Cafe Reviews

5 of Metro Phoenix's Best Vegetarian Restaurants

Fresh Mint’s Rainbow Wonder features vegetables in sesame ginger garlic sauce.
Fresh Mint’s Rainbow Wonder features vegetables in sesame ginger garlic sauce. Jacob Tyler Dunn
If eating more veggies is part of your new year’s healthy eating resolutions, I’ve got some good news for you: Metro Phoenix’s vegan and vegetarian scene has never been bigger or more diverse. What used to be a small constellation of veggie-centric eateries in the Valley has grown exponentially over the past decade, and even restaurants that don’t specialize in plant-based cooking have become friendlier to vegetarian and vegan diners.

Much of our scene remains casual, with grab-and-go options like fast-casual salad parlors, juice bars, and vegan food trucks becoming increasingly ubiquitous. But there’s also a growing repertoire of sit-down restaurants and cafes engaging in creative and delicious plant-based cooking. Many of these cater to vegan and vegetarian diners, but their appeal extends well beyond these labels. In that spirit, here are five essential vegan and vegetarian restaurants for metro Phoenix carnivores, omnivores, or meat-free eaters alike.

click to enlarge Fresh Mint - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Fresh Mint
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Fresh Mint
13802 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

For almost a decade now, Fresh Mint — a small, family-run restaurant that offers lunch and dinner service — has been quietly serving top-notch vegetarian and vegan fare in north Scottsdale. The restaurant specializes in Asian-inspired dishes — you’ll find meat-free renditions of popular Chinese-American staples, for example. But the emphasis here is on Vietnamese flavors and dishes. Fresh vegetables and herbs are central to Vietnamese cooking, which means that chef-owner Mai Ly’s cooking rarely feels forced or contrived. So if you’re keen on avoiding faux meat substitutes, it’s easy to do that here.

Vegetables are delightfully front and center in starters like the restaurant’s cucumber rolls, which feature thin ribbons of cucumber wrapped around marinated white radish and strips of fried tofu, every bite punctuated with the bracing freshness of mint. Fresh Mint’s five-spice pho demonstrates a keen sense of flavor and balance — the mildly sweet broth is bolstered by rice noodles and savory strips of marinated soy beef. Curries are very good, especially the signature lemongrass curry with Japanese eggplant, whose coconut base is irresistibly creamy and fragrant. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants often get a bad rap for being expensive, but Fresh Mint is a delicious exception: The restaurant’s popular “Lunch on the Run” menu offers $8 entrees that include both rice and a salad.

[image-17] Pomegranate Cafe
4025 East Chandler Boulevard, #28

This Ahwatukee cafe and bakery has become a mainstay of the metro Phoenix vegan food scene for good reason. The menu, described as “very vegan” with some vegetarian options, is eclectic and expansive, which has made Pomegranate a safe place to take even your most ardent meat-loving friends.

You’ll find typical American vegetarian fare (sandwiches and wraps); raw offerings (including tacos and the restaurant’s scratch-made Everything Bagel); and globally inspired dishes like curries and Asian stir-fries. The menu generally eschews faux meat products, replacing traditional animal proteins with ingredients like legumes, veggies, and nuts. The Pom Burger, which features a soft patty crafted from mushrooms, lentils, and walnuts, is both wholesome and flavorful. What really helps set Pomegranate Cafe apart from the growing field of vegan restaurants is the restaurant’s bakery, which produces most of the breads on the menu, and a strong selection of desserts and treats. Vegan Samoa cookies, cheesecake, and candy bars (the bakery makes a great vegan version of an Almond Joy bar) are delightful. Good news for Pom fans: The restaurant will soon debut a second location in central Phoenix.

click to enlarge Look familiar?  The big wac at Green is the vegan big mac; you'll never stop at MickeyD's again. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Look familiar? The big wac at Green is the vegan big mac; you'll never stop at MickeyD's again.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Ruchi Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine
2051 West Warner Road, #7, Chandler

The menu of traditional South Indian vegetarian dishes at Ruchi is vast and consistently delicious. We’re talking aromatic biryanis, silky curries, and flaky, crepe-like dosas and uttapams served with all manner of sweet, spicy, and pungent chutneys. Ruchi also boasts one of the most satisfying all-vegetarian lunch buffets in town (the buffet also features vegan options).

