Food & Drink

Vegetarian Restaurants in DC That Totally Don't Suck

Published On 08/07/2015 Published On 08/07/2015
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw | Foster Wiley/Courtesy of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw

Elizabeth's Gone Raw

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.

courtesy of Thai X-ing

Thai X-ing

Shaw

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.

Keren Restaurant

Adams Morgan

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.

Zaytinya | Greg Powers/Courtesy of Zaytinya

Zaytinya

Chinatown

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.

Woodland's Vegan Bistro

Columbia Heights

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.

courtesy of Beefsteak

Beefsteak

Foggy Bottom

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."

courtesy of Iron Gate

Iron Gate

Dupont Circle

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.

Daikaya | Farrah Skeiky/Courtesy of Daikaya

Daikaya

Chinatown

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.

courtesy of The Royal

Royal

Shaw

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.

Chaia | James Jackson/Courtesy of Chaia

Chaia

Georgetown

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.

HipCityVeg

Chinatown

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.

courtesy of Shouk

Shouk

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.

courtesy of Amsterdam Falafelshop

Amsterdam Falafelshop

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.

courtesy of Busboys & Poets

Busboys and Poets

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.

courtesy of Khepra’s

Khepra's Raw Food Juice Bar

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.

Fare Well | April Greer/Courtesy of Fare Well

Fare Well

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).

Sushiko

Chevy Chase

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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1. Elizabeth's Gone Raw 1341 L St NW, Washington DC, 20005

Located in an upscale Federalist townhouse, Elizabeth's is only open on Friday nights, when it offers a $75 seven-course raw vegan tasting menu that includes inventive dishes like spirulina powder, lime-cashew yogurt, and porcini paper -- and will have you dreaming of its flavorful cuisine the other nights of the week. There's also an optional wine pairing (featuring all-natural wines) for $55. Whether you're looking to impress a date, hosting a business meeting, or showing your parents a night out on the town, this is a meat-free go-to.

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2. Thai X-ing 515 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Situated in an old rowhouse on Florida Ave, this quirky Thai spot is BYOB (!), so be sure to bring along your favorite beers, wines, and spirits. Boasting one of the best and cheapest all-vegetarian tasting menus in DC, Thai X-ing serves market-fresh, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, plus a Sunday night vegetarian menu that -- lucky for you -- always includes chef/owner Taw Vigsittaboot‘s signature pumpkin curry, featuring a special kind of squash called kabocha that makes for a creamy concoction with just the right amount of heat.

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3. Keren Restaurant & Coffee Shop 1780 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

This family-run Eritrean spot, located at the foot of Adams Morgan, might just be the happiest restaurant in DC -- everyone is smiling, even those eagerly awaiting a table so they can chow down on the soft and sour injera, or a piping-hot, fan-favorite bowl of ful (a garlic-laced fava bean mash topped with garnishes reminiscent of American chili). The warm and welcoming staff will make you feel right at home while they serve it to you. A bonus? You'll find some of the cheapest beers in town here.

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4. Zaytinya 701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Downtown)

This airy Mediterranean spot, with Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish influences in its fare, is overflowing with flavor -- and light. Massive floor-to-ceiling windows line the space headed up by Chef José Andrés. Be sure to bring along your family and friends, and have everyone dig into a variety of the menu's shareable small plates (mezze), like spice-rubbed lamb kebab and pan-roasted sweet breads. You'll also find traditional salads, soups, and flatbreads in the lineup, plus a vegetarian-friendly mezze menu that's worth a try whether or not you're meat-free.

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5. Woodland's Vegan Bistro 2928 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Columbia Heights)

First things first: you should know that this casual Columbia Heights spot has catered for Kanye West and his crew every time his tour has stopped in DC. Woodland's fare -- from salads to sandwiches to juices -- is 100% vegan and features organic and raw options, too. It might seem counterintuitive, but the focus here is soul food, and it's damn good. You'll want to load up your plate at the hot bar with Southern staples like vegan Salisbury steak, vegan mac & cheese, okra & tomatoes, and collard greens.

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6. Beefsteak 800 22nd St NW, Washington, 20052 (Foggy Bottom)

Considering its name, you'd expect this Foggy Bottom-adjacent spot to be a masculine, meat-centric spots where artery-clogging, beefy burgers and juicy steaks reign supreme. However, it's quite the contrary -- this goofy, cartoon-like restaurant serves up fare that's healthy and predominately vegetarian and vegan -- like their bowls, which come with a grain base (bulgur, quinoa, or rice) and veggies, sauces, meat or meat substitutes, and burgers that ditch greasy beef patties and opt for ripe and juicy tomato slices instead.

