13 of the world’s best cities for vegetarians
1. Seattle, USA
Not only are there are some spots around town that cater directly to the plant-eating crowd, like Plum Vegan Bistro (and food truck) in Capitol Hill and Silence-Heart-Nest in Fremont, but there’s usually at least several vegetarian options on every menu.
So many vegans and vegetarians call this city home that even the burger and BBQ joints have options like veggie burgers and fried seitan, so you’ll never feel like you’re missing out if you’re eating with carnivores. Within walking distance from hot dog carts and sports stadiums downtown are dishes like the vegan mac n cheese at Bang Bang Café. And oh yeah, the hot dog carts will have veggie dogs available, too. A bevy of authentic Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, and Ethiopian restaurants here are largely vegetarian in their menu options as well.
Year round Sunday Farmer’s Markets in Ballard, Fremont, and Capitol Hill also promote an abundance of local and organic produce — lots of apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries, kale, chard, potatoes, and leeks. You can easily get your week’s worth of healthy fruits and veggies for under $10, and often the farmers will throw in a little extra. For the stuff you can’t find at the market, many health food stores surround the city and carry a large variety for vegetarians.
Special thanks: Elisbeth McKinley
2. Chiang Mai, Thailand
If you’re heading to Chiang Mai, your first stop should really be Pun Pun. Although they do operate two restaurants within Chiang Mai city, Pun Pun is really an organic farm on the outskirts that calls itself a ‘center for self-reliance.’ Their main mission is to teach seed saving, which is an ancient tradition that connects us to the foods our ancestors grew but has since fallen by the wayside because of commercial seeding operations.Pun Pun also teaches organic farming, natural home building and they even make their own products like kefir shampoo, organic jams and soaps. If you’re a gardener, which if you’re a vegetarian you should be, the seeds from Pun Pun are sent all over the world.
For less learning and more eating, Italics & Rise has some interesting pizzas with its fusion of Thai and Italian food and Anchan Vegetarian restaurant has a menu that changes weekly — the cinnamon, ginger, green iced tea should be the first thing you order. But honestly, just walk around and you’ll find a vegetarian meal, for cheap — just be careful of fish sauce, it’s a common ingredient.
Special thanks: Blaze Nowara
3. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Fifty percent of Ho Chi Minh City’s population has Buddhist roots, so the word “chay” (vegetarian) can be found on nearly every street corner. The Vietnamese have perfected the art of tofu manipulation and created things that, frankly, haven’t even made it to America yet. Thin sheets of seitan get pressed together around lemongrass stalks to form weirdly accurate-tasting chicken drumsticks. Then there’s the shrimp that actually looks and tastes like shrimp. Then there’s the dozens and dozens of varieties of balls, patties, and squares that are somehow more unidentifiable and yet more delicious. I
To see and taste this in all its glory, hit up Thuyen Vien, though driving around the city and stopping at the first hole-in-the-wall with a large sign out front that says chay likely won’t disappoint, either. It might literally be some of the best vegetarian food you’ve had in your whole life, and for what equates to your own personal buffet, you’ll throw down nothing more than a few bucks.
Special thanks: Jacqueline Kehoe
4. Melbourne, Australia
If you’re from Melbourne and you happen to be a vegetarian, the Moroccan Soup Bar is your ‘institution in the heart of North Fitzroy.’ There’s no printed menu, and even though the place is clearly not hurting for attention, there’s still a good chance you’ll get to chat with the founder, who recently published a book: Moroccan Soup Bar — Recipes of a Spoken Menu. The chickpea bake is a good stand-by, which Matador editor Debbie called ‘legendary’ and claimed it left her ‘speechless.’ So yeah, try that.
When you’ve exhausted everything on that menu, try The Vegie Bar, Lentil As Anything — especially if you’re a student on a budget — and Enlightened Cuisine. The great thing about Melbourne as a vegetarian destination is that it’s so diverse, so it should be easy for you to sample traditional vegetarian cuisine from around the world.
