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, or indulge in a plant-based diet, and eat pretty well.
Veganism, in short, 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 perspective on the subject, we turned to Michelle Dudash, a chef, registered dietitian, and cookbook author formerly 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 not a vegan dish whiz in the kitchen, you're likely 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 substitutions 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 a vegan-friendly Phoenix.
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 — now with multiple locations.
Juices, coffee, and bites are also essential, so try Urban Beans Bar & 24hr Cafe and 24 Carrots (both also offering lunch and dinner), 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 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 downtown 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.
Find more vegan tacos at places like Mi Vegana Madre — the food truck gone physical location in downtown Glendale. The carne asada and al pastor tacos offer faux meat filling. Next, La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop has options like the Ahuacatl taco and Gandhi taco, and the cactus-based Guisado Tenoch.
Finally, Silvana Salcido 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.
Because no one can go too long without pizza and pasta, Italian restaurants offer a variety of vegan-friendly dishes and pies. The Vegan Dalai Lama Pizza from La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria is a well-known dish in the Phoenix vegan culinary world, while True Food Kitchen offers an artichoke, pesto, and almond ricotta pizza.
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. Additional vegan-friendly pizza spots in metro Phoenix include Pizza People Pub, Pizza Heaven Bistro with its separate prep area for vegan dishes, and Pomo Pizzeria for the Marinara Verace. Last, Pieology Pizzeria has plant proteins and five Arizona locations.
The cuisine of Ethiopia is also a safe bet for vegan eaters. Cafe Lalibela is known for its vegan and vegetarian options in Tempe. Authentic Ethio African Spices is a hidden nook on McDowell Road 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.
“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 Indian Vegetarian & Vegan Cuisine 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. “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.” And Badman picked up a James Beard Foundation award in 2019 to prove it.
In 2019, Glendale became home to the first fine-dining vVegan restaurant. Yes, the 65-seat Casa Terra in the historic downtown area has a menu curated by chef Jason Wyrick and inspired by flavors of Mexico and the Mediterranean — specifically Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Think saffron chorizo risotto with a gold leaf, or sweet potato gnocchi.
“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 in downtwon Phoenix, and Loving Hut Vegan Cuisine, which has four locations in the Valley. For more vegan-friendly Asian dishes, check the menus at Little Szechuan in 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 a 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. Tempe's 24 Carrots also offers a 100-percent vegan lunch and dinner menu, with dishes like the Buffalo cauliflower wrap and Mac & Trees.
Additional vegan and vegetarian-friendly dining spots include Tryst Cafe, Carly's Bistro, Chelsea's Kitchen, 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. Even Joe’s Real BBQ has added some vegan options — i.e. a spicy jackfruit meat substitute. Same for Welcome Diner, which has a jackfruit-based po'boy that's as killer as it is colorful. And Pedal Haus Brewery just released a small menu of vegan items.
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 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.
The plant-based eatery Verdura along the Seventh Street Corridor opened in March 2019 and offers po'boys filled with flash-fried button mushrooms, plus soups, salads, and starters. And the carne asada nachos do not disappoint, nor does the "phish" and chips. As for one of their darker features, the Goth Waffle is heaven sent, as are the colorful smoothies.
WHyld Ass is another 100-percent plant-based eatery, known for its charcoal water (just a heads up there), and menu items like Whyld Jax, or whole-grain buckwheat flour pancakes, mac and cheese made with thick basil cashew cheese sauce, caramelized onions, and gluten-free pasta, and the falafel burger with whyld tzatziki. There's also a wide selection of juices, smoothies, and coffees.
Just because you’re on a vegan diet doesn’t mean you have to give up dessert. Most of the restaurants above offer a dessert option (again, Verdura's Goth Waffle), but a few places really zero in on that last course.
A vegan, build-your-own cinnamon roll chain recently opened in Gilbert — specifically SanTan Village Parkway and Williams Field Road. Patrons of Cinnaholic get their choice of 18 frostings and 23 toppings, as well as signature rolls.
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There are also many vegan options at Zak’s Chocolate. Not only all of the single-origin dark chocolate bars, but vegan truffles and "milk" and white chocolatier bars using coconut milk.
Of course shopping for vegan ingredients can be just as fun. You'll find many plant-based items at the many local farmers markets in the Valley, the aforementioned La Grande Orange, and the Arizona-based Sprouts grocery store. Other retailers with vegan grocery items include Natural Grocers, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 15, 2016. It was updated on August 16, 2019.