Here at Thrillist, life is a whirlwind of delicious burgers and bacon-wrapped everything. So being the lone pescatarian on the national food and drink team, I thought it was time to switch it up and cover places that serve bean & spicy mayo sliders and coconut bacon-crusted everything. These dishes can convert even the staunchest of carnivores — from vegified classic diner foods to all-vegan Thai and Tex-Mex to gourmet raw food tasting menus.
Curb your steak lust for a minute, and enjoy the 21 best vegetarian/vegan restaurants in America:
New York, NY
What you’re getting: Spicy Mang roll
While the sheer idea of eating sushi sans fish is something straight out of your darkest nightmares, Beyond Sushi has somehow figured out a way to turn it into something even Jiro might dream about. Run by a dynamic husband & wife duo, Beyond reinvents traditional sushi using fresh, local, all-vegan ingredients. Colorful and beautifully crafted, your chopsticks should dig into a Spicy Mang roll with black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber, spicy veggies, and toasted cayenne sauce or the Mighty Mushroom roll made up of six-grain rice, enoki, tofu, shiitake, arugala, and shiitake teriyaki sauce.
Los Angeles, CA
What you’re getting: Hot wings, pad see-ew with ‘chicken’
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, Bulan is a top-notch Thai treasure that won’t leave you compromising taste (or general happiness) with its meatless menu. Well-known for having an awesomely attentive staff, they take traditional, authentic Thai dishes and creatively turn them into bold and delicious vegetarianized versions that still pack the same punch. Soy Thai iced teas, deep-fried veggie hot wings, and flavorful veggie chicken pad see-ew (pan-fried flat rice noodles with broccoli, sprouts, egg, and special soy sauce) will surely hit the spot.
New York, NY
What you’re getting: Cajun seitan sandwich
Born from a health food store/juice bar turned juice bar/vegetarian cafe and a $53,000 lottery win, and named for the previous owners’ custom of lighting candles to bless their space, Candle Cafe is now a 100% vegan NYC dining destination. Their healthy and sustainable meals include a Cajun seitan sandwich with steamed greens, caramelized onions, avocado & chili aoili on focaccia, and spinach manicotti with seitan & tapioca cheese, roasted garlic tomato sauce, tarragon cream, and cashew Parmesan. Oh, and their chocolate mousse pie and coconut-based ice cream might be the only desserts you’ll turn down for.
The Chicago Diner
What you’re getting: The Radical Reuben and a vegan shake
With the motto “Meat-free since ’83”, The Chicago Diner is a Windy City staple. The original Lakeview location boasts traditional American diner decor while the second spot in Logan Square has a more modern vibe, but both serve up the same comfort food that could convert any carnivore. From their renowned Reuben with corned beef seitan, sauerkraut & vegan thousand island to BBQ, buffalo, and Thai chili seitan ‘wings’, there’s something to satisfy everyone. Don’t forget to end your meal with a vegan shake (they have flavors like cookie dough peanut butter, vanilla chai, and carrot cake).
Los Angeles, CA
What you’re getting: Artichoke oysters,”crab cakes” & the risotto-stuffed hot banana pepper
While eating here won’t be cheap, it will be seriously delicious. This sophisticated Melrose Ave restaurant offers Mediterranean small plates and well-crafted cocktails for an upscale, plant-based dining experience. The small plates are great for sharing, like the “crab cakes” made from hearts of palm & charred corn relish, but for something a little heartier, go for the wood-fired meaty lasagna or pappardelle bolognese. Whatever you select should be accompanied by a cocktail, like the Sophia with blanco tequila, mezcal, Kalamata olive syrup, lime, and grapefruit.
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw
What you’re getting: You don’t have a choice!
Without a doubt the most upscale and unique pick on this list, Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is a culinary gift to the world (veghead or not) opened by Elizabeth Petty, who was introduced to the benefits of vegan and raw foods when she was fighting breast cancer. Only open on Friday nights, you don’t even have a say in what you’re eating, as they only have a prix-fixe six-course tasting menu that changes on a weekly basis. Past menus have included savory options like smoked ‘crab’ flan, roasted ‘chicken’ with quinoa, peaches, fennel, marjoram & pink peppercorn, black truffle-fried cauliflower with sun-dried tomato sauce, and white peach & jasmine crisp. Sure, this’ll cost something close to what a night at a steakhouse’ll run you, but a dining experience this masterful is worth the price.
San Francisco, CA
What you’re getting: An empanada, guacamole, and the enchiladas con mole
What started as Mexican meals Terces Engelhart cooked on the Be Love Farm for those around her morphed into Gracias Madre when she discovered there was nowhere in the Bay Area to consistently get vegan non-GMO Mexican, and, since then, everyone vegan, vegetarian, and otherwise has flocked to the Mission eatery, for her incredible plantain-filled empanadas, enchiladas con mole with cashew cheese, and pretty much everything else.
