What you don’t see is the guy next to me eating a brat. That’s how my Chicago trip largely went. With my boy Tom out on a business trip, I was the lone vegan among my friends. At Riot Fest, a three-day, seven-stage, 100-plus-band music festival in good-old Humboldt Park, where when we lived there 18 years ago was a pretty rough place. We fell asleep to gunshots and my friend had a car that was regularly “borrowed,” stolen for a few hours at a time and returned down the block no worse for the wear—did I really expect quinoa-kale-tofu bowls?
There was a no-ins/outs policy at the festival, and no outside food allowed, but we were assured there would be vegan and vegetarian options. And there were. Dimo’s had a vegan artichoke pizza but they were sold out each day by the time I got there. And there was a black-bean tamale and falafel somewhere, but while I was soooo hungry, I didn’t feel like finding the couple of vegan things in this 200-acre park, standing in line, paying a gazillion dollars, and sitting or standing in the mud to eat a big ol’ plate of food, then high-tailing it to see the next band on my list. Enter the pretzel.
I did get to eat before and after the show. Sure, one morning my breakfast was coffee (oh, Intelligentsia Coffee, you get me) and a pretzel from The Coffee Studio, but I also got to grab brunch one day at one of my Chicago favorites, Handlebar—although we were running so late (was up until 7a.m. and ended up crashing clear across town), I had to inhale my vegan sausage and potatoes and grab a piece of toast to go.
One night we closed down Lao Sze Chuan, in Chinatown. Had no idea it was so late, but they were crazy nice about letting us stay and finish even though we were filthy and soggy and a bit tipsy. This is one of my friend’s favorite places in the city and he assured me I’d be OK here. And I was. While the menu was full of stuff like Tofu & Pork Blood Cake Home Style <throws up in mouth>, I did spy these red-pepper string beans. I double-checked that they were vegan and while the first guy wasn’t so convincing, the second one said, “Yes, strict vegetarian.” Thumbs up. So spicy! So good!
At the end of the day, I didn’t go there to eat. I’ve done that before and before that—just search “Chicago” on the site and you’ll get a bunch of posts, and you can see how better than doable vegan Chicago is. But you might want to get used to black coffee and watching those you love chow down on meats on sticks.