Sick of ordering french fries, hash browns, and salad at the diner with your omnivore friends? Most restaurants offer some kind of veggie option, but choices are limited and cross-contamination with animal products is common. Asian and Italian restaurants tend to have a decent variety of vegetarian options, but you’re not always in the mood for that, and if you’re vegan, you still might have a hard time finding something good to eat. Unfortunately, meat-eaters are turned off by the pretentious air and “weird” health food offered in many veg places.
The restaurants below are more than just compromises. You can proudly take your veg and non-veg friends to any of these establishments for a tasty snack or hearty meal that feels more like a normal eating experience than a health-nut pow-wow. Some are upscale, others are smaller cafe hangouts, but all are notable for their innovation, variety of tasty foods, and universal appeal.
Vegde in Philadelphia, PA
This critically acclaimed, 100 percent vegan Philly favorite really knows how to make vegetables shine. In fact, most of their dishes focus on a single seasonal item, grilled or smoked or pickled and served with a fancy sauce, until its tastier than any veggie side at a regular restaurant. Their menu is constantly changing, but their cauliflower, seitan, and fingerling potato dishes get consistently rave reviews. They have a happy hour too, so take your bar food loving friends to show them that vegetables don’t have to be mushy and bland.
Image source: Nourish
Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, NY
This student hangout was one of my favorite spots to eat at when studying at Syracuse University. The 100 percent vegan cafe doesn’t claim to be organic or healthy, instead trying to appeal to the average person who just wants a tasty snack, whether or not they even know what veganism is. Their “chicken” salad sandwich has fooled carnivores, and their “egg” trick muffin uses a rather convincing cheese substitute that melts. Not all of their items are “fake foods,” though. They have a perfectly normal breakfast lineup with pancakes, waffles, fruit, and coffee drinks, and a selection of creative soups and salads.
For a small cafe, they keep impressive hours, opening before many students are awake and closing at midnight or later. They’re best known for their milkshakes (over 40 varieties, each named after a famous activist) and Friday pizza night, which can get crazy, so be sure to call ahead first. I don’t see it on the current menu, but in my day, they offered a garbage plate pizza with macaroni and “cheese” and hot sauce on top.
Image source: Strong Hearts Cafe
The Chicago Diner in Chicago, IL
Though the Chicago Diner’s website makes its’ vegetarian stance clear, its’ name and no-frills facade do not. Like Strong Hearts, anyone can waltz in off the street, order a regular-joe menu item and be none the wiser.
The Diner opened in the early 80s and has always been 100 percent vegetarian. Now, any item on the menu can be made vegan upon request. Menu items change throughout the year based on trends and what’s in season, and I can see that the current menu is quite different from the one I ordered off of when visiting many years ago. Their typical M.O. is veg-friendly American diner fare with tasty baked-in-house goods for dessert.
Image source: stab at sleep/Flickr
Wayward Vegan Cafe in Seattle, WA
The name says “vegan” loud and clear, but this university-district eatery has a totally normal selection of breakfast items and appetizers that no meat eater would scoff at. Who complains about vegan pancakes and waffles? They taste just as good, and with maple syrup and fruit on top, no one could even tell the difference. As for later-day items, the cafe specializes in fake-meat sandwiches. Can a tasty seitan pulled-pork sandwich convert your friends to the veg side?
Image source: SaraJane/Flickr
Sublime Restaurant & Bar in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Sublime’s star-studded cast of diners include Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, and Alicia Silverstone, and all gave their thumbs-up to the 100 percent vegan spot. At a glance, the menu’s not too far off from any other nice restaurant and bar’s. With offerings like macaroni and cheese, mushroom risotto, veggie lasagna, and a list of tasty desserts, who’s going to miss the meat?
Image source: Sublime Restaurant/Facebook
Mother's Cafe & Garden in Austin, TX
Most of our moms didn’t serve us vegetarian food growing up (certainly not vegan), but Mother’s Cafe has been doing it since 1980, and in the South, no less! They’ve stuck to their old-school health roots, using ingredients like textured vegetable protein, brown rice and avocado, and less-adventurous eaters will be relieved by simple, comforting menu items like black eyed peas and nachos and chili. They also have the “best veggie burger in Austin,” if your hamburger-loving friends are tired of the dried-out grocery store approximations.
Image source: Robert Phillips/Facebook
Green New American Vegetarian Restaurant in Phoenix, AZ
This list has been focusing on comfort food restaurants, and Green New American has a lot of that — chili fries, mock crab puffs, mac and cheese, chili, burgers, and even buttered noodles for picky younguns. But as “new American” suggests, they have ethnic-inspired selections for those who want to try something a little different. This would be a good place to go with a group of particular eaters, because it offers both the familiar and the exotic, and they’re riding the gluten-free train too.
Have recommendations on other awesome restaurants that should be on this list? Share them in the comments below!
Image source: Green New American Vegetarian/Facebook
Lead image source: stab at sleep/Flickr