Karyn's Cooked

Chicago, Illinois


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We ate here on a Saturday during a recent visit to Chicago. We shared a guacamole appetizer with a friend and it was okay. For the main dish, I really wanted the stuffed eggplant,but when I asked our server how it was, he said he'd never had it since he dislikes eggplant, so I chickened out and got the Classic Lasagna instead. He had told me it was one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. It was okay, perhaps even pretty good, but not a standout in my opinion.

My husband got the special that day -- a yellow coconut curry with vegetables. Again, somewhere between okay and pretty good,but not a standout. Our friends had a basket of fried veggies which they said was good.

All in all, I think three and half stars is about what Karyn's Cooked deserves. I've eaten at much better vegan restaurants than this at my home city of Los Angeles, but as a vegan I don't take vegan options for granted, and I was glad that Karyn's Cooked was there and so convenient to our hotel.

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We dined here for my birthday. We had to wait a few minutes to get a table, but it wasn't too bad. We started off with the thai skewers appetizer with peanut sauce. It wasn't exactly what I expected; I'm not a huge fan of processed faux meats and this was 3 slices of it, and the peanut sauce tasted like peanut butter with a little spice. I saw the bruscetta that someone else ordered and that is probably what I would get next time. For an entree, I ordered the green enchiladas, which were good. My favorite part of it was actually the refried black beans served on the side, they were the best I'd ever had! My boyfriend ordered the coconut curry which was the nightly special, and it was lovely, not too sweet like other coconut curries I've had. The portions were perfect, I was very happily full at the end. We also ordered dessert, I had the french silk pie, which was fantastic, the cream was the most realistic vegan cream I've ever had. My boyfriend got their bread pudding, which for only $4, was a great bargain. His piece was just as big as my piece of pie.

One thing I noted while we were waiting to be seating is that a lot of the Karyn's brand foods they sell at the front contained honey. It seemed to be mostly the raw foods, like the crackers, so I'm not sure if this is something that raw vegans often do, but if you avoid honey, be careful what you purchase.

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I love that everything at Karyn's is vegan. It definitely makes for an easy dining experience. :) I ordered the stuffed eggplant. The one thing I absolutely hate is onions, and I asked for it without. I was informed that the sauce or filling or whatever is premade, so they would be in there. Even with the onions, it was still really great. The bread it came with was tasty. It had a smoky, grilled taste that was so good and unique. My boyfriend ordered the jerk tofu sandwich. It had the perfect flavor and was so good. Despite being stuffed, we had to get a dessert, since they looked so tasty. We shared a piece of coconut cream pie, and it was like no other vegan dessert I'd ever had before. The flavor was perfect. After we had finished and were looking over the bill, the waitress came over and asked us how we liked the pie. After we told her how much we loved it, she told us she had messed up cutting a piece, and asked if we wanted it! We took it with us and had it for a snack the next day. I have never gotten such great customer service before, so that definitely made our experience there even better. I can't wait to go back and try something else there, or maybe even try her raw restaurant.

Image for Saki7Sura

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More of an upscale looking atmosphere then most vegan restaurants which was awesome. I was surprised by the amount of variety too, everything was vegan so it was hard to pick just one meal:) They also don't use refined sugar and flour which I also loved.
I had the Jerk Tofu Wrap which was the best wrap I have ever had. It was spicy and hot plus the tofu was cooked perfectly even blacked dirty south style:) It was a tomato wrap with good romaine lettuce and good ripe tomatoes and a creamy sauce absolutely perfect! The other 3 people I was with all loved their food too and one was a meat-eater (they got the pizza and lasagna). I must say though the desert was pretty bland and not the best texture (I had the blueberry cheesecake) they looked way better then they tasted. My advice... get a bigger appetizer and skip dessert.

Image for Lola

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I've been to Karyn's Cooked many times since it opened and a few things have changed since I wrote my original review in 2005.

First, the desserts have gotten a lot worse. The cakes used to be incredible, so I didn't mind paying the hefty $7 price for a huge slice of the best vegan cake in town. Over the past few years, some of the recipes have changed and many of the cakes are now dry and dense. However, bread pudding has made its way onto the dessert menu and it's phenomenal. I'm not normally a bread pudding person but Karyn's bread pudding is drizzled in warm, sweet coconut milk and cinnamon... I've never met a person, vegan or non-vegan, who wasn't in love with the bread pudding after eating it.

