Veg Out: 20 Top Vegan Restaurants from Coast to Coast
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Meatless to the Max
Gone are the days when vegan diets were derided as flavor-free plates of lettuce and faux meat. Some of the best, most-exciting new restaurants are serving no animal products. From fast-casual veggie burgers to haute and celeb-owned eateries, these restaurants are planting a new flag for plant-based dining.
Gracias Madre, Los Angeles
Mexican cuisine conjures meaty, cheesy, chorizo-packed images. But at Gracias Madre, you’ll find all the south-of-the-border classics — tacos, ceviche, flautas, sopes — all without any sort of animal products. Look for flavorful dishes like enchiladas con mole filled with grilled mushrooms, cashew crema, sauteed greens and black beans. Bowl Dos, one of the grain bowls, incorporates braised lentils with peanut sauce, spinach, coconut rice, pico, pineapple habanero salsa and pumpkin seeds. Opened by the same folks who run ever-popular Café Gratitude, it’s become a buzzy destination for Mexican and margaritas without the guilt. On weekend nights, the bar is hopping with men and women trying boozy snow cones and smoked cocktails, all made with organic agave.
Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
By Chloe, New York City
Chef Chloe Coscarelli has been a vegetarian her entire life, and she's been entirely vegan for the past decade. Her first big publicity hit came after winning Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, with her dairy-free rendition. Since then, she’s published three top-selling cookbooks and opened this ultra-hip plant-based fast-casual Greenwich Village restaurant. By Chloe has become a see-and-be-green go-to eatery for its healthy salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers and taste-bud-tricking sides. The guac burger (a black-bean-quinoa-sweet-potato patty with corn salsa, onion, a slathering of guacamole, tortilla strips and chipotle aioli) is one of the best burgers in the city, and it consistently draws lines out the door. Instantly successful, By Chloe is set to expand to two additional locations soon.
Photo courtesy of Mikey Pozarik
A mainstay on roundups of top Philadelphia restaurants since opening in 2011, Vedge has an ambitious, creative meat-free menu that could convert any skeptic. Mom-and-pop chefs Kate Jacoby and Richard Landau spotlight local vegetables prepared with progressive, bold techniques. In lieu of beef carpaccio, the restaurant serves a convincing portobello version, with caper puree and shaved kale. The wood-roasted carrot kimchi “Reuben,” complete with sauerkraut, carrot mustard and pumpernickel, doesn’t need any corned beef. Dessert, including Meyer lemon cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding, is excellent without dairy. Wine, beer and creative cocktails round out the experience, particularly for weekday happy hour, when select drinks and tapas are a steal.
Avant Garden, New York City
With whitewashed brick walls, earthy beige chairs and a tree-branch light fixture, Avant Garden feels like a forested oasis from the bustle of NYC’s East Village. The food, too, is a refuge from the city’s decadent dining scene. Kale panzanella salad is marinated in a red wine vinegar blend that tenderizes the leaves until soft, but not wilted. Featuring cucumber, onion, olive and warm bread above a creamy garlic puree, it’s innovative and classic at the same time. Potato cannelloni is filled with pine nut "ricotta" atop merguez-scented eggplant and arugula pesto, tangy from the addition of nutritional yeast. It’s so good even devoted carnivores are sated without the traditional meat and cheese. While owner Ravi DeRossi takes veganism rather seriously, the goal here is to offer great food that also happens to be 100 percent plant-based.
Café Gratitude, Newport Beach, Calif.
With parody-ready dish names like Confident (cauliflower steak), Dazzling (Caesar salad) and Charismatic (chai latte), Café Gratitude takes its mission to serve creative vegan cuisine to heart. The five locations across the region confirm that the mission has found a loyal following. In February 2016, the concept expanded with a luxe new outpost in Newport Beach. The place still offers favorites like excellent samosa chaat (Dynamic) and pad thai kelp noodles with Thai almond sauce, carrots, red bell pepper, shredded kale and tamari almonds (Liberated). But Chef Dreux Ellis has added housemade pasta and a nut-cheese antipasto plate to the repertoire of the spa-like space. Jason Eisner, beverage director of Gracias Madre, has also overhauled the bar program, spotlighting organic spirits in a mix of classic and creative cocktails. There’s a Classic Martini, offered dirty with the addition of house brine an olive stuffed with vegan “blue cheese.” The Smoked Old Fashioned is literally smoked in a decanter with cherry wood, featuring bourbon and housemade provincial cola and aromatic bitters.
