Whether you prefer to call it plant-based or vegan, completely meatless and animal product-free cooking is more popular than it’s ever been. People have many reasons for choosing a vegan diet, including better health, animal welfare, or to lessen their impact on the environment. Many restaurateurs and chefs are also shifting away from animal products and have opened outstanding plant-based venues that hold their own against any traditional meat-serving counterparts.
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When Vedge opened back in 2011, it was a trailblazer, as plant-based, fine-dining restaurants weren’t as common as they are now. It was chosen as one of the most influential restaurants of the 2010s by Food & Wine, which wrote that the husband and wife, chef and owner team of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby make it “dangerously easy to justify spending lots of money on vegetables.” The menu of small, composed plates changes seasonally, but there are some signature dishes that tend to stick around, like the smoked portobello carpaccio with caper vinaigrette, and a wood roasted carrot that eats like a steak.
It helps to succeed as a vegan restaurant when you’ve got trend-concerned celebrities stopping by. Chef and owner of Crossroads, Tal Ronnen, has catered celebrity weddings and political shindigs thanks to his creative, white-tablecloth cuisine that never fails to impress. Mediterranean-inspired small plates make up the menu and change often, so expect anything from scallopini Milanese to stuffed zucchini blossoms. Don’t miss the “crab” cakes, made with hearts of palm, with a “pan-seared exterior [that] falls apart at the touch of a tine.“
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The Beer Plant is the kind of place where vegans and omnivores can both enjoy throwing their diet out the window with top-notch bar food. Despite being located in a strip mall, this gastropub boasts a comfortable and congenial atmosphere along with 40 solid taps leaning toward sours and IPAs. There are old familiars on the menu, like the fried Buffalo cauliflower, which is “every bit as compulsive and decadent as its meaty counterpart.” The chicken and waffles, made with chicken-fried seitan, are popular at brunch, as is the gyro constructed of house-made seitan and cashew tzatziki.
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New York City
Eating at Avant Garden feels like dining in a friend’s posh, cozy home, assuming that friend also had one heck of a wine list. The menu is small and simple, with three parts, including cold, hot, and toast (with various creamy and vegetal toppings), with no hint of meat substitutes, just a meditation on vegetables. The hen of the woods mushrooms prepared with mushroom puree, kohlrabi and pickled Asian mushrooms is a favorite of reviewers, as are the pastas, like spaghetti pomodoro, “an unbeatable, already vegan classic.”
Chef Makini Howell has found so much success with her plant-based Plum Bistro that she’s opened a number of spin-offs and a food truck. She takes a playful, down-to-earth approach to vegan food that diners find approachable and downright scrumptious. It was named one of the essential restaurants in Seattle in part for the mac and yease, which, despite a less-than-stellar appearance, is lauded as one of the Bistro’s best dishes. The house-made burger patty, sweet potato gnocchi with pesto, and tall stack of blueberry citrus pancakes at brunch all get rave reviews as well.
The plated dishes at Plant Miami are full of lush colors and modern touches, matching the vibrant backdrop of the Wynwood Arts neighborhood that the restaurant is located in. Much of the produce comes from the restaurant’s own Paradise Farms, including the beautiful flower garnishes. Organic, living food is the emphasis, so that means a lot of raw preparations to enjoy in the sunshine on the chic patio. The menu changes often, but you can’t go wrong with any kind of noodle dish, or one of the many desserts, like papaya cheesecake.
Omaha may not top your list of vegan restaurant hot spots, but Modern Love may just change your opinion. The restaurant specializes in “swanky” plant-based comfort food, because who doesn’t need that in their life? Kale caesar salad might be cliche at this point, but it’s done so well here that one reviewer continues to order it. It’s hard to beat nachos as a comfort food, and they pile them high here with creamy cashew queso, walnut chorizo, guacamole and tons of fixings. Plan on having a milkshake for dessert. They’re made with cashew ice cream and come in flavors like peanut butter and chocolate or pumpkin spice.
The unusual name of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a result of the proprietor and owner, Elizabeth Petty, turning to plant-based foods for health reasons while battling breast cancer. Now the fancy restaurant in a historic townhouse serves a seasonal, organic, six-course tasting menu just two nights per week, but it’s still been named one of the best vegan restaurants in the city. The menu changes all the time, but you can expect dishes like purple potato foam with grilled fava beans, wood grilled oyster mushrooms with cassava cake, and prickly pear raspberry mousse with parsnip white cacao cream.
