June 10, 2013
Warm summer weather calls for cool treats and lighter fare, preferably consumed alfresco.
Thankfully, discovering healthy eats in Philadelphia is a cinch.
From upscale white tablecloth restaurants dishing out inventive vegetable creations to casual spots serving up raw foods and gluten-free dishes, veg-lovers have plenty of options from which to choose.
So forgo heavy meals in favor of lighter, healthful fare this season.
Check out our picks for health-conscious spots worth checking out:
• Miss Rachel’s Pantry: Miss Rachel’s Pantry calls South Philadelphia home. The vegan catering and meal delivery company offers a kitschy-chic dining room for private events and Saturday communal pre-fixed dinners enjoyed around a reclaimed wood farmhouse table.
• Sprig & Vine: New Hope’s premier vegan dining destination, Sprig & Vine is a bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) spot that offers a Sunday brunch menu (think warm cinnamon sugar doughnuts, berry French toast and a tempeh Reuben), along with an elegant dinner menu featuring delicacies such as porcini-seared tofu with an English pea cream sauce.
• Vedge: Culinary couple Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby make veggies haute at Vedge, where each of the menu’s small plates pack a powerful, palatable punch. Order anything from the Dirt list for the freshest seasonal specialties. Vegetable enthusiasts and fine-dining aficionados both enjoy the elegant dining rooms, lounge and bright bar, known for its inventive cocktail list.
• Zahav: Zahav is a great choice to satisfy veg-lovers and carnivores alike. The modern Israeli restaurant in Society Hill celebrates vegetables Middle Eastern style, with chef/owner Michael Solomonov at the helm. The mezze includes terrific hummus and “salatim” (collection of vegetable salads), along with creative takes on the likes of Brussels sprouts, greens, bulgur, fried cauliflower and a roasted eggplant braciole stuffed with cauliflower filling.
• Blackbird Pizzeria: An entirely vegan and certified kosher pizza shop experience right off of South Street, Blackbird serves up can’t-resist favorites such as nacho pizza with caramelized onions, jalapeños, avocado and dairy-free cheese and sandwiches such as the smoked tofu cubano with seitan pepperoni and pickles.
• Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen: In Fishtown, Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen offers a myriad of retro-American vegetarian and vegan options. Regulars come for the craft beer and specialties like the kale burger, fried green tomato po’boy and veggie croquettes.
• Cantina Los Caballitos: Always packed with a super-hip crowd, Passyunk Avenue’s Cantina Los Caballitos dishes out vegan and vegetarian dishes with as much innovation as the traditional menu items (think seitan and smoked chicken tacos). With free chips, a well-stocked bar and equally equipped jukebox, everyone leaves full and happy.
• Cantina Dos Segundos: On the other side of town, Cantina Dos Segundos offers a similar experience for the Northern Liberties neighborhood.
• Govinda’s To Go: A casual eatery that serves sandwiches and wraps (such as the “chicken” cheesesteak and “tuna” salad wrap), Govinda’s To Go also lures in omnivores (and nostalgic vegetarians) with specialties like vegan “tuna” and a case full of baked treats.
• HipCityVeg: A super-popular 100% plant-based fast-food cafe in the Rittenhouse neighborhood, HipCityVeg has a legion of fans for specialties like its crispy jerk “chick’n” Caesar salad and its Philly “steak.” Focusing primarily on take-out, the restaurant also offers a bike-delivery option.
• Honeygrow: A casual build-your-own stir-fry and salads spot, Honeygrow earns high marks for its stylish interior design. More bragging rights include a menu designed by chef Shola Olunloyo. Veg and non-veg options abound, along with smoothies and a buzzing fruit and honeybar.
• Magic Carpet: A vegetarian haven since 1984, Magic Carpet caters to students and locals in the University City neighborhood with oodles of meat-free options at two street-side vending locations. Fresh offerings include budget-priced platters of tofu meatballs, rice, veggies and cheese and the exquisitely light spinach pies with fresh Greek salad on the side.
• Pure Fare: Open for breakfast and lunch, Pure Fare has two locations serving mostly veg dishes, all made with seasonal, organic ingredients in a sunny, casual atmosphere. Try the kale salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds and any of the delicious smoothies. There’s nothing over 500 calories on the menu, a nice bonus for those watching their waistlines.
• Strangelove’s: In Washington Square West, beer bar Strangelove’s takes care of its veg-head diners by calling out vegetarian and vegan items on the menu. Look out for vegetarian mushroom flautas and a vegan brownie with cream cheese frosting from the same folks who brought you Memphis Taproom, Local 44 and Resurrection Ale House.
• Underdogs: Haute dogs deliver a powerful flavor wallop at Underdogs, a wiener joint that diversifies its offerings with vegan dogs and gluten-free rolls. Toppings include avocado, tomato, pepper hash, green papaya slaw, barbecue sauce and spicy Thai peanut sauce.
Options for global and gluten-free eats, below.
