These days the Valley’s restaurant scene is pretty good at embracing diners' dietary restrictions and decisions. We’re talking about veganism here, guys.
So, what does it mean to eat vegan? In short, veganism means abstaining from animal products in your food (we’ll stick simply to dietary practices for this piece), which includes sticking to a pure vegetarian diet. The distinction from a vegetarian is that vegans also eliminate eggs, dairy, honey, and other animal products in addition to meat. In recent years, restaurants and markets have made this easier by incorporating vegan menu labels, specialty dishes, and restaurants tailored specifically to vegan diners.
For a little expertise on the subject, we turned to Michelle Dudash, a chef and registered dietitian – plus bestselling cookbook author – based in Scottsdale. As the nutrition and culinary spokesperson and speaker at Chef Dudash Nutrition, Dudash has a few pointers for vegan diners in the Phoenix area.
For those thinking about making the change, “start gradually,” Dudash says. “You don't have to go all or nothing to enjoy the health benefits of less meat. Your taste buds may take an adjustment period. And for your intestinal tract, too, it's in your best interest to go gradually to prevent discomfort while adjusting to more plants.”
And if you're a vegan dish whiz in the kitchen, you're likely to have to dine out sometimes. “Not all restaurants do vegan and vegetarian well," Dudash warns. "And some execute it deliciously. So, use the vegan card wisely at restaurants, that is, if you want to be in love with what you ordered."
So what kind of substations can you request from your server to make a meal vegan-friendly? Dudash says to sub beans, peas, mushrooms, and lentils in place of meat, and avocado instead of cheese, sour cream, and almost anything fatty or creamy.
Based on some of Dudash's other suggestions, we’ve assembled a field guide to some of your favorite cuisine categories that actually turn out to be pretty vegan friendly.
You can also find the vegan breakfast burritos at Focaccia Fiorentina during the Phoenix Open Air Market, and there's the Smothered Vegan Breakfast Burrito at Liberty Market in Gilbert. Also check the vegan options on the menu at Melrose Kitchen and Scramble, which has locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Juices, coffee, and quick bites are also essential, so try Urban Beans, 24 Carrots in Tempe, The Coffee Shop at Agritopia in Gilbert, and Thrive! Acai Bowls & Smoothies, which has locations in both Tempe and Gilbert.
Take away the meats, cheese, and sour cream of Mexican-style fare, and you’re still left with some pretty great burrito options. “Someburros also has a delicious vegan burrito,” Dudash says. The Tempe eatery is joined by many other Mexican food eateries in the Valley offering vegan-friendly options.
C.A.S.A. SunBa in Tempe labels vegan options on its menu, and most of the restaurant's burritos can also be served as tacos. Try the Ticoz Guacammus at Ticoz Latin Kitchen in uptown Phoenix; the spinach mushroom filling at Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soups; and the tacos, burritos, paella, and salads at Otro Café. There’s even a vegan Mexican food truck in metro Phoenix, Mi Vegana Madre.
A pro-tip: Be sure to specify no cheese, but go nuts with the guacamole if cheese is omitted.
“At Asian restaurants, tofu and edamame are a good way to get your protein,” Dudash says. Aside from that, Phoenix offers plenty of vegan-specific, Asian-style eateries, including Green Lotus Vegan, Vegan House, and Loving Hut, which has locations in Tempe and Glendale.
“Indian restaurants have amazing vegan or vegetarian food,” Dudash says. “That is just what some of their cuisine naturally is.”
With that in mind, head to Chandler and check the menu options at Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Kitchen or Ruchi Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine. There’s also OM Indian Bistro and Madras Ananda Bhavan, plus the Lotus Deli in Mesa and Udupi Café in Tempe.
At Pita Jungle, Dudash suggests the Lentil Fetoosh Salad. “It is made of simmered lentils with caramelized onions, crispy pita chips, brown rice, over a bed of romaine with a lemon vinaigrette,” she says. And for starters, go for Pita Jungle's large trio hummus — and remember to ask for an extra pita.
Though FnB Restaurant is billed as New American fare, Dudash has some nice things to say about the upscale restaurant's Mediterranien menu items. “[Chef] Charleen Badman of FnB does some amazing things with vegetables,” she says. “Her falafel, hummus, and grain salads are some of the best I've ever had.”
Ethiopian cuisine is also a safe bet for vegan eaters. Cafe Lalibela is known for its vegan and vegetarian options in Tempe, or try the veggie combo with injera bread at Abyssinia Restaurant and Café.
Because no one can go too long without pizza and pasta, Italian restaurants offer a variety of vegan-friendly dishes and pies. Grimaldi's Pizzeria has animal-product-free pizza dough at its locations throughout the Valley, while Blaze Pizza in Tempe offers soy-free vegan cheeses, and Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen offers “vegan meats” at its restaurants in Scottsdale and Tempe.
Sometimes a catchall term, American food can cast a wide net. Luckily, many of the Valley's America restaurants offer vegan dishes. Dudash recommends the vegetable crudité appetizer at True Food Kitchen, paired with the restaurant's hummus if you feel so inclined.
Of course, Green gets a mention here as Phoenix and Tempe’s 100-percent-vegan restaurant, offering vegan rice bowls, greens and gardens burritos, burgers, and sandwiches — and, yes, vegan-friendly chili fries, crab puffs, and wings. Ingredients include vegan cheeses, mock meats, organic coconut milk, and, of course, plenty of vegetables.
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Additional vegan and vegetarian-friendly dining spots include the Carly's Bistro, Chelsea's Kitchen, Seasons 52, St. Francis, and Flower Child, plus The Cutting Board Bakery & Café in Mesa. And what’s more American than hot dogs? Get your buns over to Simon's Hot Dogs in Scottsdale for some vegan dogs, and try the vegan-approved veggie dog or pretzel at Short Leash Dogs.
Just because you’re on a vegan diet doesn’t mean you have to completely give up dessert. Try the soy-based ice cream at Nami; the brownies, cookies, cakes, and pies from Treehouse Bakery; the vegan options for natural fruit gelato at Grateful Spoon Gelato; and the vegan sorbets over at Melt PHX.