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Aug 16, 2010 05:36 PM

Veg friendly, ethnic, secret places?

Heading to Chi in Sept to visit my dtr.

I go a few times a year, so have had the opportunity to sample the deep dish pizza (feh - not for me, sorry), Greek Islands, Trotter, Ann Sather, the top of whatever that tall building is for drinks (man, that's an offensive NY comment!), Schuba's for brunch (prob not well known, but we like it) and other icons I can't recall.

No interest in Alinea or any other tortured-food-presentation places. Been to the well-known veg places (Karyn's, Chi Diner, Earwax). How's Green Zebra? Looks fussy but maybe it's worth a try?

Love and often visit Emerald Loop Bar and Grill. You wouldn't believe how good their veg burger, fries, rings, mashed, etc. are. Highly recommend!

We are planning to visit one of the Tony Gourmet Chinese restos, and also Cumin. Any comments on those? Any similar venues to consider?

Bottom line, we love ethnic, spicy, divey or not so much, veg-friendly, homey, etc. venues. She's in Lincoln Park, and I'll be in the Michigan/State area. Taxis, trains,buses, car, all good.

Can deal with places that aren't totally veg, as long as there are options and/or flexibility on the part of the staff to accommodate our vegginess. You Chi guys are really nice about that.

I've done my research so I don't want to waste anyone's time. It's the secret, hidden, not-well-known, off the grid kinds of places I'm hoping to find.

Thanks Chi hounds. Hope you understand, I really love your city and always look forward to my visits. Just can't take the snark outta N'yark!

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Green Zebra
1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

Emerald Loop
35 E Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60601

Bar and Grill
24204 W Lockport St, Plainfield, IL 60544

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  1. >> We are planning to visit one of the Tony Gourmet Chinese restos, and also Cumin. Any comments on those?

    What are the "Tony Gourmet Chinese restos"?

    >> I'll be in the Michigan/State area.

    Michigan Avenue and State Street parallel each other; both run north and south for miles, just a couple of blocks apart.

    10 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Hi nsxtasy-
      Thanks for your response.
      The Tony Gourmet Group includes Lao Beijing, 2138 S Archer Ave; Lao Shanghai 2163 S China Pl; Lao Sze Chuan 2172 S Archer Ave; and I believe there may be a 4th one. Unfortunately, the website for this company is down at the moment, so I can't include it.

      Will likely stay at the Palomar at 505 N State. My intention when I mentioned State and Michigan was merely to give a general idea of where I would be staying in order to obviate any questions re location. I'm sorry I was unclear. Didn't know when I posted that the area is called River North. I appreciate your follow-up and look forward to your recs!

      Lao Sze Chuan
      2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

      1. re: mrsdebdav

        Well off the beaten track, in the south side Chatham neighborhood is the Black Hebrew restaurant, Soul Vegetarian East. The the web site from PBS TV show, Check Please, included this video:

        The Chicago Tribune's Metromix had this review:

        1. re: Jane Stone

          I've heard about Soul (and know it was closed recently by the dept of health, but then re-opened, but then again, which resto hasn't had it's run-in with the man?).
          I'm kinda not all that excited by it, since I can and do make those kinds of dishes myself. But I do appreciate your idea. I actually met the rabbi from the Afro/Jewish congregation near that restaurant. Cool dude.

        2. re: mrsdebdav

          Your hotel is right near Quartino, which features Italian small plates. Also not far is Cafe Iberico for tapas. Quartino accepts reservations (including on Opentable); Cafe Iberico does not.

          You'll also be right at the el stop at Grand and State (CTA Red Line), so transportation will be convenient.

          Green Zebra is excellent. It's well known for being THE place for vegetarians looking for a nice meal out. It's in West Town, a couple miles west of your hotel; the easiest way to get there is via the #66 CTA bus, which runs along Chicago Avenue (walk north from your hotel to Chicago).

          For vegetarians, you should really visit West Rogers Park. Indian and Pakistani restaurants line Devon Avenue from Western (2400W) to Sacramento (3000W). Mysore Woodlands is a favorite for vegetarians. To get there, take the Red Line north to Loyola, then transfer to the #155 Devon bus running southbound on Sheridan, and get off anywhere along that stretch of Devon. Make sure to pay your CTA fare by buying a transit card or fare card so you can get a transfer for 25 cents (instead of having to pay another full fare when you pay in cash).

