15 creative meat-free restaurants that even carnivores will love.
With the proliferation of Meatless Mondays and an increasing number of people turning to an all—or even partly—vegan diet, the number of top-notch plant-based eateries is on the rise. And they’ve got a lot more to offer their veggie-loving patrons than a simple salad or haphazardly arranged bowls of steamed broccoli. Craving freshly baked brownies or mac and cheese? Those are there for the taking, too. Particularly if you make your way to one of these 15 Best You-Won’t-Believe-They’re-Vegan Restaurants.
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Spice-minded diners know there’s a lot to love about Tamazul, part of pioneering raw food chef Matthew Kenney’s lineup of restaurant offerings. Located within Classen Curve, Oklahoma City’s fanciest digs for shopping and dining, Tamazul takes a plant-based approach to its lineup of gorgeously prepared Mexican cuisine, as well as its menu of artisanal cocktails. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas—all of the classic South of the Border staples are represented, but they’re given a healthy twist with fillings like sweet potato, zucchini, cabbage, and tempeh. Whatever you do, just be sure to save room for dessert. And one dessert in particular: the spiced cacao brownie with a cup of horchata.
Location: Santa Monica, West Hollywood & Pasadena, CA
For more than 20 years, Real Food Daily founder Ann Gentry has been delivering diners at all three of her Los Angeles-area restaurants exactly what the name promises: Real food. Sure, there’s a large menu of thoughtful soups, salads, and starters. But her entrees take a global view of plant-based cooking, with Asian flavors in the Kung Pao, Mexican seasoned Supreme Burritos and a southern-style Salisbury Seitan, among the most popular offerings.
Location: Washington, DC
The story behind Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is an inspiring one. It came about when Elizabeth Petty, the restaurant’s founder and owner, was introduced to the benefits of a raw and vegan diet during her brave battle with breast cancer. But Petty is a survivor. And in 2009 she decided to share what she learned with DC diners by transforming her gorgeous event space—located in an elegant Federal-style townhouse—into an all-raw, six-course tasting menu experience every Friday night. The menu is always different, but recent visitors have been treated to beet and apple ravioli with spinach puree and fennel foam and pink banana squash cannelloni with mushrooms, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The toughest decision you’ll have to make at this Crossroads is just how many of chef Tal Ronnen’s Mediterranean-style small plates you’ll want to order. (We say you can’t go wrong with one of everything.) Located on L.A.’s fashionable Melrose Avenue, Crossroads Kitchen’s take on vegetarian eats (it’s not all-vegan) is familiar with a fine dining kick. Start off with the bread service (lentil flatbread is served with a trio of seasonal spreads) then move on to a selection of more than a dozen hot and cold small plates, like their crab-less version of crab cakes, made with hearts of palm, granny smith apples and heirloom beets, and served with horseradish aioli. Hearty entrees include a daily-changing risotto and wood-fired lasagna.
Location: Seattle, WA
Recipe: Lentil Pecan Pate
You’d never know that in its former life, the space now occupied by Seattle’s Cafe Flora was a Laundromat. The dirty laundry left the building back in 1991, when three longtime friends finally realized their dream of opening a comfortable and friendly spot for folks in the neighborhood to congregate over delicious—and health-conscious—grub. More than two decades later, Cafe Flora continues to thrive. While its menu is best described as global, utilizing flavors and cooking methods from cuisines around the world (you’ll find everything from pasta to tamales on the menu), the food is all sourced locally, making Cafe Flora an integral part of the Washington dining scene.
Location: Los Angeles, Venice, Santa Cruz & Berkeley, CA; Kansas City, MO
It’s all organic and vegan all the time at this (mainly) California-based mini-chain where everything is made from fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Good luck finding a can opener in this kitchen; the foundation for the entire menu—which might include an herb and cornmeal-crusted eggplant parmesan sandwich or a raw pad Thai made with kelp noodles—is sourced entirely from Be Love Farm, the restaurant’s very own garden. Which also means that the menu changes daily, in order to accommodate whatever looks ripest for the picking!
Location: Branford, CT
Recipe: Tri-Colored Raw Pasta
Situated in the quiet town of Branford, Connecticut—less than 10 miles from New Haven—G-Zen offers an appropriately tranquil dining option on New England’s already-peaceful shoreline. Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Mark and Ami Beach Shadle, this culinary haven of eco-conscious cuisine has already made a big impact since its founding in 2011, with recent accolades from the New York Times, Travel + Leisure and Shape. The positive press is well-deserved, as G-Zen’s owners do much to back up the healthy lifestyle they promote. They’re in the process of renovating Shadle Farm, a 270-year-old farmhouse and commercial kitchen that supplies a number of the organic ingredients that make up their thoughtful menu.
