Spirit Elephant - Winnetka
Spirit Elephant is one of several breakthrough vegan restaurants in Chicago, offering food that will appeal to both omnivores and carnivores. Chef Jorge Esparza creates plant-based dishes of considerable beauty and complexity.
“You walk in, and you wouldn’t know you’re in a vegan restaurant,” owner CD Young told the Chicago Tribune, which in 2023 named Spirit Elephant the city's "best plant-based menu." In the old days, vegetarian/vegan restaurants were drab affairs dealing mostly in steamed vegetables over rice; Young, working with Chef Jorge Esparga, has made Spirit Elephant into a "destination vegan restaurant," a pleasant place to have a drink and an all-plant dinner of exceptional creativity and deliciousness. “This ain’t no sacrifice,” Young told Chicago Eater. “This is really good food and you are going to come just because it’s so good...I feel like we are going to open a lot of eyes.”
On a recent visit, we were knocked out by the calamari-looking breaded king oyster mushrooms with charred lemon and spicy marinara as well as the Cauli Wings, cauliflower nuggets, battered, fried and served with mango chili and Buffalo sauces. Showstoppers included the blackened miso eggplant, looking for all the world like blacked cod but that is, in fact, blacked eggplant, seared and roasted and covered in a miso glaze, served on a bed of ginger-infused jasmine rice and steamed bok choy. The Meatless Loaf Bourguignon was also a fabulous entree, with a rich mushroom gravy: the kind of dish that carnivores would gravitate toward and truly enjoy.
ABC reported, "There are few restaurants in Chicago dedicated exclusively to vegans. The problem, up until recently, has been a lack of imagination on menus. You can only eat so many salads and black bean burgers. But our Hungry Hound says a restaurant on the North Shore - open only since January - has put together a creative menu with several delicious options, and you'll never miss the meat." We couldn't agree more.