Chaia

Rating: ★★★★★

15044790_10154735508448011_1333757067_o.jpgChaia is a farmhouse-chic vegetarian taco spot in Georgetown that’s so delicious that it doesn’t make me miss meat. The fact that it scores as one of the best taco places in DC in my book without serving meat speaks volumes. The tacos include such inventive, seasonal options as the sweet potato hash taco with feta, arugala pumpkin seed salsa and cilantro and much more. I ordered a trio of tacos for $11, which is a bit more expensive than I’d pay for a trio of meat tacos at a place like Tacos El Chilango, but what you’re getting here is (in their words) a farm to taco experience. The tacos are artfully put together, delicious and good for you too. I also had their seasonal strawberry rhubarb shrub to drink, which was a great accompaniment to the food.

Chaia is located right on the C&O Canal in Georgetown at 3207 Grace St NW.

Mom’s Organic Market and Naked Lunch

Rating: ★★★★★

14696951_10154633364253011_227324865_nMom’s Organic Market is a regional chain that contains a vegan eatery called Naked Lunch. The only location in the District itself is at 1501 New York Ave NE in Ivy City. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never heard of Ivy City, a historically run-down and neglected warehouse district. However, Ivy City’s hulking Hecht Warehouse has been converted into snazzy condos, which have brought with them the typical harbingers of gentrification: organic food, a yoga studio, a CrossFit Gym, and other 14724181_10154633323233011_1911765214_oestablishments such as the New Columbia distillery (known for its Green Hat Gin). However you feel about gentrification, Mom’s Organic Market is a fantastic place. It’s bright and friendly and stocks a wide range of health food products, many of them local. Naked Lunch offers tasty and healthy veggie-based food options (kind of along the lines of Beefsteak, but what I had was tastier) along with fresh juices. I ordered the cauliflower steak and while a carnivore like me cringes at the idea that cauliflower would be called steak, it really was pretty tasty. The best thing about Mom’s Organic Market, however, is the FREE COFFEE. Yes, you read that correctly. There is FREE COFFEE right at the front of the store (as well as tea). I biked over there on a rainy, chilly day and that free coffee was a godsend for a caffeine 14686498_10154633364218011_191532060_naddict like myself.

Secrets of Nature

Rating: ★★★★☆

14686597_10154626721203011_1238815546_nSecrets of Nature is a health food store and eatery serving vegetarian soul food. Unlike many of DC’s newer vegetarian or vegan eateries which cater to a clientele that just got out of their bikram yoga class and are looking for some kombucha, this place has been in business since 1990 and is located in one of DC’s most impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhoods. It’s a no-frills type of spot that stocks a wide variety of herbs and other health food products and has a kitchen in the back. The food, while not cheap, is delicious. I ordered curry imitation chicken with black-eyed peas, okra salad, and quinoa on the side. They had a wide selection of drinks including the elusive GinsengUp and a brand of authentic, locally-made sorrel called Papa WaBe’s So Real Sorrel. This place brings some healthy and delicious food to a part of town dominated by Chinese carry-outs. While this place is mainly geared towards food to go, there is one large table for those who prefer to sit and eat. It’s a trek from the rest of the city but Secrets of Nature is a worthy stop for an explorer seeking out home-cooked food for the body and soul.

HipCityVeg

Rating: ★★★☆☆

14397867_10154562614958011_672185134_nHipCityVeg is a vegan fast casual restaurant that already has a couple of locations in Philadelphia, but which set up shop at 712 7th St NW. This modern, sleek and friendly spot serves vegan versions of fast food items like chicken sandwiches, burgers and shakes. At the suggestion of the guy serving me, who said that it was their most popular item, I ordered the “Crispy HipCity Ranch” which consists of battered imitation chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and peppercorn ranch. As a non-vegan it was tough for me to see the more mainstream appeal of a sandwich like this; while imitation meat is likely better 14397434_10154562614928011_1671552657_nfor the environment than actual meat, imitation chicken doesn’t taste as good, is highly processed and isn’t necessarily healthier. This could have been offset by a decadent, crispy batter, but the batter wasn’t as crispy as I had hoped. It’s also not cheap for the quantity of food. HipCityVeg is certainly bright, friendly and cool, but for someone like myself, I’d rather eat a real chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A (sorry, chickens). I can certainly see its niche appeal, though.

