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Second City’s 7 Not-So-Deadly [Vegan Dining] Sins (say that 10 times fast)

Second City’s 7 Not-So-Deadly [Vegan Dining] Sins (say that 10 times fast)

| On 11, Aug 2013

Welcome back to Chicago!

I have some pretty exciting news, related to Chicago. I’m a little nervous to even say it because it’s not totally official yet but.. but… okay, well let me back up a little bit here..

Several months ago I was brainstorming ideas on how I could keep traveling without having to pay rent, while also continuing to build resources for my online marketing/social media consulting work. So I thought, “I wonder if I could trade free housing for free marketing coaching?!”

It seemed silly at the time but just a couple of weeks ago the idea reentered my brainsicles and I casually put the word out via Facebook. To my surprise I received more than one email (okay, three in total) inquiring about the potential swap. One email came from a very cool vegan company (that I’ve long admired), located in…. you guessed it… Chicago!

Even though it hasn’t been made official it looks very promising. Therefore, come mid-September I’ll (likely) be packing up my singular backpack and heading to Chi-town for about three months. EeeeeEEeEeee!! Let the adventure continue! :D

millennium park

Similar to my love affair with NYC, Chicago is one of those cities I fell for immediately, upon my very first visit, over three years ago. I had visited Chicago a handful of times pre-road trip, but there was one magical weekend in particular that my dearest friend, Melis (who I met while in grad school at Emerson College – she’s from Turkey!) and I spent frolicking through Millennium Park, catching a concert under the stars, making faces into and pressing our hands against Cloud Gate (AKA the “Bean”), overeating, beach going, boat touring, and Sears Tower climbing. It also happened to be the city that convinced me to get my first-ever tattoo! Ah, that was SOME weekend alright, ::sigh:: but I digress.

the bean chicago Melis and Kristin at Cloud Gate (Aug. 2010)

Getting back to today, as I prepare to write about the “then” that is sandwiched between the first-time frolics and my next, upcoming Chicago-related adventure – let’s talk about food. And what better way to start than with the fried variety!


The Handlebar (I like to think of it in terms of a mustache – you’ll know what I mean after a visit!) is a vegan-friendly staple set in Wicker Park (2311 W North Ave). I’m not a huge (alcohol) drinker but from what I understand they’ve got quite the selection of boozie beverages.

They’ve been around since 2003 and have become quite the hotspot for weekend brunch, week night dinners, and late night libations.

Below we’ve got some fried pickles and biscuits and gravy!
fried pickles veganhandlebar vegan bisc gravey

Here’s some eye candy from Handlebar’s Facebook page:

The Handlebar - Chicago vegan cinnamon rollsVegan noms in Wicker Park

I’ve been to The Handlbar three-ish times in my life and I’ve enjoyed every meal. I wouldn’t go if you want something healthy, but for something delicious and filling in a fun, social setting this is your place. Also, I had my very first-ever fried pickle there. So, that’s something!

Next up we’ve got a triple decker variety from one of Chicago’s most notable vegans, Karyn Calabrese. (How many vegan Chicagoans knew her last name? Eh?! I just had to look it up.)

At age 65 this raw foodist and highly successful business owner not only looks fabulous (seriously, she’s beautiful!) but she’s also made quite a name for herself in the Chicago vegan community.

With three different locations primarily touting raw foodism, Karyn has become a staple among the vegan eateries whose name eagerly slips off the tongues of folks responding to the common visitor’s question: “Which restaurant(s) should I visit in Chicago?”

You’ve got Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s on Green, and Karyn’s Cooked to choose from – each with unique menus. Let’s have a look… first up, Karyn’s Raw:

Karyn's Rawcoldsection2rawinside2


Karyn’s Raw is one part juice bar and to-go shop, with a section of books and other raw food living resources, and one part restaurant (next door). I’ve also heard this location called Karyn’s Fresh Corner and Karyn’s Inner Beauty Center mostly (I think) due to the variety of products she offers at this location. This is also where you’d come if you sign up for and attend any of Karyn’s raw food classes. Okay.. this is clearly more than a two-part’s more like, a five-part deal.

Anywho.. yeah, there is a lot going on here and I believe it was the very first of her locations.

reachingraw2I’m short. For real… 5′ 2″ to be exact. :)


Opened in early 2010, Karyn’s on Green is the newest and arguably most popular, and perhaps fanciest of the trio.

