Best Vegetarian Restaurants to Try
AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
Vegetarian meals are coming to a menu near you. For those interested in meatless options, there are plenty of ways to get started — and even initiatives geared toward reducing or eliminating animal products. Eschewing meat is a key component of World Vegetarian Day, which was proposed in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society and then endorsed in 1978 by the International Vegetarian Union. Each Oct. 1, it ushers in Vegetarian Awareness Month “to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism,” according to the organization’s website. The celebration is capped off by World Vegan Day on Nov. 1.
If you aren’t ready to change your diet yet, you have company. Numbers of plant-based eaters remain relatively small, according to Lizzy Freier, senior research manager of Technomic Inc., who cited Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report—noting only 3 percent of 1,877 U.S. consumers surveyed self-describe as vegetarian (with 3 percent saying they’re vegan, 2 percent claiming pescatarian, 5 percent flexitarian and 5 percent semi-vegetarian). Still, others appear open to the experience, if only for a meal.
“The leading three reasons consumers point to as drivers for increased vegetarian meal consumption is that they’re … getting protein from other sources (51 percent), they are trying to eat healthier (46 percent) and there are a wider variety of options now available (37 percent),” said Freier.
According to Technomic’s Ignite menu data from the second quarter of 2020, “mentions of vegetarian entrees are up 2.6 percent in the past year.”
As consummate travelers (and eaters), AAA inspectors are at the forefront of changing consumer preferences. Many have seen more vegetarian offerings on menus firsthand. One AAA inspector said Himalaya Restaurant in Plattsburg, New York, has "lots of vegetarian and vegan options. Many items are steamed or light and lean."
Another AAA inspector recommended AAA Four Diamond La Toque restaurant within AAA Four Diamond The Westin Verasa Napa in Napa, California. “It offers tasting menus, including an all-vegetable one,” said the inspector. “I had it, and it was amazing.”
For those wanting to try a plant-based way of eating, whether for a day or longer, here are a few of the many AAA Diamond-designated vegetarian restaurants, as recommended by AAA inspectors and AAA editors, to introduce your palate to the cuisine.
This is the place to go for global cuisine and a cool vibe. House-made desserts also are vegan and very delicious, so saving room is a must.
Inspector tip: “Everything on [the] menu is vegetarian or vegan, specializing in comfort food/ familiar favorites like lasagna, enchiladas and pizza (making this a good introductory place for those new to meatless meals).”
Ethos Vegan Kitchen Inc
Winter Park, Florida
At this local favorite (and AAA Inspector Pick), vegetarian comfort food isn’t contradictory with a number of hearty, plant-based dishes. (A sheep’s pie replaces the traditional meaty shepherd’s pie.) In addition to the generous entrées, there are appetizers, sandwiches, salads and daily specials as well as a full bar.
Editor tip: “The lasagna with ‘buttery’ garlic knots is my favorite meal — one I order each Christmas Eve, but I enjoy going to Ethos at any time because of the comfortable setting and filling, homemade food.”
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Chef and owner Dan Sriprasert meshes the culinary influences of Malaysia, Japan, China, India and his native Thailand to make “a meat-free menu for everyone.” Local ingredients and products, such as craft beer, teas and locally roasted coffee, are used. There’s a second Green Elephant located in Portland, Maine.
Inspector tip: “The Portsmouth location is a favorite because of the farm-fresh, creative and colorful dishes,” the inspector said, naming favorites “such as a bright and fragrant coconut soup made with cherry tomatoes, onions, scallions and cilantro. The pad thai is rich with flavors, and a chocolate orange mousse pie completes a tasty meal."
Kalachandji's Garden Restaurant
Open since 1982, the AAA Inspector Pick — named after a Hindu deity— serves Ayurvedic-style foods (minus meat, fish, eggs, onion or garlic). Because the restaurant is lacto-vegetarian, any dairy-containing products are marked on the menu. According to the website, the “mission at Kalachandji’s is to provide vegetarian cuisine that delights the palate, promotes good health, makes the mind peaceful and elevates the consciousness.” (At press time, the restaurant offers to-go meals.)
Inspector Tip: “Their courtyard is one of the prettiest spots to eat in town, and the food is consistently rated well online,” the inspector said. “It’s in a temple, too, which adds to the interest. It’s sort of an interesting place all around.”
Charlotte, North Carolina
Located within South End’s Atherton Mill complex, the restaurant’s menu offerings are as refreshing and colorful as the décor. A number of the dishes are prepared raw, such as the burrito or vegan sushi, and underscore the name of the trendy restaurant.
Inspector tip: “There’s “plenty to enjoy even if you’re a carnivore, including plant-based burgers, spaghetti Bolognese, curry and pizza. The desserts, packed with nuts, fruit and coconut, are yummy, too. When you’re on the go, pop in to pick up one of their cold-pressed juice blends or smoothies.”
The Maia Papaya
Bethlehem, New Hampshire
The restaurant’s new takeout window is a cool way to receive a smoothie or even a tasty plant-based breakfast or lunch order. Offerings include breakfast sandwiches (available with eggs) as well wraps, burritos, salads and daily soups and quiche specials. Also available are coffees and house-made “lovin’ from our ovens,” aka baked goods.
Inspector tip: The inspector recommended the espresso bar and baked goods, “including vegan cheesecake,” and added, “[It’s a] convenient location for those traveling to the Canadian border or into the White Mountains.”
Fort Collins, Colorado
The food at this family restaurant, which had its debut in 2009 before a move to its current location in 2015, is mostly vegan and organic. Specialties include everything from tacos to fresh salads. (Produce may have even come from the family's garden in season.)
Inspector tip: “The dishes are fresh and organic, the servers are knowledgeable and the interior is bright and modern.”
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AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims is an AAA Travel Expert.