If you’re looking for diner food catered for vegetarians and vegans, The Chicago Diner serves meals rich and delicious enough that you don’t even miss the meat.
“Meat free since ’83,” this diner located in the heart of Chicago’s Boystown offers plenty of meals featuring meat substitutes such as seitan and tofu, as well as other creative veggie-centered entrees. At this joint, it’s quite easy to substitute things like tofu and vegan cheese for ingredients like eggs and real cheese.
For a non-vegan/vegetarian like myself, this is an opportunity to explore well-made vegetarian meals. After all, many restaurants that serve meat sort of consider their vegetarian menu items as afterthoughts, but not this diner. “Chicken” shawarma plates, poutine and Cuban sandwiches are just a few examples of the innovative plays on classically meat and dairy-filled meals that have helped solidify The Chicago Diner’s reputation as one of the best restaurants for vegetarians and vegans in the city.
I visited the North Halsted Street location in Lakeview (just a 10-minute walk away from the Addison Red Line stop) a few weeks ago with Lisette, after Natalie recommended it to me.
For dinner, I ordered the Radical Reuben ($12), arguably the most popular item on the menu. It’s a fat and hearty sandwich made with rye bread, stuffed with corned beef seitan, tangy sauerkraut and dripping with creamy vegan thousand island dressing. While I’m not a fan of Reuben sandwiches to begin it, it was still substantial and satisfying. If you don’t mind slightly soggy bread and runny fillings, order the Reuben and prepare to get a little messy.
My side of macaroni & teeze (vegan mozzarella cheese) tasted slightly artificial – a bit like plastic, if I’m being brutally honest. Get the waffle fries instead.
During my second visit with Colin, I ordered the Monte Cristo ($11) for brunch, which is served every day until 3pm. Two slices of eggy French toast were packed with seitan bacon, Creole mustard and cheese, creating the perfect mouthful of balanced flavors and textures. It was served with a hash of diced potatoes and peppers seasoned with paprika, which was still a bit dry and bland, but tasted great once I unloaded some ketchup on it.
While the price might seem a bit much, it’s a truly filling meal, and the food is ready in a quick minute.
This place is constantly bustling, it seems – for both dinner on a Monday evening as well as Wednesday afternoon brunch, but I was able to get seats almost immediately. The weekends are probably a lot more hectic, so come during the off hours if you can.
I would probably come back again, especially if I had a vegan/vegetarian friend I was trying to show around Chicago. Next time, I’d want to leave enough room for a vegan mocha milkshake or bring enough people to share either a plate of poutine or nachos, and I’d likely order the truffle mushroom lentil loaf or the black bean burger for myself.