Vegans and those who enjoy gluten-free dishes will be in hog – rather, horseradish heaven at Mana, a Wicker Park restaurant with an all-meatless menu. Select from dozens of choices, like the spanikopita or blue cheese tart, and watch them magically disappear into your stomach (the restaurant's name translates to "the things magic is made of").
Magic serves as an ingredient not only in the plates, but also in the design. Co-owner Susan Thompson's husband, Harlan, took a small space (seats 25-30 people) and invented an architecturally sound environment absent of French doors or any other dime-a-dozen elements. Instead, he used recycled birch to handcraft stools before the food bar and unusual lamps over two booths with carpet-covered seating. Several shades of gray blanket walls minus paintings. A spackled ceiling resembles Hawaiian black sand and an opaque window, with real grapevine stems filtered inside, invites light in from the kitchen.
The original plates and design appease lifelong vegetarians with discriminating palates. Ruth Scotti enjoys her meals each visit and her parents, visiting from Germany, appreciated the alfresco dining area that channeled some of what they're used to back home. Your server, Laura, loves the caponata and raw pasta but her absolute favorite is the bi bim bop: Korean spiced vegetables with brown rice topped with an egg, sunny-side up. Many of the plates come in large and small sizes averaging $7-$12.
On the go? The sidewalk carry-out window suits your needs, and those with a bit more time can enjoy a number of sake cocktails made with fresh juices. Bring your own bottle for an $8 per cork fee.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez