Where to Find Amazing Vegan Food in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is known as much for its distinguished place in American history as it is for its giant, meaty sandwiches: Italian hoagies layered with ham and salami, roast pork with provolone and broccoli rabe stuffed into a crusty roll and, of course, the cheesesteak. Invented in the city in the 1930s, the humble sandwich inspires passionate debates (who makes the best?) and elicits harsh judgements (try telling a whiz devotee you prefer American cheese). But, in recent years, the cheesesteak capital has emerged as a surprising destination for vegan cuisine. Where there were once only crowds clamoring for an authentic Philly cheesesteak, you’ll now find lines snaking around the block for sizzling falafel or matcha pistachio doughnuts. Whether you’re an omnivore or herbivore, these vegan spots are worth a stop on your next trip to the City of Brotherly Love. (Hey, you can always grab a cheesesteak after.)
Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook quietly opened their new vegan falafel shop on April 1 – no joke – and within four hours, every freshly-made pita was sold out. At the helm of some of Philadelphia’s most notable restaurants, including Zahav and Federal Donuts, the duo aimed to replicate the singular focus of Israeli falafel shops, paring down Goldie’s menu to just a few outstanding offerings. Middle Eastern-inspired flavors are showcased in made-to-order falafel sandwiches, doused in your choice of flavored tehina (the sesame paste known to many as “tahini.”) Of the four options, the harissa adds the boldest kick, while the schug, made from Yemenite chili, is the hottest. Tehina shakes, blended with a ground sesame-seed base, almond and soy milks in flavors like coconut with rose or Turkish coffee with bits of crunchy housemade halva, are as unique as they are heavenly.
Miss Rachel’s Pantry
South Philly may be best known for its meat-centric, Italian fare, but the neighborhood’s charming catering company specializes in crowd-pleasing vegan dishes with a focus on homemade “cheeses,” breads, pastas and sauces. Reservations at the storefront are tough to snag, but on Friday and Saturday nights, twelve lucky diners gather around a farmhouse table to feast on six courses, featuring surprising but accessible dishes like trumpet mushroom scallops with white bean purée in a garlic and herb “clam” sauce and Caprese salad with cashew mozzarella. Chef and owner Rachel Klein also offers cooking classes in specialties like vegan cheese-making.
Vegetables aren’t relegated to side-dish status at this elegant restaurant housed in a restored old mansion – they’re the main event. Chefs Kate Jacoby and Richard Landau were pioneers of Philadelphia’s modern vegan dining scene, opening Vedge in 2011 nearly two decades after their first vegan restaurant, Horizons. Seared maitake mushrooms and wood-roasted carrots replace slabs of steak on the grill, carpaccio comes in portobello form and warm, creamy rutabaga fondue is served with soft pretzels and pickles for dipping.
Vedge’s casual sister restaurant specializes in vegan spins on global street food. Inspired by the husband and wife team’s travels around Asia and beyond, creative plates like Korean-fried tempeh tacos, crispy Peruvian fries and spicy Dan Dan noodles deliver bold flavors. For brunch, the waffle with blackberries, sesame butter and ponzu is among the very best, and you don’t have to have a hangover to enjoy the eponymous soup, with “phat” noodles in an aromatic mushroom broth that packs a little kick.
You can’t come to Philly and not taste a cheesesteak. (You can, but it’s frowned upon.) Also hailing from the Vedge team, Wiz Kid’s take on the city’s famous sandwich replaces greasy chopped beef with seitan, but keeps the signature fried onions, mushroom and pickled peppers. And fear not, Cheez Whiz lovers: a creamy rutabaga purée is a creative and less alarmingly-colored replacement for the original neon “cheese.” Find the fast-food stall at the city’s newest Whole Foods flagship, with another outpost opening near Rittenhouse Square in mid-May.
Restaurateur Nicole Marquis’s fast-casual mini chain is expanding quickly, with three outposts in Philadelphia, one in Washington, D.C. and more on the horizon. Specializing in fast food-inspired fare, burgers made from flavorful smoked tempeh, curried tofu or juicy grilled portobello won’t leave you feeling sluggish (or ashamed.) Battered “chick’n” sandwiches are also a hit (the Crispy HipCity Ranch is a cult favorite) and addictive sweet potato fries are elevated with housemade sriracha aioli or cilantro black bean dip. Banana whips and soy-based milkshakes in flavors like birthday cake or creamsicle will satisfy any sweet tooth.
Charlie Was a Sinner
If your outdated image of vegans includes Birkenstocks and deprivation, one step inside this swank, dimly-lit cocktail bar will change that. At Marquis’s follow up to HipCityVeg, small plates and bar snacks like artichoke frites, “crab cakes” made with zucchini and ricotta crostini pair well with inventive signature cocktails, including a New York Sour with housemade “Charlie’s Egg White.” Craft beer, a solid wine list and a lineup of booze-free concoctions that don’t feel like an afterthought round out the menu.
Also hailing from the HipCityVeg founder, Bar Bombon pays tribute to Marquis’s Puerto Rican heritage with a lineup of plant-based tacos, empanadas and arepas. Try the Brussels sprout or buffalo cauliflower tacos, wrapped in a homemade tortilla, or the mushroom empanada with pickled plantains. Fresh fruit margaritas and other Latin American-inspired snacks and cocktails draw a lively happy hour crowd, but come a little later to snag a cozy table for two.
With a focus on artisanal pizzas that eschew traditional cheese and meaty toppings for vegan alternatives, this casual spot in the Society Hill neighborhood is the city’s only all-vegan pizzeria. Co-founder Mark Mebus has been a vegan for eighteen years, but the Philly native notes that Blackbird appeals to omnivores, too. “The majority of our clientele isn’t vegan or vegetarian,” he says. Some of the shop’s most popular options include the wings covered in root beer-infused barbecue sauce, an award-winning rosemary and garlic-flavored cheesesteak and the Haymaker pie, made with vegan garlic butter sauce, vegan cheese, red onions and housemade seitan sausage.
Founded by Blackbird Pizzeria alums Jeff Poleon and Matt Quinn, Dottie’s Donuts started as a wholesale outlet catering to coffee shops around the city before its brick-and-mortar shop opened in West Philadelphia earlier this year. Flavors like lemon poppy, matcha pistachio and the aptly-named “Homer” with strawberry sprinkles please almost every palate, vegan or otherwise. “It's important to Matt and me to make great donuts that happen to be vegan,” says Poleon. “I think making a product that everyone enjoys is the best way to shed light on a vegan lifestyle, plus Philly is a city that loves its junk food!”