Looking for amazing vegetarian Chinese food
October 1, 2019 4:01 PM   Subscribe

There's a restaurant in Chapel Hill that serves General Tso's Soy Chicken - fried chewy bits, good sauce, fresh vegetables. Is there something like that in Chicago? Note: not looking for fake meat made out of corn starch, tapioca, or arrow root (e.g. starch), but more proteiny stuff, like soy chicken or maybe seitan/gluten.

I have been unimpressed by the Chinese restaurants I've tried in Lincoln Park so far, but there have only two. Not looking for sushi or Thai, but good, fried nuggets in rich sauce with _fresh_ delicious vegetables.

I actually tried one restaurant where the hot vegetarian option was noodles covered with cubed potatoes, and a few tiny (smaller than the potatoes) cubes of baked tofu and carrots. There was one baby bok choy also. BYOB. Not a fan of BYOB either.
posted by amtho to Food & Drink (9 answers total)
Best answer: If you’re in LP Does that mean you’ve already tried Urban Vegan and found it wanting? Mostly Thai, but has some Chinese options, including fried soy “chicken” dishes.
posted by obfuscation at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2019

I hope this is helpful rather than just pedantic- but General Tso's chicken is Chinese-American food, but not actually Chinese food (i.e. it's not found in China). So, an "authentic" Chinese restaurant probably won't have it... I'd also like to put in a plug for tofu dishes, which are made a variety of ways in Chinese food. "homestyle tofu" is a common dish in China made up of chewy tofu, fresh veggies and sauce, and is really good. It doesn't have meat in it, usually, and if it does it would be small pieces and you can probably ask for it without.

Not trying to shame you for liking General Tso's or soy chicken! Just pointing out that that type of thing might be hard to get at many restaurants that are adhering to what's served in China.
posted by bearette at 4:54 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

What you're looking for is Buddhist Chinese food. There's a long tradition in China of Buddhist temples making mock meat dishes from seitan or various forms of tofu. The imitation can get quite elaborate, though this sort of thing tends to be served in restaurants to visitors, not eaten by the monks themselves.

I haven't had any luck with some cursory searches for Buddhist Chinese food in Chicago, though.
posted by serathen at 5:49 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've found it difficult to find Buddhist Chinese in the midwest, even in cities with lots of authentic Chinese food otherwise. Here in Pittsburgh we have a pretty good Chinese food scene with many regional cuisines represented, but no Buddhist. Whenever I travel, I always Google first to see if I'm going somewhere that has one so I can partake while I have the chance (Philadelphia: yes; NYC: of course, lots; West Coast: yes plenty; middle of the country: not so much) but my own cursory Chicago Google didn't turn anything up.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:51 PM on October 1, 2019

Response by poster: Not really looking for Buddhist (more below), but really a good basic old-fashioned Chinese restaurant that happens to have soy chicken or seitan chicken they will sub in.

OK, yes, I had Ma Po (homestyle) tofu last week. It was fine, but not what I'm looking for here. Believe me I know a lot about tofu -- I had scrambled tofu for breakfast.

I also know that General Tso's is as Chinese as Chicken Tikka Masala is Indian -- which is to say, it's delicious and I don't care what people think.

And it doesn't have to be Buddhist either -- I think that might be the kind of restaurant where I've had so many faux meat options, including shrimp, but they were all made of a particular kind of starch that didn't really sit well for me -- sorry Buddhist restauranteurs.

What I'm really hoping to find is a lovely, low-key, high-quality Chinese restaurant with in soy- or gluten-based chicken that they will sub in for regular chicken in some dishes that have a decent vegetarian(ish) sauce with fresh vegetables. I like the chewy, I like the saucy, I like the non-mushy veggies.

Pretty please. Anyone?
posted by amtho at 11:04 PM on October 1, 2019

When I lived in the Chicago area, restaurants served that as mock duck. I didn't live in the city, but you might want to look at this Yelp list for best mock duck in Chicago, or use that as a guide. Think it's the same thing you are talking about, it really is super tasty.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:36 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think Marie Mon Dieu is right that you're looking for mock duck. It's seitan, basically. (With particular spices? I don't know, you can buy it canned labeled as mock duck.) Minneapolis Chinese restaurants did not render it delicious and I've avoided it ever since. However, I also don't like seitan. (We did have a place with addicting sesame tofu, though.)
posted by hoyland at 6:08 AM on October 2, 2019

Best answer: Alice & Friends has the best vegan Chinese I've had in Chicago, cant remember the exact dish, but I think it was like a spicy chicken chow mein? Related, Amitabul is vegan Korean, so good, lots of soups and stir fries.
posted by j810c at 6:23 PM on October 3, 2019

Best answer: This place seems to have a lot of vegetarian options made with what they call "soy gluten," which sounds promising.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:16 PM on October 3, 2019

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