You can sample the full spectrum of South Indian flavors with the restaurant’s impressive Thali combo platter, which comes furnished with dhal lentil curry, roti, pickles, veggies, and, for dessert, a cup of pistachio-flecked, buttery payasam pudding. It’s very hard to pass up Ruchi’s extensive menu of dosas, which includes more than a dozen varieties stuffed with spices, cheeses and veggies. I’ve become partial to the onion masala dosa, which is filled with a creamy and spicy blend of potatoes and onions. From the house specialties menu, it’s hard to resist the Gobi Manchurian, a fried cauliflower dish that pulsates with rich garlicky flavor.

click to enlarge Gobi Manchurian, from Ruchi South Indian Cuisine, is a popular Indian Chinese fried cauliflower dish. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Gobi Manchurian, from Ruchi South Indian Cuisine, is a popular Indian Chinese fried cauliflower dish.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
The Coronado
2201 North Seventh Street

The Coronado helps fill a niche in metro Phoenix’s vegetarian and vegan dining scene — a laid-back yet refined spot with an expansive brunch, lunch and dinner menu, and a full bar with good cocktails and locally sourced beer and wine. The ambiance is cozy and homespun, and the menu is replete with clever reinterpretations of popular dishes like biscuits and gravy, tacos, and chili.

The kitchen rarely messes around with faux meat products, relying on veggies, grains, legumes, and homemade sauces to build texture and flavor. Highlights include cauliflower tacos, which feature fried florets bolstered by a creamy avocado dressing and fresh guacamole. Huevos rancheros are elevated by the restaurant’s earthy and hearty black coffee chili. And while it won’t appease meat fanatics, The Coronado’s beet burger — featuring a beet, quinoa, and brown rice patty topped by an ultra-savory poblano corn relish — is both wholesome and delicious. Definitely swing by the bakery counter, which is consistently stocked with treats like vegan pop tarts, scones, and muffins.
click to enlarge Beautiful plates and portions will have you driving to Chandler to eat at Pomegranate Cafe every week. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Beautiful plates and portions will have you driving to Chandler to eat at Pomegranate Cafe every week.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Green New American Vegetarian
2022 North Seventh Street
2240 North Scottsdale Road, #8, Tempe

It’s true that dozens of new vegetarian and vegan restaurants have opened since Green first debuted in the Valley more than a decade ago. But it’s also true that Green — chef Damon Brasch’s temple to vegan comfort food — remains a local touchstone, a standard-bearer that continues to showcase the many ways in which meat-free cooking can produce outrageously decadent dishes. In other words, Green remains one of the most accessible and easy-to-love vegan and vegetarian spots in town.

If you’re new to Green, you’ll want to sample popular specialties like the buffalo wings, which are crafted from chewy, juicy mock chicken protein. They are so thoroughly sluiced with the restaurant’s winning spicy Buffalo sauce, you might be able to convince someone that they’re the real thing. The Big Wac, a vegan rendition of the McDonald’s icon, is a mammoth double-patty spectacle that hits most of the flavors and textures of the real thing. It’s not all comfort food, though: Dishes like the Dagobah Jungle, featuring jerk-spiced Brussels sprouts served over fresh greens, are delicious, hearty, and wholesome. If you visit the central Phoenix location of Green, it’s almost impossible to resist topping off your meal with a tSoynami, the vegan soft-serve delicacy served at Nami, the restaurant’s sister vegan sweets shop that’s conveniently located next door.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.