Every month, Sweet Tomatoes rolls out a new roster of fresh-made eats—including many vegetarian and gluten-free selections—in its wholesome buffet. Simmering soups bubble with vegetables and savory chicken, alongside tossed salads tumbling with crisp produce, much like an Ent in a washing machine. On Sunday mornings, plates fill with comforting breakfast classics such as belgian waffles and scrambled eggs.
Time Out Chicago Kids raves about the strawberry lemonade flavor. Chicago magazine claims the "coconut tastes fresh from the tree." And Michael Mednick, owner and founder of Anthony's Italian Ice, which has been open for more than 20 years, knows exactly why. After a stint selling name-brand ices, an unsatisfied Mednick decided to test his Italian ice-making talents by tossing fresh fruits into an old ice-making machine. A series of trials, errors, and brain freezes finally led Mednick to the sweet spot he holds today: manning his own Southport store, where he churns out 25 decadent Italian ice flavors⎯such as lemon, mango, and peach⎯from scratch.
Though Italian ice is Anthony’s big draw, the shop also purveys smooth ice cream produced by fellow Chicago shop Bobtail, and offsets dessert appetites with Italian beef sandwiches, locally made soups, and Chicago-style hot dogs.
Jacky's on Prairie sources its fresh, seasonal ingredients from local family farms to ensure customers are never faced with a plate of summer squash with frostbite or snow peas with suntans. The restaurant's brunch, lunch, and dinner menus feature flavor infusions from around the world, harmoniously accompanied with the nuanced notes of fine wine. This spring's savory starters include ginger beef potstickers served with an orange-shoyu reduction ($10), vanilla-braised pork belly with black vinegar sauce and a citrus micro-green salad ($10), and champagne-soaked oysters with leek fondue, pancetta, and an elegant house-selected wine pairing ($18). For dinner, anchor your mouth bones into a plate of wild Alaskan salmon served with gnocchi and spring vegetables, topped with a chervil-watercress sauce ($26), or get a meatless mouthful of Moroccan vegetable tajine, mixing fresh, seasonal vegetables and almond couscous ($19). For a healthy punch of protein, opt for the grilled organic pork, decadently drizzled with pasilla-orange sauce and aptly attended with pickled red onion, potato terrine, and baby arugula ($26).
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.
Every Friday and Saturday night, an insiders-only karaoke jam fills Dharma Garden's pastel-colored walls with music. During a recent visit by Time Out Chicago, the crowd—mostly comprised of staff members from other Thai restaurants—burst into applause as Dharma chef and owner Vilairait Junthong, AKA "Little Aunt," grabbed the mic to sing her favorite tune, Sirintra Niyakorn's "Roo Wa kao lhok," which roughly translates to "You Treat Me Wrong".
In the more than ten years since arriving in Chicago from her hometown of Prajinburi, Little Aunt has done more than just bulk up Dharma's Thai menu. Chicago Thai restaurants Sticky and Spoon Thai have called on Junthong to outfit their menus with Northern Thai specialties such as marinated beef jerky and Chinese-influenced rice soup. She's also stayed true to a no-land-animals pledge––one reason of many why Time Out Chicago has named Dharma Garden a Critics' Pick.
Beneath the dining room's spherical hanging lights, curries and stir-fried noodles stack with veggies such as baby bok choy and chinese broccoli, as well as seafood, shrimp, and imitation meats. Already boasting one of the city's largest vegetarian menus, chefs can also alter most of their other dishes to accommodate vegans and vegetarians upon request. After finishing off a deep-fried red snapper, patrons can peruse the Thai-language menu, or request a translation into other languages such as German, Latin, and Binary.