Soupergirl

Rating: ★★★☆☆

14169704_10154512921083011_1201364967_nSoupergirl is a vegan and kosher soup and sandwich shop located at 314 Carroll St NW in Takoma. This friendly, casual neighborhood spot happens to be one of a small handful of places to get kosher prepared food in DC (alongside Char Bar, Brooklyn Sandwich Co. and some pre-prepared items at the Holocaust Museum). For the sake of my kosher-observant friends, I really appreciate that Soupergirl offers an additional option in DC’s small kosher food scene. I happen to not 14169452_10154512921088011_1480766269_nbe a huge fan of soups in general, and those soups that I do like are generally not vegetarian or vegan: matzoh ball soup (though I cook a fantastic vegetarian version), clam chowder, French onion soup, harira, borscht, pho and wonton soup. As you may imagine, I found Soupergirl’s soup (I had a version of minestrone) a bit bland for my taste. I got a soup and sandwich combo and actually liked the sandwich better, which had mushrooms and grilled onions on it. Despite my personal dislike of vegetable soup, people who do like vegetable soup will enjoy this friendly, healthy spot. A huge plus is that they have all of their hot soups out with tasting cups so you can taste each soup before deciding which one to order.

Shouk

Rating: ★★★

13524024_10154330447823011_1963905377_o.jpgShouk is an Israeli fast casual restaurant located at 655 K St. NW. The question of what constitutes Israeli food is, like everything to do with Israel/Palestine, a politically charged question. But whatever your politics, Israel is a country that is a mix of Jews who came from places as diverse as North Africa, the Levant, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, India, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, North America, Latin America- you name it, alongside Palestinian Arabs. As such food in Israel represents a melting pot of culinary traditions, where popular foods including Turkish bourekas, Arab falafel and shawerma, Persian kabobs, Tajik plov, North African shakshouka, German schnitzel, Georgian khachapuri, and much more can be found alongside burgers and sushi.


13570275_10154330447843011_1131468679_oShouk
, which is the Hebrew word for an open-air market (just like the closely-related Arabic word, souk), represents a uniquely Israeli, nay, Tel-Avivi style of eating. It represents fresh produce alongside distinctly Levantine specialties like hummus, labneh, tahini, and mujadara. More importantly, it is vegan; veganism has become a very popular (and somewhat aggressive) movement in Tel Aviv, with places like Buddha Burgers serving up vegan takes on fast food and places like Tenat and Nanuchka serving vegan Ethiopian and Georgian food, respectively. When we asked the friendly owner why he chose to open a vegan place he replied (in a characteristically Israeli fashion) “why not?”

13549058_10154330447848011_946928301_oNormally, I’m not a huge fan of Middle Eastern fast casual places where you just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and bastardize the region’s cuisines. But Shouk is different. The combinations are pre-set so that the flavors actually work together properly. The each combination can be ordered in a pita or in a bowl over mujadara, a Palestinian dish of rice and lentils. The different options combine Middle Eastern ingredients but are fresh and innovative. Falafel, refreshingly, is absent. I ordered the roasted cauliflower with tomato, scallion, tahini, and jalapeno oil over mujadara. Roasted cauliflower with tahini 13570245_10154330447818011_246556163_ois very popular in Tel Aviv, so I enjoyed this homage to an Israeli favorite. It could have used a bit more spice (it was a little bland) but overall it was quite satisfying. I also ordered sweet potato fries with cashew labneh- labneh is a yogurt-like dish but Shouk makes it with cashews in order to keep it vegan. It was very tasty, but they should provide larger containers of cashew labneh- there just wasn’t enough for dipping. Aside from a couple of small shortcomings, this place is a promising and refreshing change from the Cavas and Rotis of the world.

