It’s been two weeks since we went to Chicago and the magic hasn’t quite gone away. Chicago is a fairly quick trip from Toronto – about 90 minutes by plane (from our city centre airport no less!) and yet it felt like we went so far and got so much done. Jarrod had never been to Chicago before and was curious to check out its model train scene. Meanwhile, I love Chicago and haven’t been back in about two years (I missed a great opportunity last summer and have regretted it ever since). So it seemed like a good mix!
Now, I won’t lie: vacationing in Chicago is way less stressful from a food perspective than, say, visiting my family up in Northern Ontario. You should have seen what I had to eat on the drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa – one bowl of iceberg, hold the shredded cheese, please!
Anyway, Chicago has a fantastic food scene, but isn’t necessarily known for a lot of vegan-friendliness. Every time I Googled Chicago vegan places, I’d be recommended vegetarian instead, and trust me, with the amount of deep-dish pizza in this city, I was pretty much looking at a sea of mammary juice. I only have a few friends in Chicago that could give me recommendations, so I was half-flying by the seat of my pants.
But we’ve all been there, right?
I decided to share some tips on vegan travel that I’ve gathered from my years of quick trips to Chicago, L.A. and New York to help you stay on track on your vegan journey. Enjoy!
- Take advantage of café snacks. Independent cafés are sometimes the most vegan-friendly places. Jarrod and I are big café dwellers, and often use them to break up sightseeing bouts. If you can grab a brownie, energy ball, fruit cup or anything similar at a café, do it. It might make up for the (unfortunate) reality that you won’t eat a real lunch.
- Find taco places! Seriously, our AirBNB in Old Town was right next to a great little taco place. Taco joints usually either have one completely vegan option or an option that is vegan if you hold the cheese and/or sour cream. Oh, and then there’s chips and guac. Can’t complain about that! Just make sure the places don’t use lard in their beans or tortillas. Taco places also have such a fun, “vacation” type atmosphere that you never leave feeling blue.
- Hit up Target for some portable snacks. Canadian Target, we hardly knew ye. But hitting up a local Target (or Whole Foods, or Walgreens, or any superstore) on your first day will help you get some snacks to go and some great breakfasts too (see #4). I went to the Target close to our place (about a 15 minute walk) and grabbed non-dairy coffee creamer, some oatmeal packs, crackers, energy bars and hummus. We also grabbed things like bananas and apples – snacks that come in their own wrappers!
- Eat a filling breakfast. We stayed in an AirBNB with a whole kitchen, but even if you’re in a hotel room with little more than a coffee pot, you can give yourself a wholesome breakfast to start the day. Instant oatmeal is my personal favourite – but I bumped up the calories and protein by adding some soy milk, sliced bananas and natural peanut butter. Getting enough to eat at the start of the day (and making sure you take some of that to-go food!) is essential for adventuring!
- Focus on vegan options, not 100% vegan restaurants. We searched quite thoroughly for innovative vegan restaurants and were somewhat disappointed with what we came back with. They didn’t seem very original in terms of food, or like a very fun sit-down experience, and they were a trek from our place. But then my friend recommended a place called Bad Hunter, which isn’t vegan or vegetarian, but is a very “veggies first” kind of atmosphere and had plenty of vegan options (it reminded me of Dirt Candy, our favourite vegetarian place in New York). Our service staff was incredible and made the experience amazing (on top of the already-amazing food!) and it was so memorable – much more than it would have been if we’d gone to a place to have similar unchicken to the kind we get in Toronto.
- Go easy on alcohol. Let’s face it, if you’re taking in fewer calories than usual, drinking might not be the best idea. Not to mention, drinking can make you very snacky, and if you aren’t in a place where you can easily eat some vegan-friendly food, that can make for a sucky night. If you are going to drink, remember to use an app like Barnivore to ensure vegan-friendliness. Keep it light and fun!
- Ease up on other dietary restrictions (if you can). You are on vacation. I try to eat to fuel an active lifestyle, which for me means a lot of protein and not a ton of added sugar and focus a lot of efforts on reducing my waste. But in Chicago, I tried to remind myself that keeping myself fed was priority #1. I don’t ever negotiate on veganism, but I did allow myself to eat a bit more sugar than I usually do, and (although it killed me) wasn’t picky about everything coming in a glass container. Try to loosen up on something unless it’s a medical requirement and let yourself keep on track with activity (we did so much damn walking on vacation, I really don’t think a sweetened energy bar made a difference to my overall health).