The Chicago Diner has been proudly meat-free since 1983, and it's a local favorite for its laid-back atmosphere (diner-style neon lights and red-topped tables), the relatively cheap veggie food and a great microbrew selection. But, in the past 29 years, it's blended into the crowd somewhat: With hardwood floors, exposed brick and a staff of young, thin, hipster servers, it looks and feels a little like many other trendy eateries.
What sets the Chicago Diner apart is the food. Instead of pricy combinations of locally sourced goat cheese and microgreen emulsions, this place offers hearty, down-home vegetarian and vegan dishes. The menu reads like that of a traditional diner—burgers, clubs and Reubens, wraps and even country-fried "steak" made with breaded seitan. A hearty tostada rich with black beans and expertly seasoned quinoa ($11) proved delightful, though a salad with slices of meaty seitan ($11) was weighed down by too much balsamic dressing. Most dishes settle around $10 to $15 mark. Surprisingly creamy vegan milkshakes ($5.75) made with soy ice cream and soy milk end meals on a high note.
This is diner food for the Birkenstock set, and though it's not high-concept gourmet, it's certainly satisfying and fun.