The food on the main menu has stayed the same over the years. Most of it is pretty bland. The brunch menu, on the other hand, keeps evolving and it's much more impressive. I went for brunch once last year and had amazing cherry blintzes served with soy sour cream. A few weeks ago, I returned and was pleasantly surprised by the coconut milk-battered french toast (which tasted a bit like the bread pudding) and potato pancakes served with apple sauce and dill aoli sauce.

If I could give Karyn's separate ratings based on dinner versus brunch, I would say that the dinner is "fair" and the brunch is "great."

Original Review (2005):

Karyn's Cooked has a unique combination of qualities from some of the best vegan restaurants in Chicago. It has a sleek decor like Green Zebra, prices that fall somewhere between the Chicago Diner and Soul Veg, elixirs and other health items commonly found at Karyn's and some of the Soul Veg classics. The menu includes items like mac and cheese, sloppy jo, "ribs," vegan pizza, smoothies and key lime pie. All of the food that I had while I was there was very good. The service was fast and friendly. As far as I know, this is the first vegan-friendly restaurant to open up in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Image for conde.kedar

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UPDATE: I've been to Karyn's Cooked at least a dozen times over the last few years and a two trends have emerged: the service is always slow and on occasion curt and unhelpful; and the food is good on a whole, but there are more than a few clunkers on the menu.

This is also the only suitably upscale-esque vegetarian restaurant in the city (no, Green Zebra doesn't count) where you can take a date. Dishes are priced to be affordable (everything is in the $9-12 range) which is a great point in Karyn's favor.

Once you've gotten over the slow service, here are a few dishes that I enjoy: the lasagna; the taco salad bowl; and the green enchiladas. Their sandwiches (with seitan or tofu) are okay, and sometimes better than okay, but I'm not sure I can recommend any of them off-hand. The cheesecake here is excellent, so long as it's fresh (make sure to look at it in the cooler before ordering); I once ordered a mango cheesecake slice and what came out was an awful, two-week old, flat thing that I could only manage to take two bites of, before giving up. Note: their "tiramisu" is not, in fact, tiramisu, and looks and tastes like a piece of generic cake.

I think Karyn's has lots of room to improve, mostly in the service area, and also with quality-control of the freshness of their desserts. They also need a few fresher, edgier, spicier dishes. That said, I'm glad it's around and I will be returning. Below is my original review:

I've been to Karyn's Cooked three times and had superb food every single visit. Try the lasagne or the green enchiladas or the cheesecake. However, the service has been mediocre at best. Waiters are slow and inattentive and occasionally rude or curt. One time I waited over 45 minutes for my food without anyone telling me that the oven was malfunctioning. And the restaurant had only two customers in it! They did compensate me with a free dessert, but the service should be much better, considering the higher prices and food quality of the place.

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I've only been once, but it was amazing!! It was my first trip to an all-vegan restaurant, and knowing that I could eat anything on the menu was the weirdest feeling ever.

I had a "Sloppy Joe" made with seitan, and it was delicious! It was the first time I'd had a sloppy joe since childhood, so it was quite a treat! I had a nonveg friend with me & she said the seitan wrap she was eating would have fooled her if she hadn't known it wasn't real meat.

For dessert we had a tiramisu cake, and we agreed it was one of the best cakes we'd ever eaten, vegan or not! The portions are big, so I had enough of my sandwich to take home.

Our service wasn't great, but Karyn came out to greet us, and I thought that was really neat. It was crowded - make a reservation!

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I have eaten here weekly for a couple of years. The food is usually terrific. My faves are the pizza, lasagna, collard greens, chef's salad and all the sandwiches and wraps. BUT DON'T order the veggie burger (tastes like a Boca burger, and definitely not made in-house), polenta (too skimpy for the price), stir-fry (flavorless) or falafel (too dry). Also, they are very picky about the "no substitutions" policy when it comes to sides.

Image for Cass Danger

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I went here with a bunch of friends and ended up liking all of their dishes better than my own. I ordered the veggie ribs, which were highly recommended, but they ended up being really chewy and very un-meat like. One friend had the vegan nachos and another had the raw platter (had various spreads and pates), and both of those were really good. I ordered a slice of cake which was good, but certainly not worth the $7 I paid for it.

