On a recent visit to Philadelphia, I spent five days and five nights (split between a friend’s townhouse in South Philly and boutique hotel The Study at University City) dining out at the myriad vegan and vegan-friendly gems dotting the city.
While this list is woefully incomplete, I look forward to returning soon. After all, it’s a pretty painless bus trip from Manhattan’s Port Authority. Here, a plant-based food tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
For a most memorable meal: Miss Rachel’s Pantry
Forget leaving the best for last: Miss Rachel’s Pantry was far and away my favorite evening out. I can’t recall the last time I found myself this smitten with a gustatory journey, but what’s dubbed the Farmhouse Table Dinner sure was special. Launched in 2007 by the extraordinary Rachel Klein, this ticketed experience features homestyle vegan eats — think mouthwatering corn chowder; warm, savory biscuits; and moist carrot cake frosted in rich buttercream — spread over six courses in an inviting atmosphere complete with a communal table and an open-air kitchen. From the nuanced cuisine to the convivial vibe, the impeccable service to the reasonable price ($63 including gratuity and non-alcoholic beverages — it’s BYOB sans corkage fee), I enthusiastically recommend this to anyone. It’s a steal, it’s kosher, and it’s a great way to meet in-the-know locals and savvy out-of-towners alike. This place is perfect for the advance planner, as seats are limited and dates fill up fast.
For brunch: The Tasty
To my elation, I spent my first three evenings sleeping roughly 300 feet from The Tasty. Just over a year old, this fairly young South Philly staple is 100 percent vegan and 100 percent rad. Owing to easy access, a friendly team and — you guessed it — tasty diner grub, I found myself seated at their counter on more than a couple of occasions. While I had lunch once (a chickpea “tuna” salad sandwich), brunch was what wowed. They open at 7 a.m., so go early and snag some fresh pastries. I especially loved their cream-filled cake doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar. I likewise tried the tofu “egg” and “cheese” sammie on an everything English muffin (!?!) with veggie “sausage.” (Pro tip: pay $1 to sub out the default Daiya Foods vegan cheese for Field Roast’s Chao Slices.) Also solid was the Greek omelet and the Monte Cristo. (Be advised: pure maple syrup costs extra.)
A nearby brunch runner-up is gastropub P.O.P.E. (Pub On Passyunk East), offering vegan-friendly French toast, tofu scramble and mock morning meats. Do what I did and spring for home fries, O.J. and an outdoor table, too.
For a first date: V Street
Though I dined alone, by all accounts V Street appears an ideal date place — from the low ceilings to the low lighting, the intimate tables to the sharable bites. A street food bar by chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby — well known for Vedge and now Wiz Kid — this bustling bistro in Rittenhouse Square lived up to the hype, bringing (as its website boasts) “bold spice and adventurous flavors.” I ordered the za’atar grilled corn and smoked beet langos (you should, too).
I also ate at Vedge and Wiz Kid (a grab-and-go counter inside the Philly Center City Whole Foods, which combines the former’s famous rutabaga fondue with Dijon, yielding a yummy yellow sauce to top off their cheesesteak).
For small plates: Charlie Was A Sinner
This tasteful Midtown Village destination is known for small plates and strong drinks. Among the standout items are the artichoke frites served with saffron rouille and crispy lemon, as well as the potato gnocchi served with zucchini and basil fondue and blistered cherry tomatoes. Considering the romantic ambiance, the sumptuous interior design and the exceptional waitstaff, this is another stellar go-to date spot.
For something sweet: Goldie
Philly-familiar vegans may wonder why Dottie’s Donuts isn’t this section’s star. I can’t contest the quality of those doughnuts (which, in addition to their West Philly brick-and-mortar, can be found at a number of other local outposts — like South Philly’s B2 Café), but I gotta give it to Goldie for their utterly original tehina shakes. Available in chocolate, coconut, mint chip, Turkish coffee and original, these tahini-based drinkable desserts are something to behold. Pick one up next time you’re near Midtown Village. (Also worth noting: Goldie falls under the CookNSolo parent company, which brought Dizengoff to Chelsea Market.)
For pizza and cheesesteaks: Blackbird Pizzeria
Blackbird is beloved, so much so that the owners got together with the brains behind Brooklyn’s Champs Diner to open Screamer’s Pizzeria in Greenpoint. But the added benefit of making a beeline for this Society Hill hot spot is that they top their pies with Violife vegan cheese. Follow my lead and house one Haymaker slice and one Cheesesteak slice. Then wash it all down with their robust seitan cheesesteak.
For authentic Indonesian: Hardena Waroeng Surabaya
This Indonesian hole-in-the-wall situated in South Philly came highly and widely recommended. Indeed, it’s delicious, cheap, unfussy and — most crucially — authentic. The cantina-style space is nothing to write home about, but that’s part of its charm. Customers line up and take their time picking what they want, poring over the menu or peering through glass at the simmering selection before them. While not 100 percent vegan, there’s plenty for plant-lovers to laud, like the Nasi Pecel salad (blanched veggies, steamed rice and tempeh fritter bits topped with chunky peanut herb dressing), the Oseng Tempeh (sautéed tempeh in sweet soy sauce), the Sayur Singkong (collard greens stewed in coconut milk broth) and the Es Kelapa (cocopandan juice with shredded coconut).
Another destination worth highlighting is West Philly’s Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant and bar, Dahlak Paradise