Credit: Andrea Bauer

The discerning diner finds little solace in the total culinary bummer that is the Loop, where options range from overpriced steak houses all the way down to Dunkin’ Donuts, by way of Panda Express. But there’s another path—a bit of Madison, Wisconsin, in Chicago, Illinois. Kramer’s the health food store, at 230 S. Wabash, hides Kramer’s the health food cafe, a little balcony tucked into the shop’s rear. Past aisles of herbal teas and raw energy bars, ascend the stairs; wait in line; listen, as I did recently, to two businessmen discussing Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal over lunch. The menu ranges from falafel to veggie burgers to a cheap daily special—last Thursday it was vegetable fried rice with seitan ($5.69), served in a warm heap. This stuff tastes homemade as opposed to “house-made,” and that’s not to damn it with faint praise: it’s actually just really satisfying food. Drinks: full juice bar, natural sodas. Condiments: Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, cayenne pepper, Spike seasoning salt. Decor: eclectic. Meat: fake.