Kajitsu, New York City
Meaning “fine day” or “day of celebration” in Japanese, kajitsu is a fitting name for this restaurant, a place that is always excellent for a special occasion. The restaurant serves impeccable Shojin cuisine (Shojin-ryori), a centuries-old vegan cuisine that originates in Zen Buddhism. Expect to see beautifully arranged dishes like Yin and Yang, a complex mix of black sesame tofu with lily bulb, soymilk, kuzu root, black daikon, cacao nibs and leek powder. Although the dishes and ingredients change according to availability, some key components appear regularly, including soy sauce, mushrooms, sesame, kelp and nama fu (an integral protein source made from wheat gluten and rice flour). The monthly changing selections are offered in four-course and eight-course tasting meals with optional drink pairings.
G-Zen, Branford, Conn.
Husband and wife Mark and Ami Beach Shadle are “determined to change what people think about vegetarian food.” Together they serve high-quality plant-based dishes made from local ingredients. Everything is organic, and whatever isn’t local is fair-trade. Symbols on the menu indicate which dishes are raw as well as wheat-, gluten- and nut-free. The international dishes include spinach and potato pierogis, an artisan cheese plate (with cashew cheese), Portabella Tofu Napoleon and Kama Sutra (sweet potato, broccoli and vegetables simmered in coconut curry with local “Bridge tofu,” tomatoes, lemongrass and cashews over brown rice). Desserts are strong and forgo processed sugar. Think Raw Lemon Lavender Cheesecake and Traditional Spiced Carrot Cake.
True Bistro, Somerville, Mass.
With white tablecloths, whitewashed walls and flowers on the tables, True Bistro offers an ambiance that is upscale without feeling stuffy. The food follows the feel, with a nice selection of salads, small plates, large plates and desserts. Vegetable-packed dishes riff on international classics: Devils on Horseback feature cashew cheese and smoked tofu with the organic Medjool dates. The phyllo purse houses brandy-braised tempeh, winter squash, green mole and cashew sour cream in a flaky shell. It’s a nice date-night spot, but it’s also popular at brunch. Head over in the morning to fill up on crepes, waffles, biscuits, scrambles, seitan burgers and more. This little bistro is just like any other good casual restaurant — without the meat.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hyland
Seed, New Orleans
NOLA may be known as the land of crawfish boils and andouille, but the Big Easy is also home to a wide array of international influences, including high-end Israeli and tons of Vietnamese cuisine. There is also excellent meatless dining. Seed’s founder, Edgar Cooper, a vegan since 1995, has traveled the world spreading awareness of the vegan diets. After a trip to Borneo in 2013, where he saw widespread destruction of the forest and animal habitat, he decided to offer a conscious alternative to New Orleans residents. The result, Seed, offers local, organic and natural ingredients in flavorful dishes like raw pad thai (made from spiralized cucumber and carrot) and a Southern fried po' boy with chickpea-breaded tofu.
Photo courtesy of Renee Bienvenu
Plant, Asheville, N.C.
Asheville is known for its large population of earthy, environmentally conscious locals and an accordingly large number of farm-to-table eateries and specialty breweries. Of them, Plant is the quintessential Asheville restaurant. Servers are nice and knowledgeable. Homemade dishes are prepared using seasonal ingredients that are sourced from nearby vendors as often as possible. Dishes span the globe, but they are all vegan. There’s smoky hummus with za’atar and pickled vegetables. Bok choy is served panang style, simmered in red curry. Korean bibimbap is vegan, made with tofu, rather than meat. Chile con queso gets its protein from seitan. Caramelized Jerusalem artichoke hearts get the Mediterranean treatment with lemon faux-cream cheese and Italian salsa verde. Gluten-free diners will have nearly the full menu available, including some of the craft beers.
Darbster, West Palm Beach, Fla.
As South Florida’s vegan food scene started to rise, Darbster was there to take the reins as the region's preeminent plant-based eatery. Over the years, the waterfront restaurant has become a go-to spot for food lovers of all dietary habits, including loyal meat eaters. Vegetarian Buffalo wings, sliders and “fried oysters” (cornmeal-crusted shiitake mushrooms) are just as good as the originals. The beet tartare with avocado, cucumber and jalapeno ponzu can overthrow any tuna-based equivalent, without the risk of overfishing. Think you need crab cakes? Darbster’s palm cakes, made from crispy hearts of palm, served with caper remoulade and baby greens, can blow a Chesapeake native out of the water. At brunch and dessert, decadent dishes like pancakes, French toast and a special banana custard (with roasted peanut mousse, sugar, vanilla and coconut) will make diners forget about the usual eggs and cream.
Green Bar & Kitchen, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Since opening its doors just a few years back, Green Bar & Kitchen has become South Florida’s premier plant-based lunch place. It now has two Fort Lauderdale locations that are frequently packed to capacity. One is “Express,” with a short selection of bowls, wraps, salads, soups and baked goods. The original is the ideal place to relax. The crisp white interior is highlighted by natural accents, and the lush outdoor patio is a serene setting for gluten-free avocado toast with sprouts, cashew-truffle dressing and pink peppercorns on flax-millet bread, or the bold Firecracker bowl with brown and black rice, scallion, bell pepper, cabbage, chickpeas, carrots and spicy dressing. The GBK Deluxe Burger is one of the best in the state, made with brown rice, quinoa, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, carrots, onions and seasoning. The patty is topped with lettuce and chipotle aioli. There are absolutely no animal products on the menu, and much of the menu is even gluten-free — including some pastries.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, Washington, D.C.
When Elizabeth Petty was diagnosed with breast cancer, she discovered the benefits of a raw, vegan diet. For her, it was all about access to better health, vitality and, well, peace of mind. She overcame her battle and decided it was time to share the plant-based lessons she’d learned, debuting Elizabeth’s Gone Raw in 2009. It’s not your customary vegan restaurant. It is held in a stunning townhouse that is regularly an event space, Elizabeth’s on L. The raw concept is only open on Friday nights with reservations available from 6 to 9 p.m. Every week, the six-course tasting menu changes, but it is always worthy of special-occasion status. Anticipate opulent dishes like Champagne sorbet and kelp-caviar service with rosé-pickled shallots, parsley-macadamia creme fraiche and an aleppo cracker. Upgrade the experience with natural wine pairings. When you're enjoying Petty’s cooking, it’s not hard to “embrace the vegetable,” as she says.
Photo courtesy of Foster Wiley
Millennium, Oakland, Calif.
Since opening its doors, back in the vegan dark ages of the mid-‘90s, Millennium has regularly been hailed as one of best meat-free concepts. Why? Chef-Owner Eric Tucker and his partner, Alison Bagby, are innovative in their plant-based dishes, serving globally inspired flavors with sustainable, organic produce, sourced from local farmers, for more than 20 years. The result is nouvelle vegetable cuisine. Look for items like sesame- and Arborio-crusted king trumpet mushrooms (with sweet and spicy pepper jam, cabbage and mint salad, and togarashi) and seared pumpkin polenta cakes. Although Millennium has long led the cruelty-free charge, it’s still at the head of the pack. In 2015 it moved from San Francisco to Oakland, updating its food and its decor.
ChocolaTree Organic Eatery, Sedona, Ariz.
This family-owned eatery has been tapping Sedona residents’ culinary ethos since 2009 with the vision of making “conscious choices that honor ourselves, the planet and each other.” It seems they have succeeded. The restaurant is not 100 percent vegan: Honey is used in some sweets and drinks, and the two Ayurvedic dishes on the menu contain ghee (clarified butter). Aside from that, absolutely everything is plant-based, made from organic or wild-crafted products, including nuts, vegetables, spices and seaweed. Open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner, the restaurant serves buckwheat waffles with macadamia nut butter and maple syrup, live spring rolls with almond Thai sauce, saag paneer with homemade macadamia-nut-chipotle vegan paneer, and more. Beverages include a selection of tonics and drinks (think kombucha and hot or cold spiced chai), with raw handcrafted chocolates for dessert. The menu is 95 percent local; the rest (chocolate and maca) is direct-trade.
Green Seed Vegan, Houston
In 2011, Green Seed Vegan burst onto the Houston food scene with the first plant-based food truck in the city. The following was intense, with locals clamoring for its vegan, raw, and gluten- and soy-free fare like teenage girls at a boy-band concert. Within a year, the concept expanded, opening a wildly successful permanent location, just down the block. The most-popular pick: Big Tex, a housemade buckwheat-quinoa veggie patty topped with zucchini bacon, avocado, jalapeno, vegan cheese, red onions, microgreens and housemade mayo on a whole-wheat bun. The famous Cali nuggets are another big hit. Chicken-fried cauliflower pieces are fried until golden-brown, and they're served with a spicy dipping sauce, giving texture and flavor that regular chicken nuggets never had. The desserts are popular, too, with picks like seasonal raw vegan cheesecake, gluten-free cupcakes and gluten-free root brownies, made from raw cacao, hemp seed, carrots and beets.
Little Pine, Los Angeles
When longtime New Yorker and famed vegan Moby (yes, that Moby) moved to LA, he told a friend: “There are two L.A.s, the L.A. of palm trees and the L.A. of pine trees.” It is the latter that inspired his latest vegan restaurant venture, Little Pine, in hip Silverlake. The decor blends the area’s midcentury history with an Alpine bent, making it feel like a plaid-clad cross between Palm Springs and Yosemite. The 100 percent organic menu echoes the sentiment with an array of fun, seasonal dishes, including Shepard’s Pie — named after a regular diner, street artist Shepard Fairey — stewed beluga lentils and housemade Italian seitan sausage with mashed potatoes. The vibe is great, the team is cool, and the food is star-quality. But what really sets this place apart is that 100 percent of the profits benefit animal welfare organizations.
Blossoming Lotus, Portland, Ore.
It’s not difficult to find a good meal in Portland — remember Portlandia? It seems as if everyone wants to eat consciously. For the plants-only set, there’s Blossoming Lotus. This petite Irvington cafe specializes in organic, vegan fare that even omnivores adore. Options include live nachos, shaved Brussels sprouts salad, a ginger noodle bowl, and a lentil-and-walnut burger with cashew Brie. Finish it up with a wide array of unforgettable desserts (e.g., coconut cream pie). If you can’t make it there in-person, you can always make it yourself: former owner Bo Rinaldi and founding chef Mark Reinfeld co-authored the cookbook Vegan Fusion World Cuisine.
Viva La Vegan, Atlanta
People often cite deprivation as a concern when they consider giving up meat. “What about Buffalo wings?” Or you might hear, “I’d miss chicken and waffles.” There’s no need to feel stripped of old favorites at Viva La Vegan. The team behind this Atlanta restaurant has figured out how to re-create beloved guilty pleasures without meat. Satisfy cravings with a Buffalo cauliflower sub or shrimp po’ boy made from konjac root — both are soy-free. If you don’t mind the soy, there’s chicken and waffles (made with a soy-based chicken alternative), along with a faux-chicken gyro and a fishless po’ boy. Although comfort food is a big draw, the menu features healthier picks, too, such as the raw nori roll with lemon-garlic kale and hummus. With dishes like these, it’s easy to live la vida vegan.
Lamb’s Bread Vegan Cafe, Columbia, S.C.
Why is it that the unhealthiest foods — for the body and the planet — are the best for soothing the soul? Mac and cheese, barbecue, stewed meats and pork-studded collard greens are classic Southern comfort foods, and they all get a vegan overhaul at Lamb’s Bread Vegan Cafe. The Columbia restaurant offers healthy and nutritious soul food that is 100 percent environmentally friendly and cruelty-free. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant changes its menu daily, serving small and large options with or without protein. One day the assortment might include BBQ “spare ribs,” collards, purple cabbage, mac and “cheese,” red beans, crowder peas, curried potatoes and candied yams. The next day the menu might feature mandarin orange “chicken,” stir-fry cabbage, navy beans or speckled butter beans. No matter the menu, it’s sure to take comfort to a new level.