You're Not Eating Your Veggies Like You're Supposed To
Mount Vernon Square
Vegetarian with parents in town? Trying to impress a vegetarian with a date night? Vegetarian anniversary celebration? Elizabeth’s Gone Raw is your play. A raw vegan (meaning none of the food is cooked to higher than 118 degrees, and all of the ingredients are plant-based) fine dining restaurant sounds like an oxymoron... but Elizabeth’s will convince you that you’ve been missing out. Owner Elizabeth Petty’s raw food revelation occurred in 2009 after a battle with breast cancer; she emerged victorious, she felt, in large part due to her new diet. On Friday nights, Elizabeth’s offers a $75 seven-course raw vegan tasting menu that includes spirulina powder, lime-cashew yogurt, and porcini paper (though not all in the same dish, of course). An optional wine pairing (featuring all-natural wines, natch) is available for $55. Vegans and vegetarians: this is definitely the place for your special-occasion night out.
Amazing Thai food in a quirky atmosphere. The new location by the 9:30 Club is just as good, but the original, in an old rowhouse on Florida Ave, is BYOB… which means you get to pick and choose the beers, wines, or (and? and!) spirits you get to bring in. Pair that with one of the city’s most fun (and cheapest, at $30!) all-vegetarian tasting menus, composed solely of what’s best depending on the season and market availability. Most of the dishes are both vegan and gluten-free, and the Sunday night vegetarian menu always includes chef/owner Taw Vigsittaboot‘s famous pumpkin curry.
DC has no shortage of dynamite Ethiopian restaurants: Zenebech, Ethiopic, Addis… but you need to check out this Eritrean spot called Keren, located at the foot of Adams Morgan. Keren is simply lovely: the staff couldn’t be more kind. It's a family-run operation, and everyone who stops by your table gives the impression that they’re genuinely happy you’re there. The injera is perfect, soft and sour, and the vegetarian plate is outstanding (those lentils, though…). But the real go-to is the ful: a garlic-laced fava bean mash that you absolutely need to top with tomatoes, yogurt, and sliced jalapeños. It’s the closest (and most delicious) vegetarians get to an epic bowl of chili in DC. Also a huge plus: this places offers up some of the cheapest beers in town.
Gorgeous and light-filled, Zaytinya is one of the most vegetable-friendly restaurants in the José Andrés empire. Mediterranean cuisine has always been veg-centric, and the theme continues at Zaytinya. The menu reflects the rich regional diversity of classical Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish culinary traditions, featuring shared small plates (mezze) of authentic and innovative fare. A meal here demands to be shared amongst friends and family; the only way to go is to order a whole mess of dishes for the table and have everyone dive in. In addition to traditional soups, salads, and flatbreads, the vegetable mezze menu alone lists 20 separate dishes, all of which are delicious.
Everything served at Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, from the salads to the sandwiches to the outstanding juices coming out of the juice bar, is 100% vegan, and many offer organic and raw options. Woodland’s Vegan Bistro is focused on soul food, so suspend your disbelief for a sec and realize that these two things are not mutually exclusive. The hot bar alone is worth a trip, considering one can load up a plate with vegified Southern staples like vegan Salisbury steak, vegan mac & cheese, okra & tomatoes, and collard greens. Also, they’ve catered for Kanye West and his crew each time his tour has stopped in DC. Now that’s some serious cred.
Of course José Andrés would strike gold with a vegetable-based fast-casual concept. The guy owns the DC food scene… who else could make a city go nuts over a "burger" that consists of a fat slab of a perfect beefsteak tomato? But this sandwich genuinely satisfies. If you're not into a huge tomato sandwich, however, that’s cool -- your options are damn near endless. Each vegetable you choose, whether it’s part of a composed plate or a build-our-own bowl, is flash-boiled or steamed for the precise amount of time needed to bring out the essential essence of the ingredient, while still maintaining the crunch and flavor. The restaurant’s slogan nails it: these are "Vegetables, Unleashed."
Whether you're a meat eater or not, this is easily one of the most gorgeous restaurants in DC. Chef Tony Chittum’s kitchen team focuses on plates that highlight locally sourced ingredients, incorporating them in dishes inspired by the cuisines of Greece, Sicily, and Sardinia. Luckily for vegetarian diners, that means a plethora of vegetarian-friendly small(ish) plates in the stunningly beautiful carriageway and patio. Of the 13 dishes on Iron Gate’s current menu, nearly half are vegetarian, and others can be made so. Settle in with a glass from the tremendous (and affordable!) wine list and a plate of the batter-fried halloumi with local honey, mint, and a lemon-caper vinaigrette. Heaven.
Ramen isn’t usually in the realm of classic vegetarian cuisine… given that it usually incorporates pork stock, slices of chashu pork, etc. That said, Daikaya’s vegetable ramen is one of the best vegetarian dishes in DC. 100% vegan, the vegetable shio broth is boiled off in the wok before being ladled into the bowl, infusing it with a smoky depth and richness. The soup is then topped with Brussels sprouts, bean sprouts, snow peas, carrots, onions, wood ear mushrooms, and braised shiitake mushrooms. Combined with the best noodles in DC, this is a bowl of straight satisfaction any time of year.
