The Best Vegan Restaurants in the Country

Ditch the meat and dairy with these flavor-packed plant-based restaurants.

January 22, 2020
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J. Selby’s, St. Paul, Minnesota

This regularly packed Cathedral Hill spot is just like many popular American counter-serve restaurants, except that absolutely everything on the scratch-made menu is 100% plant-based. It offers a mix of creative bowls, seitan bacun-topped salads, cauliflower wings and burgers including a vegan spin on the locally created Juicy Lucy. Featuring a housemade Beyond Burger blend filled with molten melty cheeze, accented by lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise on a whole-grain bun, the sustainable and cruelty-free dish gives the dairy-filled ground turkey version a far more sustainable run for its money.

Vedge, Philadelphia

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.

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.

By Chloe, New York City

In the not-too-distant past, New Yorkers queuing up for vegan cuisine would have been a punchline rather than a reality. But By Chloe has changed that with its flavorful salads, sandwiches and veggie burgers that people line up out the door to try. The classic is made from a tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty with semitraditional toppings — pickles, onion, beet ketchup and special sauce. The Guac Burger, though, has quickly made its way onto the list of iconic dishes in NYC. A meatlike patty made from black beans, quinoa and sweet potato is topped with corn salsa, onion, guacamole, tortilla strips and chipotle aioli, all stacked on a whole-grain bun.

Shizen, San Francisco

For many food lovers, one of the hardest things about going plant-based is giving up sushi. Shizen has got San Franciscans covered. The stylish izakaya and sushi bar serves exceptional fare with skillfully prepared vegetables and starches that impeccably mimic Japanese seafood favorites. Its version of spicy tuna, the ever-popular Tofuna roll, combines chile-dusted minced tofu with cucumber and rich avocado sprinkled with chile tobiko. The gyoza — pan-fried vegetable- and tofu-stuffed dumplings — are just as craveable as the pork-filled ones found everywhere else. And the hearty bowls of ramen are ideal for warming your bones on a cold San Francisco night (in other words, every night).

Plant Miami, Miami

James Beard Award semifinalist Horacio Rivadero and his wife, pastry chef Veronica Manolizi, blend cutting-edge techniques with seasonal, local produce at this airy vegan hot spot in the Wynwood Arts District. The open-air dining room is usually packed to the brim with beautiful locals sipping biodynamic, organic craft cocktails while noshing on flavorful dishes such as the gorgeous cannelloni. Made from a butternut squash shell encasing almond herb cheese with kale pesto, roasted grape tomato and marinara, it's just one of the stunning certified-kosher dishes served at the "living foods" specialist. Many of the fresh-picked ingredients are pulled from the restaurant’s own Paradise Farms, including specialty microgreens and 67 varieties of edible flowers.

Avo, Nashville, Tennessee

Just a short drive from downtown in bustling midtown, this trendy hangout has been gathering a loyal following of sustainably minded locals. Locally sourced produce is highlighted in a healthful selection of raw and cooked vegan dishes, spanning from small plates such as beet carpaccio and kimchi spring rolls with Thai peanut sauce to entrees including the Cali Burger, a lentil-walnut patty with coconut queso, coleslaw, onion, jalapeno and guacamole on a sweet potato bun. The stylish space, which also boasts a robust cocktail program, is housed inside a renovated shipping container with a recycled wood bar and a living wall of greenery, making it a prime destination for those who want to maintain some sort of healthful balance while out on the town.

Crossroads, Los Angeles

Nope, that's no egg you're seeing. Crossroads chef Tal Ronnen has broken ground in the world of plant-focused cuisine, transforming a style of eating that was once misunderstood as just salad and tofu into a form of dining that now attracts a wide range of celebrities. A-listers such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Ellen DeGeneres and Paul McCartney frequently drive up to the private entrance for a taste of Ronnen’s haute plant-based cuisine. Dishes like his spaghetti carbonara, featuring homemade pasta with mushroom "bacon" and topped with a vibrant "egg yolk" that's really an orb of yellow tomato bearnaise sauce, are as rich and satiating as any dish with meat.

Modern Love, Omaha, Nebraska

In Nebraska, cattle outnumber people nearly four to one, so it should come as no surprise that the state boasts tons of steakhouses — and a whole lot of meat eaters. Slowly but surely, vegan cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been turning Omahans (and more recently Brooklynites) on to the joys of plant-based cuisine ever since she debuted this swanky spot back in 2014. Her wide-ranging menu of comfort fare shows inspiration from around the globe in dishes such as oyster mushroom kebabs, fried cashew mozzarella and Brussels sprouts chana masala. It’s hard to go wrong here, but many regulars have a hard time passing on the all-American Mac & Shews, a mix of creamy red pepper cashew cheese, pecan-cornmeal crusted tofu, roasted cauliflower, garlicky kale and spiced pecans.

Fancy Radish, Washington, D.C.

The plant-based geniuses behind Philadelphia’s beloved Vedge, Chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby, extended their cruelty-free love to the nation’s capital in 2018, bringing some much-needed peace to the politically riled-up city. Pretty much everyone — vegans and omnivores alike — agrees it’s one of the best new restaurants to open in the past couple of years. The chic yet relaxed place offers a menu of creative and delicious dishes that change with the seasons. Expect to see mouthwatering items ranging from dairy-free rutabaga fondue and aji amarillo-scented Peruvian potatoes to spicy dan dan noodles and a perfect plum tart.

The Beer Plant, Austin, Texas

Austin’s first vegan gastropub boasts 40 craft brews on tap, a great playlist of old blues and jazz, and, of course, a decadent menu of plant-based cuisine. In addition to serving familiar vegan comfort classics like Buffalo cauliflower wings and a mac & cashew cheese skillet, the lively place really makes its mark with envelope-pushing ingredients and techniques that re-create regional favorites sans meat. Need some examples? In the Carolina BBQ sandwich with crispy onions and slaw, banana blossom takes the place of pulled pork. Oyster mushrooms stand in for spicy chicken in the Nashville Hot and Crispy, and hearts of palm mimic jumbo lump crabmeat in the crab cakes. Yes, we’re getting hungry too.

Kindred, San Diego

This South Park, San Diego, favorite is not your average vegan spot. Its team of culinary misfits, who have dubbed themselves the Kindred Kult, fry, spice, sear, age, ferment and cook with reckless abandon — and the result is whimsically eccentric and utterly delicious. For example, the Deli Battle takes the meat-filled charcuterie board and turns it upside down. The beautiful plate features smoked cashew and Brazil nut pate, tofu torchon, shaved peppered seitan, blood orange mostarda, olive thyme tapenade, pickled vegetables and charred seasonal fruit with rye toast points. It’s this sort of daring fare that has earned the place numerous accolades, such as the title of Eater San Diego's People's Choice Restaurant of the Year, inclusion in Zagat San Diego's Most Important Restaurant Openings of 2016 and a Tales of the Cocktail nod for its creative drinks.

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.

Veggie Grill, Irvine, California

Veggie Grill opened its first plant-based fast-casual location back in 2006, making it one of the front runners in the world of accessible vegan restaurants. Long before veggie burgers started attracting lines down the block, this place was serving a great selection of meat-free food for a relative steal. The veggie-filled menu — which was the first in the world to include the Beyond Burger — features a cast of seasonal characters like the "turkey" dinner sandwich along with a stable roster of appetizers, sandwiches, salads and bowls, including the popular Sonoran with organic quinoa, seasoned black beans, fire-roasted carrots, avocado, salsa, jalapenos, tortilla strips and roasted red pepper sauce.

Plant, Asheville, North Carolina

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.

Nic’s on Beverly, Los Angeles

The founder of Eat Drink Vegan and culinary director for Coachella (and other festivals), Nic Adler is a well-known figure in the vegan and larger food community. Since opening his eponymous restaurant in Beverly Grove earlier this year, he’s been making a name for himself as a serious restaurateur. The all-day place serves a wide selection of plant-based fare, ranging from a fried green tomato sandwich and wood-fired Detroit-style pizza to tempura avocado tacos and Thai red curry. With great food and an impressive beverage program, it’s easy to see why its cozy back patio is always buzzing with adoring fans.

Plum Bistro, Seattle

Chef Makini Howell’s upscale vegan restaurant has often been described as a romantic date-night spot that’s capable of changing the hearts and minds of die-hard carnivores. Vegan naysayers are sure to be impressed by creative comfort food like the spicy Cajun Mac & Yease and the My American Guy Burger, a ground Beyond meat patty flavored with a special blend of spices, topped with soy-based burger sauce, housemade aioli, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion and Follow Your Heart vegan cheddar and served with a side of rosemary fries. But this place certainly isn’t just trying to convert those who don’t adore veggies. Its straightforward and delicious vegetable dishes, like the crispy cauliflower steak with avocado puree, edamame, chickpeas and fresh herbs, prove that plants can make a bold statement without all the fuss.

Millennium, Oakland, California

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.

Chef Will the Palate, Huntsville, Alabama

Experienced chef and longtime vegetarian Forest Wilson sources all his ingredients at local markets or out in the wild for his Southern-inspired vegan fare. His Huntsville, Alabama, food truck aims to create biomineral balance in its dishes to promote optimum health. This stuff is a far cry from the delicious vegan junk food that’s been popping up from coast to coast — but it tastes incredibly good. The changing menu features memorable items that aren’t going to put you in a food coma. That includes things like sea vegetable-marinated king oyster mushroom fried in avocado oil to mimic fish, along with avocado sliders stuffed with spicy habanero, cherry tomato and basil. The salubrious fare is capped off with grade-A desserts such as the walnut sea-moss cheesecake on a hempseed Brazil nut crunch crumb crust.

Café Gratitude, Newport Beach, California

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, Connecticut

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, Massachusetts

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

Darbster, West Palm Beach, Florida

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, Florida

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.

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 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 menu echoes the sentiment with an array of fun, seasonal dishes, including panko-crusted piccata with vegan garlic butter, lemon, white wine, capers, parsley and 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 rights organizations.

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.

ChocolaTree Organic Eatery, Sedona, Arizona

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.

Blossoming Lotus, Portland, Oregon

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.

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