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The Best Restaurants with Healthy Menus in Chicago



Chicago's reputation of a heart-attack-on-a-plate town is as dead as Al Capone. The steak and lobster dinner has become more of a special occasion option and Chicagoans are choosing more organic, wholesome, plant-based fare in their daily lives. That doesn't mean the tired pasta primavera or watery garden salad of old, either. Locals flock to the new crop of fast casual spots like FARE, Veggie Grill and Protein Bar. We're embracing bold vegetable forward food from the Middle East, Asia and the local farmer's market. 

Many on our list are new but healthy dining hotspots such as Heartland Café  and Amitabul have been nourishing locals for decades. Several eateries offer raw, vegan or vegetarian dishes and there are plenty that include meat options, too, albeit grass-fed and pasture raised. 

Vegan diners head to Amitabul  on the city’s far northwest side because Chef Bill creates magic with his family's Korean dishes. Try RAW to see if your skin begins to look like a million. Found's flexitarian menu and lovely environs are a call to be good to ourselves and the planet. The cash-only family run Sultan's Market serves inexpensive, home made Middle Eastern fare with plenty for vegetarians. Even the bar program at Clever Rabbit  includes doses of veggies and teas in cocktails and even in some of the beers. The fact is, there are plenty of greener pastures in Chicago. 


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10
Downtown


Open in June, 2018, FARE offers flavorful dishes created from clean, seasonally focused ingredients. Items sound like the stuff Superman and Wonder Woman order: Ancient Grain Porridge; Labneh toast; bone broth with dried mushrooms, juniper, and Szechuan peppercorn; housemade veggie patties; raw oatmeal; blue smoothies; sustainable salmon. Try one of the Build Your Own Bowls that start with a base of hearty greens or ancient grains, add local veggies, Amish chicken, house-made veggie patty, perky chicken chorizo or thoughtfully sourced salmon, and one of the shop's signature sauces like herby pesto or spicy red pepper. It's a heck of a lot of healthy food going into the bowl from sweet & sour cukes to miso braised sweet spuds. The quick-service restaurant located in Wells Street Market above the riverwalk nourishes hungry customers throughout the day from breakfast to dinner. A shiny new winner in the healthy menu department.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: The meal mantra at FARE is "clear eyes, full stomach." Plus, the eatery practices environmentally sound action, from sourcing to waste management.

Jacky's expert tip: Avocado toast is so 2017 - try Labneh Toast made with local sourdough, shaved zucchini, nigella seeds and early harvest olive oil.

Read more about FARE →


9
Lake View


Fast casual vegetarian/vegan places are sprouting and raking in the other kind of green while sit-down eateries assume a beet salad and avocado toast is dynamic thinking. You needn't adhere to a strict plant-based diet to enjoy the verdant victuals at Veggie Grill, the largest plant-based, fast casual brand in the U.S. The first Chicago location in Lakeview (a West Loop outpost opens fall, 2018) features an open-air kitchen and bold flavors made from 100% veggies, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts. Regulars go for the Mediterranean Supergreens Salad: baby kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, house-made falafel, hummus, harissa dip, tomato-cucumber salad, lemon vinaigrette. It's not entirely rabbit fare with burgers and sandwiches, tacos and burritos, bowls like a Filipino Chickin' Adobo Bowl. Sweeten it up with a gluten free brownie or carrot cake.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: It's affordable, fast casual, chef-inspired food that is 100% plant-based.

Jacky's expert tip: Not too hungry or not too sure? Try a comfort favorite such as mac 'n' cheese or cauliflower/mashed potatoes and porcini gravy.

Read more about Veggie Grill →


8
The Loop


RAW offers 100% plant based, vegan food items and every dish is promised to be extremely healthy. Nothing is cooked and every item is considered "raw." The raw food movement promotes the idea that since nutrients are not exposed to heat, you're ingesting the highest possible amount of good stuff for your body. It's not easy to create cashew cheese and pumpkin seed pate at home so RAW is filling a void. Visit the location at the Chicago French Market in the Ogilvie Transportation Center or 51 W. Huron to try smoothies, juices and elixirs; salads; breads and spreads; sandwiches like a mock tuna or falafel patties; and entrees like spinach lasagna featuring green strips of zucchini, white cashew cheese and red marinara. Choose among a plethora of desserts from carrot cake and apple pie to brownies and truffles. All are easy to try with grab-and-go packaging.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: Those interested in trying raw foods have a host of options here and the proprietors can help recommend selections, too.

Jacky's expert tip: RAW also offers a Weekly Takeaway Program that packs enough raw food for an entire week.

Read more about RAW →


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It seems as though those hippies were right about a lot of things: love is better than war; herbs, yoga and meditation are good for you; know where your food comes from; eat plants. Heartland Café, a staple in Chicago's organic and progressive movement, has been walking the walk since 1976, Near Loyola University, its casual atmosphere is popular among students and fans of wholesome food. Stop in for breakfast and eggs from pasture raised hens or scrambled tofu. When it's cold, there's Heartland vegetarian or bison chili. Order a grass fed bison Bburger or a house made seitan burger; mango cod; or Plant Lover's Alfredo. The 100% organic juice bar blows away those national chains. Then, stroll around the corner to see a show in the live music venue.