 

Beefsteak

Rating: 

13120518_10154179222303011_1057626595_oBeefsteak, somewhat confusingly, is a mainly vegetarian restaurant showcasing vegetables (like the beefsteak tomato, which explains the name). It has two locations: 800 22nd St NW in Foggy Bottom and 1528 Connecticut Ave NW near Dupont Circle. I had really hoped that Jose Andres, the celebrity chef behind Beefsteak (and a whole host of other places in DC, like the amazing China Chilcano) could make me like vegetables. The food itself is actually 13128678_10154179222178011_164979455_ofairly tasty (though I didn’t like the “Frida Kale” when I had it), but it simply isn’t filling. You can add “something meaty” to your dish, such as a poached egg, chicken sausage or mozzarella, but even with that a meal from Beefsteak just isn’t filling enough for me. Most of its bowls are around the $7.50 to $8.50 range, but adding any of the protein options adds a couple of dollars. In the end, you get a meal for over $10 that still leaves you hungry. I’d honestly rather go to Chipotle, but Beefsteak still gets three stars for its innovative concept and fresh, healthy choices that appeal to those with healthier eating habits (and smaller stomachs) than mine. Their homemade juice drinks are tasty too.

Senbeb

Rating: 

13063928_10154168229398011_277386584_oSenbeb is a vegan restaurant located at 6224 3rd St NW. Like the nearby Evolve Vegan Restaurant,  Senbeb  focuses on vegan versions of comfort food. It’s more of a casual, cafe style-spot though, while Evolve is more of a sit-down restaurant. The staff at Senbeb is super friendly and they told me that the “cheesesteak” is their most popular option. It was tasty, filling and pretty convincing! A side salad came with it, but 13078069_10154168229263011_278137732_oI had no room for that after my sanddwich. They also have some of the vegan soul food options like vegan mac and cheese and collards. This is a cozy, friendly, tasty spot for a friendly, relatively inexpensive meal. Just because it vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy, though- I’m not sure if my “cheesesteak” was remotely healthy but it did taste good!

13054596_10154168229288011_1668936721_o

Vegaritos

Rating: 

13035635_10154159652428011_1275928188_oVegaritos is a vegan burrito place located at 6904 4th St NW in Takoma. Since Takoma/Takoma Park is a mecca for vegan food (given the historic Seventh Day Adventist influence in the area) it’s hardly a surprise to find a vegan burrito place here. I love the concept of the place and at $6.99 for a burrito, the prices are reasonable. The place is bright and friendly as well. Of course, I can’t expect a vegan burrito to taste quite like the real thing; vegan meats and cheeses are getting more convincing every day, but still aren’t quite there yet. I do appreciate that they don’t charge extra for guac (I’m looking at you, Chipotle) but where they fell short for me was the rice. They make Mission-style burritos, so rice is a major component. Their rice choices are brown rice and jasmine rice, and I happen to hate brown rice so I chose the jasmine rice. The rice was simply too mushy- in a burrito, the rice has to have some substance to it, but the texture of this rice really took away from the burrito. They would be much better off putting yellow rice or Chipotle-style lime rice or even the rice component of West African jollof rice instead in the burrito. If they did this, they’d earn at least another star.

Sweetgreen

Rating:

Sweetgreen is a fast casual salad restaurant chain that began in the DC area in 2007. It has various locations throughout DC and the suburbs, including in Foggy Bottom, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, Crystal City, Ballston, College Park, Silver Spring, McLean, Tysons, Fairfax and Reston. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not often eat salads because I almost never feel full after eating them. The salads at Sweetgreen are no exception in this regard, but they are very tasty and innovative. I can totally see the appeal of this place for those who do like salads, so I am rating it based on that. I ordered a seasonal specialty called the Umami Grain Bowl, which was healthy and delicious (though I was of course still hungry after). There are numerous other inventive salad choices, such as the “Rad Thai,” which is a Thai-inspired salad with shrimp. For those counting calories, however, be warned that some of the salads are highly caloric- the winner in this regard is the “Earth Bowl,” which packs a whopping 775 calories (as a comparison, a Big Mac contains 563 calories). Of course, there’s a lot more to healthy eating than calories, and there is certainly far more nutrition in Sweetgreen’s food than in Mc Donalds’Sweetgreen also has delicious house made fountain drinks and everything (aside from the reusable bowl) is compostable. Sweetgreen gets major points for offering nutritious, environmentally conscious food in a casual, bright atmosphere. It just isn’t a filling enough meal for me