Boston has a reputation for being a socially conscious city thanks to its universities and medical research institutions, but its ethical foodie roots go back further than you might expect.
A native of Boston, Benjamin Franklin adopted vegetarianism as a teen (although he eventually gave it up because it was too limiting in his day). A few centuries later, the growing foodie scene has brought in talent and flavors from all over the world, making the city’s vegetarian options diverse and delicious.
Life Alive Organic Cafe
Cafe, Restaurant, Smoothie Bar, Vegetarian, Vegan, American, $$$
This popular café, with locations in the Back Bay, Brookline and Cambridge’s Central Square, specializes in innovative grain bowls, as well as noodles, sandwiches, salads and juices. The Brookline location also offers ramen or udon soups and curry cauliflower. The vibe is a mix of hippy and foodie and attracts students, professors and just about every other social group you might find floating around these college towns. It’s a great place to bring your veg-skeptic friends, too, as there are appealing and delicious options regardless of whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or Ron Swanson.
Aiming to close the gap between food that is healthy and food that tastes delicious, Whole Heart Provisions first opened in Boston’s Allston neighborhood. Since then, it’s been recognized as one of Boston’s most promising start-ups, receiving a coveted grant from the MassChallenge start-up accelerator to scale operations to Harvard Square and Central Square. Its cuisine mainly consists of creative bowls packed full of veggies (such as Japanese eggplant and pickled cauliflower), plant protein (like crispy chickpeas and lentils) and perfectly paired sauces — all at an affordable price point. Fans rave about all of the bowls, as well as the falafel dog.
Imagine Johnny Rockets grew up, went to MIT and learned how to cook. The result would probably look a lot like Veggie Galaxy. Complete with ’50s retro decor, Formica tables, vinyl booths and an all-vegetarian greasy-spoon diner menu, this is a popular place for comfort food. Come for the reuben sandwich, omelets and burgers, but save room for home-made vegan desserts from its bakery or a scoop of coconut-based ice cream from FoMu.
This buzzing Watertown lunch spot from the same folks behind Oleana and Sarma specializes in Turkish meze. As you wait to order at the counter, take a gander at the colorful, appetizing small plates and spreads behind the glass. Everything from spinach falafel and corn salad to incredible hummus and pita is home-made and served fresh. While not entirely vegetarian, the majority of dishes here are, so it’s a great place to visit with a group and try several items.
Inside Bow Market (Somerville’s hip pop-up mini-mall), Saus is a tiny spot that specializes in bar food that also happens to be vegetarian. You might even completely miss the fact that it’s vegetarian (with the option to make anything vegan). Just steps from a brewery and a wine bar that don’t serve food, it’s a perfect option for those looking to soak up a few suds with some bar food. Specializing in fries with house-made sauces (hence the name), it also serves Impossible Burgers and cauliflower falafel. A second location is near Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
With its stark white walls, high-definition TVs and hosts roaming around to take your orders on iPads, Clover feels a bit like a visit to the Apple Store. But as its name implies, this place takes a scientific approach to running a restaurant, complete with data-driven experimentation with its food and pricing, which you can read about on its website. Brand idiosyncrasies aside, Clover specializes in vegetarian café food such as overnight oats or root and egg bowls for breakfast and barbecue seitan or Impossible meatballs for lunch and dinner. With 12 locations and counting, its experiments seem to be working.
Red Lentil Vegetarian & Vegan Restauran, Mount Auburn Street | Oyster Mushroom Calamari Courtesy of Red Lentil
Watertown’s Red Lentil is a veggie tour of the world. Chef Pankaj Pradhan split his culinary training between India and France and cooked for hotel restaurants and cruise ships before opening this restaurant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the menu takes dishes from around the world and gives them a veggie spin. Expect a broad range of influences on the menu, from Thai and Mexican to Greek and Indian. The restaurant makes it a priority to accommodate all kinds of dietary restrictions, which makes it a very welcoming place.
Regularly gracing Boston’s best restaurants lists, True Bistro provides a fine-dining experience with seasonal vegan food. Committed to sustainability and its community, it offers sophisticated cooking but an approachable menu. You’ll see traditional items such as ravioli and shepherd’s pie, but with twists of cashew cream and smoked tofu. As its creativeness has made it quite popular, the restaurant has expanded over the past few years to accommodate more diners.
This Ethiopian restaurant in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood makes up for its diminutive size with huge flavors and atmosphere – especially when compared to the many quick-serve restaurants on this list that cater to efficiency over ambience. Here, vegetarians and vegans are spoiled with options, from fragrant lentils to delicious injera dishes. Get ready to eat with your hands and be pleasantly overwhelmed by the choices.
This 100 percent vegetarian pizza joint doesn’t let its meatless status be its only defining characteristic. With its unique flavors and ingredient combinations, every dish is a new thrill for the taste buds, from its Hawaiian Manchurian pizza to its Curry Leaf Pesto Portabella pie. For the risk-averse, there are also comforting classics and pasta, as well as vegan desserts and smoothies.
This fast-casual joint offers healthy bowls and smoothies to the corporate lunch crowd in Boston’s Financial District. Utilizing wheat germ, chia seeds and nutritional yeast, Mighty Love Food has created a menu of superfood items that will leave you energized and ready to tackle the day. You can choose between the Crushin’ It Salad or the Metabolic Conditioner Salad to go along with your Mighty Punch Feel-Good Elixir drink. Open only on weekdays for breakfast and lunch.