One of the challenges in eating a plant-based diet is eating out, since most American-style restaurants cater to the primarily animal-based US diet. My wife and I both enjoy eating out as one of our main activities together.
But now that I'm paying attention, I'm seeing more restaurants that cater to vegetarians. Their menus tend to be very creative and flavorful. Eating at them gives us all kinds of ideas about dishes and substitutions to try at home. That really opens up the options for eating a delicious and satisfying vegetarian diet. It's way beyond simple green salad rabbit food.
Some restaurants specialize in vegan recreations of meat dishes, challenging your ability to tell the difference. These are great for taking people who feel they could never enjoy food that doesn't taste like what they're used to.
Others throw convention completely to the wind and make no attempt to recreate animal-based dishes. They show that a whole new range of flavors and textures are just as good.
Some are very careful and explicit about what is vegan (strictly no animal-based product used in any way) and what is vegetarian (sauces, broths, oils, sides, or some other aspect may include a small amount of animal-based product). It never hurts to ask, since some dishes listed as vegetarian are in fact strictly vegan, and others may have an unexpected animal-based ingredient.
The Hidden Vegetarian Restaurants
I have to remind myself that vegetarian dishes are prominent in many international cuisines.
Virtually any Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant lists tofu as one of the protein options for many dishes, so these can automatically be considered vegetarian. Tofu is a great replacement for meat, taking on the flavors of the sauces and spices.
Similarly, Indian and Ethiopian restaurants will have a number of vegetarian dishes, as will many other Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean restaurants. Some places will have separate meat and vegetarian buffets.
Broadening to ovo-lacto-vegetarian (adding eggs and dairy) opens the choices even more. For instance, many Italian restaurants offer meatless dishes that include cheese, in addition to the pasta dishes with purely vegetarian sauces like marinara or puttanesca. And of course good old pizza in its many vegetarian varieties.
This is a list of restaurants in the greater Boston area that cater to vegetarians. Some are totally vegan, "except for the little half-and-half containers for the coffee" as they told us at one. Some are old favorites, and some are new discoveries.
This is only a tiny sampling, the ones we've tried so far. There are many more out there, so I'll be updating this on a random basis.
For each listing, the name links to the restaurant's website, and the location links to Google Maps.
Asmara Restaurant, Cambridge, MA: Eritrean and Ethiopean food eaten in traditional style, scooped up by hand with injera bread from a communal platter. We've been going here some 25 years, a family favorite. Our kids started requesting it regularly as their birthday meal once they grew past the Chuck E Cheese stage. It has both vegetarian and meat dishes. We always just order the meat sampler and vegetarian sampler to keep it simple and get a variety. I call this shoveling food, because it's so good you just shovel it in your mouth as fast as you can, until you suddenly realize it's all gone. The secret is the spices. Some are hot, but all are amazingly flavorful.
Life Alive Organic Cafe, Lowell, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Salem, MA: A variety of creative flavorful dishes that make no pretense of recreating traditional fare. The Lowell location is one of our favorites. The Cambridge location is just around the corner from Asmara.
Veggie Galaxy, Cambridge, MA: Conversely, this offers traditional diner comfort food, but all in vegetarian versions (with options for 100% vegan), and includes a vegan bakery. The meat substitutes we've had have been delicious and utterly convincing. This is the one with the half-and-half. Also just down the street from Asmara (Central Square Cambridge is full of interesting restaurants).
Pho Pasteur, Boston and Quincy, MA: A variety of Vietnamese dishes.
My Thai Vegan Cafe, Boston, MA: Upstairs above Pho Pasteur, vegan versions of Thai dishes.
Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro And Bar (Portland website), Portsmouth, NH, and Portland, ME: Vegetarian versions of several Asian cuisines, with spectacular flavors.
Mr. India Restaurant, Newburyport, MA: A wide range of delicious vegetarian dishes, including Nepali and Himalayan cuisine.
Mayuri Indian Cuisine, Acton, MA: Simple strip mall restaurant with amazing variety and flavors.
Dawat Authentic Hyerabadi Biryani Place, Nashua, NH: Another very simple strip mall restaurant with fantastic flavors.