I don’t get back to Chicago as much as I like, and we’re usually so tied up with family obligations that we only get a day to sneak off by ourselves to revisit old haunts, meet up with old friends…and explore a city way more veg-friendly than it ever was when we lived there.

Our first stop was Veggie Bite, vegan fast food. They’ve got the location on the North Side and another on the South Side, currently closed for renovation. Burgers, meatball sandwiches, chili cheese dogs, Buffalo wings, salads, and shakes—and not outrageously priced, either. While we were in there, a kid came in with his dad; he was maybe 9 years old, sweatband on his head, basketball shoes—you know, a regular kid. He came in for chili cheese fries and a shake—you know, like a regular kid. I heard his dad ask him if it was good and he got a big, neck-breaking nod in response. Awesome. Little jock kids don’t need animal crap in their junk food.

veggie bite gyros
Tom got the gyros. That’s pronounced yeeros, kids, not jairos or geeros. They had run out of pita (someone was out getting some more) so Tom got it on a sub roll. It was pretty good, with thinly sliced seitan, a ton of vegetables, and cucumber sauce.

veggie bite bbq nuggets
I got the BBQ nuggets and some fries. The nuggets are what they look like, big chunks of seitan, fried crispy, served with BBQ sauce. It may not look like much, but this was a lot of food. How do you get your protein? This is how you get your protein. They were tasty too, and the fries were the super-crispy battery kind.

veggie bite ibcOh, and we had IBC root beer. Totally forgot about this stuff. I didn’t realize it was local, but now that I think about it, I’ve never had it in the other cities I’ve lived in. So good and creamy, this is root beer. The flavor reminds me of the homemade root beer I made at Brownie Camp when I was 8 years old…why haven’t I ever done that again? Was it that hard? Well, anyway, thanks, Veggie Bite, for taking me back.

chicago diner enchiladas
The bulk of our remaining dining out was done at the historic “meat free since ’83” Chicago Diner, on North Halsted. Not strictly vegan, they use egg and dairy in a few cases, but they have vegan options for everything. (They also have a gluten-free menu.) Both times we ate there we managed to get a table in the back patio. Impressive given how busy they pretty much always are. Tom got the enchiladas: corn tortillas filled with seitan chorizo, onions, and peppers. Topped with pepper sauce, avocado, sour “cream,” other vegness, and cheeze if you like; served with Spanish rice and black beans. You know how you’re talking about how much you love the food, then the waitress comes up and you’re all embarrassed because you’re gushing? I have a feeling that happens a lot here.

chicago diner ravioli
I got the Oaxaca ravioli. Holy crap, I need to buy a ravioli press and make this for myself at least once a fortnight from here on out. Surprisingly simple, this is red pepper, black beans, and cilantro in two-sided (orange and green) ravioli, served with fire-roasted chipotle salsa, over spinach. Yeah, they are not kidding around here.

chicago diner pancakes
Luckily, we got to go back for brunch to meet up with an old friend of ours. I kept it simple with “buttermilk” pancakes. They’re already vegan, not veganized. That little silver dish has in it the dark matter of blueberry sauce—I think it was just mashed-up blueberries with extra blueberry—I did not want for butter on these babies. And the fruit wasn’t just for show; it was super fresh and super sweet. I also got a side of tempeh strips, a pretty hefty portion for $1.50. And can you see the redish glass at the top of the photo? Blueberry basil lime-ade. A perfect balance of sweet and sour.

chicago diner gyros
And more gyros for Tom. Sliced seitan, onion, tomato, lettuce, and a vegan tzatziki sauce (still in the dish, ready for the slathering). As happy as he was with the Veggie Bite gyros, he said this one was the winner. Our brunch buddy tried it and admitted freely that it buried his eggwhite omelet. Duh.

intelligentsia coffee
No better way to wrap this up than with coffee. We stopped by Intelligentsia on Broadway, not because we’d planned to, but because the aroma pulled us through the friggin’ door. Tom’s 4-shot macchiato was the same size as my 2-shot cappuccino, you know, in those little teeny cups. Thick as hell but not bitter in the least. And all the employees (all boys) are super styly yet only slightly pretentious (if you were looking for zero pretension, you’re in the wrong neighborhood, my friend). We also picked up a Black Cat espresso chocolate bar, with dark chocolate, crunchy cacao nibs, and Black Cat espresso. It’s made for them by Vosges, one of my favorite chocolatiers, which is pretty much national now. Double thumbs-up to that.

So that does it for our Chicago eats. I’ll leave you with a couple of random shots.

Me & Tom at the Airport. Yes, that’s a Tank Girl novel. Tank Girl just got a whole lot more sophisticated.

school door
This is a school just off Broadway & Belmont. These are the saddest children I have ever seen in my life. Can you imagine starting your day walking through these doors? Poor kids.

rats sign
And last but not least, the rat warning signs. These haven’t changed since I lived there. They’re in most alleys, and they tell you at the bottom how to not feed the rats, because “If rats can’t feed, rats can’t breed.” If you’ve never seen a Chicago rat before, well, New York may have more, but they’re tiny. Put like a dozen together and you’ve got a fair fight against a Chicago rat.

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