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Vegan Chicago Food Tour

March 27, 2011

Chicago Diner red pepper hummus

Sunnie and I recently decided (well, I decided and dragged Sunnie along) to head up to Chicago for a couple of days of vegan feasting. While the vegan options in Indianapolis are growing, we just can’t come close to matching what Chicago offers. We’d previously visited a couple of Chicago vegan restaurants on previous trips, namely the Chicago Diner and Amitabul, a vegan Korean fusion Buddhist restaurant.

Our first visit to the Chicago Diner left quite an impression on me. It was early in our transition to being vegan, and we tried their two most popular dishes- the reuben sandwich, and country fried steak, as well as some hot “wings”. They were all incredibly fantastic. Amitabul we enjoyed, but it was not traditional Korean at all, but instead very much fusion. So it was good, but not really what we were expecting or would prefer.

On this trip, I wanted to return to the Chicago Diner to see what else their menu had to offer and to also try out one of the Karyn’s restaurants (there is Karyn’s on Green, Karyn’s Raw, and the one we tried out, Karyn’s Cooked). We started with their red pepper hummus platter, which has lots of fresh vegetables (see pic above), and I had a veggie burger with avocado spread, while Sunnie had a blackened tofu with quinoa and greens.

Chicago Diner burger

Chicago Diner blackened tofu

These were both good. The creamy avocado dressing was tasty on the burger,which was a fine specimen of massive burgerness, and the greens (kale) were really yummy. However, the dishes both lacked the bang-your-head-on-the-table amazingness of our first trip to the Chicago Diner. The Reuben and country fried steak were pure comfort food (for me, Sunnie’s would be more like kimchi jigae or bokumbap). These were pretty good, but we’d actually made a blackened tofu dish from a new cookbook we picked up (I’ll blog on it soon) the week before, that was fairly similar and actually superior to what Sunnie had.

Since we had made a trip to Chicago for this food, we ordered a third dish (yes, we took leftovers!) as well, the Philly cheese seitan sandwich.

Chicago Diner Philly cheese seitan

The seitan was quite tasty, but they needed more veggies, and a little less Daiya. The tomato soup that came with it was really good, though. So we ate way too much, took a bunch back to the hotel, but left resolved to stick to our favorites next time.

For dinner, we walked from our hotel on Michigan Ave. to Karyn’s Cooked. It was a cute little restaurant, hip without being stuffy. They had a large glass dessert cabinet that we had our eyes on from the moment we entered. I wanted to try their bbq ribs, while Sunnie ordered their lemon-dill poached haddock.

Karyn's Cooked bbq ribs

The ribs were a thick slab of very smoky ribs, with a side of cole slaw, grilled corn on the cob, and a grilled slice of bread. While the flavor of the ribs was good, they were really pretty dense and very thick. Good ribs should be tender, and these were far from tender and a bit too smoky.

Karyn's Cooked poached haddock

Sunnie was in total love with her haddock. It was made from tofu, flavored with kim (nori), and had a layer of some sort of white sheet on the outside. I was never a big fish fan in my pre-veggie days, so it was actually a bit too fish-like for me, but it was one of the best dishes Sunnie had ever had, so she was quite happy that I wasn’t that into it. I think it’s safe to say we’ll making a trip back next time in Chicago so she can have some more of this.

We finished with a slice of carob cake.

Karyn's Cooked carob cake

Sunnie has been trying (with limited success) to move away from chocolate, because it makes her break out. We’ve considered trying carob several times but have just never made that leap, so we thought we’d give it a try since the cake looked so yummy. It definitely is a different taste than chocolate, kind of tangy. I quite liked it, but for Sunnie, it was just too different, so I gobbled up way too much of this, and we saved the rest for breakfast. We definitely want to make a return trip to Karyn’s cooked, as well as try out the other restaurants she has in Chicago.

The next morning, after a breakfast of leftovers, we headed over the Loving Hut in Chicago. I previously blogged about the Loving Cafe in Ft. Wayne, and the Loving Hut international chain of restaurants. This was a bit of a drive from Michigan, but parking was easy on the street. The owner was very nice, and we quickly settled on a number of dishes. We started with an appetizer of vegan fish sticks:

Loving Hut's vegan fish sticks

I’ve tried a couple of times to make my own breaded “fish” at home, but it’s been a work in a progress, so I wanted to try these out. They were yummy, but really it was just fried and anything tastes good fried. So it was less like fried fish than just fried batter.

