There’s plenty of good vegetarian food in the District, and over the past two years, we’ve highlighted our favorite vegetarian-friendly and vegan restaurants in the D.C. area. But there are some vegan dishes that just stand out. They aren’t just good—they are the dishes we pine for, dream of, take our out-of-town friends to try and attempt to recreate at home. For this list, we’re focusing on the best and most memorable vegan dishes in the D.C. area, broken down by entree, small plate, hand-held (sandwiches and their friends) and desserts. Is your favorite vegan dish missing? Be sure to let us know your favorites in the comments.
Pumpkin curry at Thai X-ing (via Thai X-ing’s website)
PUMPKIN CURRY AT THAI X-ING: Head to Thai X-ing on any Sunday or Tuesday night for Chef Taw Vigsittaboot’s authentic Thai vegetarian tasting menu. (Their website states most dishes are vegan, so let your server know if you don’t want to be served anything that isn’t.) The standout entree on both meat and vegetarian nights is the pumpkin curry. Made with sweet kabocha squash, fresh basil and red pepper, this red curry will leave you dreaming of your next visit to this quirky Shaw mainstay. —Lynne Venart
Thai X-ing is located at 515 Florida Avenue NW.
V10 (PEPYAR NGAYOTE THEE HIN) AT MANDALAY: If you like your spice a wee bit painful, order the V10 at Silver Spring’s Mandalay and encourage your waiter to make you sweat. They will ask, “Are you sure? Very spicy?” and they will deliver the heat. The fire comes courtesy of the Asian hot pepper-infused onion and tomato curry that coats the fried tofu. Even when ordered very spicy, the flavors are still complex, with the sweet tomato and onion balancing the spice. I recommend also ordering the Baya Gyaw Thoke (Gram Fritter Salad) as a tasty and cooling respite, but be sure to specify vegan dressing. —Lynne Venart
Mandalay is located at 930 Bonifant Street in Silver Spring, Md.
VEGAN LINGUINE PUTTANESCA AT MAPLE: I love the homey atmosphere at Maple, and I keep going back for the Vegan Linguine Puttanesca. The capers and olives add a salty richness to the rough-chopped sweet tomatoes, and the olives bring a nice textural element without being overpowering. Honestly, I think I always end up gobbling this dish so fast—down to the last noodle and final dot of sauce on the plate—that I haven’t spent much time pondering it. All I can really say is YUM. And, unlike most restaurant pasta dishes, the linguine at Maple has no eggs, so the dish can be made vegan if you hold the anchovy and parmesan. — Lynne Venart, from our best pasta dishes list.
Maple is located at 3418 11th Street NW.
ALOO GOBI MASALA AT SALT AND PEPPER GRILL: Indian takeout is predictably good, but to me, nowhere in this city compares to Salt and Pepper Grill. The difference here is the obvious freshness of the vegetables and the adept use of spices. This is most apparent in the Aloo Gobi Masala. You can get this dish at almost any Indian or Pakistani restaurant, but at Salt and Pepper, it’s a whole new experience. The cauliflower and potatoes are cooked to perfection — soft and pillowy without being mushy — in a lightly spicy tomato and onion curry, and topped with fresh cilantro and sliced ginger. —Lynne Venart
Salt and Pepper Grill is located at 2632 Georgia Avenue NW, and Salt and Pepper Grill II (only takeout and delivery) is located at 3925 14th Street NW.
Piyaz at Zaytinya (via Zaytinya’s website)
PIYAZ AT ZAYTINYA: This small plate at Zaytinya is legendary. I’m not the only one who can’t get enough of it, since more than one blogger has tried to recreate it, and the Washington Post has requested the recipe for its Plate Lab series (fingers crossed!). It sounds simple enough: warm giant beans, kale, tomato, garlic. The unnamed secret is the dill. The giant beans are soft, the kale is cooked down and the roasting of the tomatoes brings out their sweetness. The best part is dunking Zaytinya’s fresh pita into the bowl and scooping up the garlic, dill and olive oil sauce (Note that the pita contains butter, thanks commenters!). I need this recipe! —Lynne Venart
Zaytinya is located at 701 9th Street NW.
