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Chicago’s bikes, vegan cuisine win over ‘Mormon’ actress

SyeshMercado (front) James Vincent Meredith Oak Park 'The Book Mormon' Bank AmericTheatre. | Phoby Joan Marcus

Syesha Mercado (front) and James Vincent Meredith of Oak Park in "The Book of Mormon" at Bank of America Theatre. | Photo by Joan Marcus

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Syesha Mercado has fallen in love with Chicago.

The actress, who stars as the impossibly naive African village girl Nabulungi in “The Book of Mormon,” has spent the past 11 months taking in all the city has to offer.

It’s not her first trip here: She starred as Deena Jones in the 2010 national tour of “Dreamgirls,” which earned her a Chicago Black Theatre Alliance Award nomination.

Mercado also is familiar to music fans, having finished as second runner-up in season seven of “American Idol.”

Her Chicago stay ends Oct. 6 when “Mormon” moves on to its next tour stop. (If you miss it this time around, the show returns to Chicago in 2014.)

Here are some things she has learned about our city:

» “The mayor has reinvented the bike culture in Chicago. There are tons of bike lanes here. I recently got a bike. So I’m riding around a lot, mostly along the beach.”

» “I’m really picky when it comes to eating so I usually prepare and cook my own food because I’m really health-conscious and it’s hard to find a place I really like. But recently I found Karyn ’s [Karyn’s Cooked; Karyn’s on Green], where they either cook the food … or serve up raw dishes [which I love]. So you can survive in Chicago among all the deep-dish pizza places and fried food if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or a raw foodie.”

» “I love to shop, and Chicago has tons of fine vintage shops and boutiques. The shirt I have on is from a vintage shop. I was just looking through racks and found it. [Laughing] It reminds me of Michael Jackson.”

» “Cabdrivers here are just as mean as the cabdrivers in New York. I’ve had the worst experiences with cabdrivers here.”

“The Book of Mormon,” runs through Oct. 6, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe. For tickets, —Miriam Di Nunzio

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