          Thanks for the explanation of the Tony Gourmet Group; I was not aware of the company's name. The only one of Tony Hu's restaurants I've been to is Lao Sze Chuan. It's very good. Equally good for Szechuan food is Double Li, on Cermak/22nd. The decor at Double Li is nicer and Ben Li is usually in the dining room to help advise on menu selections. I get the sense that Lao Sze Chuan is more versatile but the waitstaff is not particularly helpful in making suggestions. Sounds like you know that you can take the Red Line south to Cermak/Chinatown for any of those.

          Another ethnic neighborhood that will work for you is Argyle Street. Take the Red Line north to Argyle, and you'll be in the middle of a several block stretch of Vietnamese restaurants.

          Thai food may also work for you. You can take the Red Line north to Sheridan, where you'll find TAC Quick.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks so much. Indian food isn't really on my radar screen, as it's widely available and usually has numerous veg options. Don't get me wrong, I love it, it's just not something I need to seek out for this trip.
            Unfortunately, Vietnamese and Thai usually use fish sauce in most of their dishes unless the restaurant is specifically a vegetarian establishment. I love both those cuisines, but trying to keep the fish sauce out of the dishes gives me a bigger headache than a massive dose of MSG! We will def try one of the Lao restos, and maybe more than one! Looking forward!! Thanks again.

          2. re: mrsdebdav

            I agree with nsxtasy's recommendation of the Devon strip. Two more great options that are off the beaten track are:

            1) Ethiopian Diamond/Ras Dashen (I prefer the flavors at Ethiopian Diamond, but Ras Dashen has 18 veggie options to ED's 12). Both places allow you to select various combos of the vegetarian options, and both are very good - better than any Ethiopian I've had in New York (and I tried a few). They are both located on the north side of the city (RD=5846 N. Broadway and ED=6120 N. Broadway), and accessible off the Red Line at Thorndale for RD and Granville for ED (Thorndale would really work for either, but Granville's slightly closer).

            2) Amitabul, an all-vegetarian Korean restaurant (closed Sunday and Monday). It purports to be "healing cuisine," and it definitely doesn't weigh you down. It's at 6207 N. Milwaukee Ave., which is much more accessible by car than by any other form of transit.

            1. re: pamiam

              For some reason my response to you, pamiam, didn't show up, so hope this doesn't wind up being redundant.
              I love love love your rec for Amitabul. Korean is a fave and a veg Korean place? I'm in.
              Not in love with Ethopian but appreciate your suggestions.
              Totally hitting Amitabul with dtr (whose middle name is Pamela, btw). Just a perfect suggestion and thanks so much!

              6207 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646

              1. re: pamiam

                Dtr says Amitabul is way too far, esp with traffic. Her words, not mine. If I knew my way around, I would borrow her car, and deal with it.
                Mass trans apparently would require two buses. Sounds annoying, esp since I only do mass trans in Chi when I'm with my filial accomplice. I need to find out how much a cab would be to and from Amitabul (I'm staying at the Paloma on State).
                Eh, more research. But such a great suggestion!

                6207 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646

                1. re: mrsdebdav

                  Here's the best, quickest way to get to Amitabul from the Palomar. Walk to Clark and Lake, and go downstairs to catch the CTA Blue Line outbound (marked "to O'Hare"). Get off the train at Jefferson Park, and just outside the station is a bus center where a lot of bus routes originate. Catch the #56A bus, which goes up Milwaukee Avenue. Ask the bus driver to call the stop for Raven St. which is half a block past Amitabul. According to Google Maps, the door-to-door time from the Palomar, including 11 minutes to walk to State and Lake, the 26-minute train ride, and the 9-minute bus ride, and waiting time, is about one hour total.

                  Use a transit card or fare card to pay your fares (you can buy one in the el station). The round trip will deduct $4.75 from your transit card so make sure you have at least that much value on it - $2.25 when you get on the el, $.25 for the transfer to the original bus, $2.00 when you get on the bus for the return, and $.25 for the transfer back to the el. (If you have any other CTA trips planned for that day, then it would pay to buy a 1-day pass for $5.75, but they are only sold in certain CTA stations.)

                  If you go by cab, I'm not sure exactly, but I'm guessing it would cost somewhere around $25 plus tip, EACH WAY, and would take 20-30 minutes. Obviously there is a convenience factor, but it's really not that difficult to take the CTA.

