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Dec 13, 2004 02:35 PM

Vegetarian Chicago

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Need a suggestion for a gift certificate to a vegetarian Chicago eatery for a Christmas/New Years gift. Looking for a place they might not go to on their own (poor 20-somethings). Is there such a place?

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  1. Not sure if these places have gift certificates, but are fun unique ideas:
    Soul Vegetarian East (773) 224-0104 - 205 E 75th St
    Ethiopian Diamond (773) 338-6100 - 6120 N Broadway St

    Or for something a little bit more trendy upscale:
    Green Zebra (312) 243-7100 - 1460 W Chicago Ave
    Opera (312) 461-0161 - 1301 S Wabash Ave

    I personally would not recommend the Chicago Diner on Halsted. I am a vegetarian and dragged several non-veggies there for my b-day, and was totally disappointed, by far the worst restaurant I have ever eaten at, to the point that I couldn't even eat what I had ordered. I sampled the meals of all 3 of my guests thinking maybe I just made a poor selection and didn't like a single one, in fact hardly found them edible. 4 people $125 meal, 4 full plates at the end of the meal, and 4 empty stomachs. I had to go home and cook dinner! At least it has given us something to laugh about!

    11 Replies
    1. re: vicker16

      Definitely go for the Green Zebra, especially if the 20-somethings couldn't afford to go on their own. I love the variety of dishes and the no-faux dishes. (tofurky, etc).

      Another idea which is a bit more radical is to send them to Karyn's for raw food (vegan, raw). It is really different and definitely a must for the adventurous.

      1. re: vicker16

        Poor 20-something veg kids LOVE Chicago Diner, despite vicker16's negative review of it.

        I can't attest to their food being great per se, as it certainly does have a certain "Food Not Bombs" appeal to it, but if you go on a good day and order the things they do right (Veg Shepards Pie and Tempeh Fajitas would be my suggestion), and pair them with a nice organic beer, there's nothing more collegiately vegetarian in the city.
        Plus the wonderously slow wait staff make up for their sloth by being ridicuously good 20 something slacker eye candy.

        Recommended along the same lines (but with occassionally better dishes and assuredly better service) would be Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park and Victory's Banner in Roscoe Village.

        1. re: jessicanono

          I have to disagree, I am a poor 20 something, and didn't at all care for Chicago Diner and 2 of the entrees my party ordered were the Veg Shepards Pie and Tempeh Fajitas. I had heard rave reviews from meat eaters about this place which is why I had to go, and again was dissappointed (maybe they just assumed all meatless food tastes horrible and didn't expect much). Despite stereotypes about Vegetarians, I love food and love to eat, and will eat almost anything from a greasy spoon to highend as long as there is no meat, but again Chicago Diner was the worst restaurant I have ever eaten at. On a positive, I do enjoy Heartland Cafe as well as Victory Banner (not so good for Vegan's, mostly breakfast food, lots of eggs and honey)

          1. re: vicker16

            Funny, the last time I ate at Chicago Diner (June 1988 -- yes, eighty-eight), I also was a 20-something vegetarian and I also thought it was the worst restaurant I'd been to (O.K., ONE of the worst). I can't remember what I had and don't want to; I seem to recall lots of sprouts on it. Something seems to be keeping Chicago Diner in business; maybe the eye candy slacker waitstaff, but probably lack of real competition before Green Zebra showed up. Heartland is in a zone of its own, beyond good or bad or any other standard of taste you would normally apply to a restaurant. I only went there because of friends at Loyola and actually found everything about Heartland depressing and/or apalling, from the shabby dresses and white-boy dredlocks adorning the staff, to the dirt on the floors, to the desultory cooking and "who gives a crap" attitudes. So I pretty much hated them, too, except for the fact you could get high by osmosis standing within 30 feet of any Heartland staff member. Maybe Heartland has improved since my last visit 15 years ago... but anyway, I don't think it would meet the requirement for something fancier or more expensive, so Green Zebra may be your best choice (although I can't recommend it, not having been yet, the reviews have been more than solid, even glowing in some cases).

            Regarding Green Zebra, if you decide to go there, call ASAP for reservations. It's a hot ticket any night; I'd imagine a holiday will be even tougher.

            1. re: JimInLoganSquare

              Yes, Heartland Cafe is truly depressing, and I have never, ever, had a good meal there. I'd recommend Blind Faith, on Dempster in Evanston, for high-quality though unimaginative vegetarian fare - but it's more of a coffee-shop atmosphere. Haven't been to Green Zebra, but all those enthusiastic reviewers can't all be wrong (can they?).

              1. re: Akatonbo

                Try Alice and Friends on Broadway just north of Bryn Mawr. We're not vegetarians but have thoroughly enjoyed meals there (except for desserts which for some mysterious reason always look fabulous but turn out to have little flavor).

                Not as glamorous as Green Zebra or the like, but a very pleasant, pretty, relaxing space.


              2. re: JimInLoganSquare

                Yep, last time I was there I was a poor 20-something (probably in the early '90's, so more recent information than you, JimInLoganSquare!), and I thought it was terrible. Food was bad, wait service didn't provide much in the way of eye candy and it was expensive.


                1. re: JimInLoganSquare

                  I don't think it's very fair to judge a restaurant based on an experience 20 years ago. That being said, I am 20-something and I agree that Chicago Diner is one of the worst vegetarian meals that I have ever had.

                  Chicago Diner
                  3411 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657

                2. re: vicker16

                  yeah, went there a couple of years ago after hearing so many raves. Terribly food. Im not vegetarian but that doesn't mean i don't know good or bad vegetarian food. If it tastes bad or bland, it's just bad or bland. I should've stayed with Yoshi's Cafe down the street instead, much better vegetarian dishes even though it's not a vegetarian place.

                  1. re: jaytee

                    I have a prejudice that the best vegetarian food in Chicago is Indian. How about Monsoon?

                    1. re: N Tocus

                      Monsoon is OK, although rather pricey. It's got a lovely ambience though.
                      As everybody else points out, Devon is the place to go for Indian food in Chicago (vego or not).
                      I'd agree with Green Zebra, too.
                      Aria cater to vegetarians and give huge servings.
                      I didn't liek my meals at Marche, Opera & Saiko even though they were vegetarian.
                      Francesca's on Taylor and Gioco always have lots of nice vegetarian options and Gioco made a special risotto for a visiting vego friend with gluten intolerance. That was a nice touch.
                      Other nice vego food can be found (in large quantities, too!!!) at Reza's.

            2. Green Zebra!! Definitely the most exciting vegetable-focused restaurant in Chicago and one of the entire country's best new restaurants. Just let them know to make a reservation well in advance. Not cheap, but a good value given the experience; a filling meal (3 or 4 small plates per person) runs about $40-$50 per person (plus drinks). The staff is very friendly, so "poor 20-somethings" will be well treated.

              1. I think Handlebar on north ave. is the best vegetarian, but it isn't particularly fancy.

                1. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Charlie Trotters. True it's very very expensive, but I had the best meal of my life there in my (not so poor) 20-something vegetarian days. Tru is another wonderful(and ultra expensive) choice. The kitchens in those uber-upscale places aren't frightened by customers asking for all vegetable degustations.


                  1. I think the Chicago Diner can be hit and miss depending upon what you order, but I'd still recommend it over the likes of the Heartland Cafe any day (Buffalo burgers, what?!?). I guess I'm biased, but as a long-time vegan I really enjoy eating at Amitabul (vegan & Korean).