With impeccable service and an intimate setting so romantic you think you were in your own romcom (you know those opening scenes where she’s on a classy date, and is all “Oh noes I’m 30 and should make babies soon,” and he’s all, “Oh noes, she’s 30 and is going to want to make babies soon.” Or she’s all super sexy and obviously awesome but he’s creepy and obviously unattractive in some conventional way, so she gets an “emergency call” from her bestie who’s all, “O.M.G. I need your help! I’m so glad you check your phone while on dates, please leave your date and come save me.”).

Okay that might not have sounded like a compliment but it was. How about this – it’s like a restaurant you’d see in a movie, during a romantical date scene (yeah, I think that works better). Haha :)


On this evening Ethan and I were joined by Sarah and Steve Schwass. I first met Sarah (via the InterWebs) while hosting this contest. She and Steve won first prize and spent a lovely weekend in NYC. We stayed in touch and once I reached Chicago we finally had a chance to meet up, IRL!

tofucrabcakes2 vegandrumsticks2 veganpizza2 Karyn's on Green

It’s safe to say that I don’t recall the names of all the dishes that everyone enjoyed this night but I DO remember feeling overstuffed and more than satisfied. Aaaahh.. that was a nice dinner.

Some kahva (that’s Turkish for coffee. Look at me go!) was had (not by me because I don’t like coffee) along with many a laugh and probably vegan-ie chatter, followed by a drive back to Ethan’s family’s home, during a very chilly Chicago night.



The following photos are from Karyn’s Cooked, during the super rad weekend that Melis and I spent in Chi-T (Hey! That’s like t’ai chi … if ya flip it and reverse it).

Now that I think about it, I can’t recall if Ethan and I stopped here or not. I feel like we did but I couldn’t find any photos. But I do know I’ve been here a handful of times before (as evidenced by the photos below, which were pulled from my weekend trip with Melis). So, we’ll say this counts. :)

What I remember about this night is being crazy tired (I think this was the same night we arrived), mildly irritable, and absolutely thrilled to be dining at Karyn’s Cooked.

It looks like we’ve got some enchiladas here and of course, a pie of pizzER (that’s how some folks in certain parts of Massachusetts pronounce pizza.)! Om nom nom!

Karyn's Cooked - Chicago Karyn's Cooked - Chicago

Full disclosure: In late 2010, when I first started reading blogs and books about travel, lifestyle design, and entrepreneurship I considered opening a mini vegan grocery store/deli inspired by the awesome deli-style sandwiches I enjoyed once, from Hana Food in Brooklyn. I did a little asking around and went so far as to contact a friend about being the head foodie on staff to prepare the made-to-order deli sandwiches.

During that brief moment in time when I thought this idea would become something more (than an idea) I was – of course – thinking of names for the place because you know after the name is chosen it’s all stress- and freak-out-ville going forward. Name selection is often the best part!

Okay, so WHY am I talking about this at all?! Well, the name of the next place on my list to write about here is relevant. Hang with me…

In doing some market research for this would-be grocer/deli I read somewhere that the most memorable names (for anything – people, pets, businesses) are names that have a hard K- or Chuh- or Tee-sound in them. For example: Karyn’s Cooked, Chuch (pronounced choo-chuh) in Montreal, and True Bistro in Boston.

But what’s in a name, right?! In this case it’s about creating something that not only has meaning to the restaurant itself of course, but also something that will stick and be easy for the consumer to recall. You want people to recommend your place to other people right? Make the name memorable, yo! Of course, this is but a small piece of the running-a-business pie but is an important one nonetheless.


Anyway, this all leads me to the next restaurant I want to mention: Munch (104 N Marion St. Oak Park, IL). Which is similar to the name I thought about giving my grocer/deli: Chomp. And by similar I mean, what the name means, I guess… not so much the sound.. even though they both possess a “chuh.”

Yes, the previous six paragraphs you just read have nothing to do with food whatsoever, but with me simply recalling the name of a deli that never came to be. You’re welcome.

Moving along…

Munch is a mostly-vegan restaurant with a casual, hip vibe. I totally dig the red tabletops and broad window, which allows a ton-o sunlight to fill the space. It makes for a bright, warm environment – perfect for noshing.

insidemunch2 chalkboardmunch2 kristinmunch2 munchsmoothie2

Hey, look how short my hair is!

