After celebrating the excess of the holiday season, New Year’s resolution season kicks in, hopefully setting up healthy habits to carry through the following 12 months. In New Orleans, attempts to exert positive change usually begin on Ash Wednesday since Carnival season runs from January 6 through Mardi Gras, and its celebration derails good intentions before they can even start. But cutting out meat is definitely doable before then, since king cake and beer are both vegetarian-approved.
Following a plant-based, meat-free diet is a common resolution in recent years, spurring the awkwardly named “Veganuary” movement that encourages a vegan lifestyle based on fresh produce, grains, and legumes. Even in New Orleans, the city that fried seafood, pork fat, and roast-beef-debris gravy built, there are some seriously tasty and inventive vegetarian options -- which seem to be increasing by the day.
Lower Garden District This vegan spot has just undergone a change of management and has a new look and feel. It's got a cocktail bar vibe in addition to the plant-based breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. Breakfast has a serious dairy-free coffee program, as well as dishes like blueberry buckwheat pancakes and sweet potato breakfast tacos (pair with a vegan Vietnamese iced coffee or fresh squeezed satsuma juice). Lunch and dinner share the same menu with small plates, sandwiches, soup, and bar snacks -- try the New Orleans-inspired smoked mushroom gumbo or a cornmeal fried kelp po-boy. A wide variety of adult beverages (including creative cocktails) are available day and night.
Bywater Recently reopened after sustaining and recovering from fire damage in 2019, the Sneaky Pickle has picked up right where it left off, offering a mostly vegan menu with three hearty meat dishes to please that one friend who refuses to try anything new. Everything’s made fresh in-house, and the menu changes according to seasonality and availability from local farms.
Riverbend The city’s newest 100-percent vegan restaurant offers affordable comfort food like seitan-based fried “chicken” and “roast beef” po-boys. Salads and other cravable dishes like the chickpea “tuna” salad sandwich and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese are also available, along with vegan-friendly versions of cocktails like the White Russian and Mudslide.
Uptown/CBD Both locations of this breakfast/lunch/coffee shop/restaurant divide their menus into “Good Cat” and “Bad Cat.” Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items are on the “Good Cat” menu, but definitely keep reading down the page for impossibly delicious vegan queso and Buffalo cauliflower in the small plates menu. Breakfast is served all day and if you’re in the mood for a classic lunch, try the vegan grilled cheese with gazpacho.
Mid City Literally every meat item on this menu has a vegan counterpart, from the classic Philly to poutine to the vegan Far East Philly which combines steak seitan, fried pickle onions, and vegan cream cheese. Even the dessert has been vegan-ified -- the Yum Bun takes vegan ice cream and sprinkles it with cereal served on top of a hot vegan honey bun.
Warehouse District The various food halls springing up all over town bring small vendors to a receptive clientele with lower overhead costs than a regular restaurant, giving more niche ideas -- like vegan and vegetarian food -- the opportunity to set up shop. Stop in at the Auction House Market on the corner of Julia and Magazine to get a masala dosa at Tava Indian Streetfood, jackfruit BBQ toast from Happy Jaxx, and a vegan macaron or milkshake from Mac & Moon Macarons.
Marigny Formerly a bodega-style shop in the Upper French Quarter, the Small Mart reopened in early 2020 on Chartres Street in the Marigny with freshly cooked bagels, $6 daily vegan curries, $1 coffee, and a greatly expanded vegan menu. The cafe has been beloved by locals and visitors searching for reasonably priced vegan food for years in its old location, and the tradition will continue in the new digs.
Mid City This spot on North Broad Street offers a 100-percent vegan menu with comfort food dishes like okra gumbo, mushroom ragu with grits, collard greens, barbecue cauliflower, stuffed peppers, and bread pudding. The menu changes each day of the week, but the jambalaya and mac ’n’ cheese are available every day. This is a place where meat eaters can also leave satisfied.
French Quarter Cleo’s provides healthy, high-quality food and service for every one of the 24 hours it's open, with an expansive menu and a wood fired oven for made-to-order pita bread. The menu takes its cues from all over the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, with lots of tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, zaatar, and olives. You can’t go wrong even with the simplest items.
Mid City This plant-filled, minimalistic space provides Mediterranean comfort food at its finest, with gorgeous vegetable presentations like roasted beet and feta salad. This time of year, the winter seasonal radishes all hit the spot alongside crunchy but light falafel and traditional mezze like hummus and baba ganoush.
Warehouse District This Brazilian restaurant does serve seafood and chicken, but the focus is on the vegetarian and vegan side of things. The cooking techniques and exotic ingredients put a Latin American spin on the fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, and grains that make up Carmo’s menu -- and as a bonus, it serves beer, wine, and cocktails. Try the traditional caipirinha with your veggie delights.
Marigny Open 'til 4am amongst the bustling music clubs on Frenchmen Street, 13’s beloved “Tachos” (aka tater tot nachos) have filled the booze-laced bellies of many vegetarians and carnivores over the years. Covering all its bases, 13 also has a full bar and serves breakfast all day.
Bywater This NYC-style pizzeria in the Bywater offers vegan cheese for all its pizzas, and always has margherita pies and at least one vegetarian/vegan special available every day. Vegetarians can also find pasta options and market salads for even more variety.
Riverbend and CBD Both locations of this organic bakery serve more than just great coffee and baked goods (which are all vegan, and several are gluten-free). Sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, soups, and quiches are all made in-house.
Marigny Got a craving for pasta? Head over to Arabella, housed in the space next to Kajun’s Pub on St. Claude Street. Choose your fresh, house-made pasta style, sauce, and any add-ins (gluten-free and vegan options are available for all). There are also small plates and salads.
Multiple locations Juan’s several New Orleans locations provide great, cheap food alongside enormous margaritas served by highly disinterested, heavily tattooed punk-goth-hipster types. The vibe is relaxed and the veggie and vegan options are plentiful. There are a lot of menu items covered in cheese, but if dairy ain’t your thing, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
French Quarter Tucked in an alley in the French Quarter, this oasis serves lunch and dinner and provides creative cuisine and cocktails. There’s even a vegan Bloody Mary variation on the list, along with watermelon sangria and two different boozy SnoBall ice cocktails. Just because you’re health conscious doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun.
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Nora McGunnigle is a freelance writer living in New Orleans, who is currently struggling to cut her meat consumption for the new year and is highly motivated to find the best places to eat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.