Though summer is when fruits and vegetables are at their most plentiful, it's also the season of backyard cook-outs, clam bakes and pig roasts—which means vegetarians and vegans can often get the short end of the kebab. Head to Wicker Park for a whole day's worth of meat-free options that could replace even a skeptical carnivore's favorite summertime dishes.
First: Antique Taco (1360 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-687-8697)
This brand-new taco spot from chef Rick Ortiz and his wife Ashley, an antiques fiend who lent the interior its vintage style, hopes to give Big Star a run for its money. The market mushroom tacos ($7 for two) top a mix of cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms with garlicky kale, spicy pickled jalapenos and a cilantro cream to cool it all down. Guac and chips ($6), corn and black bean salad ($7), and banana horchata milkshakes ($4) make it a full, meat-free meal. But it's not all vegetarian; pork carnitas ($7) and ribeye tacos ($8) are also on the menu.
Then: Native Foods Cafe (1484 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-489-8480)
Native Foods, a West Coast-born vegan restaurant that's recently opened three Chicago locations, has made it a mission to come up with successful meat alternatives that don't taste like the interior of a mattress. Chicken wings ($6.95) here are made with a blend of soy, wheat, and pea proteins, then fried to a light crisp that keeps them from feeling too much like health food.
Last: Birchwood Kitchen (2211 W. North Ave. 773-276-2100)
Tuesday through Friday nights, Birchwood Kitchen keeps its doors open until 9 p.m. for Burger Nights. Alongside the standard bacon cheeseburger ($9) and turkey burger ($8) is a knock-out white bean burger ($8), a smart play on a traditional black bean patty that also packs in the vitamins courtesy of mushroom conserva and spinach. Order it minus the aioli and it's 100 percent vegan—a rare find since many chefs use egg or cheese as a binder when making veggie patties.
Kate Bernot is a RedEye special contributor. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyechicago