The first week of February is an excellent time to be anyone with an appetite in Chicago. That's because some of the city's most beloved restaurants offer special dishes (or even whole menus) for the annual Chicago Restaurant Week. With meat or fish as a traditional centerpiece for a number of these listings, a question has reached my ears that I feel obliged to answer: What's a vegetarian to do?
First things first, while not every restaurant can offer flexibility, many are perfectly willing to accommodate a diner who just doesn't eat meat but still wants to be part of the main event. The key in most cases is notice. Either ask the host or hostess when calling to make a reservation or include a note when making an OpenTable reservation. The fewer surprises the better and the restaurant should be able to let you know if they can't accommodate shifts to the fixed offer - thus giving you ample time to choose one of many other options.
Speaking of options, we scoured this year's list and are pleased to nominate a few good spots to start with if you or your PDC (preferred dining companion) is inclined toward a life-less-meaty.
Green Zebra (1460 W. Chicago Ave.)
Shawn McClain's West Town outpost is all vegetarian, all the time. In fact, several regular menu items are vegan. This place is seriously chic, a quick cab from downtown and within walking distance of some great neighborhood cocktail spots if the mood strikes you.
Sunda (110 W. Illinois St.)
This River North spot has something for everyone and is great for groups, though if I'm giving the advice here, I have to mention the Brussels sprouts. People (*ahem*) have been known to place a second order in the same sitting.
Demera Ethiopian (4801 N. Broadway St.)
Head Uptown to enjoy authentic cuisine that's perfect for heat-seekers - Demera's chef is a spice specialist. "Don't miss" dishes include the spinach sambossas and turmeric-spiced lentils scooped up with plenty of injera (a gluten-free version is available). Cool down with fresh iced tea or really heat things up with a cup of coffee - Demera roasts their own beans in-house.
Bar Umbriago (6 W. Hubbard St.)
A family-style Italian joint shined up with a bit of River North polish? Yes, please. I, personally, cannot resist butternut squash ravioli on a menu, but it's made me a bit of a snob when it comes to filled pastas of the gourd variety (pumpkin agnolotti, I'm looking at you). After 50-ish bites from Chicago restaurants at the First Bites Bash last week, I still considered seconds from Bar Umbriago. Lucky for all of us, the rest of the menu looks just as tasty.
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