                  1. re: mrsdebdav

                    Just my opinion, but Amitabul is not worth the trip. I live about 10-15 minutes away and it's not worth the trip for me either. It's not only out of the way but it's not a very interesting neighborhood to spend time in. Take the time you would have wasted on that trip and go to the French Market or wander around some other nearby neighborhood.

                    Amitabul used to be in a better location (many years ago) - although I wasn't fond of it even then it was at least worth a visit. I know that lots of people love it, it's just never appealed to me.

                    French Market Cafe
                    1973 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60643

                    6207 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646

            2. I hear you on the fish sauce, but the Thai for vegetarians we found includes:
              High end - Arun's -- will totally accomodate vegans.

              For vege bahn mi try:

              Nhu Lan
              2612 W Lawrence Ave
              (between Rockwell St & Talman Ave)
              Chicago, IL 60625
              (773) 878-9898

              3 vegetarian options: the classic tofu, the lemongrass "beef" and a new ginger "chicken."

              9 Replies
              1. re: writergrl

                Not to cross-examine, but are you certain Nhu Lan will leave out the fish sauce?
                Arun sounds really interesting. Did they honor the no fish sauce request?
                I'm gonna google how to say "no fish sauce" in Thai and print it out.
                Thanks for the suggestions.I really love Thai food, as does dtr, but she's a bit more flexible about fish sauce than I. With age comes inflexibility, in more ways than one.

                1. re: mrsdebdav

                  The owners of Nhu Lan are ethnic Chinese via Vietnam. Nhu Lan is good about omitting jalapenos for my wife and would probably omit fish sauce on request. However, the various tofu banh mi I have had would be utterly insipid in taste without the fish sauce. We live nearby and get sandwiches to go frequently. Note that Nhu Lan is primarily carryout but has two tables.

                  1. re: Eldon Kreider

                    Thanks, Eldon.
                    Agree with your comment about insipidness sans fish sauce. I think there are ways around this, using sea weed, soy sauce, etc., but that would most likely be done only in totally veg restaurants.

                  2. re: mrsdebdav

                    Arun is really expensive. I haven't eaten there because I'd rather eat Thai food at a fraction of the price at any of the Thai places in Chicago (TAC, Spoon, etc). My parents/aunts/uncle ate there for a celebratory meal last fall and loved it but they have very safe tastes. Since it is fine dining, you could probably request no fish sauce if you make a reservation.

                    Check out Dragon Lady Lounge. I hate Yelp but I couldn't find a website so there ya go:


                    1. re: lbs

                      Arun's is so not worth the jacked up price. One woman's opinion.

                      1. re: chicgail

                        >> Arun's is so not worth the jacked up price. One woman's opinion.

                        That's always been my opinion as well. However, if you have very specialized needs - such as a dietary restriction requiring the withholding of ingredients (as here), or maybe a visitor from Thailand you want to treat well - I could see how it may offer a more service-oriented experience making it worth the much much MUCH higher price. Most of us, though, prefer to go elsewhere. Not that Arun's is bad, only that the food is not that different from places costing a small fraction of the price.

                      2. re: lbs

                        Dragon Lady sounds absolutely faboo. However, if I go alone, I am getting the vibe that someone my age (barely south of 60) might not fit in all that well. Will try to sell it to my dtr so I can use her as my excuse.
                        I so want to go there!

                        1. re: lbs

                          Any other opinions on Dragon Lady? I was just about to post a thread on this because I can't seem to find any Chow reviews on her/it but I came across this link on Chicago Reader:


                          And it sounded interesting. I haven't seen anything posted in August about this place though so I want to make sure it is still around (there was mention on some other sides rumours of it closing...)... I am visiting from Toronto, I am not vegan myself but the friend I am meeting up with is vegetarian and I am always curious to try new places. From some reviews, the food might not be the "best" but I am looking for all round atmosphere too and "experience"... :) I get in tomorrow afternoon so suggested this spot already to my friend and she is up for it. Just need to decide if it is worth it (btw, staying at HI Hostel).

                          1. re: ylsf

                            I think it's open, from what I've read, but I defer to your experience.

                            If you find anything else that's veg/veg friendly and out of the ordinary, I do hope you will share.

                            I haven't been to Toronto in many years, but am thinking of shlepping my kids (prob against their will, as they are, let's just say, not toddlers). I have fond, albeit faint recollections of Toronto and look forward to revisiting.