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Foodie Finds | AAA World
Four Top Cities for Vegan & Vegetarian Dining

SUGGESTIONS FOR PLANT-BASED DINING IN CHICAGO, LAS VEGAS, ORLANDO AND WASHINGTON, DC

As greater numbers of people are opting to forego meat—if not fully, then at least on a regular basis—plant-based dining options are expanding in many cities across the US. Some 10 percent of Americans, or about 16.5 million people, eat vegetarian or vegan diets, according to January 2022 research by nonprofit independent news organization The Conversation. And numerous studies show that numbers are significantly higher among younger generations. Research company Statista, for example, found in 2020 that among the Gen Z and Millennial population, 61 percent of women and 34 percent of men are vegetarians.

While New York and Los Angeles remain the top cities for vegan and vegetarian dining, chefs across the country are bringing tasty plant-based dining to cities from Las Vegas to Washington, DC—and lots of places in between. Here are four vegan and vegetarian dining scenes currently garnering attention.
  
Chef T and Chef NasyaChefs Tsadakeeyah and Nasya Emmanuel Photo by Natalie Perkins

CHICAGO
Known into the mid-20th century as Hog Butcher to the World, Chicago might seem a surprising place to have vegan appeal, but the Windy City has some real plant-based dining cred.

For a high-end vegan dining experience, look to Althea, which offers globally inspired organic fare along with spectacular views from atop Saks Fifth Avenue on the Magnificent Mile, recommends Natalie Slater, unofficial Chicago vegan food ambassador and author of Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans. Althea comes courtesy of celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, who has dozens of vegetable-focused restaurants around the world, from Boston to Bahrain.
 
Mac Cheese Soul BowlMac & Cheese Soul Bowl. Photo courtesy of Natalie Perkins  
  
“You’ll find some really great vegan and vegetarian options on almost every fine dining menu in the city,” Slater says, “and quite a few of the downtown hotels that offer high tea now provide vegan high tea as well.”


If your dining group includes “mixed company,” as Slater calls it, check out the three Chicago “Goat” restaurants by Chef Stephanie Izard: The Girl and the Goat, Little Goat and Duck Duck Goat. “All of Izard’s restaurants have a menu for meat eaters as well as a full vegetarian menu with 15 to 20 options on it, and most of those dishes can be prepared vegan,” Slater says.

For more casual dining for brunch, lunch or dinner, Slater recommends Caribbean restaurant Casa Yari. Alice & Friends’ Vegan Kitchen features Korean-inspired vegan dishes—plus some incredible desserts. On Chicago’s South Side, try vegan soul food restaurant Majani led by Chefs Tsadakeeyah Ben Emmanuel and Nasya Emmanuel. For scrumptious vegan desserts, head to the bakery Pie, Pie My Darling in West Town.
  
diana Edelman
Diana Edelman. Photo by Becca Fritz

LAS VEGAS
“A lot of people come to Vegas thinking they’re not going to find vegan food, but actually, there’s an abundance of it,” says Diana Edelman, author of The Las Vegas Vegan Dining Guide and founder of Vegans, Baby, a business that aims to make vegan dining more approachable.

This past spring saw the opening of Crossroads Kitchen at Resorts World, the first fully plant-based fine dining on the Strip. Crossroads Las Vegas’ managing partner is Tal Ronnen, who originated Crossroads in Los Angeles in 2012; Chef Paul Zlatos helms the kitchen in Vegas.

Truffle Mushroom Bianca PizzaTruffle mushroom bianca pizza from Crossroads Las Vegas.

For a decidedly different experience, try dining in the dark at BLACKOUT, where the staff—outfitted in night-vision goggles—serve a seven-course prix-fixe plant-based meal. Eating in the dark is said to heighten the other senses for greater sensory enjoyment.

You can take a vegan or vegetarian food tour around the world with the variety of restaurants you’ll find in Las Vegas. For Japanese fare, Edelman recommends.

ChikyĆ« Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya, where the all-vegan eats include sushi, tempura, ramen and more. Chef Kenny Chye brings Chinese vegan food to Vegas with two namesake restaurants: Chef Kenny’s Asian Vegan Restaurant and Chef Kenny’s Vegan Dim Sum.