Read more about Heartland Café and General Store →


6
Downtown


Protein Bar & Kitchen was a leader in the high protein/low carb trend by offering filling, protein-rich and flavorful food in a fast-casual setting long before others. Today, there are 13 in Chicago, four in and around Denver and two in Washington D.C. Bowls and "bar-itos" feature an organic quinoa blend in a bowl or grilled low-carb tortilla (swap quinoa for riced cauliflower and 75% fewer carbs), then chose your protein - chicken, steak or tofu done Korean, Mexican or ranch style. The new Bowl30 mixes all-natural chicken, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, kale, almonds, spinach and EVOO. The Spinach Pesto Bowl is a flavor powerhouse. Stop by for breakfast to enjoy eggs scrambled with grass-fed ghee and ingredients like turkey bacon, cheddar, steak, black beans, salsa, kale, avocado and chipotle yogurt. Most of the items on the menu are gluten free or can be made gluten free.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: Founded in Chicago in 2009, Protein Bar & Kitchen has an evolving healthy menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking.

Jacky's expert tip: Try the new Beauty Brew - iced coffee, Vital Proteins Collagen, vanilla whey protein, espresso whey protein and almond milk.

Read more about Protein Bar →


5
Magnificent Mile


True Food Kitchen offers a varied menu that satisfies but does not stray from excellent nutrition and deep flavor. There's something tasty for all diets with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options developed by chefs and each of the signature dishes can be customized to meet any dietary need or preference. Tempting GF plates include Inside Out Quinoa Burger with hummus, tzatziki, tomato, butter lettuce, cucumber, red onion, avocado and feta; Spaghetti Squash Casserole; Grilled Fish or Grass-fed Steak Tacos; Moroccan Chicken; Lasagna Bolognese; and Cashew Pad Thai. Desserts? They're all gluten free:Strawberry & Rhubarb Crisp; Flourless Chocolate Cake; Chia Seed Pudding; and Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream. Beverages range from organic coffee and loose leaf teas to herby, fruity cocktails, beer and wine.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: There's something tasty for all diets with vegan, vegetarian, low carb and gluten-free options developed by chefs.

Jacky's expert tip: All pizzas can be customized using a gluten free crust.

Read more about True Food Kitchen →


4
Norwood Park


Chef Bill Choi has been recreating homemade specialties from Grandma Choi's Seoul, Korea cookbook for 20 years. The plant-based, organic vegan restaurant on the far northwest side, Amitabul, attracts a fanatic following from all over the city and suburbs. Expect extremely flavorful numbers like Spicy Kimchi Bi Bim Bop and milder items like dry grilled pancakes, stews and noodles. If a flu, cold or too much drink is dragging you down, try Dr. K's Cure All Noodle Soup with veggies, seaweed and tofu and served with wheat or rice noodles. How about a visit to The Dark Side of the Moon - oyster and shitake mushrooms stirred with mystic Asian veggie noodles and Chef Bill's aged black bean miso sauce. The vegan pizza is gluten free and flavored with kimchi and healthy grilled veggies. Drinks work like spinach on Popeye with names like Awakening Energy and Green Heaven.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: Amitabul fans make the trek to this corner of the city because Chef Bill is a master of the flavorful, complex vegan kitchen.

Jacky's expert tip: Free street parking is plentiful.

Read more about Amitabul →




Many think Sultan's Market owns the title of best falafel in the city. The warm pita is painted with silky home made hummus and stuffed with crisp falafel, tomatoes and Jerusalem Salad. Other budget-friendly Middle Eastern food items, much of it vegetarian and some vegan, include baked spinach pie, grandma's lentil soup, tabouli, rice and lentils and incredible breads. Meat eaters won't be disappointed either choosing among lamb or chicken shawerma, kefta kababs, mama's chicken soup and baked meat pie. Starters cost $3-$6; sandwiches $4-$7; and dinners top out at $10 for a hearty meat combo big enough to share.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: The cash-only family run restaurant serves inexpensive, home made Middle Eastern fare with plenty for vegetarians.

Jacky's expert tip: There's a second location in Lincoln Park at 2521 N. Clark St.

Read more about Sultan's Market →


2
West Town


When the owners found a space that appealed to them, they realized it was surrounded by purveyors of burgers, pizza, pasta and sushi. So, a lighter and fresher menu was the approach. Veggie forward dishes are not bathing in butter and cheese but find oomph with healthy richness of avocado or tofu. Most of the menu is wide open to those with food allergies or simple dietary restrictions, too. In addition to creative turns on veg (carrot dumplings and curry roasted cauliflower, for example), there are several items under the "Not Vegetables" list like a cheese plate, octopus, scallops, chicken and a double cheeseburger. The bar program also adds a heavy dose of veggies and teas in cocktails and even in some of the beers. A revelation even for previous vegetable haters.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: Clever Rabbit is the model for conventional dietary wisdom: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Jacky's expert tip: Brunch bites are equally exciting, so show up on the weekend, too.

Read more about Clever Rabbit →




Oh, Evanstonians are a lucky bunch situated by the lake and a Big Ten university insuring a spigot of culture. Let's add the perfectly comfortable, astonishingly delicious and entirely affordable Found Kitchen and Social House that features a vegetable forward menu showcasing Midwestern bounty. You can go entirely vegetarian or mix a veggie app with a juicy burger, crispy skinned chicken thighs and caviar - you know, flexitarian, as it were, all simultaneously healthful and pleasurable. Take the Stinging Nettle flatbread - smeared with a pesto of the herbaceous perennial and pistachios, then dotted with chevre cheese and asparagus. The pedestrian carrot is knighted by roasting, then moistened with cashew butter, green harrisa and cilantro. There's a full bar with excellent brown booze options, kombucha on tap, a green and beet juice of the day and lemonade blackened with charcoal to soothe the old intestinal tract.

Recommended for Restaurants with Healthy Menus because: Found's flexitarian menu and lovely environs are a call to be good to ourselves and the planet.

Jacky's expert tip: All prices are under $20 (except caviar) plus there's a kids' menu and happy hour options with many items just $5.

Read more about Found Kitchen and Social House →


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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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