Top 16 Chicago Restaurants and Bars of 2018

Chicago’s reputation as a foodie city is quite deserved in spite of the recent deprecating piece from John Kessler in Chicago Magazine. I don’t agree with his claims that Chicago’s international cuisine/overall restaurant scene is tired. In fact, I see more and more “higher-end” international cuisine popping up all over the city not solely in the segregated enclaves he described.

As a child of immigrants myself, I pay close attention to the “immigrant” cuisine coming from children of immigrants and see more 1st and 2nd generation American chefs opening up restaurants that combine the flavors of their multicultural backgrounds in innovative and successful ways that are palatable for more of a mainstream audience. Chicago is still a foodie destination and not just one for rich, white foodies that eat bone marrow.

When I started my blog 1.5 years ago, I wanted to understand what kind of foodie does the Chicago dining scene appeal to given how many of the well-renowned restaurants tend to be expensive (Alinea, Kyoten, Boca) and meat-centric (Girl and the Goat, Smyth and the Loyalist, Publican).

While Chicago is no Portland, it does have a vast array of affordable and fine-dining options for vegetarians and pescatarians (it’s pretty lacking for vegans though).

So here are my thoughts on the best restaurants I have been to in Chicago keeping the ethics, affordability, and vegetarian-pescatarian options in mind. The restaurants and bars I have on here are not necessarily all new, but places I have had the pleasure of eating and drinking at in 2018.

1) Dorian’s:

Neighborhood: Wicker Park

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Cocktail Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Hummus at Dorian’s

A record store listening experience and a tiki bar in one with delicious Asian-influenced snacks.  This is by far one of my new favorite bars in Chicago.  While a tiki-bar vinyl themed bar sounds pretentious, it has a surprisingly casual and laid-back vibe to it. 

The drinks are as refreshing or intense as you want them to be.  They are also served in very appetizing drink containers.  Dorian’s has a nice variety of vegan/vegetarian and pescatarian snacks to nibble on while you’re drinking your tiki drinks too fast. 

Standouts: Mushroom Wonton, Hummus, Meet up in the Caymans.

2) S.K.Y.

Neighborhood: Pilsen

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

mIbppxKzRAazmOe54pZkEA

Hamachi Sashimi at S.K.Y.

S.K.Y is a newer, creative restaurant with a sleek, minimal decor serving New American fare with an “Asian” influence. This is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to in Chicago.  Everything I ate here was absolutely mouthwateringly delicious between the fun textures and well-seasoned/spiced flavors.  

They serve experimental cocktails with turmeric which pair fabulously with their small plates.  They didn’t have too many vegan options but you can find a bit more if you’re a vegetarian and much more if you’re a pescatarian.  When I think about creative “immigrant” cuisine made by 2nd generation Americans, I think of the delicious combination of flavors that Chef Gillanders has been able to successfully infuse into his dishes.

Standouts: Black Truffle Croquettes, Hamachi Sashimi, Brussel Sprouts. Full review here.

3) No Bones Beach Club

Neighborhood: Wicker Park

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Buffalo cauliflower wings, Nachos, and Poblano Peppers at No Bones.

Where do I even start with this restaurant?  I love everything about it from the flavorful vegan dishes to the fun tiki environment.  No Bones Beach Club is all over Seattle and Portland and they finally graced the Chicago vegetarian/vegan dining scene this winter!  They don’t just have your typical vegan fair like tofu and seitan.  They’re excellent at cooking with vegetables and beans to curate incredibly flavorful and texturally rich dishes.  

No Bones Beach Club is vocal about their love and concern for animals and they aren’t just all talk.  A percentage of their profits is donated to a local animal rescue so you can eat without the usual guilt that comes with eating in a problematic industry.

Standouts: Buffalo Cauliflower, Poblano Peppers, Amazeballs.

4) Bellemore:

Neighborhood: West Loop

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

zw8f22uaRvCqbjTLhN95tA

Green Garlic Torchio

I had high expectations for Bellemore considering that they are part of the Boka Group and Boka is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.  Bellemore lived up to these expectations. While Boka is fine-dining and more traditional, Bellemore is a little more experimental and hip with similar price-points and a similar level of refinement and deliciousness.  They have herbaceous cocktails and an extensive wine menu!

They serve perfectly curated raw fish and pasta.  I am in love with their hearty pastas with multifaceted textures and savory flavors.  They do have excellent vegetarian and pescatarian options, but it is much harder if you’re vegan.

Standouts: Kona Kampachi, Green Garlic Torchio, Farro Verde. Full review here.

