Gluten-free. Dairy-free. Vegan, vegetarian and raw. Alternative diets -- those that eliminate animal products and are largely plant-based -- are gaining popularity nationwide, urging people to put down the knife and start eating healthier.
The growing trend toward veggie-inspired restaurants is already popular in California, where all the health nuts flock to dine out at high-end restaurants in West LA and vegan lunch spots in Beverly Hills. There's even a new vegetarian-vegan restaurant chain serving only plant-based food. Known as Veggie Grill is slowly taking over the West Coast.
Here in South Florida, the trend hasn't caught on quite so feverishly. We're more about fried seafood, cheese plates and charcuterie, farm-fresh meats and have enough burger spots to keep us in a purpetual meat hangover -- at least until the cows come home.
But veganism is beginning to take root here, specifically with a number of restaurants offering menus that court omnivores, vegans and vegetarians alike and preparing "meaty" and meatless dishes that surpass the bland and boring foods so many people associate with the vegetable-focused fare.
Here, Clean Plate Charlie has compiled this list of the Palm Beach and Broward County area's best vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Even if your not 100% vegan, and don't love the idea of eating only living plants for the rest of your life, surely a meatless Monday now and then couldn't hurt, right?
10. Valerie's Market and Deli
Located in Jupiter, Valerie's Market is the vegetarian shop and deli for anyone looking to eat healthier, but not interested in the stereotypical vegetarian food. The market has a little bit of everything, but prides itself on being one of the area's best health food stores specializing in vegan, vegetarian, organic and gluten-free eats. The deli side offers the same array of options, prepared and fresh-to-order foods with over 20 menu items including soups, salads, sandwiches and fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies or juices. The stuffed portabella mushroom eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, artichoke hearts, balsamic vinegar, garlic and black pepper, or the chilled corn bisque. A standard favorite packed with nutrients: the ALT, a BLT with a healthy twist combining avocado, lettuce and tomato with veginaise, micro greens and alfalfa sprouts on a sprouted bun. Finish it off with a slice of vegan, gluten-free carrot cake or a cupcake.
Boca Raton's new juice and smoothie bar is one of the few in the area to offer a large selection of vegan additions, supplements and ingredients. With a menu designed to meet the needs of health-conscious people looking for a truly all-natural, fully-dedicated plant-based juice bar. Juiceateria provides made-to-order, fresh-squeezed vegetable and fruit juices that are free of preservatives and additives. They also offer a line of six pre-made drinks comprised of approximately 15 pounds of fruits and vegetables, which will detoxify your body, reset your system and brighten your skin -- all part of Juicetaria's signature detoxification and cleansing programs. Aside from juices, their smoothies are also filled with nutrients and free of added sweeteners, preservatives and non-vegan ingredients. Here you'll find several nourishing recipes, including the American Pie, a combo of green apples, banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, spinach, coconut ﬂesh and coconut water blended with ice. Add "superfood" supplements like bee pollen, raw cacao, chia, ﬂax, goji berries, maca or spirulina and you have a nutrient-packed meal raw vegan meal on the go.
8. Gourmet Greenhouse
Here is Hollywood's vegan-veggie diamond in the rough, a restaurant that specializes in unique and "interesting" vegan-friendly recipes. Entrees include quinoa-stuffed peppers and yellow spaghetti squash with flaxseed "meatballs." The housemade soups are not to be missed, which include a daily special as well as the standard roasted tomato, butternut squash and pear, or cream of mushroom (each made with almond or rice milk). There's also a sweet and sour cabbage, vegetable stew or chilled cream of strawberry. Finish the meal with a slice of vegan chocolate and banana bread.
7. Udipi Café
Udipi Café in Sunrise makes this list because it is one of the area's best examples of an Indian restaurant that boasts a large vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu with a truly remarkable vegetable-focused fare -- and all for a great price. Udipi specializes in southern Indian cuisine, and offers street food-style fare like the bhel puri, a Mumbai favorite dish of puffed rice and crunchy puries (a traditional Indian fried puffed bread) mixed with onion, tomatoes and cilantro and topped with a spicy chutney. There's also a wide selection of entrees, and the restaurant's own unique touch: Indian American pizza called uthappam -- thick, crepe-like pancakes served with sambar and chutneys -- including a vegetable version with tomato, pea, chili pepper and onion toppings.
6. J's Garden Café
Owners and mother-daughter team Marie and Thamye Junis recently opened this versatile establishment that courts meat-eaters, vegans and vegetarians alike by preparing meaty and meatless dishes that surpass the bland, boring recipes so many people associate with the vegetable-focused fare. A former healthcare professional, Marie has spent much of her career teaching others about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle while Thamye -- a former Pembroke Pines middle school teacher --needed a place to exercise her vegan lifestyle. The restaurant also specializes in Haitian-Caribbean fare, emblematic of the owners' cultural roots, with house specialties like the house favorite pikliz sauce, a spicy Creole cabbage slaw that is used to flavor everything from rice to sandwiches. Or ask for a bowl of the pumpkin soup, once served only on Sundays as it is in Haiti. A traditional celebration dish, it was so popular with the regulars that Marie decided to go against tradition and serve it all week.
5. The Green Wave Café
The Green Wave Café serves a dedicated health-centric menu with recipes based on the "living" or raw foods movement, making this one of the few restaurants in the area that is fully vegan, raw and gluten-free. That means all of owners Raoul and Lisa Valle's dishes are prepared from scratch using organic ingredients in their freshest state, living and sprouted or freshly-picked produce. While many restaurants promote the use of housemade this and that, here you can be sure all the food at Green Wave is as fresh as can be -- all essential ingredients made in-house, including fresh almond milk, nut cheeses and sprouted breads. They also have a vast array of specialty "cooked" dishes, foods dehydrated at a low heat (anything 112 degrees or less) to allow for maximum enzyme and nutrient value. While Green Wave is known for its raw vegan burger served with a cheesy cream sauce and almond bread bun, along with all the raw veggie fixings you can fit, we love the veggie lo mein, a mix of vegetables including mushroom and cabbage served with raw kelp noodles and dressed in a creamy ginger sauce.
4. Simply Natural Café
This Sunrise restaurant is a one-stop shop for those who like it raw -- and real. The family-owned and operated establishment serves all-natural, organic, vegan, vegetarian and raw food -- as well as chicken, meat and fish for the average Joe. There's no arguing with the "sunshine" burger, house-made from lentils, brown rice and vegetables, while a raw chocolate mousse provides a sweet ending. There's also a bar the offers smoothies, juices and teas -- and organic wines and beer. To help you on your road to raw veganism, the restaurant also hosts regular teaching demostrations, including a raw food-preparation class where participants can learn how to make raw meals at home.
Founded by animal rights activist Nanci Alexander, Sublime is one of the few restaurants in the area to serve an entirely vegan, and partly organic, menu. An extension of the owner's efforts to reduce animal cruelty, all of the dishes are completely plant-based, and -- like the name suggests -- the food is sublime. There's also a menu specializing in "healthy" cocktails and organic wines. We love their tempura-battered cauliflower "frito misto" and Maryland-style "crab" cakes. To make you feel even better about your meal, a large portion of Sublime's profits go to organizations that promote animal welfare and a vegan lifestyle.
A 100% vegan restaurant, you won't find any animal products at this vegetarian and vegan-friendly bistro, where chef Amanda Russcoi has put together a creative menu that will appeal to both the mainstream diner and watch-what-your-eating-eater. They say it best with a mission statement that reads: delicious, natural, organic and vegetarian-friendly cuisine that will appeal to all tastes. We love starters like their Palm Cakes, crispy hearts of palm in a caper and tahini remoulade over micro greens, a beet "tartare," with roasted beets, avocado, cucumber with a jalapeno ponzu dipping sauce. A real winner: the crab rangoon appetizer, hearts of palm with a sesame cream cheese and chive filling paired with apricot balsamic jam.
1. Christopher's Kitchen
Christopher's Kitchen in Palm Beach Gardens is one of the best examples of high-quality, certified organic, plant-based food restaurants in the Broward and Palm Beach County area. By preparing food using techniques and ingredients that maximize real nutritional value for healthful results, chef and owner Christopher Slawson prepares genuinely delicious raw vegan dishes that aren't just delicious, but good for you, too. We love all the "cheeses," Slawson offers, from a walnut pesto and brazil nut parmesan, to his house-aged cashew cheese and macadamia nut ricotta. The sprawling lunch and dinner menus are raw, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, boasting house favorites like the CK tacos, two handmade vegetable tortillas prepared with a sweet and spicy walnut taco mix, guacamole, pico de gallo, lettuce and cashew cheese, or housemade Asian-style zucchini noodles mixed with cabbage, mango, avocado, cucumbers and mixed herbs and served with a ponzu-almond ginger dressing. There's even a live pizza made using veggie flax crackers, the house red sauce, various veggies and an avocado and cashew cheese topping.
Honorable Mention: Raw Food Underground
Chef Vinnette Thompson -- formerly chef for raw vegan establishments Sublime in Fort Lauderdale and Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach -- prepares hand-crafted dishes using the highest quality ingredients and the freshest locally grown, organic produce whenever possible. Take her "No Bean" hummus, pureed zucchini with tahini, garlic, lemon and spices garnished with tomatoes and basil served with dehydrated flax chips. Thompson also offers a creative take on fried calamari, here a salad of large trumpet mushrooms coated with seasoned flax cracker "crumbs" and served with a macadamia nut butter "tarter sauce." Thompson also offers classes on preparing raw vegan takes on some of our favorite dishes like vegetable burgers, fettuccini alfredo, pesto pasta and a lemon cheesecake.
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