Fast Casual Vegan Junk Food Is Now a Thing
New Orleans doesn’t really need a new French Creole restaurant, so it was refreshing when Bar Frances opened with a Parisian French bent (Chef Brendan Cahill’s bona fides include having run an adorable restaurant in Paris). You’ll find plenty of modern continental influences on the menu at Bar Frances, but few realize that you can have an insanely delicious meal there that’s not just vegetarian, but vegan. The savory mushroom toast is a huge hit, as are the chilled sugar snap peas, gnocchi with charred eggplant, corn ragout, and basil, and their inventive beet (not beef) tartare with aioli, pickled mustard seed and sweet potato chips.
Here’s the deal: you’re around Magazine St Uptown, and you’re jonesing for Israeli food, but the wait at Shaya is just brutal. Well, Tal’s has been proving itself a rock-solid Mediterranean cuisine choice in the neighborhood, with decent falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. While the pita might not have won a James Beard award, the fare is ample, filling, tasty, and wallet-friendly.
It’s notable that there are only two Ethiopian restaurants in New Orleans, and neither have ever gotten the recognition they clearly deserve. We particularly love Abyssinia, which serves up beautiful injera loaded with your choice of toppings, from all spectrums of spicy (beware the wat -- it has a serious kick). There are ample veggie options, including braised greens and lentils, but really, it’s all about that deliciously weird, sour, spongy bread. Oh, and getting to eat it all with your hands never gets old.
There’s a profoundly sad lack of quality Indian restaurants in NOLA. While Silk Road specializes in global offerings -- it’s not a boring tikka masala and tandoori buffet -- their vegetarian entrees, particularly the curries, are some of the best in the city. The vindaloo is equally fantastic, and available with either meat or veggies (so feel free to bring your carnivorous friends). And don’t forget the saag paneer, because hot cheese always makes us happy.
Formerly known as the “Korean Taco Bell,” (their previous location on Claiborne Ave was once a Taco Bell), Little Korea offers traditional Korean fare like BBQ. Vegetarians, too, will delight in the abundance of great veggie and tofu options, from japchae to jjigae, mungbean pancakes, and a killer dolsot bibimbap, served sizzling in a hot stone pot as it was truly meant to be.
NOLA has some serious African roots, which makes it a little odd that we don’t have a plethora of traditional African restaurants. Sure, there’s plenty of Caribbean and Creole, and we have soul food for days (for life!), but continental African? Sadly, not so much. If there’s one shining beacon of African cuisine in the Big Easy (particularly East African), it’s Bennachin, which has been delighting Jazz Festers for years with their amazing plate of jama-jama and fried plantains. Seriously, it’s the best spinach dish in New Orleans. And the best part is that you don’t have to wait for Jazz Fest to enjoy it; you can hit Bennachin year-round.
Wait a second... are you trying to tell me that one of the best hot dog joints in the city specializes in VEGAN sausages? Shockingly, yes. There are plenty of great meaty offerings at this Rampart St tube-steak joint, which is both kosher and halal (you won’t find pork on the menu, but they do have beef bacon). If you’re looking for a cheap, satisfying, and genuinely delicious veggie/vegan option in the Quarter, Dreamy’s is the one to beat. Also, have you ever topped a hot dog with red beans and rice? It’s a game changer. We’ll take this -- and the lack of regret -- over a Lucky Dog any day.
Based out of the former church that was formerly Christian’s and also formerly Redemption (we’re hoping there’s no “location curse” here), Vessel is the new guy in town looking to do new things, and getting some great attention so far. Chef Nick Vella, who graced the kitchens of MiLA, Noodle and Pie and Cibugnu, is going with “coastal Mediterranean” for the menu and recently expanded its veggie offerings. As it stands, Vessel is a great option for vegetarians dining with carnivores; there’s plenty of game and seafood available, as well as veggie-friendly fare, from cast-iron okra to “risotto-style” black-eyed peas, grilled summer squash with basil, onion and pecorino, and corn on the cob with truffle butter.
Lower Garden District
This Lower Garden restaurant is the top of the list for all things vegetarian, vegan, raw, and uber-healthy. Everything is vegan, so there’s no fear of someone sneaking bacon or shrimp into your food. Seed offers tons of options, including DIY salads, soups, comfort food -- which includes fried and cheesy items -- and a pretty lengthy dessert menu.
Lower Garden District
Located right across the street from Seed, this smoothie and juice joint also serves up delicious vegetarian/vegan soups and sandwiches, which change up daily. There’s a big gluten-free push at the Fork as well, making it perfect for anyone with pretty much any dietary restrictions.
This Brazilian restaurant in the Warehouse District 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.
Alon Shaya’s James Beard award-winning Israeli restaurant has plenty of meat, but the majority of the traditional Mediterranean dishes are vegetable and chickpea forward, using seasonal dishes and authentic spices for small plates. The best stuff on the menu can be sopped up with steaming-hot pita bread made in-house in the enormous wood-burning oven in the back.
Open 'til 4am amongst the bustling music clubs on Frenchmen St, 13’s beloved “Tachos” (aka tater tot nachos) have filled the booze-laced bellies of many vegetarians and carnivores both over the years. 13 also has a full bar and serves breakfast all day.
This NYC-style pizzeria in the Bywater offers vegan cheese for all its pizzas, and always has at least one vegetarian/vegan special available along with the cheese and margherita everyday pies. Vegetarians can also find pasta options and market salads for even more variety.
Right on the Riverbend, this organic bakery serves 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 made in-house.
Ramen madness has come to New Orleans, and here it’s paired with pie, so everyone’s a winner. Especially vegetarians. In addition to the vegetarian miso ramen, Noodle & Pie offers several small plates and salad specials without meat or fish. And of course, all the pie is vegetarian (but not necessarily vegan, so be sure to ask about that).
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. Perfect for the summer.
Grilled cheese is back and the Big Cheezy is leading the way. Although many of the restaurant’s specialty sandwiches do have meat in them, those ingredients can be taken out on request. And of course, there’s the option to have a cup of tomato soup on the side of whatever cheese-laden concoction you order.
Got a craving for pasta? Head over to Arabella, housed in the space next to Kajun’s Pub on St. Claude St. Choose your fresh, house-made pasta style (gluten-free and vegan options are available) sauce, and any add-ins. There are also small plates and salads.
Lower Garden District/Mid City/CBD
Juan’s three 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. Expect a wait, but it’ll be worth it. There’s a lot of menu items covered in cheese, but if dairy ain’t your thing, there’s still plenty to enjoy.