Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

The Chicago Diner

My Chicago trip was super quick, and I didn’t end up having time to go out for lunch at all, so I was limited to one fun vegan dinner. I’ve been hearing about the Chicago Diner for years, so naturally I had to go there.

It was my first time ever in Chicago (I’m not counting all the times I’ve changed planes in the airport), and I lucked out with absolutely gorgeous weather. Sunny and warm. The hotel was right on the water. A river of some kind? A canal? I’m completely ignorant about everything to do with Chicago. I had to ask to figure out what lake we went by on the way to the Chicago Diner from the hotel!

Chicago impressed me, I’ll be honest. There were so many people on bikes, and bikes locked up outside luxury apartment buildings and fitness centers and movie theaters and stores and … well, everywhere. It was clear that bikes were a part of the life. The drivers of cars, from what I could tell, weren’t agitated about it either. It was just part of the life.

I saw only one person lycra’d up on the bike, which was also exciting for me, because it makes biking more real and functional, and something you do to get places, rather than just something you do to ride a race.

So there was the biking. And along that huge lake (Michigan, as I learned) there were paved paths, wide enough that pedestrians and bikes didn’t have to compete for real estate. And a beach!

If I had more time, I’d have rented a bike and wandered the city. I think it would have been a lot of fun.

But I didn’t have that kind of time, so most of my whirlwind sightseeing was after dark, in a taxi, to and from The Chicago Diner.

When I walked in, there was that immediate warmth that comes from a place that’s well worn, with the edges smoothed out by years of use, casual but quirky. I sat at the counter because the tables were pretty much all full, and after my lunch that can only be called A Giant Plate of Plain Lettuce (which actually tasted a lot better than it sounds, because the lettuce was really good), I was hungry. I didn’t want to wait for a table. And I got to chat with one of the wait staff as well as people who came in to order take out.

I didn’t do much decision making when it came to that extensive menu, I just asked for recommendations and favorites. I had the sweet potato quesadilla, which had spiced black beans and spinach, but I had it without the cheese, even though they had vegan cheese. I just wasn’t really in the mood. So it wasn’t really a quesadilla so much as a sweet potato burrito! It was good. Comforting food more than exciting food, but I felt nourished and satisfied, and that was the point of the food, wasn’t it?

I had a mango margarita to go with it, and I finished the meal off with a raw cheesecake, which I have to say rocked my world. It was simply amazing. Everyone who said “the Chicago Diner is good, make sure you save room for dessert!” really gave spot on advice.

I’m going to have to go back someday and explore the vegan options in Chicago more thoroughly. I can easily see myself spending time exploring the city. Just…not in the winter.

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9 responses to “The Chicago Diner

  1. bex October 16, 2008 at 10:51 am

    my visit to Chicago was also super quick and it was right when I went veggie so I didn’t fully appreciate vegan menus (or menu options) as much as I do now. I’m sure I’ll find myself back there again some day though.

  2. girl least likely to October 16, 2008 at 11:55 am

    yay! i’m glad you had fun, and that you had yummy food. your dinner sounds awesome. having lived on lake michigan almost my entire life, i find it endearing that you had no idea what lake it was. πŸ™‚ and the river you were looking at was the chicago river, as far as i know. i wish you’d been in the midwest longer, i would have made you take a train to visit me! πŸ˜‰

  3. Deb October 16, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    bex, ryan linked in a great resource for chicago that you should use next time you’re in chicago! http://j3n.net/food/ I know that’s what I’ll be studying, when I am in Chicago next!

    gllt, i’m so horrible with geography until I’ve visited a place! And sometimes even then. I lived in a town in germany for six months before I realized (right before I was leaving) that the “donau” was the same river as the “danube”. heh. Chicago was definitely a good discovery for me. Next time I am there, I’ll make sure to plan a bit more, and leave time to hop on a train! πŸ™‚

  4. mburgan December 7, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Next time you’re planning a trip to Chicago, you can also check out veganchicago.com for dining suggestions, though their map-based system is not as user-friendly as it could be. Some recommendations from a vegan in Chicago:

    Karyn’s Cooked (easy access from the Loop)
    Lake Side Cafe (almost in Evanston)
    Cousin’s Incredible Vitality (raw vegan and a happy medium, almost, geographically)

    High-end dining: Green Zebra (mostly vegetarian with vegan options) and Karyn’s Raw (dinner tends to be “eh…” but the Sunday brunch is divine!)

    And if you like good beer and vegan options, Handlebar is nice. Our neighborhood favorite, the Village Tap, has a slightly better beer selection but the food is not as vegan-friendly, though there are options. This just touching the surface and is highly biased. All in all, Chicago is a great city for vegans!

  5. Deb December 7, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    mburgan, thanks so much for sharing your recommendations! Cousin’s Incredible Vitality was a place that someone I talked to at the Chicago Diner recommended to me. Sounds like Chicago must have a pretty strong raw food movement!

    I didn’t leave myself any extra time for exploring Chicago in my plane reservations, so I pretty much just went to the conference, and then made it a point to go to the Chicago Diner. Honestly, I was surprised at how much I loved Chicago, as it had somehow never really hit my radar as a place to visit. Next time I’ll be prepared, and definitely spend some quality time checking out the city and the vegan options!

  6. mburgan December 7, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I think Chicago is not on most people’s radar, especially if they live on one of the coasts. I came here from New England, and most people I know have only visited the city for the random conference/business trip. But it really is a wonderful place, especially for arts–if you can get past the political corruption and high taxes, that is. I think it will only get more positive attention with Obama’s election.

  7. Deb December 9, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    I think you are right about Chicago not being on our radars! My parents retired to Arizona, and they know some people who are either from Chicago or spent a lot of time there, and we’ve often been surprised at how highly they speak of Chicago! I came from New England originally too, but I think the only places that people in New England have even heard of outside N.E. are NYC and Florida. But I do know many vegans (from Chicago and otherwise) who rave about it. And now I understand why!

    Funny that you mention the political corruption, given the news that hit today about the governor! lol.

  8. mburgan December 9, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Yeah, there goes that positive attention I was talking about. As tawdry as today’s events are, I couldn’t wait to blog about them. I don’t think anyone here was shocked. I just hope it doesn’t taint Obama too much, but I know there’s already some-guilt-by-association in the right-wing blogosphere. Still, it is an incestuous little world, Chicago politics; it will be hard for him to stay completely above the fray, I fear. And thanks for the link to Crisis? What Crisis?!

  9. Deb December 11, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I’m not sure how the right wingers can point any fingers, given the corruption in their own ranks! Not that logic has ever stopped anyone, of course. Ah, well, what is politics without corruption anyway? They just go together so well!

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