Lower East Side
Ask 100 people to name a vegetarian-friendly restaurant in MKE, and 99 of them will say Beans & Barley. It's an institution in the city, located on a prime spot of North Ave since 1979. You can eat in, grab a vegetable curry to go from the deli case, or even do a little grocery shopping while you're there. Homemade soups, vegetarian chili, and the sweet potato & black bean burrito are perennial favorites.
The co-op serves as a corner store that's full of local, natural, and fair-trade goods, and doubles as a really rad little cafe that's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All food on the menu is vegetarian, and it can all be made vegan, too. Seitan, tempeh, and tofu are staples here, but you can get them in non-boring preps like crispy "chicken"-fried tofu, tempeh Reubens, and Korean barbecued tofu topping off a bibimbap bowl.
The menu at Casablanca is more Middle Eastern than Moroccan, so vegetarians will have no problem finding something on the menu. You can get hummus, falafel, couscous, stuffed grape leaves, and salads of all types, but those in the know go for the buffet. It's totally vegetarian every day except Sunday.
Attention vegetarians looking for a more upscale, trendy experience: Odd Duck has your back. The menu will always have just about the same amount of vegetarian small plates as carnivorous -- and don't forget about the cheese selections. Each plate is a little work of art, and dishes change constantly with product that's fresh and available. On any given night, you may find sweet corn fritters with chow chow, watermelon, and tomato gazpacho, or Sichuan cauliflower.
Lower East Side
The comfort food haven of Comet Cafe is always willing to cradle vegetarians in its warm embrace. Vegan "ribs" might be a little mysterious, but they're beer-battered and deep-fried, so who cares? The Buttafuoco sandwich is a classic melt, with tomato, onion, herbs, cheese, and hot giardiniera for kick. It helps that breakfast is served until mid-afternoon, so you can still cure that hangover at 2pm.
This all-vegetarian cafe offers sandwiches, panini, some tacos, and a couple of pasta dishes, but the focus is on crepes, filled with everything from sweets like fruit and Nutella to savory options like an Asian vegetable & herb slaw that tastes similar to an eggroll filling. Like all good cafes, Beerline lets you wash it all down with coffees, smoothies, and juices, all in a calm setting complete with plant walls.
Ethiopian food is known internationally as an especially vegetarian-friendly cuisine. While Alem serves meat, but the vegetarian portion of the menu is long and varied. If you're new to Ethiopian food, try a sampler platter (for one or two people) that includes 10 vegetarian options, all served on and with injera, a spongy flatbread made from teff. There's also a vegetarian lunch buffet during the week, so you can sample even more options and pick your favorites.
Don't be fooled by the Styrofoam plates and dirt-cheap prices at this veg-only Indian spot: the spice blends in the curries are sophisticated and perfectly balanced. The menu here is huge, especially considering it's just a small counter service restaurant, with everything from masala dosa to aloo saag. We dare you to walk out without getting at least three of the desserts from the refrigerated sweets case.
The vegetarian options at Cafe Corazon go way beyond the typical, boring cheese quesadilla (OK, you can get one, but come on, live a little). Of course there's guac and chips & salsa, but there's also soy chorizo wet burritos, vegan mushroom ragout, and tofu fajitas. Not to mention the margaritas and micheladas that also happen to be meat-free...
The newest kid on the block, Hello Falafel is from the veggie lovers behind Odd Duck and has only been open for a few months. It's a fast-casual spot that serves up fried chickpea balls dressed four different ways, with condiments and toppings like beet spread, goat cheese, and cucumber salad. Fresh juices, lentil soup, and pita fattoush round out the menu.
