While it might not possess the celeb-fueled buzz of LA or New York, DC’s vegetarian dining scene has exploded in recent years, with new entries sprouting every year. What was once a city known as a steakhouse town, DC was recently highly ranked for its diverse and affordable meatless option. From fast-casual to fine dining, these restaurants dedicate so much (or the entirety!) of their menu to vegetarian items that it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. This is the kind of food that appeals to everyone -- even the carnivores in your life.
H Street Corridor The James Beard-award-winning chefs behind Philadelphia’s acclaimed Vedge restaurant made their DC debut last year with Fancy Radish, popular among plant and meat-eaters alike. The seasonal menu delivers inventive takes on meat and dairy dishes, such as fondue made with rutabaga and a vegetable charcuterie board with an herb remoulade. Naturally, there is a fancy radish with yuzu avocado. Pair it with one of the natural wines on the drink list.
Shaw, Brookland Calabash serves tasty vegan baked goods and snacks, including pies, Jamaican veggie patties, and sandwiches that complement its tea blends, with memorable names like Teayoncé and Black Magic Woman. Owner Sunyatta Amen, who is trained as a master herbalist and naturopath, opened a second store this summer in Brookland, which houses a garden where she grows fresh herbs to mix with the teas and kombucha. Colorful accent pillows and furniture transports guests to a lounge in North Africa.
Various locations These cafeteria-style restaurants located in Capitol Heights, Anacostia, and Takoma Park feature an extensive cold bar with various salads and a hot bar with a rotating selection of vegan soul food. On Sundays, diners can order pancakes, waffles, vegan sausage, and home fries. Save room for one of the decadent cakes or brownies. The eatery promises that everything is 100% vegan.
Logan Circle, Bethesda Ethiopian restaurants have been an integral part of DC’s dining scene for nearly 50 years. All of them serve satisfying vegan fare, but if we had to pick one, it would be Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient Chercher. The restaurant’s vegetarian selection is even more extensive than most, with options that include string beans and carrots and hot chick pea flour sauce. There’s also a vegetarian deluxe option with 10 veggie dishes.
City Center, Dupont Circle The eco-friendly, fast-casual spot started in Virginia Beach before making its way to City Center four years ago. In January, Fruitive debuted its second DC location in Dupont Circle, selling cold pressed juices, fruit-topped toasts, and superfood-laden berry bowls.
H Street Corridor The three-year-old Asian restaurant went vegetarian last year as an experiment to see if it had enough support for a meatless menu and, sure enough, it did. Here you’ll find plant-based versions of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes, including egg rolls stuffed with pineapple kimchi, Taiwanese fried cashew mozzarella, and a sweet and sour pork made with seitan. The $4 miso and tofu soup comes with unlimited servings.
NoMa Any of DC’s Indian restaurants will satisfy hungry vegetarians with dal, chana masala, and a variety of vegetable dishes. But at DC Dosa, you’ll only find vegetarian options. The South Indian staple of dosas, or lentil crepes, are stuffed with roasted vegetables, eggplant, or curry potatoes. Top it with a tangy onion tamarind or tomato peanut chutney.
West End Sunday brunch can be flavorful and healthy if you head to Equinox, where the selections include vegetable jambalaya, tabbouleh salad, and gazpacho. It’s easy to see why the vegan brunch draws plant eaters from far and wide. The decadent dessert bar serves peanut butter mousse brownies, cannoli, whoopie pies, and other vegan versions of your favorite treats. The restaurant is also a good option for herbivores who want a fine dining lunch or dinner. Choose from spiced eggplant chips, fusilli with mushroom bolognese, and saffron risotto with braised leeks. Dinner guests can order a five-course, plant-based tasting menu.
Various locations Formerly Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, Nu Vegan Café now operates three locations in Columbia Heights, College Park, and Howard University. The hot bar alone is worth a trip, considering one can load up a plate with hearty vegan dishes like lasagna, mac and cheese and a black bean burger. You’ll also find vegan salads, sandwiches, and juices.
