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Making Vegetables the Star

Making Vegetables the Star

These restaurants focus their menus around vegetables ... and diners love it

Oftentimes when people hear "vegetarian restaurant" thoughts immediately go to a health-food focused place where you'll find a lot of tofu, alternative meats like seitan and a hipster-environment. But with the rise in interest of vegetables by American diners, that perception is changing. Fast. Many meat-centirc restaurants around the country have honed in on the trend and have added vegetable-focused dishes to their menus, but another crop of restaurants altogether have actually put vegetables front and center. Quick-service chains like Sweetgreen, Freshii and Protein Bar have sprouted across the country, but full-service independent restaurants have gotten in on the action, too. Here we explore a number of places where you can get a healthy, produce-filled meal and still leave feeling completely satisfied. Take note of these places as you look to add more vegetables stars to your menu.

05 02 making veg greenzebra

Green Zebra

Where: Chicago

What it is: One of the first modern vegetable-focused restaurants in Chicago, Green Zebra has drawn people to its gorgeous, intimate dining room in the city's West Town neighborhood since 2004. Named for a variety of heirloom tomato, Green Zebra chef/owner Shawn McClain and chef de cuisine David Chapman (Sepia, Vie) — who also gained global vegetarian culinary experience working in Mumbai, India — have developed deep relationships with local farmers to create a vegetarian-focused experience that touches on all the senses.

Example of dishes:

Hen of The Woods Mushroom Pate with raspberry mostarda and shaved watermelon radishes

Palak Paneer with Genesis Farms spinach, candied ginger, farmer's cheese, Green Acres shaved baby carrots and wholewheat chapati

Website: greenzebrachicago.com

05 02 making veg harolds

Harold's Cabin

Where: Charleston, S.C.

What it is: A rustic neighborhood spot focused on serving seasonal, local fare where Chef Justin Pfau makes vegetables the star of the dish and in-house farmer Leslie Wade grows much of the produce used in the kitchen on the restaurant's rooftop.

Example of dishes:

Mushroom Reuben with caraway pickled cabbage, black garlic, gruyere, roasted tomato aioli

Forage Board: Changes depending on what's in the kitchen, but features different vegetables (tempura spring onion; marinated beet salad), herbs, edible flowers and various textures. No two boards are ever the same.

Website: haroldscabin.com

05 02 making veg dirtcandy

Dirt Candy

Where: New York City

What it is: Chef/owner Amanda Cohen opened the city's first vegetable-focused spot to great acclaim, leading to two stars from the New York Times and a spot as the first vegetarian chef on Iron Chef America. Cohen utilizes a variety of culinary influences — Mexican, Korean, Chinese — spices, textures and more to create a dining experience where meat is not missed. As she says, "Anyone can cook a burger, leave the vegetables to the professionals."

Example of dishes:

Kale matzoh ball soup with poached egg and okra

Brussels sprout tacos served on a sizzling stone with lettuce wraps and other accompaniments

Website: dirtcandynyc.com

05 02 making veg ema


Where: Chicago

What it is: Chef CJ Jacobson grew up in Southern California and finds inspiration for his Cali-Mediterranean mezze- (aka sharable plates) focused menu in the fresh variety of vegetables he sourced while working out west. While you'll find meat and seafood on the menu, the main focus here is seasonal vegetables with some of the best falafel and various hummus you may ever have.

Example of dishes:

Charred eggplant with house made yogurt, lemon and California arbequina olive oil

Green falafel with hummus, tzatziki, Mity Vine tomatoes, red onion and house dressing

Website: emachicago.com


Where: Los Angeles

What it is: Set to open this April, it's a restaurant, market and magazine focusing on "food that makes you feel good." It's not strictly vegetarian, as they'll serve meat and seafood in smaller doses and utilize spices and seasonings from around the world. The goal is to show people that vegetables can be enticing, satisfying and fulfilling.

Example of dishes:

Moroccan Carrot Salad with red quinoa, dates, pistachios, kumquats, parsley and mint

Spiced Spaghetti Squash Pancakes

Website: botanicarestaurant.com

05 02 making veg vedge


Where: Philadelphia

What it is: Vedge, one of the most celebrated plant-based restaurants in America, is led by James Beard Award-nominated husband-and-wife team Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby. Offering a refined dining experience, Vedge sources nearly everything locally and never uses any animal products in their dishes.

Example of dishes:

Ssamjang glazed tofu with edamame puree, roasted miso, yuba crackling and sea beans

Portobello carpaccio with deviled turnip, caper puree and nigella grissini

Website: vedgerestaurant.com

05 02 making veg publican

Publican Anker

Where: Chicago

What it is: The latest restaurant from One Off Restaurant Group headed by executive chef Cosmo Goss, Anker is an offshoot of the more oysters- and pork-focused Publican. Goss, a native of Southern California, revamped the Publican menu when coming aboard a few years ago, adding a full vegetable section. Now at Anker, Goss' main focus is on seasonal vegetables and well-sourced fish.

Example of dishes:

Grilled cucumbers with whipped ricotta and zhoug (green chili relish)

Scallops with sunchokes, tangerine and Serrano chile

Website: publicananker.com

05 02 making veg beefsteak


Where: Currently five locations in Washington D.C., Maryland and Philadelphia

What it is: Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés' quick-service spots with flash-prepared, market-driven vegetables served alongside grains, fresh sauces, crunchy toppings like kimchi and sesame seeds and, if you want, added meat protein.

Example of dishes:

Frida Kale bowl with rice, kale, sweet potato, black beans and spicy tomato topped with corn nuts and cranberries

Beefsteak tomato burger with pickled red onion, sprouts and caper herb mayo on an olive oil brioche bun

Website: beefsteakveggies.com

05 02 making veg vitalroot

Vital Root

Where: Denver

What it is: Vital Root focuses on sustainability and sourcing locally with more than 50 percent of all ingredients on its menu sourced within Colorado. They only use organic oils and flours and unrefined sugars for its affordable, fast-casual veg-focused menu for breakfast through dinner.

Example of dishes:

Banh Mi Breakfast Tacos with edamame "pate," scrambled egg, pickled vegetables, cucumber, daikon, cilantro, basil, mint, jalapeño and sriracha aioli

Plantain Kebobs: cotija cheese, pepitas, pickled Fresno pepper and coconut-mint chutney

Website: vitalrootdenver.com