Food & Drink

Where to Get the Best Vegetarian Meals in Memphis

Published On 11/09/2015 Published On 11/09/2015
Fuel Cafe
Courtesy of Fuel Cafe

Apparently there’s something called “Meatless Monday,” and hey, maybe you’re doing that. Maybe you’re on a sans-meat kick for health, or perhaps you simply prefer a plant-based diet for ethical or other purposes. Whatever your reason, it’s never a bad thing to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, and despite Memphis being a BBQ mecca, there’s plenty of palatable places serving excellent dishes that skip the meat but never the flavor.

Courtesy of Vegan Crunk

Pho Binh

Midtown

For less than $10, Pho Binh offers an all-you-can-eat tofu buffet during the weekday lunch hour, making this quaint mom-and-pop Vietnamese joint a favorite among Midtown hipsters and artists. But you’re best off trading those skinny jeans for stretch pants when dining at Pho Binh, as it’s nearly impossible not to overeat the crisp, deep-fried lemongrass tofu or creamy, coconut-based yellow curry tofu. After the lunch hour, the same delectable tofu dishes from the buffet (and plenty more) can be ordered from the massive menu.

Two Vegan Sistas

Bartlett

As the name implies, this Bartlett eatery is run by two sisters who happen to be vegan. In their small storefront cafe, the sisters offer a menu of mostly raw, totally plant-based meals in a suburban area of town not exactly known as a hub for vegetarian options. Their raw cashew burger -- served on a sprouted grain bun or a lettuce leaf, depending on your preference -- comes dressed with ketchup, mustard, and onions, and offers a healthier alternative to a greasy meat burger. The raw desserts -- nut and carob-based “Oreos” and raw vegan cheesecake (made with cashews) -- are chock-full of flavor and 100% guilt-free.

Courtesy of Vegan Crunk

New Hong Kong

East Memphis

You may not think this tiny hole-in-the-wall grab-and-go has much to offer for vegetarians when you first glance at the menu posted above the counter. But there’s a secret vegetarian menu (just ask!) loaded with mock-meat Chinese dishes made free of eggs, dairy, and other animal products. The deep-fried mock chicken or breaded mock beef come prepared in similar ways to their meaty counterparts -- sesame-style, sweet & sour, General Tso’s, etc. There’s also a very realistically textured vegan shrimp on the menu that could fool any omnivore. The mock special fried rice -- loaded with vegan ham, mock chicken, and other faux meats -- is a great way to sample your way through New Hong Kong’s offerings.

Midtown Crossing

Midtown

This crosstown pizza parlor and sandwich shop offers several vegetarian pizzas and sandwiches -- as well as vegan options -- in a laid-back neighborhood bar environment. The Artist Pizza (a local fave) is made with tomato jam, chevre, mozzarella, and caramelized onions. Vegan mozzarella cheese is an option for any pizza, or go off-menu and build your own. The hummus flatbread with olives and arugula is a great cheese-free option. There’s also a vegan banh mi with marinated tofu, house-made red bean hummus, and pickled veggies on a crusty baguette. Midtown Crossing hosts weekly events, such as stand-up comedy shows, singer-songwriter performances, and art openings, so chances are you might get some entertainment with your pizza.

Courtesy of Trolley Stop Market

Trolley Stop Market

Edge District

Farmers-turned-restaurant owners Keith and Jill Forrester bring many of the ingredients used at Trolley Stop from nearby Whitton Farms, where they grow their own produce and herbs. The restaurant sits adjacent to Memphis’ trolley line on Madison Ave and has become known for its meals made from scratch with locally sourced fixings. There’s an entire menu section devoted to herbivores and among the mouthwatering options there’s the Margherita pizza -- fresh mozz, basil, and tomatoes cooked to bubbly, melty perfection atop homemade dough. Vegan cheese is available by request.

Blue Nile Ethiopian Kitchen

Midtown

A family-run restaurant headed by owner Ermyias Shiberou (whose first foray into feeding Memphians was via his kabob food truck, Stickem), Blue Nile offers an authentic Ethiopian dining experience. The Veggie Platter includes yellow split pea wat (stew), mesir wat (red lentil stew), ye'tikil gomen (stewed cabbage), sautéed kale, potatoes & carrots, and salad, all served on spongy injera.

Courtesy of Fuel Cafe

Fuel Cafe

Midtown

Housed in a former gas station, Fuel offers an array of vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, including one hell of a house-made veggie burger. For an out-of-the-ordinary dining experience, try the vegetarian “Salisbury steak” TV dinner or the vegetarian walnut meatloaf. The latter is served with smashed potatoes, and the plate gets a nice dose of leek and mushroom gravy. 

The Cosmic Coconut

The Cosmic Coconut

East Memphis

Cosmic Coconut specializes in fresh juices and smoothies, but if you’re looking for a heartier (and still good-for-you) meal, try the cauliflower tempeh buffalo wrap. Roasted cauliflower and protein-packed tempeh are tossed with hot wing sauce and combined with kale in a grilled wrap that’s served with house-made cashew ranch for dipping. The wrap is also available as a salad.

