The Reader's Choice: Green Zebra
Years ago, the first vegetarian restaurant I visited in Chicago was a spare room serving variations on stir-fried vegetables over brown rice. At Green Zebra, now approaching its five-year anniversary, Shawn McClain (Custom House, Spring) elevates meatless cuisine into the realm of fine dining.
The menu changes seasonally; on our last visit we enjoyed blue cheese agnolotti, which delivers a powerful cheesy punch, and a Napoleon-like stack of interleaved red and golden beets, garnished with sweet mascarpone that was balanced by aged balsamic vinegar. Servings tend toward the small, so you'll need to select a few plates per person from the long list of globally influenced options: Thai-spiced carrot soup with crispy noodle; miso risotto with glazed turnips, bok choy, and baby carrots; ricotta gnocchi with heirloom squash, rapini, and preserved lemon. There's also the option of a chef's tasting menu—oh, and one or two selections that involve fish or poultry.
The wine list nods to vegetable-based cuisine by offering significantly more whites than reds; nonalcoholic beverages include some unusual choices, like pink peppercorn-thyme soda and cilantro limeade. Servers are uniformly knowledgeable, fun, and eager to guide. 1460 W. Chicago, 312-243-7100, greenzebrachicago.com. —David Hammond
&Our readers' choice: Chicago Diner
3411 N. Halsted, 773-935-6696, veggiediner.com.