Asian Vegan & Vegetarian
• Mi Lah Vegetarian: Weekend brunch draws vegans from all over the city to Mi Lah Vegetarian, home to a completely vegan menu with favorites like beer-battered seitan and waffles, tofu Benedict and oversized pancakes with blueberry soy butter. The eclectic dinner menu features tofu, seitan and inventive vegetable dishes, and the three-course lunch specials are a tasty bargain.
• New Harmony Vegetarian: A $12 Sunday dinner buffet and daily all-you-can-eat dim sum specials make New Harmony Vegetarian a filling destination for vegetarians, vegans and their omnivorous dining companions alike. Those in the know save room for the vegan dessert offerings, including dairy-free “cheesecake.”
• Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine: Ratchada devotes an entire page of their menu to vegan and vegetarian dishes. Located just steps from a bustling Asian Market in South Philadelphia, the intimate BYOB serves up an inexpensive, three-course lunch.
• Singapore Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant: Regulars recommend the faux orange beef at Singapore Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant, located in the heart of Chinatown. Specialties include more than two dozen veggie dim sum options, more than a dozen bean curd dishes and chef’s specials such as eggplant fritters, stuffed mushrooms and mock chicken and shrimp in a garlic mango sauce—all certified kosher.
• Su Xing House: Inexpensive lunch specials are popular at Center City’s Su Xing House. Menu options include kale and spicy tofu, soybean nuggets with sweet and sour sauce and sesame seitan. Diners can order veggie versions of their favorite soups, noodle and rice dishes, and gluten-free options are available.
• Boston Style Pizza: Celiac sufferers won’t miss out on traditional favorites at Boston Style Pizza, home to an entire gluten-free menu that includes a fresh mozzarella appetizer and a healthy hummus platter. What’s more, classic pizza with homemade sauce and Wisconsin pizza cheese is available on gluten-free crust. 447 N. Sumneytown Pike, North Wales, (215) 699-3977,
• Giorgio On Pine: A casual Italian BYOB just east of Broad Street, Giorgio on Pine caters to the gluten-free crowd and offers all of its pasta dishes with gluten-free options, and serves gluten-free pizza.
• Jar Bar: It’s all-things raw—and celiac-friendly at Jar Bar, with a pure menu of raw plates, salads, snacks, desserts, fresh juices and elixirs (like the strawberry-kale lemonade and the almond-banana drink with hemp seeds and vegan vanilla protein powder).
• Le Virtù: Gluten-free folks will find a place at the Abruzze table at Le Virtù, where chef includes a dried gluten-free pasta option on the Italian menu.
• Paesano’s Philly Style: While the sandwiches at Paesano’s may not qualify as healthy, all of the decadent eats can be served on gluten-free rolls.
• Raw Can Roll Cafe: The gluten-free Main Line crew can roll on down to Raw Can Roll Cafe, where the only thing better than the vibrant colors of the totally non-cooked menu items are the fresh tastes and textures. Desserts such as the raw banana brownie sundae are all celiac-friendly.
• Sazon: The home-style Venezuelan cuisine at Sazon — just west of trendy Northern Liberties — satisfies vegetarians avoiding wheat with dishes like grilled tofu and mushrooms with brown rice and black beans. An entire gluten-free brunch menu of various arepas (corn patties) delights vegans and vegetarians with toppings such as scrambled egg, cheddar cheese, tofu or veggies.
• Sweet Freedom: Philly’s first “allergen-free” bakery, Sweet Freedom is stocked daily with naturally sweetened, gluten-free, kosher and vegan sweets—from cupcakes to blueberry bars to whole cakes. Plus, they crank out specials Tuesday through Sunday, and have a new cookbook coming soon.
• Taffets: Omer and Natasha Taffet bake and sell a wide range of gluten-free goodies and breads at their Italian Market bakery, Taffets, including baguettes, biscotti, challah bread and more.
Shop & Eat
• Arnold’s Way: Arnold’s Way, a health food store and vegetarian raw cafe in Montgomery County, takes healthy eating to a new level with wraps made from the sea vegetable called nori and with salads so finely minced they require no dressing. The store shelves are packed with food, vitamins, books and videos.
• Essene Market & Café: Just steps off South Street sits a haven for vegans, vegetarians and those who follow a macrobiotic diet. At Essene Market & Café, a hot-and-cold meatless buffet and dining area share the generous space with local and organic produce and healthy grocery items. Plus, they squeeze fresh juices to order, boast baked goods created with multiple dietary restrictions in mind and host an array of events, lectures and classes.
• Oasis Café and Living Cuisine: Western Main Line vegetarians and carnivores coexist peacefully at the recently remodeled Oasis Café and Living Cuisine. Specialties here include raw foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their natural state), as well as organics and an enormous smoothie selection.
• Reading Terminal Market: The always-bustling Reading Terminal Market is also supremely vegetarian-friendly. Loyal locals stop there for falafel at Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties, local and organic produce and raw milk cheeses from small-scale farms at Fair Food Farmstand and blended fruit and veggie drinks at Four Seasons Juice Bar. Nanee’s Kitchen does vegetarian Indian and Pakistani dishes, too.