DeJaVu

Downtown

Offering a taste of New Orleans in Memphis, DeJaVu dishes out authentic Creole classics, like gumbo and etouffee. Also on the menu are gator bites, which are made with, you guessed it, alligator meat. But meatless options abound. Among them is the New Orleans-style portabello & sun-dried tomato pasta. Penne pasta swims in a rich tomato basil sauce, topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, garlic, onions, and bell peppers. BBQ or curry tofu is on offer on the meat-and-two platter, and all veggie sides (collard greens, candied yams, fried cabbage, etc.) at DeJaVu are prepared without meat.

Imagine Vegan Cafe

Imagine Vegan Cafe

Cooper-Young

The folks at Imagine use vegan substitutes to make classic Southern comfort dishes, like Dogs ‘n Blankets and fried chicken. For brunch, there’s the Memphis Slam: two open-faced biscuits served with tofu scramble, “sausage,” gravy, and “cheese.” Lunch or dinner: the Big Smack, a veganized version of a Big Mac. For this delicious monster, two Gardein Beefless Burger patties sizzle on a seasoned griddle pan before being stacked between layers of dairy-free buns, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion, and of course, homemade special sauce. 

The Crazy Noodle

Midtown

At this crazy-good Korean noodle shop, every dish is made to order, so be prepared to wait. But it’s so worth it -- when that hot pot of steaming, flavor-packed noodle soup hits your table, you’ll know why. Any of the noodle bowls can be made without meat and with vegetable broth as a base. A menu favorite, the Mandou ramen includes delicious homemade dumplings, gently cooked veggies, and a sprinkling of seaweed flakes. For an appetizer, get the Veggie Jean (mini mixed-vegetable pancakes of sorts). 

Sarah Williams/Thrillist

RP Tracks

University District

Just around the corner from the University of Memphis, this college bar is serving up a vegetarian standby with a Memphis spin: fried tofu doused with homemade barbecue sauce. Available on a sandwich, in a burrito or quesadilla, or even better -- on nachos, with all the usual glorious nacho accoutrements. Tofu never tasted so good.

Evelyn & Olive

Edge District

The Jamaican-inspired menu at Evelyn & Olive boasts a variety of vegetarian-friendly items. Try the black bean tacos: hard-shell tacos stuffed with tofu, black beans, and kiwi salsa, served alongside rice & pigeon peas, and a cucumber tomato salad. Among the other tasty meatless options is the Rasta Pasta: broccoli, sweet peppers, garlic, black beans, and Jamaican herbs & spices are all sautéed in olive oil, tossed with fettuccine, and topped with parmesan.

Courtesy of Pink Diva

Pink Diva Cupcakery & Cuisine

Downtown

Don’t let the name fool you -- this vegan cupcake shop serves up more than just sweet treats. At Pink Diva’s lunch service, customers can choose between BBQ tofu platters, veggie-packed pasta dishes, or indulge in a helping of “totchos” (think nachos, but with tater tots instead of chips). But you’ll really want to save room for dessert here. All of the cupcakes that owner Cassi Conyers bakes are completely vegan. They’re essentially guilt-free. Except for the fact that they’re still cupcakes. Totally worth it though.

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Sarah Williams is a freelance writer for Thrillist who isn’t vegetarian but knows who’s got the goods. She’d eat a spicy noodle bowl from Crazy Noodle every day if that wasn’t, well, crazy.

Katie Smith is a writer for Thrillist who has probably eaten her weight in lemongrass tofu from Pho Binh.

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1. Pho Binh 1615 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

You had us at “all-you-can-eat tofu buffet.” This bare-bones Midtown spot serves up affordable Vietnamese eats, and while the usual suspects like shrimp spring rolls à la peanut sauce and pork glass noodles remain staples on the menu, Pho Binh is especially popular amongst local vegetarians: whether you opt for the lemongrass tofu or vegetable pho, the vast meatless offerings are entirely satisfactory. It’s a beloved hole-in-the-wall that won’t burn a hole in your pocket, so swing through during weekday lunches to get your fix.

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2. Two Vegan Sistas 6343 Summer Ave Ste 110, Memphis, TN 38134

This colorful, sit-down spot is a haven for neighborhood vegans, serving up platters of completely vegan, "80% live (cooked below 118 degrees)" food, in tried-and-true forms, like burgers, spaghetti, dumplings, and salads. And for those less inclined to endure the wait expected at vegan restaurants, Two Vegan Sistas also offers the option of delivery and a variety of meal plans.

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3. New Hong Kong 1979 S 3rd St, Memphis, TN 38109

Hidden in an otherwise unremarkable shopping center, this mom-and-pop restaurant offers all your standard spiced and sauced Chinese fare, as well as a treasure trove of more than 30 vegan options, which you need simply request (they're not readily available). The deep-fried mock chicken is prepared just like its "real" counterpart, while the fried rice, which comes with a sampling of all the faux proteins, might be a delicious way to sample a bit of all the vegan offerings.

