Vegans have a tough time navigating the restaurant scene in Charlotte. Unlike vegetarians, who don't eat meat, vegans don't eat any animal products at all. In other words: Please don't pass the butter.
Until fairly recently, vegans who wanted to dine out were pretty much restricted to ordering salads without cheese. Those days are over, as some local restaurants have begun serving special dishes for niche eaters. Restaurants that are 100-percent vegan remain rare, although a new contender, Bean Vegan Cuisine, is scheduled to open later this month on Independence Boulevard across from Bojangles' Arena. Plans are to offer home-style vegan food with daily "green plate" specials and regular menu items such as vegan rueben sandwiches and "meat"-loaf with gravy.
Bean Vegan Cuisine's imminent opening got us thinking: What are some of the best vegan entrées at current Charlotte restaurants? Here's our top eight choices — no assembly required.
Lunasagna at Luna's Living Kitchen
Luna's Living Kitchen serves up dishes that are all-vegan and high-raw (which means most of them have not been heated above 115 F). But while everything at this South End hot spot in Atherton Mills is vegan, we do have our favorite: the Lunasagna ($11.50). This gorgeously plated dish features zucchini noodles rather than pasta, and uses cashew basil cheese instead of ricotta. It comes with a salad of local greens with Luna's own special tahini dressing. 2102 South Blvd. 704-333-0008. www.lunaslivingkitchen.com.
Purple Risotto at Harvest Moon Grille
Believe it or not, Cassie Parsons, owner of Harvest Moon Grill, also raises hogs. That doesn't mean her menu is bereft of vegan-friendly dishes. One of those is a vegan risotto ($16), which is rare — but rarer still is purple vegan risotto. (Harvest Moon Grille prides itself on creative combos.) Parsons uses local mung rice and couscous and whatever vegetables are in season. The purple hue is from beet juice, which adds an earthy sweetness to the dish. Your taste buds will deceive you; there is absolutely no butter in this rich and creamy entrée. 235 N. Tryon St. 704-342-1193. harvestmoongrillecharlotte.com.
Farmhouse Ragout at Fern
This elegant vegetarian restaurant devotes about a quarter of its menu to vegan dishes. The one you must check out, though, is the Farmhouse Ragout ($14) with crushed potatoes in a lemon olive oil dressing, complimented by colorful rainbow carrots, marcona almonds, meaty tempeh, and roasted tomatoes. Periodically, Fern offers dining opportunities such as a five-course vegan beer dinner, so stay tuned to the restaurant's website to participate in these special evenings. 1323 Central Ave. 704-377-1825. www.fernflavors.com.
The East-Western at Zada Jane's
A popular brunch spot in Plaza Midwood, Zada Jane's has many vegan-friendly options, although you'll need to make some minor substitutions. However, our favorite, the East-Western ($7.50), is 100-percent vegan — no changes required. It's a tofu scramble, spiced with yellow Indian curry and combined with sauteed mushrooms, green peas, spinach, tomato and caramelized onions. Ask for the seeded toast and fruit cup for your sides and enjoy it for brunch with coffee and soy milk. 1601 Central Ave. 704-332-3663. www.zadajanes.com.
Chipotle Veginator at Growlers Pourhouse
Growlers Pourhouse searched from coast to coast to find the tastiest vegan sausage for its chipotle Veganator ($6), finally settling on one from the Field Roast Company of Seattle, Wash. This tasty grain-based sausage more than holds its own against the house-made sausages at Growlers. 3120 N. Davidson St. 704-910-6566. www.growlerspourhouse.com.
Red Curry at Basil Thai Restaurant
Thai restaurants are among the easiest places to find vegan fare in any city, but you have to watch out for the fish and oyster sauces, which are not always noted on the menus. The chic and urban Basil in Uptown offers several vegan options on its menu, and the staff is happy to answer any questions of its vegan customers. If you are looking for a strictly vegan dish with no need to make substitutions or omissions, try any of Basil's curries. With its creamy coconut milk-based sauce and lightly steamed vegetables, the Red Curry ($6) is our favorite. 210 N. Church St. 704-332-7212. www.eatatbasil.com.
Vegetable Combo at Meskerem
Ethiopian cuisine traditionally offers an array of vegan dishes. For a sampling of the delicious vegan options on the menu at Meskerem — a hidden gem in Midtown — order the vegetable combo ($12.50). It features lentils cooked in ginger, garlic, onions, olive oil and curry; sauteed string beans in tomato sauce; and cabbage and potatoes with garlic ginger and curry. Meskerem also has a daily lunch buffet (closed on Mondays) that includes all the vegan goodness your stomach desires. 601 S. Kings Drive, Suite P. 704-335-1197. www.meskeremincharlotte.com.
Selection of Tapas at Soul GastroLounge
One of the best tapas restaurants in Charlotte, Soul Gastrolounge does not want its vegan customers to go hungry. If you manage to land a table at this popular Plaza Midwood hot spot, start out with the Guacamole Stack ($5), which includes a generous serving of creamy avocado, with red onion, cilantro and fried garlic chips. Next, try the Babaganoush ($4) and Hummus ($4), both served with vegan-friendly pita points. Then go for the Ki Roll ($8), a vegan sushi roll of mixed greens, carrots, cucumber, mint and mango wrapped in soy paper and served with a tangy chili sauce. You say that's more than one dish? It's tapas — we get a pass. Besides, what better way to our smorgasbord of vegan delights? 1500-B Central Ave. 704-348-1848. www.soulgastrolounge.com.
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