Healthy Chicago Guide
Where to Find Healthy Chi-Town Eats
Contrary to Chicago's reputation as a bunch of pudgy meat-and-potato eaters, the Windy City is full of fitness fanatics. We have world-class lakefront running paths, a bevy of gyms and a mayor committed to making Chicago one of America's most-"bikeable" cities. As a world-class eating destination, we also have some of the finest restaurants in the world, including a hefty dose of healthy, innovative eating options. So if you're looking to keep it healthy while hanging out in Chicago, this guide is for you.
East Bank Club
There is no shortage of places to work out in Chicago, but at only one of them are you likely to run in to senators, aldermen and future presidents of the United States. That's right, Barack Obama was a member and used to play a lot of pickup basketball games here! Oprah was a member, and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has also been seen getting sweaty here on occasion. If you only care about crunches and not celebrities, the facilities — which include more than 400 pieces of cardio and workout equipment, 60 spin bikes, four swimming pools, three squash courts and an indoor driving range, to name just a few amenities — should fill the bill.
500 N. Kingsbury St., 312-527-5800
Owen + Alchemy
So many juice bars in our city are rustic hippie enclaves where muscled dudes and yoga masters preen and share the best way to achieve nirvana. Owen + Alchemy, on the other hand, is a balance of neighborhood regulars and the fitness-obsessed. It's also a super-stylish, modern spot that looks like a cross between Alinea restaurant and a mad scientist's chemical laboratory. While chef/partner Jared Van Camp is committed to providing a healthy selection of food, juices and smoothies — the one made with blueberries, acai berries, Marcona almonds, dates, raw honey, bee pollen, vanilla bean and Himalayan sea salt is our fave — he is also a top chef who runs some of the most-exciting restaurants (Nellcote, Leghorn Chicken) in the city right now.
2355 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-227-3444
More About: Owen + Alchemy
Visiting the ballpark usually means indulging in questionable franks enrobed in stale enriched-white-flour buns or chowing down on nachos dripping with liquid "cheese" sauce. You can still do that at Wrigley Field if you want, but if you're looking to keep it healthy and meat free, Levy Concessions offers up a nice selection of vegan and vegetarian options, including a grilled zucchini flatbread, white bean hummus and a chopped veggie salad. Our favorite healthier option, though, is the Sloppy Jane, a meat-free and tastier version of its cousin, the Sloppy Joe, featuring a bun stuffed with tempeh, peppers and onions slathered in molasses and brown-sugar barbecue sauce.
1060 W. Addison St., 773-404-2827
More About: Wrigley Field
Green City Market
As all the great chefs know, a great meal starts with great ingredients. There is no better place to get organic, sustainable and local greens, meat, cheeses and dairy than Chicago's Green City Market. There on Wednesdays and Sundays you'll find freshly laid eggs, along with asparagus, peaches, strawberries and kale picked fresh by farmers that morning. Most of the purveyors at the market supply Chicago's biggest restaurants, and you’re likely to rub elbows with chefs like Paul Virant, Carrie Nahabedian, Paul Kahan and Rick Bayless searching for inspiration for that night's menu.
1817 N. Clark St., 773-880-1266
More About: Green City Market
Put down the Big Mac and head over to Protein Bar if you're looking for something delicious, healthy and quick. It might be hard to believe that something called a spinach and pesto quinoa bowl could inspire cravings, but the nuttiness of the quinoa has a savory component that evokes the taste of really good meat. The garlicky, spicy, basil-perfumed bowl is so good, we once asked for the recipe and started making it at home when we couldn't make the quick trip to the restaurant.
13 Chicago area locations
Nhu Lan Bakery
If you're craving a Philly cheesesteak but dreading the waistline destruction it'll bring, we suggest the vegan lemongrass tofu banh mi here. They say you get what you pay for, but at $4.95 you're getting so much more, including a hot baguette fresh out of the oven, topped with soy-and-lemongrass-marinated tofu that eats exactly like thinly sliced steak. Though it's hearty, it's also healthy, and the rich marinated tofu is complemented by a refreshing topping of fiery jalapeno, zesty cilantro, crisp carrot and jicama.
2612 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-878-9898
More About: Nhu Lan Bakery
Stella Barra Pizzeria
We know pizza isn't inherently healthy, but Jeff Mahin and the crew here offer up a "thin sin" version of their regular pie that knocks some serious calories off a regular pizza and still manages to taste as good as their thicker regular crust. Topped off with spinach, kale, pecorino and garlic (The Bloomsdale), or California avocados, the "thin sin" pie is a light, refreshing alternative to the gut-bomb deep-dish pizza Chicago is so famous for.
1954 N. Halsted St., 773-634-4101
More About: Stella Barra Pizzeria
Celebrating an anniversary, a promotion or a romantic date usually means some kind of multicourse prix-fixe extravaganza. Green Zebra is elegant, and the techniques used to cook the food are as sophisticated as most of what you'd find at high-end spots, but the cuisine is light and mostly vegetarian or vegan. There is, however, no compromise on taste. Instead of relying on meat substitutes like tempeh or tofu, the cooks here focus on using the bounty of local vegetables. Instead of foie gras, you might try a velvety pate made from hen of the woods mushrooms, accompanied by tangy sweet-potato mostarda and pickled fennel, that has an inherent truffle-like richness. One of our favorite dishes is a slow-poached runny duck egg nested in a campfire-smoky potato puree that you spoon up with griddled crusty sourdough.
1460 W. Chicago Ave., 312-243-7100
The Chicago Diner
Say the word "diner" and you conjure up images of chicken-fried steaks and deli sandwiches piled mountain-high. At The Chicago Diner, that's the general idea as well. The radical Reuben is thick with corned beef, grilled onion, zingy sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. But that corned beef is made from seitan, and the Thousand Island is eggless and vegan. The "chicken wings" are lacquered in an addictive Sriracha glaze, but they're made from high-fiber seitan, not poultry. While caloric values may be similar, most of the dishes here are lower in cholesterol and higher in fiber than their meat-based counterparts.
3411 N. Halsted St., 773-935-6696
More About: The Chicago Diner
Though it started as a traditional cafe and both of its locations still focus on offering fair-trade, sustainably farmed cups of joe, these days Uncommon Ground is also a full-fledged restaurant serving up healthy organic meals made from the certified-organic farm on its massive rooftop deck. The interiors were designed by a LEED-certified architect and were created with sustainable materials and low-VOC paints. The restaurant runs a massive recycling program and has been dubbed "the greenest restaurant in America" by the Green Restaurant Association.
3800 N. Clark St., 773-929-3680
1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801
More About: Uncommon Ground
Just because it isn't high-temperature-cooked doesn't mean it ain't killer. The juices, salads and entrees at Raw prove that. Though we're unrepentant carnivores, we generally fantasize about chowing down on Raw's kale salad every few weeks. Unlike the bland, uninteresting kale salads that seem to abound and have given this healthy green a bad rap, the kale greens here are well tossed with a mouthwatering lemon vinaigrette that ups the craving factor. The bright, antioxidant-rich goji berries and crispy seed mix on the salad offer a satisfying crunchy and chewy contrast to the crisp, acidic greens.
51 W. Huron St., 312-664-2729
131 N. Clinton St., 312-831-2729
More About: Raw