For 27 years, Millennium has racked up accolades, including a Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition and the top spot in the Daily Meal’s best vegan restaurants in the world list. The elegant-but-rustic, casual setting coupled with an outstanding menu of familiar but creative favorites made them popular enough that they avoided shutting down in 2015 thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. Now you can get peach panzanella salad, grilled oyster mushroom pibil with avocado puree, tandoor-spiced eggplant, and grilled polenta plum cake without worry it’ll be shutting down again.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a town where ‘locally sourced’ and ‘environmentally conscious’ are two important descriptors in practically every business, including Plant. It sources as many organic ingredients as possible locally, but uses them to cook global flavors in an intimate, modern dining room where the open kitchen is the focus. It’s been named one of the best restaurants in Asheville, vegan or otherwise, with special note to its house-made vegan cheeses and ice creams. The small menu changes daily, and might also include raw lasagna cruda and grilled beets with balsamic and herbs.
Cozy Strange Town with its red neon lighting and geometric tile floors is a little bit, well, strange. But it’s that eclectic, laid back feel that makes it stand out among a list of fancy brethren. The menu is short and sweet, made up of small plates, but the drink and cocktail menu spans three pages, making this a great hangout to linger after dinner. Italian arancini are particularly popular, with one reviewer calling them “unexpectedly rich and ‘cheesy’” with their smoked cashew cheese middle. Bombay potatoes with chutney and a sea vegetable salad are also good choices.
Omnivores don’t usually think of Mexican food in terms of plant-based offerings, since so many people are used to plates covered in cheese, crema, and even beans made with animal fats. But at Gracias Madre, they’re redefining Mexican food as plant-based with just as much appeal. You won’t miss anything from your normal Tex-Mex spot here, thanks to crispy corn tortillas, creamy drizzles, and a truly impressive amount of mezcals and tequilas. A wet burrito is filled with jackfruit carnitas, while chicharron are made of battered oyster mushrooms, and tacos with sunflower sprouts and chipotle aioli.
Watercourse Foods is a Denver vegan institution that’s been around since 1998. It serves all kinds of plant-based comfort foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in an atmosphere that’s homey and laid-back. Reviewers love the prosciutto benedict sandwich, and the “pastrami sandwich is what dreams are made of.” A caesar wrap comes with blackened tofu, and the barbecue pulled pork sandwich is made with jackfruit, slaw and pickles on a challah bun. Brunch cocktails and matcha milkshakes round out a large beverage selection.
The G in G-Zen stands for green business ethics, and while that’s a little clunky, the idea of ethical, plant-based cuisine is an extension of that. Since opening in 2011 with chefs Mark Shadle and Ami Beach Shadle, the playful restaurant has garnered a ton of accolades, including a spot on the best vegetarian restaurants in the U.S. list from Travel & Leisure. The menu changes often and is handwritten on large chalkboards in the zen-like dining room. The cuisine spans the globe, including spinach and potato pierogies, sweet potato and broccoli curry, Creole tempeh, and bruschetta.
Thai food, with all its emphasis on fish sauce, is not known for being vegan friendly. But Araya’s Place has dispelled the notion that fish sauce is essential, landing it a spot on lists of the top Thai restaurants in Seattle. They have been open since 1987, and now have four total locations that are still family owned and operated. Classic noodle dishes like pad Thai and pad see ew are mainstays, as are the panang and pineapple curries full of tofu, bell peppers, and other crisp vegetables.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Inspired by eating at a plant-based restaurant after running a marathon (and with the goal to run faster), former doctor Matt Clayton opened J. Selby’s in 2017. It was St. Paul’s first vegan restaurant, and it got so much attention that it closed temporarily a few days after opening because of the crowds wanting their vegan comfort food classics in a diner-like setting. There’s typical options like a falafel sandwich, but also more unusual items like an Icelandic potato burger and a Beyond Meat-filled, Taco Bell-knockoff crunchwrap. The spot has turned into a neighborhood hangout, if the entire Twin Cities were the neighborhood.
Strangely located on the seventh floor of a Saks Fifth Avenue store, Althea has some weight behind it thanks to being a Matthew Kenney restaurant, a group that has a small international empire of vegan restaurants. Users on Happy Cow, a website for rating vegan restaurants, rank it one of the best in Chicago. Reviewers love the cacio e pepe, made with kelp noodles with cashew and black pepper cream, kimchi dumplings with dehydrated coconut wrappers, and the spicy udon bowl with tempeh, shiitake mushrooms, and a “well-balanced sweet and spicy hoisin broth.”