Location – 1300 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee and Paulina) and 3031 W. 111th Street (111th and Whipple)
In one word – Idealistic
Food – The premise of Veggie Bite is fast-service organic vegan food. It’s a tall order for a restaurant. My overall reaction was that the place was nice in theory, struggles in practice. The menu is filled with your usual fast food options – burger, chili dogs, Philly cheese steak, but there’s no meat or dairy in the food. My eating partner and I both went for the Supreme Wrap on the cashier’s recommendation. It was a wrap filled with seitan “chix-free nuggets,” tomatoes, cucumbers and a cucumber dressing (which tasted more like a light ranch dressing). It was filling but not fulfilling. The “chix-free nuggets” didn’t taste all that fresh to me, and there was too much sauce in the wrap.
Drink – You can get smoothies here as well as juices. I picked up some mango nectar juice, which I enjoyed.
Service – Order at the counter and then the food will be brought to your table. I appreciated that the cashier was forthright about his opinion when I asked what was the best item on the menu. Given that vegan fast food is pretty new in Chicago, it was nice to have someone give guidance on what to order.
Scene – Expect the last few hipsters remaining in Wicker Park to frequent this place. I was a little alarmed by the establishment’s decor. I was staring at posters of helpless animals with captions like “Mercy.” It was sort of like eating at an anti-animal cruelty booth while in my college student union.
Dress – You can put on the urban hipster garb or just wear what you’re already wearing. It really doesn’t matter.
Cost – For my wrap and mango drink, I spent $8.28. I guess it’s pretty reasonable given that the wrap was just a little smaller than a Chipotle burrito in size.
If you like, try…Soul Vegetarian, Karyn’s Cooked
Location – 2900 W. Belmont (Belmont and Francisco)
In one word – Accoutrement
Food – I had only heard fanatical raves about KC, so I needed to check it out myself. It’s a burger joint, you receive a menu with a page full of different burger options. Unlike Epic Burger, vegetarians are welcome here. You can get any burger option with a beef patty, chicken breast, portabella mushroom patty or chicken tenders. Also, they use pretzel bread buns (which I LOVE!). I was a bit overwhelmed by the options, so I went with my server’s recommendation (all the menu options have a rock theme), the Lair of the Minotaur – Beef patty with caramelized onions, pancetta, brie and bourbon soaked pears. This is apparently a shout-out to the May Street Market burger. One of my eating partners went big and chose the Bongzilla burger – Beef patty with a sausage on top of it (I’m not kidding). My other eating partner took the Motorhead Burger – Portabella burger with goat cheese, Kalamata olives, oregano, tzatziki, onion and tomato. Overall, don’t get me wrong, the dishes were all good. However, it was all about the accoutrement and less about the actual burger. Please don’t read this as a criticism, it’s meant to be an observation. Here’s a little advice, you have the options of choosing chips or fries with your meal. Choose the fries, the chips are super dry.
Drink – They have a healthy selection of beers to choose from. I saw SKA beer, my new favorite Durango, CO brewery, on the list and stuck with that. One of my eating partners chose a beer only to find out that it was raspberry flavored (which was not noted on the menu).
Service – So I was expecting to wait at least 30 minutes for a table for three. However, perhaps by going to KC on a Tuesday night, we found the golden ticket to “no line, no wait.” Plus, we lucked out and got a table in the back outdoor patio (it’s much quieter back there compared to the actual restaurant). When we got to our table, our server sat down with us. She definitely had spunk, one of those girls who starts talking to you as if you’ve been sarcastic friends for years. She had that balance of jadedness without being unpleasant. It’s a winning combination. Every table in her section seemed like they had created a friendship with her when they finished the meal. KC won me over when the manager (at least I think he’s the manager) came around to make sure that the food was satisfactory.
Scene – KC has this heavy metal biker theme. Don’t let that intimidate you. While the ladies room is wallpapered with illustrations of scantily clad ladies, the clientele is diverse and respectable.
Dress – I would wear something that feels comfortable to you. Everyone at the restaurant is so distinct, there isn’t a real dress code.
Cost – For a burger and two beers, I paid $24. For the caliber of the food, I felt like this was affordable.
If you like, try…Epic Burger, Twisted Spoke
Location – 1938 W. Division (Division and Damen) and 1045 W. Madison (Madison and Aberdeen)
In one word – Sandwiches
Food – So I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch and told her I was in the mood for soup and sandwich. She suggested Jerry’s. I walked in not realizing this was a sort of sandwich mecca. Remember when you learned about permutations and combinations in your high school math class, Jerry’s embodies those mathematical concepts. There is a sandwich for every combination of ingredients. The end result? This is a horrible place for indecisive people. I ended up with the salmon, bacon, grilled asparagus, smoked Gouda and honey mustard sandwich. You know what? I didn’t like it. Each of those ingredients in fantastic on its own, but together it wasn’t magic. Plus the salmon tasted fishy, not a good sign. I had two of the sides – mac and cheese and the creamed spinach. They were good, but not great.
Drink – The bar scene looked amazingly extensive, but at noon, I wasn’t ready to get my groove on. The water worked out just fine for me. They have a beer selection that rivals the Clarke Street Ale House if you’re interested.