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1. Beans and Barley1901 E North Ave, Milwaukee
2. Riverwest Co-Op and Cafe733 E Clarke St, Milwaukee
3. Casablanca728 E Brady St, Milwaukee
4. Odd Duck2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee
5. Comet Cafe1947 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee
6. Beerline Cafe2076 N Commerce St, Milwaukee
7. Alem Ethiopian Village307 E Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee
8. Bombay Sweets3401 South 13th St, Milwaukee
9. Corazon3129 N Bremen St, Milwaukee
10. Hello Falafel2301 S Howell Ave, Milwaukee
This cavernous multifunctional space caters to the health needs of the greater Milwaukee population, squeezing into one location a health food store stocked with locally made jams and fresh produce, a deli, and a cafe that appeases vegan and carnivore tastes alike. After choosing from a plant-heavy menu (with options like a chicken pine nut sandwich and a smoked provolone and roasted tomato sandwich), diners can sit in a room designed with floor-to-ceiling windows that fill the air with vibrancy and welcoming warmth.
Located on a quiet street in Riverwest, this cramped co-op proves that if the product is fresh and high-quality, cluttered presentation will do nothing to deter shoppers. Indeed, the first half of this space faces out like a freshly discovered treasure trove of grocery goods (milk, cereal, spices, etc), all sourced from local and independent vendors. The second half -- the cafe -- is also on the smaller side (with just six tables), but draws crowds with a vegan menu that offers varied options like biscuits and gravy, bi bim bop, and a ranchero plate, all of which can be enjoyed in a sunny patio outside.
Done up with red walls, sheer red curtains, and a second-floor outdoor patio, Casablanca gives you opulent reason to try a higher-end take on your favorite Middle Eastern dishes. The entrees are recognizable, but execution is two steps beyond your usual take-out falafel shop's; expect fragrant orders of beef shawarma, baba ghanoush, and stuffed grape leaves, which you can finish off with a hookah lounging session on one of their plush couches.
Odd Duck in Bay View stands out for consistently delivering creative flavor combinations contained in small plates on an ever-changing menu. It serves a variety of vegan options suitable even to carnivores, and their cocktails rarely disappoint. This place is incredibly popular, so reservations are recommended.
This East Side establishment may have gained national recognition through the bacon-wrapped meatloaf at the center of Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" segment, but vegan and vegetarian dishes (like a vegan salisbury steak or gyro) on the other side of the health spectrum are also renown. Though a wait is to be expected, cozy booths, warm lighting, and hipster inclinations (surely encouraged by higher-than-average noise levels) make it a popular destination for groups.
This eco-friendly vegetarian spot, in tropical digs, is known for its creative crepes. Favorites include the classic breakfast (roasted rosemary potatoes, tempeh bacon, eggs, and cheese), strawberry vanilla cream cheese, and the assortment of grab 'n' go breakfast options.
At this completely vegan Ethiopian restaurant, diners are encouraged to eat using their hands -- using the traditional, wafer-thin, sourdoughey pancake made of teff -- to scoop up ingredients like marinated eggplant, chickpeas, collard greens, and cabbage. To contribute to an even more authentic experience, tables are covered with Ethiopian rugs and other decor, and honey wine is on offer.
Bombay Sweets prepares massive quantities of savory, sweet, vegetarian Indian fare, like masala samosas, dosas, and more than a dozen varieties of curry. The prices are locally renowned for being bafflingly low, but the restaurant compensates for affordability with a barebones hyper-casual space, and use of styrofoam plates.
Tacos, burritos, and tostadas are always available at this friendly joint, and famously served with eggs or stuffed with chorizo at Mexican-inspired brunch -- all local and fresh from the owners' family farm. The space seats nearly 100 guests, which, in addition to an outdoor patio and vegan options (like soy chorizo), makes this casual restaurant a fit for pickier groups.
The owners of small plate heaven Odd Duck bring you this Mediterranean fast casual spot, which offers mostly -- what else -- falafel. There are four different ways to dress your crunchy little chickpea balls, from classic hummus and pickled vegetables to sabih with charred eggplant spread, hard boiled egg, tahini, and cucumber salad. Charred halloumi cheese, lentil soup, fattoush, and fresh juice blends round out the menu.