Penn Quarter, Dupont Circle The Philadelphia transplant opened its second DC fast-casual location in Dupont Circle in July and remains committed to using 100%, organic, non-GMO ingredients. 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. Dig into delicious riffs on your favorite meat-based fast food items without the guilt, including burgers, chicken sandwiches, and chicken nuggets. Save room for soy milk shakes with monthly rotating flavors.
Mount Vernon Square, NoMa Good food fast: that’s the impetus behind DC's Shouk, a Middle Eastern-inspired and 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.
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 place. Located in an elegant 19th-century townhome filled with oil paintings, crystal chandeliers, and Asian rugs, the restaurant feels like the fancy home of a diplomat. 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 and Saturday nights, Petty offers an $80 seven-course raw vegan tasting menu that could include fermented cashew tostada, purple cauliflower cappuccino, and strawberry-beet ice cream. Pair each dish with a wine ($60) or a creative cocktail, made at the stunning marble bar.
Georgetown, Penn Quarter What started as a stalwart at local farmers’ markets grew into a brick-and-mortar space four years ago in a Georgetown carriage house. The owners expanded to a second location in Penn Quarter last year. The vegetarian taqueria serves tacos with seasonally fresh vegetables, including braised 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, queso fresco, 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 $12 trio, then close your eyes and point to the menu. You’ll be pleased.
Various locations You’re going to be blown away by the offerings at Amsterdam, with locations in Adams Morgan, L’Enfant Plaza, and U Street. Stuff crispy fluffy falafel into a pita and top with your choice of 22 -- yes 22 -- toppings, including eggplant, cucumbers, tzatziki, and other vegetables and sauces. You can walk out with an enormous sandwich. Can’t do gluten? Get a falafel bowl instead -- the toppings bar is available regardless. Each are under $10.
H St NE Chef-owner Doron Petersan and her team make almost everything on-site at the diner, bakery, and bar, from the bread and pastas to the nut-based "cheeses." In the morning, the space serves as a boutique coffee shop, serving pastries, fresh-baked breads, and other sweets. Pancakes and other breakfast items are served all day. For lunch and dinner, the restaurant opens up with small plates like polenta fries and larger options like a chickpea steak platter. Satisfy your vegan sweet cravings with a visit to the longstanding Columbia Heights sister bakery Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats.
Various locations A DC institution, Busboys and Poets is the original hipster enclave and now has six locations from Takoma to Shirlington. 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, part vegetarian 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." We like all of those ideas, but are hungriest for the restaurant, whose menu has loads of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Pro tip: The vegan nachos are ridiculous.
Shaw Inside an old row house near the 9:30 Club, this plant-filled Thai restaurant feels like a friend’s living room. The five- to seven-course prix fixe menu changes daily, depending on the season and market availability, though the menu usually includes chef/owner Taw Vigsittaboot's celebrated pumpkin curry. The restaurant offers vegetarian tasting Tuesday and Sunday nights -- a steal at $30. Thai X-ing now has a full bar, but you can bring your own wine for a $5 corkage fee or opt for a Thai iced coffee or tea.
Various locations José Andrés' vegetable-based fast-casual concept has expanded to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, and Montgomery Mall since launching four years ago. The celeb chef opened the fourth location last year at the world famous Cleveland Clinic, so we’re pretty confident this food is good for you. The signature "burger" consists of a fat slab of a perfect beefsteak tomato. If you're not into a huge tomato sandwich, however, 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.
Silver Spring The Vegetable Garden uses soy and wheat gluten in place of chicken or beef, resulting in a smorgasbord for vegetarians who crave their favorite Chinese dishes. Choose from the kung pao veggie chicken, the Hunan veggie beef or spring rolls stuffed with carrots, cabbage and black mushrooms.
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Julekha Dash is a Maryland flexitarian food, travel, and arts writer who is always looking for good vegetarian options when she dines out. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and check out her Contently portfolio.