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4. Midtown Crossing Grill 394 N Watkins St, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

Far from your average pizzeria-sandwich dive, the pies at Midtown Crossing serve up some serious flavor. Expect the usual fare -- barbecue-smoked chicken wings (it’s Memphis, lest you forget) and BLT’s -- with the added twist that meatless substitutions are available for bites like potato skins, bahn mi sandwiches, and most importantly, “The Artist,” sporting vegan mozzarella, tomato jam, and caramelized onions. Come for the food, stay for the community stand-up nights.

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5. Trolley Stop Market 704 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Trolley Stop’s daily pies are developed by pizza masters and local farmers Jill & Keith Forrester. Trolley's farm-to-table toppings include tons of vegan and vegetarian options. Go for the Margherita pie with super-fresh tomatoes, big tangy chunks of mozzarella, and fresh basil. Also in store are a wide variety of locally made artisan goods.

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6. Blue Nile 1798 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (Midtown)

A friendly and authentic cultural hub in Midtown, Blue Nile's plating seriously savory Ethiopian fare, with its vegetarian platter as a standout. The assorted myriad of goodies features a spicy lentil salad, beets, cabbage, potatoes, and more. StickEm Food Truck's savory grilled meat kebabs are another winner. Get 'em with plenty of injera for the table.

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7. Fuel Cafe 1761 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

We've got taco trucks and authentic Mexican restaurants up and down Summer Ave, so finding a cheap taco is not hard. However, should you want veggie tacos that are so good non vegetarians line up to order them, then track down Fuel Truck's current location. Made with fresh tortillas gently glued together with cheese, its signature veggie burger patties, and a load of toppings, an order of two is a meal in itself. Go ahead, add the fresh avocado for an additional buck (chicken and bison tacos are also available).

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8. Cosmic Coconut 5101 Sanderlin Ave Ste 104B, Memphis, TN 38117 (East Memphis)

This East Memphis juice bar and health food cafe specializes in fresh juices and smoothies, but if you’re looking for a heartier (still good for you) meal, be sure try the bean and grain burrito. Friendly staff and the chill digs make it a solid spot to take a load off and replenish yourself an "Avocalada" detox smoothie while you browse the web and luxuriate in their spacious seating.

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9. DeJAVU 51 S Main St, Memphis, TN 38103 (Downtown)

Bringing a bit of New Orleans flair to Memphis, DeJAVU creates authentic Cajun cuisine. No soul food-driven menu would be complete without gumbo, gator bites, and piquant étouffée, but what sets this Downtown eatery apart is its equally flavorsome vegetarian options (pro tip: try the barbecue tofu or the portabella and sun-dried tomato pasta). Situated in a casual joint of exposed brick and Mardi Gras décor, it’s a popular haunt for locals and visitors alike.

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10. Imagine Vegan Cafe 2299 Young Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104 (Cooper Young)

This family owned and operated cafe in Cooper-Young offers hearty (and meat-free) fare out of a bungalow style space. Comfort food favorites like pizza, barbecue sandwiches, and burgers get the vegan treatment courtesy of seitan, tempeh, and tofu, yet still manage to taste like the real thing. The creamy vegan mac and cheese is a standout.

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11. Crazy Noodle 2015 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38104

Serving up what many call the best Korean food in Memphis, this shop slings noodles, as well as hot pots, soups, and traditional appetizers. While the menu isn't holistic, it prepares each of its selections (like jap-chae and jja-jang noodles) in an authentic manner, serving them in a trendy, graffiti-painted space that one-ups the neighboring Kwik Chek's low-key atmosphere.

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12. R. P. Tracks 3547 Walker Ave, Memphis, TN 38111 (University District)

University of Memphis mainstain R.P. Tracks delivers on all the college bar staples, like large TVs, pool tables, and a large food menu to appease all tastes. Particularly of note is the fried tofu with homemade barbecue sauce, available on a sandwich, in a burrito, or on nachos, with all the usual cheesy nacho accoutrements.

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13. Evelyn & Olive Restaurant and Wine Bar 630 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

A stark black-washed brick facade announcing "LOVE. FOOD. MUSIC. SOUL" in box office style jolts strollers into this Jamaican restaurant, where a menu of generously portioned and colorfully plated Jamaican bites (like jerk chicken and catfish and grits) await. Unlike the front, the interior space is bright red and furnished with a bar and colorful four-tops that host mellow evening dinners throughout the whole week.

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14. Pink Diva Cupcakery 936 Florida St, Memphis, TN 38106 (Downtown)

The first vegan cupcakery in Memphis, Pink Diva offers frosted treats to please the egg-, dairy-, peanut-, and walnut-averse masses. The Barbie doll pink and lime green-dressed shop has tables, so you can enjoy a full meal (fried rice, chicken and waffles, and mac 'n cheese are on offer) along with your dessert.

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