Completely sidestepping the tired eggplant variations of rote veggie fare, Alice and Friends stands out as a refreshing option in Chicago's vegetarian scene. The menu consists mainly of dishes inspired by Korean, Chinese and Japanese favorites, and the meat substitutes here are unsurpassed with genuine meaty textures and juicy flavor.
The faux chicken drumsticks, slathered in Korean BBQ sauce and served on mini skewers, are a sublime way to start your meal, and enough to inspire dreams of one day ordering enough of the dainty appetizers to fill a KFC 16-piece bucket. Main dish standouts include Himalayan Spirit with "beef" skewers and lotus roots, and Smoked Veggie Duck. The Almond unChicken, at one time rather dry, has lately been improved by a punchier ginger sauce.
If phony meat is not your thing, Alice and Friends offers plenty of dishes that stick to the basics, like glass noodles with veggies or bi bim bop. All meals are artfully presented and average about $8 a plate. Portions are manageable, leaving room for tasty desserts like the green tea shake or a vegan pumpkin cheesecake.
The restaurant's name pays tribute to Lewis Caroll, and the purple walls and bizarre collision of decorations, from mismatched tables and chairs to birdcages, caters to the Wonderland experience. The restaurant is run by devotees of the Quan Yin Meditation style, so spiritual quotes, pamphlets and an ongoing video of Supreme Master Ching Hai are also thrown into the mix. The second, larger room is your best bet for enjoying your meal sans spiritual instruction. Though clearly a basis for the restaurant, religious views are never pushed. Servers are friendly and go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Shannon Gillam