San Francisco, CA
What you’re getting: The prix fixe
An OG on the vegetarian front since 1979, Greens is the real deal: A legit, upscale restaurant in a beautiful space within Fort Mason that basically showed America that you can still eat really, really well without all the meat and cream and all the other things associated with fine dining back during the fall of disco. Though founding chef Deborah Madison has passed the reigns onto Annie Somerville, the food continues to pull in people from all across the world. You’re not to mess around here: get the price fixe, sit back, and be blown away when you realize all the next-level things she can do without the magic of bacon.
What you’re getting: The Jibarito
Another Chicago veg-head staple, this Logan Square spot busts out a seriously diverse and inventive array of dishes from Buffalo-style tofu wings to Dijon and pale ale-battered Southern fried tofu served with garlic smashed potatoes. But GC’s savory star is, without a doubt, their Jibarito, a vegified take on the classic Puerto Rican sandwich which houses homemade seitan, poblano, onion, garlic, greens, American cheese, and garlic mayo between smashed plantains. Like craft beer? Of course you do. Slurp a Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout with that Jibarito, champ.
What you’re getting: Jamaican jerk tempeh
While Boulder’s rep as a hippie paradise makes it seem like there’s a vegetarian restaurant (and a dispensary) on every corner, that couldn’t be further from the truth (on both counts). So while Leaf could coast as being one of the town’s few veg-only options, they instead rise above the typical old-school portobello burger and offer elevated fare like the crowd-pleasing Jamaican jerk tempeh with forbidden black rice and coconut plantain sauce, plus a seitan shwarma with quinoa tabouli. And they grab bonus points for sourcing some produce from their own organic farm.
What you’re getting: Open Faced Seitan Sandwich or build-your-own burger/omelet
Opened by a serious diner disciple who saw his meal options dwindle when he became a vegetarian, Veggie Galaxy is a bustling, ’50s-style diner in Central Square that’s truly out of this world. Space humor, boom. Their menu features dishes such as a sandwich with shaved & grilled seitan alongside mustard baked beans, chickpea and black bean burgers topped with sweet potato mash & seitan chorizo, and French toast stuffed with vegan vanilla nut cream cheese covered with caramelized banana butter. You’ll be full at the end of the meal, but don’t even try skipping their cheesecake.
Mana Food Bar
What you’re getting: A bunch of small dishes, but definitely the Mana sliders
Loosely translated as “the life force in nature” or “the things magic is made of”, Mana is a seriously diverse dining destination for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. What sets Mana apart is the distinct lack of faux-meat items on their menu, relying solely on vegetables, grains, cheese, and the like to do the work. No seitan or tempeh here, just a variety of dishes that draw from an array of cultural cuisines, from Indian saag paneer to Greek spanikopita to Korean bi bim bop with hot pepper miso. Create a tapas-style meal by ordering the highly recommended baked goat cheese with spicy tomato sauce and toast along with the must-get brown rice & mushroom sliders topped with spicy mayo. Your meal won’t be complete, though, unless you sip on one of their sake cocktails that come a few different ways, like the apricot, chili lime salt, and nigori or the pineapple and fresh ginger.
What you’re getting: Whatever’s on the menu… just be sure to get prix fixe
With pan-European influences converging on a menu tailor-made for Lisa Simpson’s tastes — both culinary and philosophically — Portland chef Aaron Woo has ditched the meat-substitutes — no veggie burgers or tofu bacon here — for a menu that puts veggies front-and-center as entrees. The rustic restaurant’s menu is based on what’s locally available, and it changes constantly, but every item is available a la carte. Don’t do that. Spring for the prix fixe, on which you’ll find items like Moroccan cous cous, arancini, and polenta.
What you’re getting: Smoked hummus and walnut-crusted seitan
If you’re someone who can’t fathom the idea of eating at a vegan restaurant and leaving with anything but a frown, drop everything and get to Plant right now. Chef Jason Sellers heads up the kitchen in the warm and intimate spot, crafting artful dishes with strong and complex flavors, like the chicken fried steak-esque walnut-crusted seitan with cauliflower and caper raisin sauce or the bold red curry tofu with jasmine rice & kaffir lime cakes and teriyaki broccoli & Thai basil. Coat your mouth in sugar with the cookie crust & chocolate-peanut butter fudge blackout pie or at least a scoop of non-dairy maple-smoked pecan ice cream. One meal here will bring you to a place you didn’t know you could get to without bacon.
What you’re getting: Spicy Cajun Mac ‘N’ Yease and the Buffalo portobello burger
This Seattle spot reworks simple and traditional American fare into meatless masterpieces. Wooden furniture, flowers, and plants abound here, giving it an earthy vibe (coincidentally, Earth is also the planet the resto is located on top of), plus they open up the big garage doors out front when it’s nice out. The Mac ‘N’ Yease is their signature dish, and while the texture does differ from that of real cheese, it remains deliciously cheesy and silky, and won’t disappoint even the most militant of cheese enthusiasts. As for the portobello burger, it’s huge and hearty, and not much more needs be said about a deep-fried, panko-coated ‘bello topped with Buffalo hot sauce, ranch, grilled onions, cucumber, and mixed greens that’s lovingly paired with russet fries.
