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Chicago’s Seeing a Health Food Boom. But Is It Any Good?

We tried the grub at four new cheffed-up entrants to see if they’re worth your time.

Salads at Sweetgreen
Salads at Sweetgreen Photos: (Sweetgreen) Courtesy of Sweetgreen; (all others) Jeff Marini

Sweetgreen

623 N. State St., River North

The shtick:This L.A.-based chain centers on customizable salads and counts Danny Meyer (Shake Shack) and David Chang (Momofuku) as investors.

Best order: A leafy riff on guac—tortilla chips and all—called Guacamole Greens ($10) has an intense citrus kick and clocks in at 530 calories.

Weird, but it works:The carrot-chili vinaigrette packs serious heat.

Cheat-day pick:There isn’t one, unless you consider it indulgent to load up your greens with Klondike feta cheese and Parmesan crisps.

Is it good?Yes. It should especially appeal to downtown office workers who’ve exhausted their takeout options.

 

Inside Left Coast Food + Juice
Inside Left Coast Food + Juice

Left Coast Food + Juice

2878 N. Lincoln Ave., Lake View

The shtick:A sunny café with a Californian, veg-friendly theme and a menu developed in part by Paul Kahan

Best order:Hash ($11) gets a vegetarian makeover with tender garnet yams, bell peppers, and greens, ditching hollandaise for bright lemon yogurt.

Weird, but it works:The detoxifying powers of activated charcoal may be dubious, but at least it doesn’t detract from the invigorating flavors of ginger, turmeric, and lime in a cold-pressed juice ($9.50).

Cheat-day pick:The Chronic, with tender steak and a just-right seven-minute egg ($14), will ruin you for all other wraps.

Is it good?Yes. It’s delicious even if you don’t give a hoot about healthy eating.

 

Soft serve at Upton’s Breakroom
Soft serve at Upton’s Breakroom

Upton’s Breakroom

2054 W. Grand Ave., West Town

The shtick:Brunch, nachos, BBQ—there’s a little bit of everything at this all-vegan café from the power couple behind Upton’s Naturals faux meats.

Best order:Tropical jackfruit is the meat stand-in du jour. Here, chunks of adobo-marinated jackfruit sub for pork in al pastor tacos ($8 for 3).

Weird, but it works:Drown slices of herbed seitan in giardiniera and you’ve got yourself a surprisingly solid rendition of Italian beef ($8), minus the beef.

Cheat-day pick:Happy to report that nutritional yeast “cheese” and fried seitan “bacon” can make for remarkably rib-sticking mac and cheese ($5).

Is it good?Mostly. But if you’re not already a fan of imitation meats, you likely won’t leave converted.

 

Burger at the Little Beet Table
Burger at the Little Beet Table

The Little Beet Table

845 N. State St., Gold Coast

The shtick:A gluten-free restaurant—the offshoot of a popular Manhattan spot—with table service and a rustic vibe

Best order:It’s all bland and either dry or mushy. The least bad option: an inoffensive bacon cheeseburger ($16), sans the offensively soggy rice flour bun.

Weird, but it works:Touted as a boon to gut health, the switchel ($6)—an acidic combo of soda water, rice vinegar, fresh ginger, and maple syrup—is a decent thirst quencher.

Cheat-day pick:See cheeseburger above.

Is it good?No. Gluten-free eaters, you deserve so much better.

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