Philadelphia, PA, the largest city of the Commonwealth. The city breathes in with history and exhales art. From Ben Franklin’s house to the churches, to the colleges, to the museums with Rocky’s triumphant run! To each his/her own. What’s there to Philly apart from cheese and pretzels? What’s there for a veggie? Kick in “Eye of the Tiger” – we are going green!
Vegans and veggies will feel at home at Miss Rachel’s Pantry. This tiny storefront and kitchen at 1938 South Chadwick Street can boast of a variety of all-vegan dishes, including Black Garlic-Basil Grilled Spinach, Baked BBQ Tofu, Baked Ziti, and especially the runny, melty but heavenly delicious vegan grilled cheese steak! Philly is the America’s cheesesteak capital after all, and (vegan or not) you won’t tell the difference – guaranteed!
This fantastic cashew Tahini cheese with roasted garlic mayo and fresh basil on the softest vegan-friendly bun will make you weep tears of joy. The place is a fine-foods market and a culinary workshop five days a week and turns into a small rural-like restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays with only 12 seats available at one long wooden table, but that’s the kick of it. It’s the sense of unity and the fantastic cooking smells that bring people from all around the city to this little vegan haven. Oh, and Miss Rachel herself is a lovely perky lady with a knack for chatter.
Say you’re into fast food, but you’re up to a more healthy diet as well, or simply looking for the best veggie burger in town – then HipCityVeg on South 18th Street is the place to go!
This tiny joint is open seven days a week and works more like a takeaway restaurant, as it can accommodate up to ten people tops, with long lines on busy hours. The food is worth the wait though. Everything from ‘mock’ chicken and sweet potato fries with aioli sauce to the mint chip milkshake and coconut cupcakes is astoundingly fresh and delicious. You should definitely try the udon noodle salad! A larger-than-life bowl with raw veggies, perfect udon noodles and tofu is always there if you feel particularly hungry.
If you want something fancier, you might enjoy the experience at the Vedge on Locust Street. The place is widely considered the Phillie’s crown jewel when it comes to vegan restaurants. Fantastic aged wooden décor with a fireplace and neat little tables made for perfect date-nights.
The portions are notably small, but it encourages you to try more, and there are plenty of dishes to choose from: mushroom fazzoletti, rutabaga fondue, asparagus crepes, wood fire grilled carrot… and the desserts are to die for! The Chocolate Uber Chunk is one of the Vedge’s trademark and is definitely a must! Pretzel chunks, malt custard, whipped peanut butter and a ball of stout ice-cream will tear your heart strings to tatters. Case closed.
South 20th Street, right in the middle of the shopping district, is the best place to try authentic Israeli falafel this side of the pond. The spot is called Mama’s Vegetarian and it is a delight.
Fresh salads, French fries, and hot veggie sandwiches – they have it all, but what you really want is a Latke sandwich with veggie patty and falafel on in-house baked pita bread! Want something extra? Add some jalapeños and pickled vegetables from the salad bar and you’ll get yourself a monstrosity-of-a-sandwich – the best and the biggest you’ve ever had! The place is usually buzzing like a bee hive and the tables a rarely empty, so the best way is to get your falafel as a takeaway and have lunch outside – on the nearby Rittenhouse Square – especially on a hot summer day.
Finally, there’s an all-vegan bar in the Center City, called Charlie was a sinner. The place is ideal both for an informal meeting in the afternoon and a loud party at night.
The food here is great – especially the zucchini ‘crab cakes’ and the caramelized eggplant bao buns – but it’s the bar that wins the cake. The selection of beverages – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – goes beyond belief, with titles like “Nihilist”, “Done and dusted” and the crowd’s favorite - “East of Eden”. The latter is a soothing mixture of Bulleit Rye whiskey, tea infused Dolin Blanc, Lillet, and fig. Bartenders can come up with fresh new recipes on the fly if you’re up for experimentation. So, who’s Charlie? Shhh… it’s a secret!
There are much more veggie-friendly restaurants in Philadelphia and myriads of other places that serve vegetarian and vegan dishes on demand, so we’ll leave that sense of discovery to you. Just remember – veggie cuisine is not about imitation (that’s a common mistake) – it’s about taste and texture and constantly trying to come up with something new. Traditional or modern, ordinary or eclectic – Philly has it all!