Special thanks: Debbie Gonzalez
5. Seoul, South Korea
If you’re from North America, you may only think ‘meat-heavy barbecue’ when you think about South Korean cuisine. But of course, you’d be wrong. Kimbap (also called Gimbap) is basically Korean sushi, but vegetarian — and you can get it at mom and pop-type restaurants across the city. There are literally at least 1,000 different chains of places where you can order Kimbap, but a good place to start is Kim Ga Ne in the Jongak area, Jinsunja Gyeranmali Kimbap at Yeongdeungpo or Mo-nyeo Woncho Mayak Kimbap in Gwangjang Market.
Bibimbap is another Korean dish that’s actually getting pretty hip right now. It’s super simple and traditional. Dolsot bibimbap is the best order — the rice, julienne veggies and egg come out in a super hot dolsot stone pot and the whole thing just looks like a work of art. Then you ruin all that beauty by smashing the egg right into everything else so you get a kind of delicious fried rice. At the bottom of the stone pot there are crispy crunchy bits of jewel-like rice that have been overcooked by the stone pot. They’re the best bit.
Of course the Buddhist temple-type restaurants in Seoul are also worth mentioning, many of which are in the Insa-dong area. And if you stay overnight on a Templestay — which is a very inexpensive way to learn about Buddhist culture, stay the night at a temple and do a Buddhist program — you’ll get your vegan dinner and breakfast prepared for you by a super chef nun.
Special thanks: Ailsa Ross
6. Grand Rapids, USA
Here’s what’s great about Grand Rapids, Michigan: Little Africa Ethiopian Restaurant. This is a place where you may need to call ahead to make sure the place is open, but if it is, you can relax in a booth, drink a glass of mango juice, sop up an all-you-can-eat special with light and airy injera (Ethiopian bread) and just be a vegetarian.
If that place isn’t open, there’s actually a ton of other excellent options. Bartertown Diner, which now serves breakfast, is probably the first place you think about when you think about the Grand Rapids vegetarian scene. Stella’s has the best ‘buffalo wings’ that aren’t really buffalo wings and the goat cheese and artichoke pizza at Vitale’s Pizza in Ada is the bomb. Honorable mentions have to be Marie Catrib’s, Global Infusion Cafe and the classic staple of Brickroad Pizza.
Special thanks: Cathy Brown, Sarah Schneider
7. London, England
London has a monumental range of vegetarian options, and we’re talking inventive vegetarian cuisine, not a bunch of green salads.
When it comes to vegetarian-only restaurants, Mildreds is one of the best. This is where you can get charcoal-roasted peppers and leeks with smoked chili jam or some gyoza dumplings with chilli sauce, enough said. There’s also The Gate and Manna, which kind of just says it in the name.
Many non-vegetarian restaurants in London have impressive vegetarian options too though, for example, Nopi-Ottolenghi is Mediterranean inspired, The River Cafe is Italian, Ember Yard has veggie tapas and Franco Manca is where you go if you absolutely need to have a sourdough pizza. If you’re looking for a tasty burger, try Honest Burgers, which serves up a crispy cauliflower and sweet corn fritter or Byron, which makes their burger out of a portobello mushroom, some goat’s cheese and roasted red pepper. Oh, and since you’re in London, try an authentic Indian vegetarian curry at Potli.
If you really just want to grab something and get out, Leon offers healthy and interesting fast food options such as the super food salad and grilled halloumi wrap.
8. East Nashville, USA
Okay, so the South isn’t usually the first place you think of when you’re trying to get down with some vegetarian food — especially Nashville because, you know, fiery baskets of Hot Chicken. That being said, East Nashville is a pocket of Music City that has tons of meatless options. You can get tofu hot dogs from I Dream of Weenie food shack, plates of peanut tempeh tacos from Wild Cow, and BBQ Asian tofu sandwiches from Mitchell Deli. Even if it’s a meat-eating restaurant, you’ll usually be able to find a vegetarian option on the menu and most of the time, it will be a little more sustenance than just ordering all the sides — collard greens, potato salad, and cole slaw. But as far as East Nashville ganging together to create a vegetarian’s version of Hot Chicken? That’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, some things are just sacred.