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My wife and I have been here numerous times since it opened, and we love to bring our non-vegan friends and family, who leave impressed with the variety and overall quality of the food. Service can be spotty--frustratingly so for a place that is not cheap--but we always enjoy our meals. And I can't believe no one has mentioned the raw desserts! They are fantastic.

Image for Dave Rolsky

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I went with a six other folks and was able to try a lot of different things. All of the appetizers and entrees, were excellent, though the cake I had for dessert was not quite at the same level.

I really enjoyed the BBQ skewer appetizer, and taco salad was quite tasty as well. I had the meatloaf entree for dinner, and it was really good. For dessert, I had the double chocolate cake. It was good, but the cake was a little dry, and the icing could've had less oil and more chocolate, in my opinion.

The service was generally good, though not amazing.

I'd definitely come back here in the future, but as far as upscale vegan food goes, I still think Counter and Candle 79 in NYC are the best.

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i've eatin ' here maybe about 6/7 times- they have a nice berry infused wine, and i love the tofu eggless salad. i'm not too keen on the corn bread and the desserts remind me of soul veg, but not as cheap. the potatoes au gratin is new for vegan tho' - they are pretty good. i would not recommend the deep fried cauliflower- way too salty!

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My husband and I just discovered Karyn's about one month ago. We have gone there three times since then, and we live about 1.5 hours away! Everything we have had is delicious. The menu on Karyn's website is identical to the one in the restaurant. Sunday brunch is great. The desserts are to-die-for! We have had the coconut cake, banana cake, and double chocolate cake. The coconut cake was our favorite.

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This is one of my favorite veg places to eat at. I don't know why others reviewers were saying this place is expensive, are they looking for McDonald's prices? Also I am always overly full when I leave, most of the time I can't finish everything on my plate. The place is nice and clean, the food is fresh and a great price! The only thing is sometimes the service is slow, but maybe is takes awhile to cook the food because it's made to order. The desserts are awesome. Don't listen to the gripes of these other people go and check it out.

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The food here is really good. The lasagna is delicious, as is the meatball sandwich. The service is great, and I really like the atmosphere. My biggest complaint is the price of the food versus the portion size. I don't mind paying a little extra because it's downtown and slightly more upscale than other veggie restaurants. However, if I pay $13 for an entree, I expect to get a filling portion. I got an appetizer-sized portion, which just doesn't cut it. The only side was a couple very small pieces of garlic bread. Everyone left hungry.

Image for Ramona

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The desserts are really awesome! They have lots and lots of vegan cakes and pies. The one I tried -- the German Chocolate cake -- was very good and rich. Everyone I was there with really liked the place. I am not sure if I like it. I love the fact that all the food is vegan and that they have great desserts. But I was not overly impressed with the food, which may simply be because I don't care much for American food (although their mac and "cheese" was very good). And I find the atmosphere of the place a bit pompous and not very comfortable. I also thought it was expensive for the type of food you get (e.g. sandwiches or wraps). But hey, all the food is vegan, and other people seem to really like it so I would take a group of people there if I was to decide where we want to go.

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I read the reviews about this restaurant and it really made me want to try it out.
We ordered chilli and lasagna. The chiili was nothing like I've ever tasted before... absolutely awesome!
The lasagna was a little less awesome but still very good.
I'm spoiled by the Vegan restaurants in NYC so my standards are really high. Though Karyn's wasn't like any of the NYC places, it still was pretty damn good.
What I was most impressed with was Tara who took our orders. She was very friendly and when it was time for dessert we each got a tiny free scoop of ice cream :)
Their dessert display is so attractive and it was difficult to choose one particular thing. I had almost decided on German chocolate Cake which looked the yummiest but Tara convinced me to try Peach Cobbler. IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!!!
Oh and we also met Karyn.

The location, the people, the desserts.... it's definitely worth going to.

Only thing that prevented me from giving me 10 stars is that I found it a little too pricey for the small portions.
Quantity wise it's not that great but the quality of the food makes up for it.

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Incredible. The service was great; the food was phenomenal, and it was just an overall fabulous dining experience. The restaurant is great for a date or a nice outing with friends. Karyn was there when I ate, and she took the time to say hi and ask how everything was! I hope the restaurant succeeds because I look forward to going back.

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Phenomenal. Great food, great service.

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