I believe that smoothie up there is the Fruit Fusion – pineapple, banana, soy milk, and seasonal fruit. And for the sammies below, I want to say we’ve got Philly “Steakless” and a Grilled Portobello and Eggplant Sandwiches.

Based on looks alone I’m willing to bet I found there to be too much baguette versus fillings, but it’s been a while. They look pretty though, don’t they?!
sammymunchuse2 closeupesam2 shroomsammy2 Munch in Chicago

Here’s something that I do remember from the day we ate at Munch: as we were walking back to the van we passed a woman who spotted us, stopped, pointed, and said “Hey… Will Travel For Vegan Food, right?!” It was officially our first “celebrity” sighting. Haha! :)

The reason I remember it so clearly though is because Marine (that’s her name) walked over to us and bunched up the left sleeve of her jacket to reveal a tattoo that she had just gotten a few days prior. The coolest part?! Inspired by my ink, Marine got the same exact vegan “V” tattoo, in the same exact location, that I had gotten during that fantastic weekend vacay in Chicago, more than a year earlier. How friggin’ cool is that?!

vegan tattoosThe sun was bright that day. :) Marine and Kristin, and their matching vegan “V” tattoos.


Why do you pick me up (pick me up) Buttercup, baby
Just to set me down (set me down) and…

::err:: wait, those aren’t the lyrics… but they are in the name of the next restaurant on the list!

Pick Me Up Cafe (3408 N Clark St) is listed as one of those, “vegetarians go nuts for this spot” restaurants on Yelp. I remember it being one of the first vegan-friendly restaurants I visited during my first-ever trip to Chicago. I’ve been a few times since (pics below are a mix of those from when Ethan and I were there and then the trip with Melis) and aside from the french toast (which, I really like), I gotta say.. meh. It’s good, and there are many a loyal fan of this place, for sure but I find the meals just okay – especially when compared to The Handlebar, The Chicago Diner, and Native Foods. There’s simply tastier vegan options, IMO.

So, here are some pics – you can be the judge, check it out the next time you’re in Chicago, and let me know what you think. :)

loose women

vegan french toastvegan brunch - pick me up cafe
vegan poppersegssbenedict2



Last but not least is Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur (2235 N Western Ave)!

If you love Mexican cuisine you’ll truly enjoy this authentic-as-can-be vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant, located in Logan Square.

We got a handful of quesadillas, tacos, and burritos in order to try a little bit of everything. I remember we went there for dinner – and the food was pretty darn good (but please note – I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food so I can’t give this place a proper once-over) and the lighting was a bit tough so the photos didn’t come out so great. I pulled some pics from other vegan bloggers, below.

Quesadilla La Reyna del SurPhoto by Hungry Vegan Runner

Quesadilla La Reyna del SurPhoto by Second City Vegan

Looks good though right?!

Hey, next time you’re in Chicago please go check this place out and let me know what you think. I wish I had more to say about it but it’s honestly a bit foggy, plus – the whole lack of appeal for cuisine of the Mexican nature. I know.. foodie fail, but what can ya do?

What do you think – are any of these restaurants among your top favorites?

Do you have any good restaurant names that include a hard K-, Chuh-, or Tee-sound? Haha… let me know by leaving a note in the comments below. :)


  1. Sue Goold

    In Moncton, a city near us in New Brunswick, there is a vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurant that makes me absolutely giddy. Calactus is the name and the menu is ethnically diverse and consistently enjoyable. If you tour Canada this should be an East Coast must try.

    • Kristin

      Awesome! Thanks for the suggestion, Sue. :) xo

  2. Dana

    Sweet! Chicago is a short, convenient train ride to/from C-U!

  3. Michael Harrison

    In Chicago and you didn’t mention Amitabul? Amazing Korean Buddhist food. All vegan.

    • Kristin

      Hi Michael. I sure did! :) Since there are so many places to cover in Chicago I break them up into various blog posts. Here’s the one that talks about Amitabul: Thanks so much for reading along! -Kristin

  4. Melly

    So awesome!!

    • Kristin

      w00p! w00p! :)

  5. kattheveg

    I’m a vegan from Chicago, and Pick Me Up is awesome, but it’s someplace that we go at 4am after dancing :) It’s open 24/7 on the weekends. Their vegan chili is pretty good as are the shakes.

    • Kristin

      Great to know, Kat! I do love their French Toast but am always up for chili and/or shakes! :) xo

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