When Richard Landau opened his first restaurant in 1993, vegetarian dining was a far cry from today's innovative, celebrity-espoused scene.
"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.
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.
--Sarah L. Stewart
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Vickie Burick
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Evan Sung
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Courtesy of Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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. Photo: Courtesy of Millennium
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Jason Little
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Paul Talbot
See More of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants in the U.S. 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 Photo: Courtesy of Choices Cafe
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