By now, most of us know that fruits and vegetables are key components to healthful eating. While some still prefer beef to black beans, skipping meat is just part of everyday life for many Americans.
Polls indicate that up to 5 percent of people in the United States — about 7.3 million people —are vegetarian, and that 22.8 million people follow a “vegetarian-inclined” diet, such as the pescatarian diet (fish but no meat). An additional 1 percent, or 3.1 million, consider themselves vegan.
Of course, like any diet, what works for you is more important than what works for others. For example, lacto-vegetarians still eat animal products like milk or cheese, while ovo-vegetarians still enjoy eggs. Others eschew gluten or soy products.
- Lacto-vegetarians are nonmeat eaters who still eat dairy, while ovo-vegetarians eat eggs.
- Vegans are “total” vegetarians, in that they don’t eat any animal products whatsoever, including dairy, eggs, or even honey.
As you might guess, the vegetarian persuasion is gaining traction in some areas faster than others. That means, for many, it can be a challenge to find meatless items on restaurant menus.
A handful of cities across the United States, though, are gaining recognition as being especially friendly to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Popular food delivery service GrubHub pored through orders from over 30,000 restaurants to identify the top 10 cities for vegetarians and vegans. We dug deep to find the best food trucks, eateries, and fine dining establishments that make these locations so veg-tastic. Read on for new spots to try on your next road trip or evening out!
San Francisco, CA
A confluence of cultures makes the food scene in San Francisco especially rich. Gracias Madre, for instance, is a vegan oasis in the heart of the Mission District. Check out their vegan enchiladas con mole (pictured) or “bowl uno” (made with tempeh chorizo and topped with nacho cashew cheese). This quaint cantina is only a few blocks from Mission Dolores Park, a favorite local hangout, so grab a BLT wrap (made with coconut bacon) to go, and enjoy.
Also in the Mission is Chaya, serving vegan, Zen-inspired Japanese food. When the San Francisco fog rolls in, take comfort in warming dishes like Dobin Mushi (“tea pot” soup) or Moon Garden (steamed tofu custard with vegetables, soybeans, and ginkgo nuts). Of course, no vegetarian tour of San Francisco would be complete without a night out at Greens Restaurant. The (cashew) crème de la crème, Greens is a chic fixture of Fort Mason. Although the seasonal menu changes often, sophisticated dishes like grilled peaches served with goat cheese, watercress, and honey, or wild mushroom and spinach filo served with chickpea tagine, are the norm. Make a dinner reservation and enjoy classic vegetarian California cuisine by the Bay.
With a reputation for great food, Seattle really hits the spot when it comes to veggie cuisine. When in the Capitol Hill area, consider stopping by Plum Bistro for chic and accessible vegan fare like jerk tofu and yam burgers. The bistro also runs the Plum Burgers food truck, so keep an eye open when you’re out and about. If you’re in the Greenlake or Roosevelt areas, check out the Wayward Vegan Café. Breakfast is served all day, so drop in any time for vegan fried chicken and waffles or house-made herb biscuits topped with sautéed veggies and mushroom gravy.
Finally, for a superb date night experience, look to Cafe Flora, just south of Washington Park, where the fried avocado appetizers and Yakima Valley polenta (pictured) capture the effervescence and crispness of the Seattle food scene at its best. Come in the summer so you can enjoy dining on the outdoor patio.
With Austin’s lively reputation for good music, good art, and good outdoors, it’s no surprise that this capital city is bursting with good food. Vegetarians and vegans are sure to find something to please the palette at Counter Culture, serving up vegan comfort food mere blocks from the Colorado River and downtown Austin. Try their Southern baked seitan and pesto “raw”-violis, or hold out for a slice of their delectable avocado key lime pie.
Look across the river to the quirky Bouldin Creek Cafe, for locally roasted coffee, champagne cocktails, and vegetarian fare made to order. Try their beet-based ruby Reuben at lunch or hibiscus enchiladas at dinner. Just up the street is Conscious Cravings, a plant-based eatery specializing in wraps, salads, and smoothies. Pick up a chimichurri seitan or blackened tofu wrap (pictured) to enjoy with a strawberry banana smoothie at nearby Nicholas Dawson Park.
Los Angeles, CA
Whatever your stance on the oft-stereotyped L.A. lifestyle, there’s no denying its abundance of vegan and vegetarian options. Small chains, like Real Food Daily, offer vegan takes on meaty standards, like the Tennessee BBQ sandwich: pulled jackfruit in spicy BBQ sauce, served with potato salad.
If eco chic is your aesthetic, check out The Springs just east of downtown in the arts district. Pop in for a breakfast cup with oats, goji, mulberries, and almond milk, or lunch on a green papaya salad. You could also indulge in a double chocolate mint ice cream sandwich after a yoga or acupuncture session in their wellness center! While downtown, take a peek inside Grand Central Market and look for Ramen Hood. This vegan ramen and pho counter is helmed by Ilan Hall of Top Chef fame, and serves up elegant noodle soup bowls with classic presentation (don’t worry, the egg on top isn’t really an egg).
