These days the Valley’s restaurant scene has gotten pretty good at embracing diners' dietary restrictions and decisions. You can now be a vegan here and eat pretty well.
In short, veganism means abstaining from animal food products. Among the distinctions from vegetarianism are that vegans also skip additional products, like eggs, dairy, and honey. For an added perspevtive on the subject, we turned to Michelle Dudash, a chef, registered dietician, and cookbook author based in Scottsdale.
Dudash shared 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.
Mornings can be easy for vegans in metro Phoenix. Try the 100 percent vegan Desert Roots Kitchen in Tempe for breakfast burritos and bagels.
You can also find the Farmers Market Vegan Wrap at Focaccia Fiorentina during the Phoenix Open Air Market, and there's the Smothered Vegan Breakfast Burrito at Liberty Market in Gilbert. Also, check out 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 Bar & 24hr Cafe and 24 Carrots in Tempe, The Coffee Shop at Agritopia in Gilbert, and Genuine Fresche, which has locations in Tempe, Chandler, and Gilbert.
Dark Hall Coffee is a vegan and vegetarian coffee shop set in the Coronado area, one offering fully vegan coffee and tea drinks, plus pastries. We’re talking about house-made nut milks, oat milks, dairy-free cortados, cappuccinos, and lattes, brown sugar lemonade, signature juice concoctions, cinnamon rolls, and shortbread.
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 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.
As always, shopping can make you hungrier than you ever thought you could be. Good thing for vegans there’s Toca Madera at Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall. Order up a couple tofu-based empanadas, tostadas, and tacos, and head back to the shops.
Finally, Silvana Esparza serves up haute Mexican vegan dishes at Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva. Esparza cooks an ever-changing variety of vegan Mexican dishes from menu that is about 50 percent vegan, including nopales, smoked yam, and fig mole.
“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 Vegan Cuisine, which has four locations in the Valley.
“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, 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 isn't strictly Mediterranean, Dudash has some nice things to say about the upscale restaurant's Mediterranean 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. Authentic Ethio African is a hidden nook on McDowell with some surprisingly good vegan options, though what's actually in stock will vary from what you see on the menu. You can't go wrong with 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, and Blaze Pizza (with locations all over town) offers soy-free vegan cheeses. Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen offers “vegan meats” at outposts in Scottsdale and Tempe.
This is a broad category with wavy boundaries. Luckily, many of the Valley's American 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 New American Vegetarian 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 plenty of vegetables.
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. Also, try the vegan-approved veggie dog or pretzel at Short Leash Dogs.
The Coronado, found unsurprisingly in the Coronado neighborhood, has an entire menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan fare, even burgers. Choose from offerings like the red potato and garbanzo burger or the tepary bean burger, both of which you can pair with vegan mayo and vegan bread.
Pomegranate Café (multiple locations) has an expansive menu of locally sourced vegan options, from brunch items to bowls, burritos, sandwiches, and salads. But the restaurant's fresh-and-raw section is unique. Dubbed as “living” food, menu items include the raw everything bagel made from nuts, seeds, and vegetables, the raw Arizona roll for sushi fans, and the raw tacos vivos – purple cabbage shells stuffed with walnut taco "meat," with a Green Rainbow Salad on the side.
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Just because you’re on a vegan diet doesn’t mean you have to give up dessert. Try the soy-based ice cream at Nami; brownies, cookies, cakes, and pies from Treehouse Bakery (though the brownies are a heavy hitter); the vegan options from Grateful Spoon Gelato; and vegan sorbets at Melt PHX.
Downtown Glendale is now home to Veggie Rebellion – the first fully vegan grocery store in metro Phoenix. The boutique grocery store carries food items like salad dressings, dessert treats, soups, pastas, and additional grabs like pet products, cleaning supplies, and plenty of frozen foods. They store partners with Herbivorous Butcher, Violife, and Maggi Vegan Jerkee, and carries brands like Violife and Parmela Creamery, and of course, Tofurky.