What's an Oak Park Vegetarian to Eat?

There are a lot of options for vegetarian and vegan eating in Oak Park

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By David Hammond

At various periods in my life, I’ve opted to go meat-free. Sometimes this temporary vegetarianism was prompted by economic concerns (as a graduate student, I couldn’t afford a lot of meat) and somewhat more rarely by ethical considerations (I got over those).

Some of the more delicious vegetarian offerings in Oak Park are served at “ethnic” restaurants that offer cuisines born of cultures where economics or religion necessitated or dictated meals without meat.

Many canonical dishes in the Italian culinary tradition are meatless.  The strong vegetarian inclination of Italian cuisine is due not only to the relative cost of meat but also to the Roman Catholic tradition that observed meatless Fridays as well as a large number of other holy days when fasting was expected. Consequently, Italian chefs had to dream up a lot of largely vegetarian offerings. At restaurants such as Cucina Paradiso (814 North Blvd.), there are many inventive vegetarian preparations. My Genoese grandmother introduced me to fried polenta half a century ago, and I have enjoyed Cucina Paradiso’s crispy wedges of corn meal topped with Gorgonzola, the earthiness of the grain cakes balanced with the richness of this Italian blue cheese.  Most of the pizzas and a number of pastas are prepared without meat; there really are a lot of options here for those who are trying to avoid meat.

Biodiversity is characteristic of many of the world’s great culinary traditions. If you live in a place where the land gives forth a range of good vegetables and fruits (like Asia), chances are good that the cuisines of the area will be rich and varied. In the Oak Park area, we are fortunate to have a relatively large number of Asian restaurants, particularly Thai restaurants,  many of which are willing to prepare their dishes with or without animal protein.  King and I Thai Restaurant  (105 R N. Marion) features a vegetarian section on their menu, as does Amarind’s  Thai Restaurant (6822 North).

Indian restaurants are, of course, heavily weighted toward vegetable offerings. This is due in part to the expense of meat but also to the sacredness ascribed to all living creatures in the sub continental religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism (a strict belief system based on the simple principle of “Do no harm” -- I overviewed Jain dietary practices in a 2007 WBEZ segment). At Khyber Pass (1031 Lake), there are an impressive number of dishes that are listed as vegetarian and even vegan (containing no animal products whatsoever, and that includes cheese, eggs and honey). Khyber Pass also offers one of the village's most exceptional bargain dining opportunities: weekday lunch buffets for $8.95 and dinner buffets for $14.95. If you’re young and on a limited budget, you can really get your money’s worth at this old school Indian restaurant.

Though militantly omnivorous, I often get bored with many entrées that submit to the tyranny of animal proteins, featuring big hunks of meat as the primary focus of a plate.  I would have difficulty bringing myself to go without meat for extended periods of time,  but it’s pleasant to sometimes take a little vacation from beef, pork and chicken and eat a meal that’s exclusively vegetable. In Oak Park, that’s not hard to do.

Do you have a favorite vegetarian meal at a local restaurant?  Please tell us about it.

Reader Comments

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LeAnn S from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:17 AM

WINBERIE'S on Oak Park ave and Lake st. They have a special menu for Vegetarians, Vegans, and people that are Gluten Free!! Just ask the host for one. My favorite is the Housemade Black Bean Burger and the Mushroom Risotto! YUM :)

Christina from OakPark.com/Shopping/Blogs  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:58 PM

@Jen P: Looking forward to trying out these recommended restaurants. I forgot to mention another great vegetarian find: Mama Thai in Oak Park (1112 Madison Street).

Jen P  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:49 PM

More thoughts. This time of year every diner and hot dog place has pepper and egg sandwiches. And in the Asian category - Yum Thai's tofu satay (on Madison in FP). And Bodhi has tons of veg appetizers. Egg rolls, spring rolls, fried tofu, sweet potato fritters, amazing chive dumplings (Roosevelt, Berwyn)

Christina from OakPark.com/Shopping/Blogs  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:42 PM

I became a vegetarian over twenty years ago, when I 14. The choices were limited then. Inevitably, while eating out, I was offered salads (upon salads...there is only so much lettuce a girl can eat). My favorite restaurants to eat in Oak Park are Jerusalem Cafe and Khyber Pass - which also has great vegan choices. Since I'm still learning about Oak Park's many dining establishments, any guidance and direction is welcome.

Jen P  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:39 PM

@David Hammond. Ssshh! :-) Some restaurants do make refried beans with vegetable oil, but at some restaurants (La Majada) I haven't dared to ask. And then there was that (I-really-don't-think-so) vegetarian pho in Chinatown.

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:46 PM

Not sure how strict a vegetarian your son is, but you might want to ask the Mexican restaurants what they cook their beans with. If the beans are really tasty, they're probably prepared with manteca (lard). Cool that you've found veggie options even at Tasty Dog.

Jen P  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:04 PM

Great subject for a blog post. My ten year old is a vegetarian so we've tried it all. One surprise is the breadth of the Tasty Dog menu can get a veggie burger (or grilled chicken sandwich.) Buona Beef has a great veggie panini. Falafel (as mentioned). And at Mexican restaurants, beans, rice, tortillas.

David Hammond from OakPark.com/Dining/Blogs  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:00 PM

Babaghannough, as your name implies, I see you are, indeed, a fan of Middle Eastern food. I've posted about Jerusalem Caf?n several occasions, and I try to mix it up rather than going over the same places repeatedly, but you are quite right: it is worthy. Marie and Gary, agreed, a vegetarian/vegan place in Oak Park would get a lot of love.


Posted: March 8th, 2011 3:25 PM

I'm glad the average vegetarians I know aren't quite as humorless and holier-than-thou as the first responder. Having said that - and being non-veg myself, it still seems a grave oversight to leave out OP's middle eastern restaurants, including Jerusalem Cafe and the one named for a vegetarian dish: Grape Leaves.

Marie Perkins from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 3:20 PM

Being a vegan living in Oak Park, I am praying for the day that someone opens up a vegan restaurant here. What better place than Oak Park to do that? It's nice that restaurants in the village offer many vegan/vegetarian options, but to have a place solely offering vegan food would be refreshing and I suspect highly profitable! Maybe there are some people out there who could put our collective heads together and do it.

Gary Belenke from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 2:03 PM

Given all of the vegatarians in Oak Park, and carnivors that enjoy vegetarian cooking, I don't understand why some enterprising entrepreneur hasn't opened up a vegetarian restaurant in Oak Park. It would be an ideal market. Come on, somebody dive in!


Posted: March 8th, 2011 2:01 PM

I would guess that the average vegetarian will read as far as your first paragraph, in which you joke about getting over your ethical considerations regarding eating meat, and read no further...

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