot Fried “Chicken” Sandwich and the Sloppy Joe or, if you’ll be going the breakfast or brunch route, the French Toast, Pepita Scramble, or Handlemuffin are excellent choices. Handlebar also has a full bar and beer garden which makes it an awesome night-out spot too! We must give Handlebar a round-of-applause for their commitment to providing some of the best pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan comfort foods in Chicago.
Cuisine: Comfort (multiple cuisines), mock meats, casual
From their Southern U.S.-inspired dishes like the Po Boy to the delicious flavors of their Banh Mi, Ground Control can whip up vegetarian and vegan dishes influenced by a plethora of cultures! This Logan Square restaurant has a menu that is small-but-mighty, the wait staff are super friendly and kind, and the ambience is engaging yet calm, and a little bit mysterious too. Oh, and the food is truly delectable! We highly recommend the Gyros and Coconut Tomato Soup. Ground Control is great for dates with S/Os, friends, and family alike, so be sure to stop in and check it out for yourself!
Cuisine: Burgers, casual, take-out
A huge shout-out to Small Cheval for adding a plant-based option to their small, essentials-only menu! This fast-paced burger joint is the casual version of its upscale predecessor, Au Cheval, and it’s essentially the In ‘n Out of the Midwest. With five locations spread throughout the city, vegans and vegetarians all around Chicago can enjoy Small Cheval’s heavenly Plant-Based Burger. Whether you take your food to-go or dine in at their first-come-first serve tables, an order of the Golden Fries will complete your meal and leave you undoubtedly satisfied.
Sophie Friedland recently graduated from Chapman University where she studied Integrated Educational Studies with minors in Environmental Studies and Language & Literacy. She has been vegan for almost seven years and is passionate about living as realistically ethical and sustainable as possible. When Sophie isn’t writing or checking out the plant-based food scene of the Chicagoland area, she spends her days working with kids in classroom and outdoor settings and caring for pets throughout her community.
Sophie loves learning about and exploring new places, and she thrives outside! In her free time, Sophie can be found running, climbing, and listening to podcasts as she strolls along the shores of Lake Michigan while searching for sea glass. She also enjoys creating art! While clay is perhaps her favorite medium to work with, she also paints, draws, and attempts turning her song mash-up combination ideas into a reality.