Being a vegetarian in Boston is a whole lot different (and better!) now than it was when I first moved here 14 years ago. I used to lament frequently to my carnivore husband that I needed to move back to NYC, where all the good vegetarian and vegan restaurants were. Flash forward to 2016, and Boston is an entirely different city with respect to carnivores and vegans alike! Truthfully, I think this local change is representative of a more global shift toward plant-based living — from folks who just want more plant-based meals in their weekly repertoire to full-on vegans. Luckily, Boston now has it all!
The five vegetarian and vegan restaurants I’m listing below (plus two that will please both the carnivore and vegetarian) are my absolute favorites — they each showcase plants and plant-based proteins beautifully and deliciously in their unique way.
Walnut Grille (Newton)
Knowing I’m heading to Walnut Grille for a yummy meal out gives me the same excitement and delight that my husband seems to express (loudly) when he heads to Chick-fil-A, which was a family favorite in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama — an unabashed sense that you’re home and that whatever you order will be comforting and spectacular. Since Walnut Grille in Newton is so close to my town of Needham, I am lucky to go there quite frequently.
I’ve even lured the kids in with Walnut Grille’s delicious blue dolphin smoothie and excellent pizza and “soy” nuggets. This is one establishment you do not want to miss.
In the trendy town of Allston, Grasshopper is a shining beacon of plant-based prowess among a lot of nearby meat-based gustatory delights. It’s one of the original vegetarian restaurants in Boston and was even there when I first moved to Brighton over a decade ago. All the dishes are Asian with an emphasis on “mock” meats — i.e., all your traditional Chinese favorites but with a tofu- or seitan-based protein. My favorite dishes include the stir-fry seitan with curry coconut sauce and the house vermicelli noodles with roasted veggie-“pork,” spring roll, rice cake, and salad.
Red Lentil (Watertown)
Red Lentil is near the Watertown/Newton border and is owned and run by chef Panjak Pradhan. He recently opened a sister restaurant, Wild Rice, which is also vegan but just serves breakfast and lunch. Be prepared to go during off hours or wait in a long line, because the food is that good and people know it. I often like to go alone so I can relish in every bite without distraction. Beyond the scrumptious dinner fare — with dishes like vegan caesar salad and an out-of-this-world pistachio and coconut herb-encrusted tofu with pan-seared corn cake, wilted spinach with jalapeńo and red pepper relish, and cilantro chutney — they have the best vegan and gluten-free coconut cream pie I have ever eaten anywhere! Man, my mouth is watering even thinking about that. Who wants to road trip there right now with me?
True Bistro (Somerville)
Are you looking for a fine-dining experience replete with fancy dishes — like brandy-braised tempeh with a phyllo purse and saffron pasta ravioli — but that is completely vegan? Grab your little black dress and Jimmy Choos and head on over to True Bistro for a date night STAT. This tiny but formidable Somerville establishment opened in 2010 and has been going strong since.
Life Alive (Cambridge, Salem, and Lowell)
As further evidence of the ever-growing popularity of vegetarian establishments in this area, Life Alive has nearly non-stop long lines heading out the door and winding down the block. This more casual establishment is known for its super-food salads, macro-bowls, smoothies, and sandwiches. They also have a pretty awesome vegetarian chili and other soups to die for. There is ample room to sit and stay with casual table service (or to take out as well). My favorites here include the golden sunrise alive smoothie (banana, mango, turmeric, cinnamon, maca, chia, coconut oil, and almond milk) as well as “the Alchemist” macro-bowl, which includes a ginger-nama-shoya sauce over sweet corn, shredded carrots, kale, tofu, and sesame seeds and quinoa. It’s hippie food at its best!
Plus two omnivorific restaurants that will make everyone in your party happy (and full)
b.good bills its food as a healthy fast-food alternative, and it is. It’s my favorite quick, yet healthy dinner place that makes my whole family happy. Replete with both grass-fed beef burgers and veggie burgers, oven-baked french fries and sweet potatoes fries, and myriad salads and smoothies, b.good is delicious, fast, and uses locally sourced and sustainable ingredients. They even have an in-restaurant mini greenhouse showcasing all the local fresh herbs they use daily. With locations all over New England — and beyond — their “real food, fast” mantra is certainly one that resonates.
The Yard House has your standard pub fare with the likes of mac and cheese, wings, burgers, pizzas, and nachos. But what makes the Yard House truly unique is that it’s the only restaurant (that I know of) in Boston that has a whole section on their menu devoted to the mock-meat “Gardein.” So you can order their spicy Thai “chicken” pizza with Gardein as the base instead of real chicken. Or you could order their Gardein buffalo wings with ranch on the side and truly dine side-by-side with any hard-core meat eater, in style and without feeling left out or that you’re reduced to ordering just a side salad and a dinner roll (as I’ve done many times before in non-veg-friendly establishments).
Honorable Mention: Fomu
Just a few steps over from Grasshopper is the venerable and always-tasty coconut-based ice cream joint, Fomu. When I experimented with a gluten-free and vegan diet for a year, this was my go-to spot for ice cream treats. As a serious ice cream lover, I can say with 100% confidence that Fomu’s ice cream tastes as good as — if not better than — real ice cream.