Remembering meaty years at the Chicago Diner

    The Chicago Diner BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. Photo courtesy of The Chicago Diner.

    As a vegetarian, I haven’t touched meat in over two years. I still experience major meat envy whenever my friends bite into juicy burgers that dribble down their chins and require napkin bibs. So when I heard that the Chicago Diner served up excellent classic diner fare like burgers, chicken fried steak and five-alarm chili, that was all also completely vegan, I knew I had to pay them a visit.

    The almost three-decade old Chicago Diner is both Zagat rated and recommended by the Michelin Guide. It has also been named Chicago’s best vegetarian restaurant by WGN and the Chicago Reader and was featured on TLC’s “Best Food Ever” show. Located just a few blocks southeast of the Addison-Red L-stop, it’s not too far of a trip to make for corn protein that doesn’t look or taste like cat food.

    All the hype means the wait is abysmally long though, especially with the promise of sweet potato fries and vegan açaí berry cream shakes. Tired, hungry and cold, many potential patrons duck out before their name is called, which slightly shortens the hour-long wait outside in subzero temperatures. The diner also has a heated tent on the back patio stocked with hot tea for those unwilling to brave the wind.

    The food is definitely worth the wait though, especially the burgers which they’re known for. The special B.L.Titanic Burger is a behemoth veggie burger served with vegetarian bacon, vegan BBQ mayonnaise and french-fried onions on a multigrain bun. The patty itself is not that special — just a standard hunk of seitan, wheat-meat protein that serves as a delivery vehicle for the tasty vegetarian bacon and BBQ vegannaise toppings.

    The bacon wasn’t as crispy as real, fatty bacon would be, but it still had a nice, smoky flavor that accompanied the incredible BBQ vegannaise exceptionally well. The vegannaise itself was very smooth, but not so creamy that it overpowered the burger. It also comes on the side, which is perfect for both slathering on the burger and dipping sweet potato fries in. I ended up stealing my dining companion’s vegannaise.

    The multigrain bun is also soft and earthy-tasting, with a nice amount of squishiness that offsets the somewhat grainy texture that’s unavoidable in a veggie patty. It also holds up pretty nicely, especially considering that it has to deal with a generous helping of vegannaise, tomato and lettuce. There’s also an excessive amount of oversalted, very greasy french-fried onions that end up becoming a side because of the sheer amount included in the burger.

    The onions don’t hold a candle to the diner’s famous sweet potato fries, though. Well-seasoned with just the right amount of bite, they’re the perfect accompaniment to a burger or sandwich. Just make sure you get your own order, because you will probably end up polishing off every last one.

    Save room for the vegan desserts though, because they’re exceptional. This is especially true when taking into consideration their famous vegan chocolate chip cookies, which in my opinion are even better than their non-vegan counterparts. The size of a small plate, it’s soft and buttery warmed up. Chocolate goo all over your hands is inevitable, but so tasty and completely worth the extra stack of napkins. The snickerdoodles are just as good with the right amount of chew and hint of almond that complements the generous dusting of cinnamon sugar.

    They were the perfect ending to the perfect meal that for once. The Chicago Diner reminded me that vegetarianism isn’t so bad after all.


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