A vegan, a vegetarian and an omnivore walk into a bar — or, rather, a restaurant — and here’s the punchline: The omnivore can order anything on the menu; the vegetarian finds a couple of things that are, inevitably, drowning in cheese; and the vegan gets the side salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
For both vegans and vegetarians, the plant-based pickings tend to be slim on many restaurant menus, with chefs relying on hummus wraps (please stop), black bean burgers and beet salads. Here in the District, we’re lucky to have a growing number of plant-based casual eateries, including Shouk, HipCityVeg, Fare Well and Pow Pow, and fancier options for special nights out, such as Fancy Radish and Equinox’s vegan tasting menu.
But if you’re the lone veg-head dining with a group, or an omnivore who doesn’t want plant-based friends to go hungry, things can get a bit sticky if the reservation isn’t at one of the region’s many vegan-friendly Ethiopian or Indian restaurants. Well-meaning omnivores generally don’t realize that there are eggs in the pasta at that charming Italian trattoria, the tomato soup at the hipster diner is made with chicken stock, or the frites at that cute French bistro are dripping in duck fat. Fish sauce in the tofu curry, anchovies in the Caesar dressing, egg wash on the bagels — eating out can be a minefield for those who eschew meat and related products.
Which is why it’s such a treat to find restaurants that offer something for everybody at the table, whether it’s chicken schnitzel or a satisfying tofu club sandwich. So here’s a selection of non-vegan restaurants across the D.C. area whose menus have enough plant-based variety to ensure that everyone gets their fill.
Stuck in a lunch rut? Head to a D.C. farmers market for barbecue, crab cakes or Mexican street food.
Yadira Stamp, chef-owner of this Panamanian restaurant, was a vegetarian for many years, an influence seen all over the menu. Ground yuca balls called carimañolas come stuffed with soy “meat” as well as beef or turkey, while the bistec vegetariano features vegan “beefless” soy strips cooked with peppers and onions and served with coconut pigeon peas and rice. For a unique brunch experience, head there on Saturdays, when you can fill up on hojaldres (fried dough), vegetarian empanadas and twice-fried green plantains. 3322 Georgia Ave. NW. esenciaspanamenas.com.
This Capitol Hill newcomer is ensconced at Bullfrog Bagels as a pop-up until its bricks-and-mortar location opens, and it has a welcoming menu reflecting the Buddhist education of its Tibetan-born chef. Perfectly fluffy steamed buns come stuffed with tofu and veggies and covered in a finger-licking glaze, while king mushrooms are grilled in a fragrant coconut butter and served with a colorful chutney of beets and carrots. Plan ahead and make a reservation for the hot pot service for four ($140 per table), which provides an interactive assortment of vegetables, tofu and noodles that are dipped into a flavorful broth, rich with spices. Pop up, 317 Seventh St. SE. Permanent location opening in November at 1300-1302 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. dorjeemomo.com.
Ask about vegan dishes, and you’ll be handed a menu that clearly outlines every dietary option, from gluten free to pescatarian — a sure sign that this Balkan restaurant has carefully thought about feeding every diner. Standout small plates include silky baked beans redolent with smoked paprika, and braised cabbage with a hint of spice. Go ahead and order the hearty Ambar fries, but substitute ajvar (a red pepper spread) for the kajmak cheese. Ambar has two area locations (Capitol Hill and Clarendon), but they don’t have the same menu, so you’ll be able to discover different dishes at each spot. 523 Eighth St. SE; 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. ambarrestaurant.com.
You’ll find homey Afghan cuisine in Adams Morgan at Lapis, where many of the meat or dairy dishes can be modified into plant-based versions. Try bolani, a crusty seared flatbread stuffed with vegetables and herbs, and aushak, dumplings filled with leeks and topped with yellow split peas. Don’t miss the risotto-style shola stew, made with 16 types of beans, and the buranee kadoo, a savory staple of sauteed pumpkin with a hint of mint. 1847 Columbia Rd. NW. lapisdc.com.
It might seem surprising to find plant-based items on a menu that also features a dozen types of German-style sausages, but this old-school restaurant — located near Metro Center since 1981 — serves several vegetable entrees. Potato goulash comes glazed in a rich paprika sauce; the crunchy mushroom schnitzel is suitable for vegetarians (it has an egg wash), but the mushrooms can also be sauteed and served with a sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs for extra crunch. A wide range of traditional accompaniments are vegan, from the Austrian potato salad and red cabbage to a vinegary three-bean salad and sauerkraut. 1331 H St. NW. cafemozartdc.com.
There was a time when Washington’s Chinatown actually had, you know, a lot of Chinese restaurants. One of the few vestiges of the past is Chinatown Garden, a throwback to the American-Chinese restaurants of yore — white tablecloths, a never-ending supply of oolong tea and a wide variety of mock meats. You’ll find plant-based versions of General Tso’s chicken, kung pao beef and moo shu pork; be sure to double check with your server in case some dishes contain undisclosed eggs or fish sauce. Several excellent bean curd dishes also grace the menu, and the tender eggplant in garlic sauce is a must-have. 618 H St. NW. chinatowngardendc.com.
Nope, that’s not a misprint. Grab a dog at this corner butcher-bodega secure in the knowledge that, yes, they’ve got vegans covered. With only four housemade sausages available, Meats & Foods has actually devoted 25 percent of the menu to a plant-based option. Even omnivores say the seitan-based veggie sausage holds its own against the fleshier versions , especially when topped with sauerkraut, grilled peppers and onions. Add the Frito pie (Fritos are vegan!), drenched in vegetarian chili and a sprinkling of green onions, and a cold local brew to your order — you’ll find no rabbit food here. 247 Florida Ave. NW. meatsandfoods.com.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner — there’s no shortage of options at this Takoma Park mainstay, with a menu built on both Asian and American cuisine. Start off with mung bean pancakes, then build your own plant-happy sandwich complete with vegan mayo or cream cheese, finishing with a soy ice cream sundae. Keep an eye out for unusual items that might pop up occasionally as specials, such as a recent tasty side dish of shredded burdock root in a barbecue glaze. Word to the wise: Some dishes containing kimchi are marked as vegan on the menu even though they may contain fish sauce. Ask your server about the vegan kimchi, which is available. 7006 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park. markskitchen.com.
Aficionados of this homegrown chain may have noticed an increasing number of vegan dishes on its menu, and they’re not wrong: In fact, owner Andy Shallal stated last year at an event for VegFest D.C. that he can envision an entirely plant-based menu in the future. For now, you’ll find both traditional and vegan mac and cheese, along with a killer “tuna” salad sandwich made with mashed chickpeas and crunchy bits of celery and carrots, and a Cobb salad with crispy tofu and tempeh dressed in a hemp vinaigrette. Try the tofu scramble for brunch with a side of vegan sausage, or nosh on the housemade “beef” sliders while sipping a glass of vegan sauvignon blanc at the bar. Locations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. busboysandpoets.com.