Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner: Part Deux

            I know I have reviewed The Chicago Diner before (check out the entry and feast your eyes upon the pictures of delicious foods!) but I’ve never been to their second location in Logan Square.  We’ve always loved the original location but today time was a bit more pressing to us than preference so we went to their newer location.  Even though it was the same company, I had this weird feeling like we were cheating on the Halsted Street location.  I know that I’m odd, thanks.

            While the Halsted location had a 1950s café vibe to it, the Milwaukee Avenue location in Logan Square felt a bit more upscale.  There were longer booths in the middle of the restaurant and a bar directly to the right as you entered.  Along the far wall was a big “Meat Free Since ’83” sign hanging from a wall.  We were seated at a smaller two-seat table along the wall and began scouring over the menu.  Let me tell you that that was no easy task.  Every time we go in there I find it nearly impossible to narrow my choice down to one dish.
My mocha shake (on left) and my wife's Lucky Leprechaun Mint shake (on right)

            I ordered my regular mocha shake, since nobody should ever leave The Chicago Diner without trying one of their shakes, and somehow resisted ordering the larger size.  This turned out to be a wise decision since I stuffed myself on the food.

            For appetizers – yes, plural – we ordered the Thai Chili Wingz and the poutine.  We seem to get the poutine whenever we go there but how can you pass up fries covered in vegan sour cream, ‘bacon’, Teese vegan cheese, jalapenos, green onions, and gravy?  You can’t, is the right answer if you know what’s good for you.  However, I think the most amazing appetizer I’ve had there are the Thai Chili Wingz.  HOT. DAMN.  They were amazing!  These seitan ‘wings’ could probably fool many omnivores if they didn’t know it was vegan.  They came with a chili lime marinade and served with Sriracha Ranch dipping sauce.  I was seriously considering the notion of getting an order to go.

            For my main dish I ordered the Caribbean risotto.  I was having a very tough choice deciding because the avocado tostados, scrambled tofu deluxe, and pierogi quesadillas (!!) all sounded so good.  This was a bit of a gamble for me, however, because I’m still hit-or-miss on eating beans.  My wife was pretty surprised I even ordered this.  I figured that it would be tolerable since it was in a risotto and I love risotto.  I could eat risotto every day.  Grilled veggies and plantains surrounded the risotto.  Despite my love-hate relationship with beans, this dish was really good!  The rice, beans, and plantains reminded me of our vacation to Costa Rica and it got me in the mood for our upcoming trip to Ecuador and Peru.

            So, definitely check out their second location in Logan Square if you’re in Chicago.  It’s a cool place with the same fantastic food.  I already want to go back.  I think my insatiable appetite is partly why I’m the broke vegan.
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

The Chicago Diner in Logan Square is located at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue.  Check out my previous TCD review for the link.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Restaurant Review: Native Foods Café

            I apologize yet again for another gap in posts!  My wife’s family recently visited us from Vancouver, British Columbia, so I was unable to post for a while.  I was too busy drinking, eating, and being merry.  It was also the week of my wife’s birthday and since she’s the talented one when it comes to baking, she really wanted to go nuts and she baked several pies, a cake, and even ice cream.  To say that I’ve spent the last few days trying to recover is an understatement.  I thought that I would update with yet another restaurant review to get back into the swing of things.  Besides, I’ve been meaning to update about Native Foods Café for a long time.
            I absolutely love Native Foods Café and if they are reading this (HI!), I hope they know they should make a new restaurant out in the Chicago burbs.  My stomach would quite appreciate it.  I might be able to make it to one of their restaurants more than once every other month if that was the case.  For those of you lucky enough to be near one, Native Foods Café is a very cool chain restaurant that is popping up in more and more locations.  They serve what they call “fast-casual” vegan food, which basically means you get to a counter, order your food, and sit down until they bring the food to your table.  Usually, the food arrives within minutes of you ordering.
The ones in Chicago all opened up within the last few years and we’ve been to all three locations.  Each one is a bit different in style but the staff, food, and atmosphere are all equally great.  I’m partial to the one on Clark Street, which also has outdoor seating, since it’s easy to get to from Union Station and the lakefront.

            Our most recent visit took place this last week when we wanted to grab lunch with my wife’s mother and stepfather.  They are omnivores but are pretty open to most of the vegetarian or vegan places we take them.  Native Foods was on the top of our list of places we knew that all of us would enjoy and nobody would leave hungry.  Their ingredients are homemade and their dishes are made fresh each day.  Their homemade seitan and tempeh are both quite delicious!
            This trip was a bit lighter than usual.  Normally, as many of you readers are aware, my wife and I try to starve ourselves before we go out so we can stuff ourselves on the food at the restaurant.  However, this time we had to limit our meals because we had plans to eat dinner with my family for my wife’s birthday.  Such a shame because since Native Foods Café changes their menu every so often, there were a few items I would’ve liked to have tried.  At least what I did have on this visit was fantastic!
            My wife had the Ancho BBQ Brisket, which looked really good.  That’s a possibility for me on our next visit.
            My wife’s mother and stepfather both had the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, and they both really enjoyed it!  As my wife’s mother said, she gave the meal two thumbs up.  It kept them full for most of the day, too.  If you were planning a day of walking around the city, this would probably be a good meal to fill up on before continuing on your journey.
            As for yours truly, I had the Twister Wrap with sweet potato fries.  The wrap had salad greens, avocado, cucumber salsa, chipotle sauce, and Native Chicken (which you can get either blackened, grilled, or crispy).  It was amazing!  I’m a sucker for sweet potato fries so it’s no surprise I liked that part of the meal.  As long as they have this on the menu, I would highly recommend ordering it.  Omnivores would like it because it’s hardy but doesn’t contain anything too “weird” for them.
Twister Wrap!

Since I didn’t take a lot of photos for this visit, I thought I’d add on the meal we had at this same location during our previous visit.  My wife and I split a polenta appetizer.  Unfortunately, since the menu changes, I forgot the specific name of this dish.  It was also quite delicious and I hope it comes back on the menu.  Just look at how good that looks!

I had the Philly ‘Cheese Steak’ for my main meal.  Now, I have to admit that I’ve never had a Philly Cheese Steak when I was an omnivore and I had never been tempted to eat one before.  It looked disgusting and like a heart attack on a plate.  So I’m not sure what possessed me to try this dish but I am quite happy that I did.  It was surprisingly good – if not a bit messy!  The portion – like everything at NFC – was large and worth every penny.  It’s not currently on the menu but if you see it when you visit, get that, too!  Heck, order one of everything.

            They also have a customer loyalty program, which can come in handy if you go there with any sort of regularity.  For our last visit, for our two main meals we were able to save ten bucks off our order because of it, and like I said, it’s not like we go there every week.  It’s free to sign-up for it so there’s no reason not to get it.
Artwork hanging up at the Clark Street location.

            So, with that, I will let you go back to salivating over the pictures I posted.  If you have a Native Foods Café in your neighborhood or in a location you plan to visit, I highly recommend stopping in for a quick bite to eat.  If you’re an omnivore or someone who is veg-curious and are looking for somewhere to eat-out at, check this place out.  You can load up on food for a decent price.  And for us broke vegans, what more could you ask for?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can check out Native Foods Café HERE to find locations near you and to see their current menu.  You can find them on a few sites including Twitter at @nativefoodscafe