green New American Vegetarian
Arizona: Green Restaurant (Phoenix and Tempe)
Sometimes, there seems to be this superiority complex in the vegan community against mock meats. Like, once you become an enlightened vegan, you’ll stop craving meat substitutes and just content yourself with the unadulterated taste of tomatoes. Us, we take pleasure in a good veggie burger: both the hearty grainy sort and the truly flesh-like (hello, Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger). And if you do too, and you’re in Phoenix or Tempe, get thee to Green Restaurant. They’re known for their Big WAC, a double decker veggie burger whose undisputed stars are the soy-based patties within. They’re unapologetically salty with a meaty bite, and the perfect complement to the sweet “special sauce” within. Unlike the burger’s fast food doppelgänger, the bun is fresh; the tomato bright, the lettuce crisp. There are also moreish seitan-based Buffalo wings with a side of dill-packed ranch, cheese steaks and chili cheese fries. While this isn’t the most gluten-free-friendly place because of their mock meats, they do also have gluten-free Thai-inspired bowls. As one Yelp reviewer put it, “It’s neither cheap or overpriced for what you’re getting,” but worth the money.
Alaska: Middle Way Cafe
There are many schools of vegetarian food: some are nori- and grain bowl-forward, while others more rustically reminiscent of ‘60s, heavy on the sprouts and avocado. Middle Way Café leans towards the latter, in a great way. It’s delicious without pretense, earnestly offering fresh and simply satisfying fare. The whole-wheat toasts are thick and toothsome, smeared with avocado and sprouts, while the peanut soups are hearty with whispers of garam masala. It’s not focused on bucking hippie stereotypes (as are so many plant-based restaurants today), but rather preserving what was so great about them. Aptly named as it offers tuna and chicken for omnivorous friends (without a side of judgment), it also has melt-in-your-mouth cookies and brownies that happen to be gluten-free. It’s also very accommodating of Celiac and food allergies
Arkansas: The Root Cafe
One gets the feeling that The Root Café is something very special. For the casual spot that it is, the attention to the food is remarkable. It sources all of its meat and eggs from within the state, and does the same for most of its cheeses. All producers are named on their website with great specificity—a step beyond simply slapping “farm to table” on the menu. Pickles are made in-house and so is the almond milk; the coffee is, of course, locally roasted. And though their traditional biscuits are flaky and their beef short rib fork-worthy, their most raved-about offerings are vegan. There are banh mi on crusty local hoagies with crispy organic fried tofu, punctuated with pickled carrot and daikon, slathered with hoisin and vegan mayo; there are comforting bowls of coconut curry soup; and for brunch, pancakes are not to be overlooked. (All of the aforementioned are vegan.) For those craving something more alive, there are raw quiches and raw mushroom soups to boot. The Root Cafe would easily earn respect just for its commitment to sustainable sourcing (one cow at a time, for example); but the fact that it also executes its food with such skill puts it in another category altogether
Alabama: Chef Will the Palate
When Roy Choi was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef on these very pages in 2010, former editor Dana Cowin said it represented “a change in the way food is delivered and consumed around America today.” In that same spirit, some of the best places to eat anywhere—vegan or otherwise—are on wheels. And when we say “best,” we mean tastiest, most satisfying and also representative of the city from which they spring. Chef Will the Palate’s food truck is one such establishment. Pioneering plant-based food in Huntsville, Alabama, longtime chef and vegetarian Forest Wilson is among a growing community of people of color who are changing the formerly narrow image of the plant-based movement. Wilson sources from local farmers’ markets to create Southern-inspired, blackened smoky tofu over greens, cumin-spiced black bean tacos and herb-forward crusty avocado sandwiches. They’re as rib-sticking and satiating as any nearby barbecue, without the food coma afterwards.
Colorado: The Gold Leaf Collective
The fact that the upcoming season of Top Chef was filmed in Colorado is just one marker of the state’s growing assertion of its culinary prowess. (Four James Beard Award semi-finalists this past year are another.) Although new, The Gold Leaf Collective illustrates how lesser known cities like Fort Collins are capitalizing on proximity to farms that cover so much of the state, while attracting culinary talent and customers from nearby Boulder and Denver. Nothing here is sourced from industrial suppliers—and if you’ve run a restaurant before, you know how hard that is to do. It’s rare to find a place with a near solid five stars on Yelp even after 100+ reviews, but The Gold Leaf Collective manages to do it. Eat here, and you’ll see why. What started as a food truck has now morphed into a brick-and-mortar location whose casual atmosphere belies its frankly sophisticated cuisine. There are beets, perfectly roasted, with coconut cream labneh, pepitas, and mustard greens; there’s a charred iceberg wedge with seitan bacon, pickled apples, and onions. The food doesn’t shun meat analogs, but really holds its own as a restaurant in the New American style. This is the direction in which plant-based dining should be moving, and we want to follow it
You had us at “vegetarian restaurant and feminist bookstore.” We loathe the term hidden gem, but if we had to pick one instance to use it, it would be for Bloodroot. It’s not exactly undiscovered, as it has been written about by the New York Times and Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde are fans; but it is understated. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were just walking into a bookstore in Bridgeport; the restaurant part is rather hidden. But step out onto its patio overlooking Brewster Cove, order a bowl of penne with butternut squash and sage, and we’ll wager that it’ll be one of the better afternoons you’ve had. The bookstore is, of course, what makes Bloodroot so special, but even without it, the food is a delight. It’s simple, thoughtful and internationally inspired, but not in a way that smacks of appropriation, which is sometimes the case with vegetarian restaurants from an older time. Owners Selma Miriam and Noel Furie have run the space for almost half a century, and don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. On the wall, there’s a quote that reads: “Because all women are victims of fat oppression and out of respect for women of size, we would appreciate your refraining from agonizing aloud over the calorie count in our food.” We’ll cheers to that one hundred times. bloodroot.com
Delaware: Drop Squad Kitchen
Sometimes, a vegan restaurant is only a place to get delicious food. Other times, it’s infused with that palpable social activism at the heart of the vegan community. Drop Squad Kitchen falls into the latter category, in the most positive way. Owner Abundance Child (what a name) went vegan in 1993 and, after experiencing what she says is increased energy, weight loss and clearer skin, she never looked back. There’s no pressure or political agenda served up with your meal, but Child’s enthusiasm for what she does comes through in the food. It’s all comforting, more modern American than rustic: there are hand-shaped, messy black bean burgers smeared with avocado, pan-baked cornbread, just-sweet baked beans and messy chicken-esque burgers. There’s even a mac and cheese, which is gluten-free and nut-free (and if you’re familiar with a lot of vegan cheese sauces, you’ll know how many of them rely on nuts). In short, Drop Squad Kitchen is the kind of place that’s helping to change negative stereotypes of veganism and vegan dining—and for that, we’re grateful. dropsquadkitchen.com