Service – We were at the Wicker Park location, so the staff were the typical urban hipsters who run the neighborhood. Our server showed us just the right amount of apathy and kindness. We tipped him nicely.
Dress – This is actually hard for me to gauge as I came at lunchtime. The dress was pretty casual – jeans and puffy vests. However, I bet as the evening draws near, the attire becomes more skinny jeans and ironic tees.
Cost – For my sandwich, two sides and tip, I paid $13. I didn’t feel ripped off because the meal was pretty substantial.
If you like, try…Goodwin’s
Location – 1460 W. Chicago (Chicago and Greenview)
In one word – Salty
Food – This is Shawn McClain’s vegetarian restaurant (same person who runs Custom House and Spring). I had a great food experience. Green Zebra seems to be a strong advocate for the slow foods movement. All the ingredients are seasonal and fresh. Here are all the things that came to our table: Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Roasted Mushroom Broth, Cauliflower Soup, Chickpea Pancakes, Celery Root Beignet, Truffle Risotto, Mushroom Tagliatele and Doughnuts with Parsnip Ice Cream. Everything was fresh and flavorful, I just felt that each dish had a touch too much salt. I chose to the do the chef’s 5 course tasting menu ($55). The menu was a bit overwhelming for me, so choosing the tasting menu was the smartest option.
Drink – We chose a bottle of the Reisling. It was crisp and went very well with the food.
Service – My eating partners thought our server was nervous, but I took it as enthusiastic. She made sure to come by before every course to give us a refresher about each entree. Overall I was pleased.
Occasion – This place is not cheap, so come for an occasion. The clientele here is a mix of older folks and hip vegetarian 30-somethings. I like the look of Green Zebra. The color scheme is a mix of sage and greys. It feels clean, natural and still sleek.
Cost – For a full five course dinner plus wine, we paid $82/person.
If you like, try…Aigre Doux
Location – 1333 E. 57th Street (57th and Kimbark) and 1460 E. 53rd Street (53rd and Blackstone)
In one word – Clean
Food – Come to Noodles for pan-Asian cuisine. It’s my comfort food locale when I’m in Hyde Park. I had the spicy curry noodles. True to its name, it was spicy. My eating partner had the egg drop soup and the Vietnamese spring rolls. I always like Noodles, but I’m not going to tell you it’s the end-all-be-all. If you are in the neighborhood and don’t feel like a burger at the Med, try it.
Drink – 57th Street in Hyde Park is a dry street, so you have to BYOB.
Service – There’s not all that much to comment on at Noodles. We got our meal quickly and the eating utensils were clean. That’s good enough for me.
Occasion – You will see a lot of families and college students dining at Noodles. The feel is very casual, similar to Penny’s Noodle Shop.
Dress – You’re sitting next to students from the University of Chicago. I can guarantee you’ll be better dressed than them, no matter what you’re wearing.
Cost – We paid $9 each including tip. That felt reasonable to me.
If you like, try…Penny’s Noodle Shop
Location – 2548 W. Devon (Devon and Maplewood)
In one word – Chutneys
Food – You’ll get South Indian fare (vegetarian). The speciality of South Indian cuisine is the masala dosa (a crepe of sorts with seasoned potatoes). If you want to go with my favorite, get the paper masala dosa, even thinner and crispier. Beware, dosas are giant here. While I didn’t think that the dosas were that amazing (compared to its neighbor, Udapi Palace), the chutneys were notable. You are offered tamarind, mint and coconut chutneys in addition to sambar. All seemed fresh and were flavorful. We also ordered the appetizer sampler. I was not impressed by their offering of vadas (fried veggies) and samosas (potatoes in fried dough).
Drink – It’s BYOB. But often I like to order a mango lassi (thin mango milk shake). It compliments a paper masala dosa perfectly.
Service – This was a problem here. Many of the glasses and silverware weren’t clean. Then, we ordered a second appetizer platter, and the waiter made it seem like it was a big hassle. I’m sorry we’re ordering more food, which equals more money for your restaurant. My apologies.
Occasion – It’s pretty casual here. We saw dates and groups of friends dining after shopping along Devon Avenue.
Dress – You can wear pretty much anything. We came straight from work and were perfectly fine.
Cost – We each paid $11. That’s kind of amazing.
If you like, try…Udapi Palace
Location – 1616 N. Damen (Damen, Milwaukee, North Avenue)
In one word – Variety
Food – I am always impressed by the array of options I have at Feast. A standby is their macaroni and cheese, but this time I tried a moderately healthier option: chipotle barbecue salmon with hot cakes and avocado salsa. While good, I did think that the barbecue sauce was overpowering and rather thick. Reminded me of barbecue sauce I buy at Jewel. My eating partners had the turkey burger and the seafood cobb salad. Both seemed satisfied with their meals.
Drink – I like the selection of beverages at Feast. I tried a white wine on special from the French region D’Oc. It seems to be the wine fad of late. The selection I had was very enjoyable.
