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By Anna Ben Yehuda
There has, arguably, never been a better time to be a vegan in America. As chefs across the country create menus reliant on fruits and vegetables in an effort to embrace health, eaters are getting used to the idea of entrées made entirely of vegetables (albeit souffléd, stirred and brined ones). In short: nobody will give you a dirty look if you ask to "hold the cheese."
With chefs of all calibers opening up restaurants dedicated to veganism, a compendium of some of the best seems necessary. Think of this as your personal bucket list that can double as a travel guide. Here are some of the best vegan restaurants in America, each highlighting different cuisines, cooking styles and overall dining experiences—and all worth traveling for.
Bunna Cafe in New York, New York
Nestled in a nondescript part of Flushing Avenue, within Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, Bunna Cafe is a bustling Ethiopian vegan restaurant that doubles as a music venue. We highly suggest indulging in the feast for two (just $34), which will include all nine signature dishes: from the keysir selata (sauteed beets, carrots and potatoes served chill) to the enguday tibs (crimini mushrooms sauteed in peppers, rosemary, garlic, ginger and onion) and a rotator seasonal dish.
Bistro Vonish in Austin, Texas
Originally a monthly Supper Club dedicated to "elevating vegan cuisine," Bistro Vonish is now a trailer stationed on Austin's East 53rd Street. Expect a constantly shifting menu whose essence—delivering deliciously creative dishes made with vegan ingredients only—remains the same. They serve top-notch kolaches, those puffy pastries with fruits or vegan cheeses in the middle—so do make sure to try them all in different flavors. Suddenly, veganism sounds… doable.
Âu Lạc in Los Angeles, California
There's much to say about Au Lac. First of all, the restaurant goes beyond what is customarily expected from veggie-only restaurants, elevating the cuisine by embracing enticing Vietnamese flavors. Sure, the venue is found within a strip mall, but that doesn't prevent die-hard vegan celebrities from flocking to the space. Just looking at images of the food will make your head spin (think: salt & peppered battered yam shrimp, garlic basil rice noodles.) Bonus points: in addition to having a completely plant-based and vegan menu, the restaurant offers many gluten-free dishes. You should know that chef Ito, the genius behind the menu, has taken a permanent vow of silence.
Elizabeth's Gone Raw in Washington, DC
For $80 a person, diners will revel in this upscale dining experience (available on Friday nights only) within a historic townhome in Washington, D.C. Add another $60 and you'll receive organic wine pairings to go along with your decadent meal, which includes the likes of of crispy cassava cup made with gorgonzola cheese and cherry-chartreuse pearls, and royal trumpet mushroom and heart of palm crab cake. Remember, as the menu notes, that "any reference to conventional food is for context. The entire menu is plant based." You had us at historic townhome.
Bar Bombón in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
At Bar Bombón, the entire plant-based menu is made-to-order and imbued with Puerto Rican dishes with a twist. For brunch, expect sweetly delicious coconut-stuffed French toast while lunch and dinner may mean a harvest guacamole (butternut squash, sundried tomatoes, maple balsamic drizzle and spiced pepitas) and the Cubano club: blackened chick'n, smoked tempeh, avocado, dill pickles, lettuce, tomato, grain mustard aioli and potato fries.
Plum Bistro in Seattle, Washington
If you can't decide which kind of food you're in the mood for, opt for Plum Bistro, dishing out vegan takes on all types of cuisines. From sweet potato gnocchi (broccoli rabe, wild mushrooms, garlic sage, white wine butter sauce) to jerk tofu and yam burgers (grilled Jamaican spiced tofu, yam, pickled cabbage, caramelized onions and tomato), Plum dishes out a variety of flavors—all plant-based, of course. The restaurant also boasts two take-out counters across town (one by the bistro and another in the Seattle Center Armory), a treat shop serving vegan brownies, ice cream and cookies and a food truck slinging out sandwiches and salads.
Plant Miami in Miami, Florida
If you're looking for upscale vegan cuisine, you've found your paradise. Here, vegan ingredients undergo the kind of culinary techniques usually reserved for high-end meat-focussed menus. Executive chef Horacio Rivadero and pastry chef Veronica Manolizi dehydrate, disassemble and then reassemble quinoa, eggplants and mushrooms to create menu items like the summer squash lasagna (spinach bechamel, walnut Bolognese, heriloom tomato kale pesto) and the Mediterranean bowl (almond falafel, sprouted hummus, smoked beets, buckwheat tabbouleh and tzatziki).
Avo in Nashville, Tennessee
Being the first fully vegan restaurant in Nashville (circa 2015) is a fact deserving of a spot on this list in and of itself, but add to that a vegan version of the Bushwacker—the city's classic rum-based milkshake—and you've got yourself a recipe for everlasting success. The kosher-certified menu includes a zucchini noodle pasta dish and the Southern bowl: brown rice, black eyed peas, seasonal squash, steamed kale, corn on the cob, coleslaw and roasted red pepper sauce.
Homegrown Smoker in Portland, Oregon
A full-blown vegan barbecue? You heard that right. Originally a cart but now a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, Homegrown Smoker smokes the likes of tofu fish fillets, soy-based chicken, seitan burgers and tempeh ribs. Choose the combo plate to try a variety of different flavors that will all make you wonder how in the world it isn't meat.
Seed in New Orleans, Louisiana
If you're craving classic New Orleans dishes but subscribe to a vegan diet, Seed comes to the rescue. The spacious eatery serves vegan regional favorites like eggplant po-boys, gumbo and artichoke cakes. Those craving outside-of-the-box-dishes can opt for the pad Thai made with cucumber and revel in the outstanding fresh juice cocktails.
Donna Jean in San Diego, California
The restaurant is named after chef Roy Elam's late mother. Since August of 2017, Donna Jean has been serving delectable vegan food made, partly, with herbs picked from the venue's own on-site garden. Definitley try the chickpea-flour-made socca pizzas, then move on to the mushroom risotto and cast-iron mac and cheese.
Chicago Diner in Chicago, Illinois
The early-adopter owners of this Chicago staple have been operating it as a meat-free diner since 1983. Their signature dish is a Reuben sandwich, made with corned beef seitan, grilled onions, sauerkraut, peppers, vegan thousand island dressing and cheese on marbled rye. Note: although most menu items are vegan, some are considered vegetarian only but are offered in vegan versions as well.
Shizen in San Francisco, California
Shizen offers creative vegan takes on sushi. The izakaya and sushi bar serves delicious yakimono (pan-fried dishes) like bean curd, asparagus and shishito peppers; nimono (braised dishes) like nasu agebitah and chilled oden; agemono (tempura dishes) like the shizen shiitake and croquettes; and even larger vegan dishes like spicy cold ramen, zaru soba and lily flower curry. Fun and trendy, but only open for dinner service.
By Chloe in Boston, Massachusetts
One of the most recognized vegan restaurants in the country, By Chloe first opened in New York City (it now has six locations there, plus two sweets shops), and opened its first Boston restaurant in the winter of 2017 (and the second one in the spring of the same year.) Inarguably responsible for propelling the vegan wave, the restaurant serves soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. In Boston, expect exclusive menu items that reflect the city's culinary tastings: vegan lobster rolls and clam chowder await.
J. Selby's in St. Paul, Minnesota
Physician-turned-restaurateur Matt Clayton brought this plant-based eatery to St. Paul back in 2017. Their "Dirty Secret" is their special take on the Big Mac. Also, try their take on a Philly cheesesteak. The "meat" in this burger is provided by the Herbivorous Butcher, a local plant-based butcher, while the rest is made in-house at J. Selby's.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly described J.Selby's "Dirty Secret."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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