Royal is tiny. We have no idea how it pumps out the quality of drinks and food that it does, but the small plates on offer pack huge flavor. Vegetarians can feast… think cheese or black bean arepas (an amazing South American pseudo-sandwich); grilled cabbage (seriously) with lime, red onion, and salsa, or grilled avocado with red quinoa and lentils; and a gorgeous plate of charred field vegetables with cashews and a lemon vinaigrette. Pair those dishes with a hand-crafted cocktail or six out on the gorgeous Florida Ave patio, and you’re set.
A longtime stalwart at local farmers markets, Chaia finally got a brick-and-mortar space in Georgetown and has been slaying since. Meat-free isn’t a problem here, as Chaia offers some substantial vegetarian options: almost all the tacos can be made vegan or gluten-free. Choices include sauteed mushrooms with feta, red sauce, and cilantro; creamy kale and potato with pepper jack cheese, poblano crema, green sauce, and pickled onions; and a summery taco packed with skillet corn, Monterey jack cheese, a cilantro-lime crema, and sun gold tomatoes. These all come packed inside homemade griddled corn tortillas, topped with local microgreens, and served with sides like green rice and black beans. Order the $11 trio, then close your eyes and point to the menu. You’ll be pleased.
Philadelphia transport HipCityVeg is a fast-casual restaurant that uses 100% organic non-GMO ingredients, but its philosophy goes far beyond just making delicious food (though they do that pretty damn well, too). The food used at the restaurant shows up fresh every morning, and at the end of the day, all of the kitchen scraps are composted. All packaging, from bowls to utensils, is made of corn and entirely compostable, and what they can’t compost, they just recycle. The menu focuses on meat-free versions of popular fast food items: burgers, chicken sandwiches, and chicken nuggets. A lot of meat eaters are put off by vegetarian restaurants that serve only boring salads; here, however, you can dig into some delicious riffs on your favorite meat-based foods. And trust us, the Crispy HipCity Ranch "chick’n" sandwich is the truth.
Mount Vernon Square
Good food fast: that’s the impetus behind DC's Shouk, a Middle Eastern-inspired, vegetable-focused restaurant. All the dishes, from vegetable- or legume-stuffed pitas to salads and soups, are plant-based. Even the labneh (a traditional Lebanese dairy spread) is made from fermented cashews. It’s a lot easier to eat food that’s good for you when it’s actually, you know, good food.
Adams Morgan, L’Enfant Plaza, and U St
Here’s an interesting tidbit: you don’t actually have to be hammered to enjoy an Amsterdam falafel pita. I know, right?! Crazy! At any time of day, you’re going to be blown away with the offerings at Amsterdam. Crisp, fluffy falafel gets stuffed into a pita… then the magic happens. The toppings bar here is insane: you can walk out with an enormous sandwich, stuffed full of fresh vegetables and dripping with sauces. Can’t do gluten? Get a falafel bowl instead -- the toppings bar is available regardless. Each are under $10. That’s a damn steal, regardless of dietary preferences.
U St, Mount Vernon Square, Brookland, Takoma
Practically a DC institution, Busboys and Poets is the original hipster enclave. Named for American poet Langston Hughes (who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel prior to gaining recognition as a poet), the space is part alt-bookstore and part vegetarian-focused restaurant. Owner Andy Shallal describes his hangout as "a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted… a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul... a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide." We like all of those ideas, but are hungriest for the second part, as the menu has loads of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Pro tip: the vegan nachos are ridiculous.
H St NE
Let’s get this out of the way right out front: Khepra’s is crunchy. The restaurant part of the space is accompanied by a store selling African garb, incense, and natural body care products. This is a real quote from their website: "We don’t believe in using carrots or wheatgrass. Carrots are a man-created food that you will never find growing wild in nature and wheatgrass is for four legged animals." Roger. Khepra’s is a juice bar and restaurant that focuses on raw foods -- that means all of their food is live, organic vegetarian fare that’s not cooked past 118 degrees. The only way to go when you’re here is to dive in headfirst and order the two-entree, two-side platter. It’s enough food for two meals, and you’ll feel great after eating it. Plus, that almond hempburger. Mmm.
H St NE
"DC’s first plant-based diner, bakery, and bar." Has a nice ring to it, right? Owner Doron Petersan and chef Amanda Desaulniers make almost everything on-site, from the bread and pastas to the nut-based "cheeses." (Pro tip: those fake cheeses are awesome.) In the morning, the space serves as a boutique coffee shop, serving pastries, fresh-baked breads, and other sweets; for lunch and dinner, the restaurant opens up with small plates like a mushroom scampi, and larger options like a mushroom & chickpea burger, as well as pastas made that day (go for the cavatelli with rapini and seitan sausage).
Guys, listen… I know raw fish isn’t vegetarian, OK? But check this out: give Sushiko in Chevy Chase 48 hours notice, and it puts together one of the best vegan tasting menus in the DC area. The restaurant's vegan omakase is astounding. Silken house-made tofu, seaweed "caviar," and miso-stuffed eggplant. Make no mistake: $80 is a lot of money… but an entire meal with quality and innovation like this? For vegetarians especially, it’s a steal.
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