Whether you’re a diehard vegetarian or just someone who’s trying to stick to a new year’s resolution to eat healthier, adding more plants to your diet is a great idea. However, as many veg veterans will tell you, finding an interesting, satisfying, and filling plant-based meal at a restaurant can be tricky, especially when many vegetarian ‘entrées’ are a salad or a few grilled vegetables on a plate. So, we’ve rounded up 15 standout vegetarian dishes that can hold their own as the star of your meal.
In Balkan cuisine, spiced braised cabbage is a staple. Ambar’s recipe for cabbage casuela includes smoked paprika, vegeta (a Balkan seasoning), garlic, and pepper. The cabbage is piled on top of yogurt and served with bread to round out the dish. ($7)
It turns out that katsu, a popular Japanese preparation that involves breading and frying meat, works surprisingly well with plant-based protein. At Ana, Chef Ben Lambert marinates a slab of tofu in a brine made with gazpacho water and soy sauce, then breads and fries it. It ends up sandwiched between a ciabatta bun and topped with roasted red pepper, alfalfa sprouts, lemon oil, and sambal aioli. ($15)
Massive pans of bomba rice are often the centerpiece of a meal at Mike Isabella’s Spanish and Moroccan restaurant, Arroz. The vegetarian version of the shareable dish entices the taste buds without the meat. The winter vegetable bomba rice has foraged mushrooms, smoked cauliflower, an egg, and pimenton aioli. ($48)
This French spot in Alexandria has two vegetarian risottos—one with mushrooms and one with squash. The risotto aux champignons has roasted mushrooms and Parmesan, while the Orge, Courges, herbes d'automne has squash, barley, herbs, and broccolini. ($23 at dinner, $14 at lunch)
This farm-to-taco shop specializes in seasonal, plant-based tacos. While there are five different offerings, one that stands out is the roasted beet taco with ricotta salata, cilantro-lime yogurt, and fresh jalapeño. ($3.75 each or 3 for $11)
The team at Colada Shop has recreated the rich flavors and textures of a classic Cuban sandwich, but with mushrooms instead of pork. The veggie Cuban sandwich has mojo-marinated portobello mushrooms, Swiss cheese, cilantro aioli, and mustard. ($9.98)
The Oaxacan-inspired cuisine on the menu at Espita Mezcaleria includes a few meat-free options, like the tacos de zanahoria. Two corn tortillas—made in house with freshly ground masa—are filled with roasted baby carrots, carrot almond salsa, carrot radish slaw, and queso de cabra crema. ($10)
For DC Refined’s recent Best Chefs on the Block competition, Chef Sasha Felikson presented a vegetarian dumpling that blends his Ukranian roots with Doi Moi’s Southeast Asian identity. The taro root and potato dumplings are wonton-wrapped dumplings filled with steamed taro root, potatoes, and salted cabbage. They’re served in an umami-laden broth of mushrooms, kombu seaweed, lime, and Thai chili, and garnished with herbs and sour cream. ($14)
The cauliflower sandwich at G by Mike Isabella is a vegetarian favorite because it doesn’t skimp on flavor or substance. The Romesco cauliflower is accompanied by pickled vegetables and paprika ($10).
Karma is one of the latest Indian restaurants to arrive in town, and given that Indian is such a veg-friendly cuisine, there are plenty of dishes to choose from. The paneer shashlik is spiced paneer skewered with bell peppers; the mushroom biryani has baby portobello and shitake mushrooms; and the tandoori cauliflower is served with yogurt, garam masala, and tomato jus. ($12.50, $24, $14)
Chef Tim Ma has taken mapo tofu and given it a new, meatless twist with his mapo gnocchi. He starts by making gnocchi from tofu, and then sautées it with roasted cauliflower in a sauce of fig, sambal, and red miso. It's topped off with scallions, radishes, chive oil, elderflower vinegar, and sesame seeds. ($22).
Chef David Guas’ new café at the Darcy Hotel offers several loaded Southern sandwiches, including the vegetarian District hippie melt, which is stacked with charred and roasted veggies, herbs, and chevre on toasted whole grain. ($9)
Mon Ami Gabi swaps beef for portobellos in their wild mushroom tartare. The tartare is made with grilled and minced portobello mushrooms, olive oil, grana Padano, shallots, Fresno chilis, herbs, and mayonnaise. It’s served with kale and cheese toasts. ($12.95)
The hearts of palm arepa at Royal is one of the most popular on the menu. It’s filled with grilled red cabbage, marinated hearts of palm, pickled carrot, aged white cheddar, salsa rosada, and toasted sunflower seeds. ($12 regularly, $8 during happy hour)
The hoagies at Taylor Gourmet don't need meat to be satisfying. The Fairhill, which just debuted on the winter menu, is packed with crispy Brussels sprouts, green onion aioli, pickled daikon and carrot, herb salad, toasted cashews, and bang bang sauce. ($7.99/$12.99)
Stay tuned for stellar vegan dishes next week!