7 superior sustainable destinations in Chicago

By Nicole Bruce

So often, going out to eat means sacrificing—not just on cost, but on clean and smart choices, too. This free pass that we allow ourselves can certainly reap deliciously indulgent culinary rewards, but it sometimes comes with a hefty trade-off. In the spirit of treating your body as well as you treat your palette, here are seven restaurants in Chicago that focus on healthy, sustainable, and seasonal dishes, so it won't feel like cheating—on your budget or your conscience—the next time you decide to dine out.

Lula Café
Deeply rooted in the Logan Square community and an early adopter of farm-to-table principles, this rustic eatery is a go-to destination for weekend brunch and veggie-centric mains. Brunch staples feature fresh farm eggs and porridges made from cornmeal ground at a local mill. Highlights include a nightly six-course vegetarian tasting menu and weekly prix-fixe farm dinner. The seasonal menu rotates fresh and playful options crafted from locally sourced meat and produce, some of which come straight from the house grow room.

Ceres’ Table
This seasonally inspired Italian restaurant serves up flavorful, Sicilian-leaning dishes like bistecca Fiorentina, in addition to the charcuterie and house-made thin-crust pizza fresh out of the wood-burning oven (try the Calabrese, with spicy sausage and fresh-made cow's milk mozzarella). Chef du Cuisine Steve ONeil respects regional techniques and connects with local farmers to source the finest ingredients—which, naturally, are best paired with wine.

Cantina 1910
For modern Mexican cuisine elevated by the bounty of Midwestern farms, this neighborhood spot is your go-to. The restaurant partners with urban agriculture organizations to bring in fresh produce year-round for their array of reinvented classic Mexican dishes—and this fall, the space's 1,400-square-foot rooftop farm will give the culinary team a chance to experiment with even more options. The menu features a variety of vegetable and seafood ceviches, as well as fish tacos made with crispy local whitefish, fermented red cabbage, chayote, and salsa roja. Match your meal with a house-made margarita or a flight of mezcals during happy hour.

Farmhouse Tavern
Handcrafted goodness is the name of the game at this farm-to-fork tavern, with menu items like dry-aged, grass-fed beef, veggie burgers with roasted and pickled beets, and sodas and condiments made from scratch. Much of their fresh produce is sourced directly from Chicago’s Green City Market and surrounding farms on a weekly basis. All of their beef, pork, poultry and fish is locally sourced, humanely raised, and antibiotic-free, and hormone-free—they even own their own farm in Wisconsin to support the restaurant. Local liquor-infused cocktails and craft brews help round out the meal.

Green Zebra
Pure ingredients make this upscale vegetarian resto a local standout for healthy dining. Chef McClain's nuanced sensibility is best displayed in his own five-course tasting menu, which showcases a colorful mix of seasonal veggies in flavorful renditions of plates like sweet corn soup, blistered shishito peppers, and squash risotto. Other vegetarian items, like the sweet-and-sour braised chickpea tagine with ras el hanout roasted carrots and brown basmati rice, are available à la carte.

Uncommon Ground
With two city locations, this "green" favorite makes the most of regional, organic ingredients for its brunch, lunch, and dinner menus. Dig into house-infused organic cocktails and contemporary comfort dishes like vegetarian pumpkin ravioli with sage butter, toasted hazelnuts, gorgonzola, and crispy sage leaves, as well as vegan and gluten-free salads loaded with mixed greens and kale, asparagus, spring peas, radish, organic brown wild rice, and quinoa. Uncommon Ground also boasts the first certified organic rooftop farm in the US, and now operates its own organic brewery, Greenstar Brewing.

Perennial Virant
Chef Paul Virant embraces the Midwestern seasons to bring you dishes from scratch year-round, using only what's in abundance from the local harvest. The vintage space, housed within Hotel Lincoln, offers a daily changing menu that captures peak flavors, alongside staples like the Midwestern cheese board and grilled beef loin. Virant’s culinary philosophy also preserves a sense of community around the table, so you'll feel right at home while devouring the steelhead trout with rhubarb aigre-doux, grilled green garlic, buttered pecans, basmati rice, and mushrooms. To complete the scene, wash it all down with something from the ample selection of state brews.

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