For the main courses, we ordered Vietnemese Pho, and their Ocean of Love dish, a faux fish patty made from potatoes and kim (nori). We again wanted to take some leftovers home with us, so also ordered a Don Katsu, a Japanese faux-pork patty with a fruity brown sauce that Sunnie used to often have when she was a kid.

Loving Hut's pho

The pho was really yummy. The cilantro and faux meat were a nice addition to the delicious broth. Add a bit more veggies and bean sprouts, and we’d really be talking.

Loving Hut's oceans of love

The oceans of love dish was really good. Potato patties with a brown sauce. Unlike the haddock Sunnie had the night before, it was crispy and not very “fishy” so we both liked it; although, Sunnie still liked the haddock quite a bit more (more a testament to the haddock than anything else).

Loving Hut's don katsu

This was a good imitation of cheap don katsu, a comfort food for Sunnie, meaning that it wasn’t amazing or anything, but it was very much like the cheap don katsu she ate when she was a kid. So this hit the spot in satisfying a craving she’d had, but having satisfied that craving, isn’t something she’ll be looking to have again any time soon. The Chicago Loving Hut was  quite a bit more expensive (around $8 – $9 a dish, instead of $5) than the Ft. Wayne Loving Cafe, and not quite as good.

We returned home with leftovers, some plunder from our shopping on the magnificent mile, and probably several extra pounds, as well as a craving for some nice, simple, steamed vegetables after our faux meat binge. This trip was meant to kind of fill in the blanks for us on vegan dining in Chicago, and we feel like we’ve now gotten a pretty good coverage of our options there (there are still a bunch more restaurants, but we’ve now hit the ones we really wanted to). Hope you enjoyed my review and let us know if there any Chicago restaurants we’ve missed that we have to try out our next time up!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 11:21 am

    Oh, next time you must try Karyn’s on Green! It’s another in the “Karyn’s” family and a bit more upscale. Their Brussels sprouts are to die for. It’s all vegan, of course, and they have more than a few raw selections, too, including a delicious raw nori roll appetizer. I’ve been going there since it opened; however, I have noticed some unwelcome changes lately. The food has gotten very fatty, for example. I mean, I’m all for healthy fat, but when you take your crab-cake leftovers home and, upon reheating it, are able to squeeze out a few extra teaspoons of oil … that’s too much. Similarly, the Brussels sprouts were also unnecessarily fatty, whereas they never were before. But the restaurant is beautiful and much of the menu is quite delicious and satisfying. The kale slaw is another vegetable standout. 🙂

    Didn’t you think the Diner was a little pricey? I love that place for a good, easy vegan treat, and I agree their kale is terrific, but they rely so much on heavy faux-meat entrees and charge what I think is way too much. I don’t think a sandwich should cost $10 and a slice of cake $5 at a “diner”! I think at a casual place you should be able to get out of there for under $20. :-\ Still, I think your perception may be a little different if you’re coming into town for a special visit vs. just trying to dine out for an ordinary weeknight meal.

    I didn’t realize Amitabul wasn’t traditional! I thought many of the dishes were fairly authentic, though with a health-food/Buddhist temple cuisine kind of twist. But I’m not really qualified to judge. 🙂 I do like that place a lot.

    The Loving Hut used to be Alice and Friends, and it was very different then. It was still a Supreme Master restaurant but it was not part of the Loving Hut chain concept. The menu was somewhat different and it was a homier, cuter place. I do still like the food there, though I miss the black-bean noodles! I especially adore their fresh tofu/cucumber appetizer. And their “Run Away! Spicy Potatoes” is delicious (and funny).

    I’m so glad you came into town and enjoyed so much good vegan food. Come back anytime. 🙂

    • Bill permalink*
      March 28, 2011 8:12 pm

      Hi, Lu! I didn’t realize you were in Chicago! I would agree that the Diner is a bit pricey, and you’re absolutely right that we hit it for a treat, and I think we’d do that even if we lived closer; it wouldn’t be a regular thing.

      We were originally planning on going to Karyn’s on Green but were concerned about finding parking, and Cooked was within walking distance of our hotel, so we adjusted our plans. We’ll definitely give it a try next time we’re up there.

      I found the Amitabul “subscription” service interesting and wondered if anyone actually took them up on it, paying a lump monthly fee for basically all your meals with them. We did like it, but thought it was more fusion Korean than traditional/temple food, at least the dishes we tried.

      We’ll have to try the spicy potatoes at Loving Hut. We were sorry that they didn’t offer their bulgolgi sandwich when we visited. It was a lunch special, but I was hoping to try it.

      Thanks for the invite! We’re slowly getting restaurants with vegan options in Indiana, but it’s nice to visit Chicago and check out the scene!

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