Meatless made mainstream

Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat on 53rd Street offers delicious substitutes to common meat dishes


Iván Beck

LOOKS CAN DECEIVE. While this might look like standard fried chicken, everything in this photo is completely vegan. Can’t Believe it’s not Meat, a restaurant that recently opened on 53rd street, serves alternatives to meat dishes, offering meatless nuggets, burgers and a wide array of other meals. Although the restaurant itself is small, people constantly enter and exit the space, seeking a supplement to meat dishes that does not stray to far from what they are used to.

Mira Costello, Opinion Editor

Patrons chatter over fresh R&B. Afternoon sunlight flows in on the wind, glinting on sleek counters and light fixtures. Fifty-third Street pedestrians stop to consider the wall-mounted menu through large front windows. In fading light, the gold-painted proclamation of Hyde Park restaurant Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat glistens: “Our mission is to shift the culture around being vegan and vegetarian by cultivating healthier and flavorful versions of your favorite comfort food dishes.”

Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat is owned by Laricia Chandler and her brother Erik “Rico” Nance. Nance also owns LiteHouse Whole Food Grill, Mikkey’s Retro Grill and Soul Shack, situated next to Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat. Their mission statement says it all: this new restaurant sells itself as the go-to for “flexitarian” cuisine, good food for those in the process of becoming vegan or vegetarian.

In an interview with Block Club Chicago, Nance said he hopes to make plant-based diets more familiar to the everyday American.

“We wanted to encourage transitioning into healthy eating by creating healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods and providing knowledge about plant-based alternatives,” he said.

The space is small and has only a few tables and counter seats, making it more popular for takeout orders or quick lunches. Although not the best place for a sit-down dining experience, Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat has a lively, laid-back atmosphere and ample plant decor that make it great for the transition to warmer weather.

The restaurant offers a wide array of southern and midwestern comfort foods with meat substitutes. One of the most popular is the “Who Betta” burger, a vegan patty topped with vegetables, cheese and a Cajun-inspired “Epitome sauce.” The “Can’t Believe it’s a Pizza Puff” is also a crowd favorite, a wrap filled with taco-style vegan beef, cheese and herbs.

Despite having the heartiness of regular meat, the food is light and complex, and can satisfy vegetarians and carnivores alike. Each item down to the french fries is crisp and thoroughly seasoned. This strength keeps with their mission, contradicting the stereotype that vegetarian and vegan foods tend to be dry, flavorless or unsatisfying. Non-dairy options are also available for every item, including smoothies and shakes.

The wait time for each meal order is 15 to 20 minutes, but can reach about 45 minutes depending on the item. Prices range from $7-16, but for a few extra some orders can be doubled. At 1368 1/2 E. 53rd Street, Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat is open from 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. on weekdays. If you’re looking to challenge your ideas about food, check it out — you might find it unbelievably good.