It’s a great time to be a vegan in America. With more health studies revealing the negative impact of meat consumption on our environment and our bodies, a growing number of consumers are gravitating towards more plant-centric diets — and the restaurant industry is definitely taking notice.
“A vast number of people are seeking to reduce their meat intake, creating a rapidly growing market for all things vegetarian,” Bill Harper, vice president and publisher of Vegetarian Times, explained.
Eric Pierce, director of strategy and insights at New Hope Media seems to agree, telling audience members at the Natural Products Expo West, “the reality is we are beginning to see a lot of opportunity that might not have been obvious at the beginning.” Pierce also believes that most of the shift isn’t coming from vegans themselves, but rather meat-eaters who are cutting back.
Indeed, with everything from plant-based bacon to vegan cheese making its way onto restaurant menus all over the country, there’s no doubt that vegan eats are going mainstream. PETA even dubbed 2016 as the “Year of the Vegan.” What’s more, Foodable Labs data showed 11.2 million plant-based or vegan menu mentions on social media within the last four months, and an impressive 81.24 average food sentiment on vegan menus.
Still, not all vegan options are created equal, and there are a handful of destinations that are quickly becoming known for vegan and vegetarian dining. Let’s take a closer look at which cities reign supreme among plant lovers.
With great weather and the availability of fresh produce year-round, it comes as no surprise that Los Angeles is a favorite destination for vegans. In fact, Happy Cow, a website that lists vegan and vegetarian restaurants, turns up an impressive 60 vegan dining establishments in the city, ranging from small cafes in food stores to full blown special occasion restaurants. Some favorites include Gracias Madre, featuring a plant-based Mexican menu with items like nopales salad and grilled corn cakes; Seed Kitchen, a casual eatery just blocks from the Venice Beach boardwalk; and Kippy’s, specializing in vegan ice cream made with ingredients like organic coconut cream, fresh fruit and unheated honey.
If the title of “America’s Vegan Mecca” were an official thing, we’re pretty sure it’d go to Portland, OR. All it takes is one quick glance on Happy Cow, which turned up over 200 vegetarian restaurants here, to confirm that meat-shunners have no problem when it comes to dining out in this town. From Farm Spirit, specializing in locally-sourced modernist cuisine; to Blossoming Lotus, serving up options like butternut squash tacos and a lentil-walnut burger; there’s something for every taste. Cheese lovers won’t want to miss Vtopia, known for its wide selection of hand-crafted cashew cheeses. It also has a full-service restaurant offering macaroni and cheese, soups, salads, paninis, and cheese platters. “I love Vtpoia,” boasted one Yelp reviewer. “I can't recommend this place enough! If you love cheese but are lactose intolerant, fear no more! Vtopia is here!”
Just a stone’s throw away from Portland, Seattle is also making a name for itself as a hot spot for vegan dining. With 81 vegan/vegetarian restaurant options turning up on Happy Cow, it’s easy to see why this city snagged a spot on PETA's "Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Cities of 2016" and The Daily Meal’s 2015 list of “Great American Cities for Vegans.” Some of the favorites: Juicebox, specializing in vegetable-focused dishes and organic cold-pressed juices; Veggie Grill, serving up plant-based comfort foods like Uptown Nachos, BBQ-kicked Chill Out Wings, and the spicy Bayou Chickin' Sandwich; and Vegan Pizza Pi, offering a full menu of meatless pizza options. Thai-lovers will want to check out Wedgewood II on East Broadway, serving up a full menu of vegetarian options like tofu stir fry and pad thai.
You really can’t have a list of food-centric cities without mentioning New York. Topping the list when it comes to any type of cuisine, great food isn’t hard to come by in The Big Apple, and vegan/vegetarian cuisine here is no different. At Candlelit Cafe on the Upper East Side, plant lovers can indulge in menu items like grilled Seitan skewers; a chipotle tofu club with vegan mayo and balsamic-drizzle; or a delicious mesclun salad. Over in Chelsea, meanwhile, Blossom offers a wide selection of eggless pastas and mock meats that are good enough to impress even the biggest meat lovers. Feeling a little creative? Head on over to Dirt Candy, known for its inventive meat-free dishes like jalapeño hush puppies, radish ravioli, and Brussels Sprouts tacos. “There is simply no way to describe the stupendous and astonishing taste, creativity, and just the way the flavors flow together in these innovative dishes,” said one Yelp reviewer.
Who knew the Motor City would ever become a hot destination for vegans and vegetarians. But thanks to cheap real estate and urban farming, Detroit is experiencing a food renaissance, with a plethora of eclectic dining options popping up all over the city. Detroit was even recognized by CNN Traveler as one of the “World’s Hottest Destinations For Vegans.” Some of the city’s most notable plant-based eateries include Detroit Vegan Soul, putting its own healthier spin on American soul food; and Russell Street Deli, serving up plenty of meat-free soups and sandwiches. Diners with a sweet tooth will definitely want to head over to Sweet Magnolias, offering a wide selection of vegan cupcakes, including Lychee Fruit, Carrot, Raspberry Burst and Matcha Green Tea.