Earwax Cafe

Chicago, Illinois


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rating star

Goodbye to an old friend.

Ok, sure, the place has a disgusting name and may have been closed due to a rat infestation. I don't care at all.

EarWax has been serving vegan food before most people had any idea what vegan was. This place has been open since 1980. I've personally been coming here since the early 90's when it was located just across the street from where it is now. It's kept the same hipster vibe and vegan-friendly menu the entire time. I feel very loyal to a restaurant whose liberal atmosphere made me feel so comfortable and served the only budget-friendly vegan food I could afford at the time. Sure, veg-friendly restaurants are everywhere in Chicago now, but let's not forget an old friend. This is the type of restaurant that set its roots in the community 20 years ago, introduced the neighborhood to veg dining and made it possible for new vegan restaurants like Native Foods to survive and thrive today.

Veg*ns in Chicago, especially Wicker Park and Bucktown, owe a debt of gratitude to EarWax. It's a neighborhood landmark. Old friend, if you are truly closing your doors for the last time, I am sorry to see you go and thank you for your service.

rating star

For vegans, I was hoping Earwax would be better, but it's just decent. I had only been there once before it closed and re-opened, but my experience was pretty much the same. The food was pretty greasy and soggy both times. The second time I visited, after the re-opening, I had a smoothie, which was pretty bland (I'd rather go to Jamba Juice), and a seitan ruben. The fries were limp, and the reuben was just okay. For similar food I'd rather go to Handlebar.

However, I did have the jerk seitan pita with mango salsa, which was really great.
They're cash only, but there is an ATM in the back.

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rating star

I was tempted to give this place two stars instead of one, but I decided that, given its hipster location, and given the multitude of great vegan-friendly joints serving American food in Chicago, Earwax really fails vegans and makes food that is mediocre, at best. There is no reason to come here.

A friend and I shared a tofu scramble ($9) as well as a seitan chorizo burrito ($8). The tofu scramble was bland. It was basically onions, green bell peppers and un-cooked tofu doused in turmeric to make it look yellow. The dish had almost no flavor. The seitan chorizo burrito was also bland; it was predominantly refried beans, strangely fluffy soyrizo that had no flavor, and un-melted Teese mozzarella, which didn't enhance the taste at all.

The service was friendly and prompt. The decor is hip and crazy and the clientele is 100% Wicker Park, meaning no diversity and everyone's under 25.

But the food here was barely passable. I didn't have the willpower to eat even half my meal and my friend also was greatly disappointed with the food. Finally, to add insult to injury, Earwax is cash-only. Go to The Chicago Diner, Vella Cafe, Pick Me Up Cafe, Handlebar, Lakeside Cafe or Karyn's Cooked instead.

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rating star

Earwax has a couple of good seitan sandwiches and tofu burritos. They are happy to leave out ingredients or make substitutions in order to make one of the vegetarian options vegan (although be forewarned that if you get the Tuscan seitan sandwich made vegan, they end up leaving out a lot of the delicious-sounding condiments and sometimes they don't have soy cheese so they just make it without).

The best part about Earwax is the cake. Thick, moist slices of delicious vegan cake. The service can be slow at times (particularly on weekends) but I usually just amuse myself by looking around the room at the bizarre circus decor while I wait. Also, Earwax has a video rental area in the basement that has a pretty nice selection of foreign films.

rating star

I admit to being easily swayed to falling in love with a restaurant that offers vegan desserts. Earwax Cafe had the best vegan cake I have ever eaten. Not only did Earwax offer a vegan cake, they had at least three options -- I didn't listen to them all before I perked up at one description and said, 'I'll take that!" It is sadly too common to get a dry, crumbly vegan cake at some places, so I take cake seriously.

My dinner was also delicious. I had the jerk seitan sandwich, which was served on a very nice, flaky French roll with crispy, spicy shoestring fries. If I hadn't been saving room for dessert, I could have gladly eaten more of those fries.

The circus sideshow style atmosphere is definitely geared towards an artsy, typically younger crowd, although obviously anyone can enjoy the food. But your grandmother may not approve of some of the artwork on the walls. Just a caveat. Otherwise, I hope I can come back to Chicago and Earwax Cafe soon. The staff was friendly, ordering vegan food was very easy, and did I mention THE CAKE?

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I've been hear a couple of times and have been pleased every time. If the weather is nice, sit out on the back patio.

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I love their tempeh "burger". It's really good, and very simple. Avoid some of the ethnic offerings, I had a pita and falafel something, and barely touched it- same for the Mexican. I will eat all of their greasy spoon vegan offerings though, and I rarely eat all of anything.

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