Service – Initially I was skeptical of our server, a bit pushy, didn’t pour my eating partner’s Duvel well. However, as the meal went on, I warmed up to her. She had a biting sense of humor, kind of like me. Maybe we could be friends…
Occasion – Feast is a place to go with friends. I always see large groups here. You sometimes see dates as well.
Dress – It’s Wicker Park, so you won’t be alone if you go indie-hipster. The place has a casual feel, and that allows you to get away with any attire. However, I decided to put some effort into my look as I was inspired by the new Bravo show, Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. While this is neither here nor there, I must share what I learned while watching that show: “You cannot control how you are perceived, but you can control how you present yourself.” Tell me you are not inspired by that.
Cost – For a glass of wine and satisfying meal, I paid $30 even. Not a bargain, but not overpriced in my opinion.
If you like, try…Lula, Parlor
Location – 1406 W. Belmont (Belmont and Southport)
In one word – Cute
Food – If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love Neapolitan pizza. As a result, I was super excited about coming here. My eating partner and I shared one of the pizzas on special – it was abianca pizza with Italian sausage, carmelized onions, roasted red peppers and mozzerella. Delicioso! I truly enjoyed it and devoured my half of the pie. Then we decided to indulge in the gelato. I got mint chip and my eating partner got the chocolate hazelnut. It had been a while since I had good gelato , so I was worried I’d be disappointed. No worries people, it was fantastic. My eating partner lived in Rome for a while, so when she gave the thumbs up on it, I knew it was quality. The big question: Was it better than Spacca Napoli in Lincoln Square? The answer: No, however the food is still well worth trying.
Drink – BYOB so you’ll save on cost. There is a $5 corkage fee.
Service – I’m a fan of places where the owner and/or chef interacts with the clientele. Here, the owner is running around taking orders, busing tables, basically making sure your experience is excellent. At no point did I feel neglected by the staff during our meal. And we weren’t rushed to leave either.
Occasion – I saw a lot of families and twosomes (either dates or friend get-togethers). I wouldn’t come here with a big group because the space of the restaurant is small.
Dress – It’s a local Lakeview establishment, so you have a wide range of clothing options that you can get away with. I came straight from work and was fine. You also have children in their end of summer shorts. No one looked twice.
Cost – We paid $15 each for a shared pizza and two gelati. The BYOB aspect helps you save on cost.
If you like, try…Frasca, Spacca Napoli
Location – 3124 N. Broadway
In one word – Space-agey
Food – If Ping Pong is too crowded, this is a decent substitute. We started with the Crispy Ginger Calamari. It’s served with this creamy avocado and green onion sauce. I really enjoyed it just because they were interesting flavors to place with the calamari. For my entree I had the sesame tofu. After my bad experience at Niu, I was a bit nervous. However, the tofu used at Sura is really firm and delicious. The dish was a bit spicy, so I got a free sinus cleaning. My eating partner had the pad thai and was really happy with it.
Drink – They don’t have their liquor license yet. Right now it’s BYOB. When they get the license, it might be fun to go to their bar. They have these giant bucket seats near the bar that hang from the ceiling. We partook in sodas and teas. I ordered the tea because it was so unbelievably cold in the restaurant. I needed ways to stay warm.
Service – For a new restaurant, they did quite well with service. Nothing bad to report.
Occasion – This place is good for dates or friend get-togethers. Overall, the restaurant looks like a mix between a club and a spaceship, which honestly, I kind of liked: lots of white furniture, space-age seats, low lighting, low-key techno music (yes, it exists).
Dress – Because it’s in Lakeview, there isn’t a need to get overly dressed up. But, if you want to try out that new dress, you wouldn’t be out of place wearing it here. Beware of the cold temperature, wear layers.
Cost – I paid $20 for a shared appetizer, an entree, a Diet coke and a pot of tea. All in all, a bargain.
If you like, try…Ping Pong
Location: 2543 W. Devon Ave.
In one word – Dosas
Food – When people think of Indian food, they often limit themselves to tandoori chicken or chicken tikka masala. Stretch your mind and venture into the cuisine of Southern India, which is what UP serves up well. The menu is all vegetarian. Here’s all the advice you need: You need to get a dosa; it’s like a crepe, a giant crepe. My personal favorite is the paper masala dosa. You just rip off a piece of the crepe with your hand and scoop up the amazing potato mixture on your plate. When I was little, I used to have dosa eating races with my sister. I encourage you to do the same with your friends and family. Competitive eating doesn’t have the cache it used to, let’s bring it back. Now it is slightly oily food, so if you have a sensitive stomach, slip a little Pepto in your pocket.
Drink – I recommend the mango lassi. It’s basically a mango milkshake made of yogurt. I’ve been taken to my happy place just thinking of it. And it’s BYOB with no corkage fee. You HAVE to love that.
Service – The staff is very courteous. And they don’t intrude too much, which I like.
Occasion – It’s pretty casual. Come for an early dinner or lunch with your friends.
Scene – The decor doesn’t make this place, it’s the food. You’ve got your stereotypical ornate Indian art to spice up the ambience here.
Dress – Jeans, cords – there’s no one to impress here, but don’t be a schlub.
Cost – CHEAP! $15 max.
If you liked…, try – Hema’s Kitchen, Tiffin