Locations: Atlanta, GA
Recipe: Stuffed Acorn Squash
For 20 years, Cafe Sunflower has been filling the bellies of Atlanta’s veggie-loving diners with an eclectic array of flavors from around the world, from Asia to the Caribbean. And with two locations—the original Sandy Springs outpost and a newer version in Buckhead—they’re serving up twice as many customers, who come back time and time again for Cafe Sunflower’s beautifully prepared meat-free fare. (Though the menu includes both vegetarian and vegan meals, it leans toward the latter.) Among the restaurant’s many standout dishes are the Macro Stir Fry, veggies cooked with tempeh in a tamari miso sauce, and an oven-baked Stuffed Acorn Squash, featuring a mix of navy beans, dried cranberries, wild rice and walnuts. It’s no wonder that Vegetarian Times named Cafe Sunflower the best restaurant in the South.
Location: New York, NY
Since 1984, Candle Cafe has been leading New York City’s farm-to-table charge at three uptown locations (one on the Upper West Side and two on the Upper East Side, including the fine dining-focused Candle 79). Signature dishes like the Paradise Casserole—a hearty mix of layered sweet potatoes, black beans and millet served over steamed greens and topped with gravy—will make a carnivore forget what they thought they were missing.
Location: Austin, TX
Take a peek inside the window of Austin’s cozy Counter Culture restaurant, and you just may find yourself wondering: Is it a diner or is it a vegan joint? Take a look at the menu and you’ll see that it’s both. Born from a food truck, owner Sue Davis made the transition from mobile to brick-and-mortar in the spring of 2012, opening this warm and welcoming diner-style restaurant where “comfort food” and “healthy food” peacefully coexist. From mac and cheese (baked in a creamy cashew sauce) to a meatloaf (made with lentils instead of the eponymous beef), Counter Culture is cooking up guiltless versions of your favorite dinner indulgences.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Recipe: Broccoli Rabe Philly Style
When it comes to vegan eats in the City of Brotherly Love, Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby are the authorities. Building on the success of Horizons Café, the vegetarian restaurant Landau opened in 1994, the husband-and-wife duo launched Vedge in late 2011. And it succeeds at making plant-based eating a group dining experience by offering a menu of shareable plates to start. Taking a cue from their geographic environs, the menu changes with the seasons, but its foundation is globally inspired—think carrot tagine and tandoor-spiced cauliflower.
Location: Cambridge, MA
Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
Given the preponderance of noodle-focused vegan restaurants, an all-veggie diner is always a welcome anomaly. And Boston’s Veggie Galaxy is one of the best. (It has even got the press clippings from Zagat, Travel + Leisure, The Boston Globe and Boston Magazine to back it up.) While its menu—which, like any good diner, spans breakfast, lunch and dinner—features vegetarian versions of all your favorite diner staples (club sandwiches, Reubens, meatloaf and a weekly-changing Blue Plate Special), its bakery is 100 percent vegan. Gaze upon its many sweet treats, like a delectable Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie, in an old-school revolving pastry case.
Location: San Francisco, CA
The San Francisco Chronicle says that the Millennium’s menu “intrigues even the most devoted carnivores among us.” They’re not kidding. Located within the Hotel California, the Millennium delivers forward-thinking global vegetarian cuisine in an upscale—but never stuffy—environment. The menu changes daily, but recent offerings have included a potato tikki cake with mustard greens and black-eyed peas, Creole-smoked tempeh with maple and horseradish-Dijon cashew cream and a fragrant lemongrass risotto cake. Your best bet for tasting it all is to opt for the five-course tasting menu or, for a better bargain, the three-course Frugal Foodie option.
Location: New York, NY
With seven well-placed locations throughout the city, Blossom is making its all-vegan presence known in the Big Apple. In addition to its three full-service restaurants, they’ve also got V-Note, a wine bar and tapas restaurant on the Upper East Side; Blossom Bakery in Chelsea; and three outposts of the fast food Blossom du Jour. Each one offers diners an array of well-prepared all-vegan cuisine. Among Blossom’s most popular bites are its vegan takes on traditionally un-vegan foods like mushroom “calamari” and barbecue tempeh with roasted potatoes.
Location: Miami Beach, FL
There’s no need to fly all the way to Italy. Giancarla Bodoni, chef-owner of Escopazzo, has re-created her own version of the world culinary capital in the heart of South Beach. Step inside the unassuming storefront and you’ll find yourself in Miami Beach’s version of a traditional Tuscan courtyard, complete with fountain and windows that look out onto a faux Italian countryside. It’s not nearly as flashy as its neon-lit dining counterparts, which is part of its charm—and the reason why so many of the world’s best-known chefs (Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Tyler Florence and Rachael Ray among them) have dined here. Just be forewarned that while it’s all organic, Escopazzo is not a strictly vegetarian restaurant; the meat and fish menus are just that (though Bodoni does make an incredible meatless spaghetti and meatballs).