In southwest Durham, Pomegranate Kitchen brings a little flare to New Hope Commons. This demure spot features farm-to-table, local, organic fare, with a seasonal menu that changes daily. Past offerings include fresh herb basmati rice with pomegranate and walnut stew. If you’re checking out Duke University, be sure to head to East campus for vegan Buffalo wings at Heavenly Buffaloes. This compact spot serves traditional (chicken) wings and sauces, but offers soy-based wings with tons of vegan and gluten-free sauces, too. Plus they’re open late. Look for the bright orange shack.
Looking for a food truck adventure instead? Then head east to Research Triangle Park and take advantage of The Farmery. This “superfood fusion” food truck serves up preservative-free vegetarian and vegan-friendly wraps, bowls, and flatbreads, like their Earth First flatbread (pictured), which features a delicious cashew “cheese” spread topped with balsamic sweet potatoes, greens, and chimichurri sauce.
Ithaca’s veg-friendly jewels are clustered in the downtown area. Start (or end) your day at Waffle Frolic. Known for sweet and savory waffles, this café has a build-your-own vibe with four waffle bases and numerous toppings, including a gluten-free/vegan waffle and vegan soy ice cream. A few blocks over on West Green St. is StarTruck, a food truck that’s all about plant-based comfort food. Try their tacos with crushed peanuts and shredded cabbage, or opt for the space garbage nachos (tortilla chips topped with mac and cheese, cauliflower, shredded cabbage, and BBQ).
Another must-try is Viva Taqueria, where the veggie options include the mole tofu burrito. The collectively operated Moosewood Restaurant has been a downtown Ithaca staple for natural foods for over 40 years. The menu features fish and seafood as well as a seasonal selection of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes. Follow their fried tofu wings appetizer with Ghanaian white beans served with summer vegetables and brown rice.
In the heart of downtown Charlottesville, The Spot is the place to be. A collaboration between Julie Vu and Kathy Zentgraf, The Spot is a locally loved hole in the wall counter serving Vu’s noodle bowls and vegan banh mi alongside Zentgraf’s collard wraps and vegan BBQ jackfruit. Stop by when the weather is nice and you plan on eating outside.
If you’re exploring the University of Virginia, look for Roots Natural Kitchen near The Lawn. This trendy campus favorite serves up vegetarian-friendly grain bowls (though you can substitute chicken as well). Try the Southern, a rice bowl topped with BBQ tofu, kale, chickpeas, and roasted veggies, drizzled with lemon tahini. If sightseeing in the countryside is more your speed, make a quick stop at Salt Artisan Market. Nestled at the crossroads between Montecello and Jefferson Vineyards, this market sells sandwiches, breads, cheese, and other picnic-worthy items, like grilled cheese, veggie wraps with soy-ginger vinaigrette, and tofu sandwiches (pictured).
Ann Arbor, MI
Smack dab in the center of Ann Arbor, Earthen Jar offers an affordable vegetarian (and kosher) Indian buffet. Build your ideal meal from options such as spicy moong lentils, shahi paneer (yogurt cheese in spicy mushroom herb sauce), spiced vegetables, and fresh salads.
Across the way from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is The Lunch Room. This eclectic vegan restaurant experiments with bold flavors and cuisines. Entrees include mac and cheese topped with chili, pad Thai, and farm-to-table stromboli. Located in Westgate Shopping Center, Seva is an unassuming spot for casual vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Soup, salad, and sandwich fare is elevated with specials like the Cuban sandwich, made with smoked maple-braised tempeh and cannellini-walnut pate.
San Jose, CA
Just north of San Jose State University, Vegetarian House offers a huge menu of all vegan, Asian-inspired fare. Take your time choosing among vegetarian soups, noodles, and rice dishes, as well as raw specialties. Can’t decide? Try their spring roll noodles, a combination of spring rolls, rice noodles, fresh veggies, and soy protein. A few blocks from City Hall is Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café. Well-known by local beer enthusiasts, the cozy spot cultivates a sense of nourishment with its college co-op approach to food. You can build a plate from a selection of vegan dishes, including kale salad, yellow Thai curry with seasonal vegetables, and Jamaican jerk tofu with roasted red potatoes and habanero chili.
Away from downtown, nestled in Vietnam Town is Mint & Basil. This vibrant and contemporary space offers vegan and vegetarian dishes with Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian influence. The restaurant is also MSG-free. A great space for a casual date, try some deep fried tofu with three delicious dipping sauces (pictured) or an “all seasons sampler” with spring, summer, autumn, winter, and egg rolls.
If you find yourself strolling through the Pearl Street Mall, check out Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant. This small spot specializes in seasonal vegetarian cuisine. Dishes like the (vegetarian) crab cake sandwich or charred poblano gnocchi feature local produce from Three Leaf Farm in nearby Lafayette, Colorado whenever possible. And if you’re craving a beer, hop across the street to Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery. It’s one of Boulder’s highest rated restaurants, and is veggie-friendly to boot, with house specialties like the tempeh Reuben with vegan Thousand Island dressing.
When in North Boulder, look for Julia’s Kitchen off Broadway. This casual dining spot is raw-friendly and gluten-free, and features a limited menu of comforting classics like a daily inspired veggie burger and hummus pizza.