We all know that in most parts of the midwest, there is a stigma around vegetarian or ‘meatless’ meals. ,Though movements like “Meatless Monday” have helped dissolve a widespread notion that meals without meat must include little more than sprouts and iceberg lettuce, its chefs like Jill Barron (De Cero) who is really making us true believers.
Mana Food Bar, which loosely translates in Polynesian to “a life force in nature” is a tiny, stylish room that feels minimalist without appearing cold or stark. A haven for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, the creators of Mana wanted to create a meatless dining scene in a warm, tasteful environment. It’s small enough to be cozy without feeling like you’re packed in – since the restaurant does a sizable takeout business, seating consists of a few booths, a few tables and a bar, along with a charming outdoor patio during warmer weather. As someone who eats her share of meat, chicken and seafood (and probably more than my share of dairy, but we’ll save the true confessions for another day) I could easily eat Mana every day.
The menu is composed of globally-influenced small plates meant to be shared, which seems to be par the course at restaurants these days, perfect for adventurous eaters who want to try a little bit of everything. Divided into Cold ($4-$14), Hot ($3 – $15.50) and Sides ($2-$3), some menu items are seasonal and others, like the caponata (chilled eggplant, tomato and caper relish with grilled bread) and the seared tofu bulgogi with soy shiitake mushrooms, are menu mainstays. While 100 percent of the menu is veggie, 75 percent of the items are vegan and about half are gluten-free.
Having eaten at Mana multiple times, I could easily exist on the Mana sliders, brown rice and mushroom burgers topped with spicy mayo as well as the creamy polenta, laden with asiago cheese (and probably butter, because vegetarian or not, healthy or not, we know butter makes everything better). The sliders, although vegetarian, are hearty and flavorful, with a kick from the spicy mayo. On the menu, you’ll also find a variety of curries, chili, beans and several noodle-based dishes from ravioli to sesame noodles to macaroni and cheese.
Mana also offers a selection of light and refreshing sake cocktails ($8-$9) that are lower in calories than typical sugary summer concoctions. The secret behind their figure-friendlier recipes? MANA’s, homemade syrups, agave nectar and fresh-pressed juices that come in fresh, seasonal flavors like pineapple ginger and watermelon mint.
You can’t make a reservation, but if there’s a long enough wait the hostess will take your name and number while you head to one of the many dive bars on Division street to get your drink on while you wait for your table. The sliders alone make it worthwhile.MANA Food Bar, 1742 W. Division St. For more information call (773) 342-1742 or visit