5) Sleeping Village:

Neighborhood: Avondale

Cocktail Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

Café by day, ambient music venue and cocktail bar by night, Sleeping Village is my favorite spot for dancing and catching some talented artists.  It has a large, open feel to it while still providing enough seating when you need a break from standing.

They have an extensive beer menu but since I am not a big beer drinker, I am appreciative of the good cocktails and decent wine selection. Step into their backroom for their dance parties and intriguing shows without being annoyed by a huge crowd.

Standouts: Negroni and Old Fashioned.

6) Proxi:

Neighborhood: West Loop

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

36EaiaRXRp+YzdA2i8izgw

Smoked Pumpkin with Paratha at Proxi

Proxi represents the best of fine, creative, and adventurous cuisine in Chicago.  Their concept is eclectic twists on global street food served tapas style in an open, beautiful, and modern dining environment. They have incredibly innovative cocktails with curry, beet infused tequila, and charcoal to name a few ingredients. 

I would not recommend this place to pure vegetarians and vegans since there are barely any options but if you are a pescatarian, you will be fine.  Proxi is on the cutting edge of cuisine in Chicago.

Standouts: Smoked Pumpkin with Paratha, Fried Skate Wing, Coal Roasted Oysters. Full review here.

7) Moonlighter

Neighborhood: Logan Square

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Cocktail Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

7PcBcTEkSteYsJeSmgWgmA.jpg

Beyond Brat at Moonlighter

Even though Moonlighter is a sports bar with too many televisions, it isn’t as annoying as a usual sports bar.  The people who go here aren’t obnoxious and it’s a pretty chill crowd.  Their cocktails are affordable and tasty while still having your typical wine and beer options.  They have a separate vegetarian menu with vegan options! 

I love their Beyond Meat Burgers and Brat along with their unhealthy, but oh so delicious cheese curds and veggie chili cheese fries.  Their kitchen is open till 1am so if you need something to soak up the late night cocktails and don’t feel like pizza, Moonlighter is an excellent option (also for when you’re feeling hungover the next day). 

Standouts: Cheese curds, Veggie Chili Cheese Fries, Beyond Meat Brat.

8) Etta

Neighborhood: Wicker Park

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

XAO4o2gpTZCTqwJoCROPXg

Ricotta Dumplings at etta

Etta is quite deserving of its recent hype.  I was skeptical and happily satisfied while I came here.  I had not previously tried Maple & Ash, the other famously delicious restaurant of  etta executive chef, Danny Grant, so I didn’t know what to expect other than an “open-hearth” (old school roasting) concept. 

They have fancy, inventive cocktails and a casual upscale dining vibe with plants of course.  Etta has a small plates concept so bring people who have similar diets to you!  Their pasta is exquisite with so many delicate flavors in their sauces.  Etta is simultaneously comforting and intriguing.

Standouts: Crispy Cauliflower, Ricotta Pillows, Ricotta Dumplings. Full review here.

9) HaiSous

Neighborhood: Pilsen

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★1/2

Overall Rating: ★★★★

mSu7ddSjRwuCwevTe0QQ%g.jpg

Vietnamese Egg Coffee at HaiSous

Contemporary Vietnamese food is what HaiSous is known for and I cannot get over how mouthwateringly delicious their food is.  It is much easier to find more options during their brunch as their dinner options tend to be meat heavy.  This is why I have only tried their brunch but I was absolutely amazed by the exciting flavors and textures.  Their brunch consists of sharable plates while showcasing authentic Vietnamese flavors in Pilsen.

Standouts: Chao Hen (rice porridge), Vietnamese Egg Coffee, Fried Egg with Caramelized Onions.

10) Katherine Anne Confections

Neighborhood: Logan Square

Truffle Rating: ★★★★★

Hot Chocolate Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

OMDPVDZCQcagCAbOtjw

Mexican Hot Chocolate at Katherine Anne Confections

Katherine Anne Confections is a cute, small cafe in Logan Square that has a fabulous assortment of chocolate truffles, candies, hot chocolates, and sandwiches.They have an excellent variety of hot chocolates and have an extensive vegan menu.  

They are really great about customizing options so even if you are okay having milk chocolate but don’t want regular milk, they can make it with Almond milk.  Their vegan options are not an after thought and I was impressed by how they take great care with providing truly palatable options for vegans and people who are lactose intolerant.

Standouts: Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Everything. Full review here.