Special thanks: Shannon Dell
9. Vancouver, Canada
Van is no joke when it comes to vegetarianism. For all the Matador staffers who reside or have resided in Vancouver, The Foundation is at the top of the list. It’s a bit of a trendy spot that’s known for its loud music in the evenings (so go for lunch instead if you’re looking to have a meaningful conversation) but it’s got excellent salads and some serious vegetarian nachos. Over in Kitsilano, there’s The Naam, which is a little bit of a Vancouver institution seeing as it’s been running 24/7 since 1968 — so that has to be a necessary trip.
Special thanks: Carlo Alcos, Morgane Croissant, Stefan Klopp
10. Ghent, Belgium
If you’re a vegetarian in Ghent, your lifestyle is basically backed-up by the officials in office. Ghent’s local government mandates that every restaurant must have at least one vegetarian item on their menu. And beginning in 2009, every Thursday became “Veggieday” and many restaurants just go full vegetarian for 24 hours, while the schools make a vegetarian meal their main staple of the day. It all started as an experiment to bring more awareness to climate change and obesity.
Basically, the entire city is a paradise, but if you’re looking for specific options, you can’t go wrong with Avalon for something a little fancier, the vegan buffet at Komkommertijd and Greenway Foods if you’re looking for a quicker, budget place.
Special thanks: Ana Bulnes
11. Delhi, India
Vegetarianism is a massive part of India’s culture, so going there will basically be a dream for you. Delhi, as India’s teeming, vibrant capital has among the best selection of Indian and international restaurants in the country and its one of Matador contributor Elen’s favorite vegetarian destinations — especially because of the rich selection in street food.
If you’re used to dismissing street fare while traveling because it’s so often meat-heavy, you’re going to keel over in Delhi when you see how many options you have. Elen claims that the two best places to find street eats are the lanes of Old Delhi and the Lajpat Nagar Central Market — and both are best explored in the evening.
In Old Delhi, Parathewali Galli is famous for its array of parathas, which are flat bread stuffed with fillings and fried. The lanes around this famous street are just as good though, with all sorts of fried savouries and sweets. An Old Delhi specialty is daulat-ki-chaat, a fluffy sweet dish that can only be made in the cold of winter. Street food walking tours are a great way to navigate the congested lanes of this part of the city.
On the other side of Delhi, in the more upmarket South Delhi, the Lajpat Nagar Central Market is the best place to go for a more relaxed street-food experience (although it can still get crowded). A large variety of mainly veg food can be found here, from Tibetan momos (dumplings) to pav bhaji (buttered bread and potato curry) to gol gappe (hollow balls of deep-fried dough filled with a tangy, spicy sauce, and eaten in a single gulp). Many of the menus at street stalls are in Hindi, so if you can’t read the language, ask the locals what they recommend and you’ll soon have a whole line of dishes to try. This is a city where you can comfortably be a vegetarian, and not miss out on anything.
Special Thanks: Elen Turner
12. Dublin, Ireland
Cornucopia Dublin should be your first visit. They’ve got granary bread, savoury scones and delicious, chunky, fennel soup. This is the kind of place that’s small and friendly enough to see strangers sharing tables, even since they’ve expanded and made the place a touch fancier. Matador staffer Morgane Croissant claims Cornucopia makes the best vegetarian food she’s ever eaten and she even owns the restaurant’s cookbook (and uses it all the time).
Govindas, which has three different locations in Dublin, is also worth mentioning with its subji specials changing daily and often served with some homemade panir. It also serves as a companion restaurant to the Hare Krishna community in Dublin.
Special thanks: Morgane Croissant
13. Ithaca, USA
If you cook at home, you’ve probably made a handful of meals out of the Moosewood Cookbook series — the first step to vegetarianism is probably getting lost in the enchanted broccoli forest, right? Ithaca is actually where the Moosewood Restaurant resides, and their Mediterranean Chickpea Basil Burger is probably way better than the one you tried to make at home last week. Ithaca also has a committed farmer’s market that’s been open four days a week since 1973. For your own shopping, there’s the GreenStar Natural Foods coop and you can get vegetarian and vegan offerings pretty much everywhere else around town — from the corner bagel store (Collegetown Bagels, Ithaca Bakery) to the ice cream shop (Sweet Melissa’s) to the sandwich shop (Gorgers) to the many ethnic restaurants (Ciao) to your standard upscale American bistros.
Special thanks: Liz Burnham