Real Food Daily
Los Angeles, CA
What you’re getting: Not-Chos and Caribbean quesadillas
This LA resto doesn’t just serve innovative plant-based cuisine, they serve innovative plant-based cuisine exclusively using organically farmed foods. Opened by Ann Gentry, who once was Danny DeVito’s personal chef (but not Schwarzenegger’s, despite their familial bond), RFD’s gourmet offerings include Not-Chos with cashew cheese, pico, black beans, tofu sour cream & guac and quesadillas with coconut-lentil puree, spinach, caramelized onions, and pepper jack. Wash it all down with any of their primo lemonades.
What you’re getting: The Gobi Manchurian or the sweet potato quesadilla
Stuffed inside a rather restaurant-heavy corridor of an unassuming Boston suburb, you’ll find Red Lentil, and while the rest of the block is filled to the brim with wing joints and pizza places, you’ll inevitably find yourself lured to Red Lentil’s front door by the crowds outside and the aromas of their killer seasonal offerings. A friendly neighborhood restaurant with a menu of vegetarian dishes from all over the world, Red Lentil’s a favorite for its legendary “Gobi Manchurian”, consisting of fried cauliflower in a sweet & spicy tomato sauce, and for its brunch, which’ll be so sweet to you that you’ll forget all about how that deadbeat bacon broke your heart.
What you’re getting: Salt roasted golden beets, braciole, and fingerling fries
At this higher-end Philly veg heaven, prices might be a bit steep and portions small, but it remains a must-visit all the same, thanks to their mission of translating the carnivorous palate into herbivore fare with widespread appeal. Their plates are perfect for sharing and each bite promises a serious flavor experience, from salt-roasted beets with avocado, smoked tofu, rye, capers, and creamy cucumber to the veg version of braciole made from smoked eggplant & cauliflower, Italian salsa verde, and olive puree. But if you don’t feel like coughing up the dough for dinner, stop by at happy hour when you can snag drinks like a Tomato Tom Collins accompanied by eats like a Korean seitan taco and fried kimchi potato salad.
What you’re getting: Protein 2000 soybean nuggets in sweet brown sauce with broccoli
Within jaywalking distance of the University of Texas, Veggie Heaven has won over the hearts and mouths of vegans and meat eaters alike thanks to an affordable menu of flavorful Asian cuisine peppered with meat substitutes you won’t find anywhere else. You can score a fusion-y faux-beef quesadilla for under $5, but the real move is their Protein 2000: crispy fried hunks of soybean with a strong resemblance to McNuggets. And don’t be surprised to see a steady stream of homeless people walking through the doors — the owners are fervent Falun Dafa Buddhists and offer free spicy tofu to anyone in need.
San Antonio, TX
What you’re getting: Vegan nachos, Road Trip Burger, sun-dried tomato & sweet potato enchiladas
Specializing in veganized Tex-Mex, Vegeria also happens to be the only all-vegan/gluten-free resto in San Antonio. If you’re with a group, go to town on the vegan nachos topped with queso, taco filling, pico, guac, and homemade avocado ranch. Or you can acknowledge your Texan surroundings by ordering the sun-dried tomato & sweet potato enchiladas smothered in homemade red cashew cream and shredded cheese.
Zen Vegetarian House
What you’re getting: Chicken nuggets, boneless ribs, mango soy protein
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, this is the place to go to get your hands (and forks and spoons) on all the things you miss since going meatless. More of a take-out joint than a sit-down spot (though you can sit), with speedy delivery, prices here are slightly steeper than you’re average Chinese take-out, but with damn good reason. Start off with the soy chicken nuggets which are panko-breaded, deliciously crispy, and served with an Asian fusion BBQ sauce, but sticking to one appetizer is lame, so if you feel a deep, dark void where wonton soup used to be, you know what to do. The ‘tons taste so authentic, you’ll find yourself wondering if they really are vegetarian. Faux-meat can be tricky, but their meat substitute game is strong, especially when it comes to the mango soy protein which really does taste just like chicken and is bold and flavorful with tons of fresh mango chunks, as well as the boneless ribs, which are the perfect texture with the sweet & smoky sauce that tastes just like you remembered. Being in this place’s delivery zone is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Bonus Editor’s Pick:
Veggie Grill Various locations, CA, OR & WA
What you’re getting: The BTLA, the Mondo Nachos, and at least one dessert
As much as we usually don’t like including spots with multiple locations, we couldn’t ignore VG, whom we’ve long touted for their amazing magician-like abilities to appeal to vegetarian and non-vegetarians alike with their sandwiches (they come kale style too, y’all) like the tempeh bacon & avocado BTLA and the Buffalo Bomber; innovative bowls (try the new Latin Succotash immediately); and the fact that you never really feel like you’re making some sort of a sacrifice by going there. It also doesn’t hurt that we would eat their Mondo Nachos EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.