Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S.
“Back then, it was all pinecones, bean sprouts, and wheat germ,” jokes Landau, now chef-owner of Vedge, a plant-based Philadelphia restaurant he opened with his wife, Kate Jacoby. Landau set out to change that reputation: “I wasn’t trying to make it vegan; I was trying to make good food.”
Landau’s self-described “carnivorous palate” lends meaty satisfaction to entrées such as shawarma-style carrots and smoked eggplant braciole. It’s just one example of how the quality—not to mention the quantity—of vegetarian and vegan restaurants has recently improved. Just ask Eric Brent, who tracks them on the worldwide database HappyCow. When Brent launched the site in 1999, it featured about 1,000 restaurants; it now counts 2,000 exclusively vegetarian restaurants in America alone.
Exceptional vegetarian restaurants range from the fancy—New York’s Candle 79 and Los Angeles’s Crossroads by star-chef Tal Ronnen—to the familiar. Mother’s Café, an Austin, TX, institution since 1980, dishes up southwestern-inspired comfort foods like enchiladas doused in a vegan spicy cashew chipotle sauce. “I think there’s a stereotype of vegetarian food being very boring, and I think that’s changing,” Brent says.
As a visit to any of the nation’s best vegetarian restaurants will affirm, there’s never been a better time to eat your veggies.
Plant, Asheville, NC
Deep in the barbecue belt, this chic vegan bistro has turned heads nationwide, winning over critics and ranking as No. 2 of 549 Asheville restaurants on TripAdvisor. Kudos goes to chef Jason Sellers, an alumnus of New York’s Candle 79, who whips up deeply satisfying vegan dishes. The southern-influenced Jerk—grilled tempeh, smashed sweet potatoes, sautéed collards, and spicy serrano crudo—and the smoked portobello steak stand out among the entrées, while desserts include gooey chocolate–peanut butter pie. plantisfood.com
Kajitsu, New York City
Kajitsu’s shojin cuisine, a style of vegetarian cooking derived from Zen Buddhism, transforms local vegetables into multicourse meals featuring fresh-daily soba noodles, soups, and painstakingly prepared sauces. Executive chef Ryota Ueshima draws on the culinary traditions of his native Kyoto, where he completed a decade-long tenure at Michelin three-star restaurant Hyotei. Traditional ceramic dishware (some more than 200 years old) adorns the otherwise spartan midtown dining room. kajitsunyc.com
Leaf, Boulder, CO
Weathered wooden floors, exposed brick, and a soaring textured ceiling create an elegant downtown space in this food- and health-obsessed college town. The farm-to-table menu, sourced in part by owners Lenny and Sara Martinelli’s nearby Three Leaf Farm, is primarily gluten-free. More than half its items, such as miso-glazed tofu and zucchini-noodle manicotti, cater to those diners avoiding both meat and gluten. leafvegetarianrestaurant.com
Millennium Restaurant, San Francisco
Just west of Union Square, Millennium is a frequent winner of VegNews’ annual readers’ choice award for Favorite Fancy Vegetarian Restaurant. Its seasonal menu crosses culinary boundaries: Korean-spiced smoked tempeh; a tamale with sesame mole; a house-made sunchoke ravioli. The wine list features more than 50 bottles—all organic or sustainably grown—and chef Eric Tucker prepares a three-course tasting menu for those on a raw-food diet.
Mana Food Bar, Chicago
Get in line: you can’t make a reservation at this stylish wood-and-brick hole-in-the-wall in Wicker Park. Among the international lineup of hot and cold plates, Asian inspirations include spicy bibimbop, seared tofu bulgogi, and chilled sesame noodles; saag paneer provides an Indian note; and southwestern flavors appear in a spicy sweet potato burrito and black bean chili. Don’t want to wait? The entire menu is also available to go. manafoodbar.com
G-Zen, Branford, CT
The New Haven–area shoreline gets a dose of Eastern flair at G-Zen. Hand-painted, gold-leafed mandalas adorn the walls, and co-owner Ami Beach Shadle brings a background of holistic medicine to bear on the menu’s raw foods and cocktail elixirs. Executive chef Mark Shadle has expanded the menu from the couple’s original food truck (the biodiesel-fueled Gmonkey Mobile), earning favorable reviews for eclectic plates including curries, pizzas, and tempeh “crab” cakes. g-zen.com
Choices Vegan Café, Miami
Freshness is the order of the day at this downtown café. Organic juices and smoothies come in tempting blends such as Green Dinner (apple-kale-spinach-ginger-lemon), Sex A-Peel (apple-beet-cucumber-ginger), and CocoBliss (coconut-cacao-goji-almond butter-chia-agave). Pair yours with a salad, wrap, or sandwich also bursting with good-for-you grains, fruits, and vegetables—and come back over the weekend for the make-your-own-pancakes brunch. mychoicescafe.com
Crossroads, Los Angeles
Prior to opening this West Hollywood spot in early 2013, chef Tal Ronnen prepared his plant-based cuisine for celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. Mediterranean-inspired small plates like lentil flatbread, kale spanakopita, and chile- and cumin-spiced carrots invite sharing. And the atmosphere encourages you to linger: chandeliers, wing-backed chairs, and an original Toulouse-Lautrec print lend an air of sophistication to the restaurant and adjoining private dining rooms. crossroadskitchen.com
Natural Selection, Portland, OR
Plank floors, warm lighting, and finely etched color portraits of vegetables give Natural Selection a rustic grace, while an open kitchen adds a modern touch beneath a gleaming rack of stainless-steel pots. Chef Aaron Woo avoids faux meat products in favor of a vegetable-driven prix fixe selection of salads, soups, and mains. naturalselectionpdx.com
Mother’s Café, Austin, TX
A mainstay of this delightfully weird college town since 1980, Mother’s delivers a wide array of vegetarian comfort food—at grad-student prices. Specialties of the airy café include artichoke-heart enchiladas smothered in cheese, a fried chile relleno topped with currants and pecans, and barbecue tofu with a side of black-eyed peas. Most dishes can be tailored to vegan diets by substituting the dairy components. motherscafeaustin.com
Dell’z Uptown, Charleston, SC
The latest offspring of Dell’z Deli and juice bar Dell’z Vibez opened in May 2013 in a muraled dining room that channels its predecessors’ funky spirit. Casual comfort food gets a healthy twist: spicy hummus tacos are dressed in fresh tomatoes, avocado, and feta, and pita-crust pizzas are piled high with veggies and vegan cheese. For dessert? Vegan cupcakes in flavors like pumpkin cream and espresso chocolate. 1A Cannon St.
