Since 1983, the cooks at Soul Vegetarian East have given vegetarians and vegans a rare pleasure: the chance to enjoy meat-free dishes that mimic the comforting, indulgent taste of soul food and barbecue. Buffalo tofu wings, veggie burgers made with black eye peas, and collard greens with onions and fresh cornbread are just a few of the eatery’s offerings.
With an eye toward holistic wellness, the team at B’Gabs creates raw, gluten free, and vegan meals that are soy-free, peanut-free and chock full of organic and local fruits, veggies, and veggie-based proteins. In the dining area, each whole ingredient is transformed under the chefs' skilled hands as they become healthy versions of meals, such as burgers, tacos, or pad thai. Even soy-free desserts, such as cheesecake, manage to be both hearty and creamy—yet they lack the additives of their traditional versions.
That dedication to high-quality food is also present in the restaurant's juices. Each one is made using a Norwalk juicer, a machine believed to extract more vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables using hydraulics. B'Gabs also runs a store that stocks groceries and goodies meant to promote vibrant lifestyles, from herbs to therapeutic oils for massaging tired shoulders after a long day of shrugging.
I Dream of Falafel's health-conscious chefs craft a menu of fresh, locally sourced Mediterranean cuisine, customizing each selection to meet individual dietary needs. Preservative-free vegetarian dishes and slow-cooked meat treats materialize from such high-quality ingredients as house-made falafel, cage-free chicken, and premium AA beef sirloin that is never frozen or forced to time travel. After scanning the menu, diners create their own meals by pairing a made-from-scratch laffa bread, salad, or organic hummus base with a hearty protein and farm-fresh toppings such as sumac onions and tomato-cucumber salad. Available ingredients accommodate the tastes and restrictions of any appetite, with options for vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, and high-chickpea diets.
Pockets' health-conscious chefs have stuffed stomachs with fresh, all-natural ingredients for more than 20 years, creating low-fat, high-protein combinations of vegetables, fine cheese, and lean meats. Within freshly baked multigrain bread, selections such as spinach, salami, turkey, and tuna combine with edamame beans, crunchy noodles, dried cranberries, and a splash from one of more than 10 dressings, creating a snack more portable than a bicycle made of chocolate. Menu pages also brim with eight healthy salads, seven hearty calzones, and a kids' menu with pint-size portions and sides of magic. Not content with just challenging fast-food ideals, the locally owned Pockets furthers change in its community by regularly donating up to 50% of its profit to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Fox Valley Heart Foundation.
It’s a wonder the staffers at Protein Bar have time to do anything but smile for the camera amid the maelstrom of media attention the eatery has received in recent years. The man at the center of the storm is founder Matt Matros, dubbed one of Crain’s Chicago Business’s most successful 40 Under 40 in 2012. Matros spend his youth struggling with his weight, and lost his father to a heart attack before his 22nd birthday. The shock sparked a renewed hunger for life in the young executive, who went on to shed 50 pounds through exercise and healthy eating. Along the way, Matt noticed a gaping hole in the world of fast food—where were the healthy options? He decided to throw his corporate career to the wind and pour his entire life savings into opening the first Protein Bar, a welcoming haven for the health-conscious eater. Matros’ business soon flourished into eight Chicago locations, with three more in D.C. His aim was to cut out the junk that pervades fast-food chains—refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, empty calories, and unsettling cartoon characters—and replace it with lean protein, heart-healthy fiber, and satisfying flavor. The menu accomplishes just that. At breakfast, bowls are filled with oatmeal deemed some of the finest in the city by CBS Chicago. As the hours wear on, a special mix of six types of veggies builds each salad into a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Bar-ritos swap out calorie-heavy rice for quinoa and flour tortillas for hearty whole-wheat wraps. Signature blended drinks omit sugary additives for protein mixes and fruit, each named for a Chicago neighborhood, and bowls of warm, organic quinoa come topped with protein and fresh produce.
Published author and raw-food advocate Karyn Calabrese has spent decades educating people on the benefits of an uncooked but flavorful diet free of meat, fish, chicken, or dairy products. In a recent interview for the Chicago Tribune, Calabrese traced her culinary interests back to Sundays in the kitchen with her grandmother. After watching family members succumb to degenerative diseases, she was inspired to tread a different nutritional path. Calabrese has shared her vegan and vegetarian cooking techniques in numerous media, including CBS and ABC news. Four restaurants currently bear her name, vegan philosophy, and commitment to organic foods: Fresh Corner and Garden Cafe, Fresh Corner and Raw Bistro, Cooked, and On Green. The café and market offer eco-conscious shoppers a range of products, and Karyn’s Inner Beauty Center provides holistic therapies such as acupuncture and individualized wellness coaching programs. The center’s spa services employ natural products, some of which arrive directly from the kitchen or straight from the fields via teleportation chamber. Convenient take-home meals and a variety of events such as yoga classes and lessons in "uncooking" help patrons maintain a healthy lifestyle.