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7. Iron Gate 1734 N St NW, Washington, DC 20036 (Dupont Circle)

This is easily one of the most beautiful restaurants in DC. From the lamp-lit stone entryway to the back courtyard complete with a gazebo, Iron Gate in Dupont Circle was made for dining al fresco. Chef Anthony Chittum has been in DC for a long time, winning multiple awards along the way, and his understated Mediterranean dishes are made just right. Wine Director Brent Kroll’s tightly curated wine list pairs perfectly with the food, focusing on Greek and Italian varietals. Ask for a table out back in the courtyard, go all-in with Chef Chittum’s tasting menu, then just point to the wine list and order a bottle.

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8. Daikaya 705 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Chinatown)

Don’t let the wait for this Chinatown ramen shop deter you: it’s more than worth it for the chewy noodles imported from Japan and the chicken, pork, and beef Chintan stock that’s cooked over 16 hours for extra richness. An unsuspecting standout among the Sapporo-style ramen on offer is the vegan version topped with Brussels sprouts, snow peas, carrots, and braised shiitake mushrooms. As if the ramen didn’t already, Daikaya’s wooden accents, dangling lightbulbs, and blue- and yellow-striped walls will have you feeling warm and cozy.

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9. The Royal 501 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Ledroit Park)

Owner Paul Carlson’s Colombian heritage is responsible for the Latin influence found in many of the dishes at this neighborhood spot in LeDroit Park. This cozy cafe offers everything from coffee to arepas -- not to mention a killer cocktail program. It's a great venue for a date, as the spot is spacious enough to talk comfortably.

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10. Chaia 3207 Grace St NW, Washington, 20007

What was once just a stand at a farmer's market, is now a full fledged vegetarian taco joint in a cute and airy brick house in Georgetown serving up Mexican-inspired fare born straight of their still very close ties with nearby farmers. Corn tortillas made by hand daly are stuffed up with mushroom, green bean, potato, corn, or eggplant bases and topped with flavorful fillings like cheeses, cilantro, chives, salsa, eggs, and jalapenos.

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11. HipCityVeg 712 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Chinatown)

At Philadelphia import HipCityVeg, fast-food gets vegified -- and packed with flavor. The ingredients are 100% organic non-GMO and show up fresh every morning, and all of the kitchen scraps are composted at the end of the day, so you can feel extra good about a visit here. The menu puts a meat-free spin on popular fast food items like burgers, chicken sandwiches, and chicken nuggets. That's right, carnivores, there's more than just boring salads. You can dig into some tasty riffs on your favorite meat-based foods, like the crazy-good Crispy HipCity Ranch "chick’n" sandwich.

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12. Shouk 655 K St NW, Washington, 20001

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 polenta fries and beet salad, are plant-based. Even the labneh, a traditional Lebanese dairy spread, is made from fermented cashews. The counter-serve space might be conducive to a casual lunch, but tap wine and craft beer on the menu make it dinner-appropriate as well.

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13. Amsterdam Falafelshop 2425 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

Amsterdam Falafelshop slings everyones favorite deep-fried chickpea mash across Adams Morgan, and it's some of the best in the DC area. It comes with a big pile of fresh veggies wrapped up in a flatbread or in a bowl, and there's never even a slight ponderance over whether or not you should pair them with fries. They're Dutch-style, meaning they're thick cut, freshly fried for crunchy outside and light and fluffy insides.

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14. Busboys and Poets 2021 14th St NW, Washington, 20009 (U Street)

Named for American poet Langston Hughes (who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel prior to gaining recognition as a poet), Busboys and Poets 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..." Speaking of feeding, you'll want to consult the vegan-friendly menu that offers cafe staples like salads and sandwiches, plus some out-of-this-world vegan nachos.

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15. Khepra's Raw Food Juice Bar 402 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002 (H Street Ne)

The best way to describe Khepra’s is "crunchy." It's not only a juice bar and restaurant, but also a store selling African garb, incense, and natural body care products. To quote its 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." So, yeah. The menu here focuses on raw, organic vegetarian foods, which you'll want to dig into with the two-entree, two-side platter. Enough food for two meals, you’ll actually feel great after eating it, especially when you go for the almond hempburger.

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16. Fare Well 406 H St NE, Washington, 20002 (Noma)

A neighborhood diner, bakery, and bar all in one has Near Northeast covered at every hour of the day. With bagels and omelettes in the morning, classic soups and sandwiches at lunch, and vegetable-centric entrees like melty eggplant parmesan and crispy, deep-fried seitan for dinner, this industrial space with a bright, preppy twist is a can't-fail no matter the craving. They've even got a handful of wines, beers, and specialty cocktails and always have freshly baked sweets behind the counter for those feeling truly indulgent.

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17. Sushiko 5455 Wisconsin Ave, Chevy Chase, MD 20815 (Chevy Chase)

Sushiko’s been slicing raw fish since the '70s, but that doesn’t mean the restaurant is without new tricks like cherry-wood-smoked Tasmanian ocean trout tartare dotted with goat cheese. And the $90 chef’s tasting menu, served at the sushi bar, alternates between the kitchen and the sushi bar for nine whole courses. The front-and-center seat gives tasters a prime spot to watch chefs envelop tongues of uni with dashi gelée.

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