PLAI MOANA CHIEN AT DOI MOI: Doi Moi has a solid vegan menu, but my favorite is this Cambodian-style stir fried pineapple with ginger. At first glance of the menu, it didn’t sound like the most exciting option because of its simplicity, but boy was I wrong. The surprising star is the ginger, which is usually treated more as a spice to enhance other flavors in a dish. Here it is cut julienne in one to two inch strips, which allows the ginger to shine on its own and balance the sweetness of the pineapple. Red bell pepper and peanuts add some nice texture, and a cilantro garnish tops it off.
Doi Moi is located at 1800 14th Street NW.
Tempeh panini at Busboys and Poets (via Busboys’ Facebook page)
TEMPEH PANINI AT BUSBOYS AND POETS: I always ponder getting something else at Busboys and Poets; they do have an extensive and tasty vegetarian menu. But I can’t stop going back for the tempeh panini. It’s reuben-esque, but not. This panini is its own thing—thinly sliced, grilled tempeh with vegan mayo, roasted red peppers and sautéed onions on toasted levain bread. A solid sandwich that never disappoints. —Lynne Venart
Busboys and Poets has four locations in the D.C. area: 14th and V streets NW, 5th and K streets NW, Shirlington and Hyattsville.
BREAKFAST BURRITO AT STICKY FINGERS: The best hangover food is usually greasy, sloppy, unhealthy, and way bigger than it has any right being. But I’d argue that, while a vegan breakfast burrito at Sticky Fingers doesn’t exactly sound like the best thing to cure a hangover, it’s actually a quintessential hangover fix. Let’s analyze: the wrap soaks up whatever alcohol is still sloshing around your stomach; the black beans, daiya cheese, and scrambled tofu acts as savory soldiers fighting of hangover hunger; but the key is the spinach, which pumps you up full of nutrients to make a full recovery rather than slipping into a day-long food coma. Trust me on this, Sticky Fingers’ breakfast burrito has saved me from many a wasted hangover days. —Matt Cohen
Sticky Fingers is located at 1370 Park Road NW.
TOFU TACOS AT TAKOREAN: Based on my own anecdotal evidence, the tofu taco appears to be the least popular item on TaKorean’s small menu. This is a shame, because it’s actually better than their chicken and beef tacos. The tofu has been marinated and then caramelized on the grill, creating some deep, sweet-savory flavors. Be sure to order it with the kimchi slaw and a squirt of Sriracha to ensure that the taco stays 100 percent vegan (the napa slaw is made with fish sauce). Tofu may seem like a weird taco filling, but next time you see their truck around town, give soy a chance. —Alicia Mazzara, from our best tacos list
TaKorean is located in Union Market at 1309 5th St NE. Its food truck can be tracked on Twitter.
FALAFEL AT AMSTERDAM FALAFELSHOP: The best part about getting a falafel pita at Amsterdam Falafelshop is that the quality of it is completely up to you. The crispiness of the falafel balls (don’t forget to crush your balls!) is just enough that they’re crunchy but not too hard. At the toppings bar, you can load up on whatever fixings—including loads of veggies and vegan items—you like, making each trip a potential new endeavor in the art of falafel eating. —Matt Cohen
Amsterdam Falafelshop is located at 2425 18th Street NW and 1830 14th Street NW.
RED VELVET CUPCAKE AT STICKY FINGERS: Any best vegan list in D.C. would be remiss not to mention the scrumptious and award-winning cupcakes at Sticky Fingers Bakery in Columbia Heights. My favorite is the red velvet, but you really can’t go wrong. Their offerings rotate, so if you’re set on a certain flavor, your best bet is to pre-order six.—Lynne Venart
Sticky Fingers is located at 1370 Park Road NW.
MANGO AND STICKY RICE AT THAI X-ING: Before trying the mango and sticky rice at Thai X-ing, it was always a dessert I could take or leave. Not anymore. The only problem with it is that they don’t serve it at every Sunday and Tuesday vegetarian dinner, so sometimes I leave frowning but full from the rest of the delicious meal. No matter how stuffed I am at the end of one of these feasts, I always have room for as much of the mango and sticky rice as my dining partners will allot me. So sweet, so juicy, so coconut-y. Sticky rice! Clearly, thinking of this dish renders me unable to form complete sentences.—Lynne Venart