Edelman praises SoyMexican and Tacotarian for their plant-based Mexican favorites, with the latter boasting “the largest selection of vegan tacos in the universe.” At POTs, you’ll find vegan versions of Egyptian street food. Think cauliflower shawarma, falafel samosas and the Egyptian staple koshari, a naturally vegan dish made with rice, lentils, pasta, chickpeas, tomato sauce and fried onions.
  
Ice CreamMarie Mercado. Photo courtesy of Greenery Creamery

ORLANDO, FLORIDA
The Theme Park Capital of the World ranks second overall on Wallet Hub’s 2021 list of Best Cities for Vegetarians and Vegans, right behind Portland, Oregon. Orlando gets a boost from the diversity, accessibility and quality of its plant-based food.

“What’s great about Orlando is you can find vegan and vegetarian dining in all price ranges,” says Marie Mercado, founder of The Greenery Creamery in Orlando and Sanford, Florida, where about 50 percent of the ice creams on the menu are vegan. “Everyone is trying to offer at least one to five plant-based meals as part of their menu. One of my favorite vegan meals here in Orlando is actually at a steakhouse. Kres Chop House has a three-course vegan meal with several options for the appetizer, entrée and dessert.
 
Mercado also likes the food at Hungry Pants, a casual restaurant (decorated with, you guessed it, pants) that has a few meat items on its primarily vegetarian and vegan menu. Ethos Vegan Kitchen, among the first vegan restaurants in Central Florida when it opened in 2007, repeatedly wins first-place awards for vegan and vegetarian dining from the Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Magazine.

Vegan restaurant Leguminati is known for inventive pressed sandwiches so good that it appeals to diners of all types, not just vegans. Jacked Up Vegan, a popular food truck, now has a permanent spot at the Winter Park Collective, and the Pizza Nova there just introduced vegan pizzas.

Be sure also to check out the Orlando Vegan Market, which operates every other Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and every other Wednesday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Veranda at Thornton Park.

Chef Rob Rubba. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

WASHINGTON, DC
One of DC’s newest plant-based restaurants, Oyster Oyster was named a Finalist for Best New Restaurant in the US by the James Beard Foundation this past spring. It followed up that prestigious honor with a Michelin star for Founder and Chef Rob Rubba.

The restaurant is named for both oysters from the sea and oyster mushrooms, a nod to the food heritage of the Chesapeake Bay and the farms of the Mid-Atlantic. The nine-course tasting menu typically features one sea oyster dish—with a vegetarian version for those who don’t eat seafood. While oyster mushrooms aren’t always on the menu, other tasty, nutritious and highly sustainable mushrooms are. Cultivated and foraged mushrooms of many varieties might be the centerpiece of one or more courses, and they’re an ingredient in many others.
  
Oyster Oyster’s kohlrabi with turnips, apple, seaweed emulsion and cilantro. Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez

A trailblazer when it opened in 2018 as DC’s first fully vegan restaurant, Fancy Radish is co-owned by Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby. Both James Beard-nominated chefs, Landau and Jacoby continue to work full time at their acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant Vedge. David Gravenmier, former sous chef at Vedge, heads up the kitchen at Fancy Radish.

“We pull a lot of dishes from Vedge for our menu at Fancy Radish, but we also do street food reinterpreted as vegan,” Landau says. “And there’s always a radish dish on the menu. We have one that’s a beautiful Japanese presentation with soy sauce, yuzu and avocado; it’s a kind of ode to sushi.”

DC’s abundance of vegetarian dining options is due in large part to the diversity of its population. “DC has one of the best Ethiopian communities, and their cuisine is naturally vegan or vegetarian,” Rubba says. “Family Ethiopian Restaurant and Habesha are two standouts.”

Rubba also praises DC’s Thip Khao, a James Beard-honored Laotian restaurant, and Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in nearby Alexandria.

Landau points to the vegetarian and vegan options at multiple José Andrés restaurants in the capital, particularly the Mediterranean fare at Zaytinya. He also recommends Cambodian-Taiwanese-inspired Maketto. “It has some of the best Asian food you can get anywhere, and half the menu is vegan, so it’s just a joy to eat there,” he says.