11) Aba

Neighborhood: West Loop

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★1/2

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★1/2

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

o5Wvu8TLSwyKM8rK6wRThg.jpg

Muhammara at Aba

While Aba is another fancy, small plates West Loop spot, they are offering something different.  Just sitting in the restaurant is an experience in itself because of how beautiful it is with its diverse plants and chandeliers.  Their flavors are Mediterranean-Israeli focused with extremely well-composed dishes. 

They have a satisfactory amount of vegetarian, vegan, and many pescatarian options.  Did you know they have 5 different kinds of hummus and non-meat kebabs? It is hard to get a reservation here so my advice is to plan in advance!

Standouts: Muhammara, Marinated Olives and Feta, Salmon Kebab.

12) Casa Yari

Neighborhood: Logan Square

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

fullsizeoutput_2868

Mofongo at Casa Yari

Casa Yari offers some extremely flavorful food that is nearly impossible to find anywhere else because what they are doing is quite innovative. They have vegetarian and vegan Puerto Rican/Honduran food.  They have a vast menu ranging from Jibbaritos to Mariscos and award-winning flan. I also appreciate that Casa Yari is BYOB, adding to its affordability. It is the perfect spot for a chill dinner with friends over some red wine.

Standouts: Seitan Churrasco Steak, Mofongo. Full review here.

13) Le Bouchon

Neighborhood: Bucktown

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★1/2

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

IMG_2927.JPG

Mahi Mahi with couscous at Le Bouchon

I am a sucker for classic, Parisian style French food and Le Bouchon fulfilled that nostalgia for me.  Le Bouchon is one of  the best French restaurants I have been to in Chicago.  Le Bouchon is quaint, upscale, and has a neighborhood-vibe (you’re in close proximity to others – as you would be at a Parisian restaurant) without feeling stuffy. 

Their cheese selection is superb and their seafood tastes fresh (I know we’re in Chicago).  They don’t have that many options if you’re a vegetarian, but if you’re a pescatarian you will be taken care of.  If you want to eat here in a more affordable way, come here on a Tuesday night for their flexible $38/person prix-fixe menu!

Standout: Mussels Provençal, Gnocchi Parisienne, Mahi-Mahi with Couscous.

14) Spice Room

Neighborhood: Logan Square

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

J08Le2r2QAC4VEUnAXcDdQ

Dal Makhani at Spice Room

Logan Square is in dire need of good Asian food and Spice Room finally ameliorated this dire situation in 2017.  Considering that Spice Room is an Indian restaurant, it is quite the haven for vegetarians.  They have a special vegetarian appetizer section and a vegetarian entrée section making it easy to know what part of the menu is safe.

 At this point I have had most of their vegetarian appetizers and entrees and I have no complaints!  Their flavors are complex and hearty – Indian comfort food on a cold, snowy day.  It’s also BYOB so you can drink a dry bottle of Cabernet while eating some Dal Makhani.

Standouts: Dal Makhani, Paneer Masala, Veggie Tikka Masala. Full review here.

15) Café Marie Jeanne

Neighborhood: Humboldt Park

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

IMG_1369.JPG

Caviar Toast at Cafe Marie-Jeanne

If you want a cozy, intimate, yet exciting dining experience, Café Marie-Jeanne is a perfect option.  I absolutely adore everything about this place.  It has “traditional” French food but also innovative, contemporary dishes that are made in really unique ways.  There was nothing I ate here that I didn’t fall in love with. 

If you want to eat here in a more affordable way, come here on a Wednesday night for their flexible $36/person prix-fixe menu.  It applies to all parts of their menu so you are not limited to a few options.  I have also been here for brunch and love how its à la carte style.  Their menu is pretty seafood heavy but you can find some tasty vegetarian options (much harder for vegans though).

Standouts: Caviar Toast, Curry Anchovy fries, Bucatini. Full review here.

16) Ground Control

Neighborhood: Logan Square

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★1/2

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

v602qFvsSrG1pG%HdXrdXw

Tofu Wings at Ground Control

While Ground Control doesn’t have the reputation that Chicago Diner has, it deserves it because it is a very affordable and toothsome vegetarian/vegan staple in Chicago.  I am so happy to see another vegetarian spot in Logan Square that is super affordable and funky.  The decor is quirky, cozy, and divey with a space-theme.  

Ground Control has some healthy but mainly naughtier vegetarian/vegan dishes that are addictive.  They have generous portions so be prepared to feel stuffed or take some leftovers home.  Their brunch and dinner are equally satisfying.

Standouts: Tofu Wings, Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich, Cheesy Italian, and Beet Burger. Full review here.

About

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *