College Town Tour: A Vegetarian’s Guide to D.C.

You’ve stalked the menu in advance like it’s a treasure map. You’ve consulted with the wait staff and danced a verbal tango with the chef. You’ve cringed upon being served a gourmet plate of…iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. And then, you’ve sighed as your date runs for the hills. You have #vegetarianproblems. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re feeling a little blah about pumpkin pie being the only “vegetable” in your diet for the past few months. Maybe you’re a giving Meatless Mondays a go just for a change of pace. Maybe you’re trying to eat a little bit “greener” and save the world. Or something like that. Regardless of your reasons for exploring the world of vegetarian food, I invite you to say hello to Washington D.C. In addition to housing the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. was named North America’s most “veg-friendly” city by PETA during 2010. Whether you’re a yoga-practicing vegetarian or a newcomer looking to brighten the palate, the following eateries guarantee one thing—you won’t miss the meat.

**SKC Picks**

Best in Show
Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave NW // (202) 822-8783

Mastering a curiously wonderful balance of casual and upscale, Founding Farmers sports a menu that quite literally has something for everybody. Serving up “true food and drink” at two different locations, the restaurant has an entire portion of its menu dedicated to vegan options that sound nothing short of scrumptious. The sheer creativity of the entire menu ensures that whatever you order will stand its ground, even next to other traditional meat dishes at the table. From homemade veggie burgers with a tempting blend of rice, beans, cashews, and sweet potatoes for the dedicated vegetarian to ricotta, pistachio, and date flatbreads for the nuanced foodie, Founding Farmers’ menu truly has it all. That, of course, also means there’s a “Chocolate Stout Farmhouse Waffle” for those like myself who yearn for breakfast at any and every meal. Simply perfection.
Must order: Homemade Veggie Burger (“with rice, beans, cashews and sweet potatoes, white cheddar”) plus a Chocolate Stout Farmhouse Waffle for dessert

Best Place for a Date
Busboys & Poets
2021 14th St NW // (202) 387-7638

Trendy with a side of hipster, Busboys & Poets has the makings for the world’s best date. Creative items such as vegan quesadillas made with Daiya cheese, meatless pepperoni pizzas, and tempeh “BLT” sandwiches dot the menu and provide a flawless backdrop for conversation with your companion. The restaurant also offers a variety of non-dairy beverage options (even in coffee and alcoholic drinks), which are perfect for sipping during one of the restaurant’s live music performance or open mic nights. If you’re still hungry for a little more food or romance, Busboys also has an impressive vegetarian/vegan dessert menu. And by that, I mean the vegan brownie with vegan vanilla ice cream is a perfectly splittable sweet ending with that oh-so-cute date across the table.
Must order: Pan-Seared Basil Tofu, Vegan Pepperoni Calzone, and Vegan Cheesecake

Best Bakery
Sticky Fingers Bakery
1370 Park Rd NW // (202) 299-9700

If you’ve watched “Cupcake Wars,” you’ve probably seen or heard about Sticky Fingers Bakery. Though famed for their cupcakes, the bakery also offers an astounding array of victuals ranging from vegan biscuits and gravy to “chicken” nuggets. With incredibly reasonable prices and an even more incredibly delicious sounding brunch, Sticky Fingers transcends the normal realm of “bakery,” instead falling in the rare and coveted category of “super bakery.” Don’t believe me? Just try one of their sticky buns—a creation, or rather an experience, which may only be described as tastebud nirvana.
Must order: Sticky Buns and Red Velvet Cupcakes

Best Place to Feel Like a Posh Parisian
Le Pain Quotidien
2815 M St NW // (202) 315-5420

As an ardent lover of all things français, I’m well-acquainted with the fact that French food isn’t exactly vegetarian friendly. Coq au vin? Not for this girl. Boeuf bourgignon? I’m afraid Julia Child would be disappointed. As for navigating French food as a vegan? Butter makes that a veritable impossibility. Though not traditionally French in cuisine (it’s more European/Mediterranean), Le Pain Quotidien is a wonderful surprise for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Specialties include a vegan six-vegetable quiche with a gluten-free buckwheat crust, as well as an artisan cheeseboard. Of course, the restaurant also doubles as a boulangerie (bread bakery), which gives patrons the chance to grab a loaf on the way out. With a sunny ambiance and friendly communal atmosphere, Le Pain Quotidien is a diamond in the rough for meat-free eating that is magnifique!
Must order: Warm Ricotta & Roasted Butternut Squash Tartine and Six-Vegetable Quiche

Best Cupcake & Coffee Hybrid
Baked & Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW // (202) 333-2500

The second that you try a bite of a sweet treat or a sip of coffee/tea from Baked & Wired, I can guarantee that you will be hooked. Cupcakes are exquisitely moist and come in a mind-boggling number of flavors from “Pretty Bitchin’” (a chocolate + peanut butter miracle from above) to “Strawberry Fields” (a creation that would do the Beatles proud). The “wired” part of the bakery’s name refers to its part coffee-shop nature. And believe me, it doesn’t disappoint. With a knack for brewing exotic teas and a good cuppa joe, Baked & Wired serves up nothing short of utter bliss. If you’re in the mood for something a bit less sweet, try the shop’s biscotti or quiche. It—every last bit of it—is totally addicting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Must order: Strawberry Cupcake and Rooibos tea

Best Funky Fresh Eats
Soul Vegetarian’s Exodus
2606 Georgia Ave NW // (202) 328-7685

Don’t be hindered by the uncommon name—this place is a no frills, vegetarian paradise and a D.C. gem. Diners choose from a compact, but plentiful menu filled with a mouth-watering assortment of comfort food dishes. Deciding what to order—between the mac & cheese and bbq tofu or the gyro and tofu nuggets—seems like it would be harder than choosing which political candidate to endorse in the 2012 election. But of course, Soul Vegetarian’s Exodus has an answer for that too. The restaurant offers dinner entrée plates that rotate on a daily basis and gives the option of a single entrée or double entrée plate. While the restaurant’s prices already offer plenty of bang for your buck, there’s an even better deal to be found still. Soul Vegetarian offers a “Student Dinner Plate” with a valid student ID for $6.50. Holy yum. Deliciously cheap, deliciously good.
Must order: Mac ‘n Cheese and Country-Fried “Steak”

Best Lazy Sunday Brunch
Open City
2331 Calvert St NW // (202) 332-2331

As one of my first ever restaurant excursions in D.C., Open City will always hold a special place in my heart. A cute and quintessential open-air coffee house located in the Adams Morgan district of the city, Open City is the sophisticated love child of a coffeehouse, an upscale diner, and a laid-back bar. While the restaurant offers plenty of omnivorous options, root vegetable pot pies, chai tea waffles, and tofu scrambles exemplify nourishing comfort food at its finest—no meat required. This is my go-to restaurant through and through. For weekends. For weekdays. For any day at all.
Must order: Chai Tea Waffle and Root Vegetable Pot Pie

Best Ethnic Eats
Dama Ethiopian Restaurant & Bakery
1503 Columbia Pike // (703) 920-3559

Ethiopian cuisine in general tends to cater to vegetarians due to the historical and cultural basis of the cuisine, but Dama takes ethnic eats to a whole new level. Serving up heaping scoops of wats (Ethiopian stews) on gigantic, sourdough-like flat breads called injera, Dama has traditional meat options like doro wat but saves an entire section of the menu for vegetarian dishes. If it’s your first time trying Ethiopian food or you’re having trouble choosing between the scrumptiousness of collard greens, lentil stews, potato dishes, and tomato salads, I highly recommend ordering the Vegetarian combo/sampler platter. The combo has more than enough tantalizing vegetarian delights for sharing finger-food style. Just make sure you save room for Dama’s artisan cakes, pastries, and coffee beverages, many of which are even vegan.
Must order: Vegetarian Sampling Platter for 2

Best Sandwich
900 19th St NW // (202) 785-0012

It is a truth universally known that meat is the crowning glory of most sandwiches. Pastrami, roast beef, salami, turkey, ham—the list goes on, usually without a vegetarian option in sight. Sometimes, you may be lucky enough to snag a caprese or portabello sandwich, but more often than not, a bag of chips has to suffice as a meal. At BonMi, however, that’s not the case. Bright, refreshingly healthy, and just a tad bit trendy, BonMi offers a simple menu of Vietnamese sandwiches that includes “house-pickled vegetables, cucumber, cilantro and chili-lime mayo” along with the main fare on a freshly-baked baguette. BonMi also serves salads, lettuce wraps, spring rolls, and homemade energy balls. Lovingly nestled below the meat options on the menu is a section entitled “other than meat,” where there sit two vegetarian options: Chili Garlic Tofu or Butternut Squash. Indecisive as always, I asked for a combination of the two and was blown away by the intricacy of the sandwich. Utterly amazing. I left with both a happy wallet and a happy stomach, convinced that no better sandwich could be found.
Must order: Half Chili-Garlic Tofu/Half Butternut Squash Bahn Mi (with the works)

Best Place for a Birthday Bash
Café Japone
2032 P St NW // (202) 223-1573

The food may not be that of a five-star restaurant at Café Japone, but the experience as a whole is one you’re not likely to forget. Doubling as a karaoke bar, the restaurant allows guests to belt out songs such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” or my personal favorite, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. While sushi by nature isn’t thought to be very vegetarian friendly, this restaurant touts a menu that won’t cause your meatless preferences to steal center stage. Options include a vegetable combination maki, which has rolls consisting of a variety of pickled Japanese yams, cucumbers, and sea vegetables. If you’re in the mood for something a bit heartier, the “tofu steak” manages to achieve a trifecta of sweet, salty, and crispy that delivers perfect fuel for singing another song (loudly and horribly out of tune, in my case) with friends.
Must order: Tofu Steak with Tempura or Vegetable Sushi Entree

Lexi Cotcamp has an uncommon obsession with healthy food. And she’s okay with it. A freshman contemplating a business major of sorts at Georgetown University, she is well-versed in the art of ambling around farmers’ markets and a veritable professional at dishing up extraordinarily cheesy puns.

Originally posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2012

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