Vegan Vogue: Why It’s Hip to Go Meat-Free in Philly

Plus: nine top-notch vegan and vegetarian restaurants where you can get in on the trend.

The Crispy Hip City Ranch sandwich at HipCityVeg

Bill Clinton, Alicia Silverstone and André 3000 have all done it: they committed to living a life free of any animal-products. But what was once a difficult-to-maintain lifestyle—a puzzle-like amalgam of trips to special health-food stores and far-flung farmers’ markets—is now as easy as walking into a Whole Foods Market. And as veganism and vegetarianism become more and more mainstream, restaurant owners, especially in Philly, are responding.

In the last two years, there has been an influx of vegan- and veggie-friendly restaurants cropping up throughout the city. They range from being 100-percent animal-product free to offering select vegetarian and vegan options that are as skillfully crafted as meat-centric dishes. From fast food to fine dining and even coffee shops, there are options for vegan and vegetarian diners of all stripes. And it’s making consumers very happy.

Havertown-based dietician Deanna Segrave-Daly points to the growing interest in locally sourced food as a driver of the trend. “It is a general interest in doing good for the earth and realizing that vegan doesn’t have to be a plate of rices with veggies,” she says. In fact, she commends vegan restaurants such as Washington Square’s Vedge for its aim to be appealing to all diners, whether they’re vegan or not. “It’s about catering to people who are looking for good food and getting rid of this misconception that being vegan means having a boring, bland diet,” she says.

Nicole Marquis, owner of HipCityVeg, a complete vegan fast-food restaurant in Rittenhouse, agrees that appealing to a market outside of vegan-eaters is key to success. “We don’t just attract vegans; we attract a huge audience,” she says. “We’re able to do that because our food tastes really, really good. It’s also made fresh, and people crave freshness.”

And do they ever: in the nine months since HipCity opened, it’s skyrocketed to super-star status among Philly’s healthy-lunch set; the out-the-door lines during the lunch-hour rush are proof enough. So it’s not surprising that Marquis and her team have big expansion plans in the works, with one or two new locations in Philadelphia, she says, and a plan to go national soon after that.

If you’re itching to get in on the veggie trend (even if it’s just for a meal here and there), here are nine eateries in the city and ‘burbs that do animal-free right.

Blackbird Pizzeria
507 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia, 215-625-6660.

What it’s known for: Whoever said vegans can’t enjoy pizza has obviously never been to Blackbird. Philadelphia’s first all-vegan pizzeria uses Daiya dairy-free cheese to create a variety of tasty options (this isn’t just sauce and cheese slapped on crust). In addition to pizza, Blackbird offers soups, sandwiches and desserts.

What to try: Nacho pizza, $11.50.

Kung Fu Hoagies
On Twitter @kungfuhoagies

What its known for: This completely vegetarian (and almost completely vegan) Vietnamese food truck is constantly creating new special items that will leave your mouth watering. Locations and times of business vary so be sure to check out their Facebook page for the most up-to-date information.

What to try: Banh mi hoagie, $4.

Govinda’s Gourmet Vegetarian
1408 South Street, Center City, 215-985-9303.

What it’s known for: Govinda is a vegan’s Pat’s or Gino’s in the cheesesteak department. Offering the freshest ingredients, Govinda’s is know for their mock “meat” entrees that they claim will leave even the biggest meat-eater wanting more.

What to try: Philly chicken cheesesteak (made with soy chicken and vegan cheese), $7.95.

Grindcore House
1515 South Fourth Street, Philadelphia, 215-839-3333.

What it’s known for: Welcome to a 100-percent vegan coffee shop. Unlike traditional coffee joints, Grindcore House offers soy, coconut or almond milk instead of cream and Truvia or fresh sugar cane instead of bleached-white sugar. There’s also a full menu of sandwiches and pastries, all of which are free of any animal products.

What to try: Vegan hot chocolate, $2.50.

127 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, 215-278-7605.

What it’s known for: Looking for good vegan grub on the go? HipCityVeg is a completely vegan fast-food joint, serving up faux-meat sandwiches that are dead ringers for the real thing.

What to try: The Groothie, $4.50. (Fun fact: Liam Hemsworth LOVES them.)

Miss Rachel’s Pantry
1732 West Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-798-0053.

What it’s known for: Miss Rachel known is known not only for her impeccable customer service and the shop’s homey environment, but also for her incredible menu, which is available for dine-in or catering. Want to learn to cook vegan meals at home? Check out Miss Rachel’s website to find the latest cooking classes she has to offer.

What to try: The Crabbie Sandwich, $7.50.

New Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant
135 North 9th Street, Philadelphia, 215-627-4520.

What it’s known for: Even Chinatown is hoping on the veggie train. New Harmony offers all of your (vegetarian-friendly) Chinese favorites, from dumplings to spring-rolls to Kung Po “Chicken.” Eat-in or take-out, New Harmony has options for everyone.

What to try: Scallion pancakes, $2.95.

Pure Fare
119 South 21st Street, Philadelphia, 267-318-7441, and 1609 South Street, Philadelphia, 267-687-2292.

What it’s known for: There’s a reason one of Pure Fare’s salads won a Best of Be Well award last year—the food there is just so darn delicious. The salads, sandwiches and fresh juices are all good choices.

What to try: Quinoa blueberry muffin ($2.60) for breakfast and vegan cauliflower rice ($9) for lunch.

1221 Locust Street, Philadelphia, 215-320-7500.

What it’s known for: Owned by the so-called king and queen of vegetarian dining, husband and wife duo Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby, Vedge takes a fine-dining approach to vegan eating. The menu, which is 100-percent animal-product free, focuses on vegetarian cuisine that is appealing to a broader audience. Check out the “Dirt List” section of the menu to find out the most popular items of the season.

What to try: Salt-roasted gold beets, $10.

Vgë Cafe
845 West Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr, 610-527-3091.

What it’s known for: Famous for its soups, salads, and sandwiches, Vgë provides vegan and vegetarian options just outside the city limits. In its commitment healthy eating, this cafe don’t fry any of its food and uses products that are cholesterol free and good for the environment.

What to try: Baked falafel, $6.84.

>> Have another favorite vegan restaurant in the area that we haven’t mentioned? Share in the comments!