Veggie Galaxy, Cambridge, MA
Booths and barstools? Check. Retro décor and a never-ending menu? Check. Bacon and eggs? Sort of. Here, the classic diner concept gets a vegetarian makeover, with tempeh bacon, seitan chorizo, and black bean burgers alongside the typical omelettes, pancakes, and French toast. Veggie Galaxy even has its own bakery, which churns out fresh-squeezed lemon meringue pie, dark chocolate-chip cookies, and roasted pecan pie—all vegan, of course. veggiegalaxy.com
Café Sunflower, Atlanta
Voted the South’s best restaurant by Vegetarian Times readers, this suburban Atlanta standout has been serving a mixed portfolio of Asian, Caribbean, and Mediterranean flavors for nearly two decades. Try the spicy pad thai and spring rolls, both of which also turn up at the restaurant’s newest location, in Buckhead. cafesunflower.com
Sage’s Café, Salt Lake City
Chef Ian Brandt opened one of the city’s first vegetarian restaurants in 1999, naming it for his son Sage, then one year old. The toddler is now a teenager, and the restaurant is growing up, too, moving from its original 19th-century-style building to a larger space in central Salt Lake in November 2013. Devotees of Brandt’s mushroom escargot and carrot butter pâté—seasoned with sea salt harvested underground in nearby Richmond, UT—are sure to follow. sagescafe.com
Café Flora, Seattle
Seattle Magazine readers named Café Flora the best vegetarian restaurant in 2013, no small honor in a city where well-regarded peers include Plum Bistro and Sutra. The dining area, converted from an abandoned laundromat, features a verdant, sunny atrium walled in floor-to-ceiling windows, plus an on-site herb garden available for special events. The selection of sandwiches, salads, and stone-fired pizzas relies heavily on local farms. cafeflora.com
Candle 79, New York City
Celebrities like David Duchovny and Alicia Silverstone flock to this high-end sister restaurant of Candle Café, an Upper East Side establishment since the mid-1980s. The two-story restaurant sources primarily local, organic ingredients and adheres to an eco-friendly program of recycling, composting, and nontoxic cleaning supplies. Chipotle black bean and squash ravioli and Moroccan spiced chickpea cake are among the seasonal vegan entrées that pair nicely with organic wines and beers. candle79.com
Green Elephant, Portland, ME
Twin chandeliers, stone walls, and a mix of wood tables and leather booths provide the setting for Asian-inspired meals at this downtown bistro. Standbys include steamed edamame, spicy stir-fry, and veggie tempura. For more adventuresome palates, meat substitutes abound, such as “duck” in a shiitake mushroom sauce and “spare ribs” served with broccoli, bok choy, carrots, and zucchini. Wash it all down with a glass of gluten-free, locally made mead. greenelephantmaine.com
Vegeria, San Antonio, TX
Adios, carne asada and chicken fajitas: Tex-Mex gets reinvented at this homey spot billed as San Antonio’s first and only entirely vegan and gluten-free establishment. Classic southwestern ingredients such as beans, corn, and guacamole result in homemade tamales, tacos, and enchiladas. Be sure to ask about Rosalie’s Daily Special, named in honor of the owners’ late grandmother; it might be loaded nachos or fajita salad. myvegeria.com
Samosa House, Culver City, CA
The namesake dish—a flaky, homemade pastry stuffed with ginger- and garam masala–spiced potatoes and vegetables, then deep fried—has earned Samosa House honors on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Opened in 1979 as southern California’s first Indian supermarket, the bright, indoor-outdoor vegetarian café still houses one of the Los Angeles area’s largest Indian grocery stores, encompassing 4,000 square feet of shelves stocked with rice, chutneys, and treats. samosahouse.net
If any restaurant will make you forget you’re eating vegan, it’s Vedge. Husband-and-wife chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby prefer it that way, eschewing vegan stereotypes to call their celebrated 2011 opening a “vegetable restaurant” instead. A veggie charcuterie bar features a variety of house-made pickles, while Landau (who grew up a carnivore) imparts meaty satisfaction to entrées like smoked eggplant braciole. vedgerestaurant.com