After a month in New York City, our big RV trip seems aeons away. But less than 2 months ago, we were living on the road, I was “funemployed,” and we spent most days with lots of rocks and sky and sun and no cell signal, let alone WIFI.
I still have SO MUCH I want to share about what it’s like to pack up your life and live in a ~150 square foot travel trailer, like how to work remotely from an RV, the philosophy behind #RVlife, and what to consider before you sell all your stuff and by a trailer (←do you still want to know about this stuff??).
But for now, I’m just going to tell you about some of the unexpected places we had tons of fun…and vegan food.
In NYC, there’s more vegan food than you can shake a stick at, but on the road, my meals varied from weird packaged salads and french fries (looking at you, Kansas) to plant-based fine dining feasts (ahem, Crossroads).
When you think of the best vegan food in the US, if you’re like me, LA and New York come to mind, and maybe even San Francisco, Portland, or Austin. But I was so happy to discover that there are little vegan outcrops popping up in places you wouldn’t expect, like the south and the southwest.
Below are 5 cities—a few big ones, a few small ones—where we found unexpected pockets of vegan and vegetarian restaurants and shops.
*Also, as you’re reading this post I want you to think about whether a collection of vegan city guides is something you’d be interested in. I got inspired by Nicole Gulotta’s Literary City Guides on Eat This Poem (there’s even one for Waco by my friend Rachel), and I thought it would be cool to find vegans across the world to share their favorites spots in their hometowns. 🙂 Tell me in the comments if this sounds interesting to you!*
Big cities with delicious vegan food
1. Nashville, Tennessee
When I moved to Boston for grad school several (!) years ago, I took a route northeast out of Texas, through Nashville and Virginia, and then straight up the coast. And every time I drove back and forth for the summer I took the same path. Because of that, I’ve been to Nashville a LOT—sometimes to play, sometimes just to sleep and refuel on the edge of town.
You wouldn’t expect a city that’s known for things like barbecue and the classic “meat and three” to be hotspot for vegan food, but you have to remember that as much as Nashville is the Vegas of country music, it’s also full of young liberal creatives, who come bearing hemp milk and raw almonds. At least this is my theory. 😉
There’s so much vegan food in Nashville it’s taken several trips to try it all. Here are some places to check out if you end up in Nashvegas:
The Wild Cow
(vegan except for dairy cheese as an option)
Every time we go here it’s packed, and there is often a wait…but I think it’s worth it. This is a casual café style place with massive salads, wraps and sandwiches, and some comfort foods like nachos and milkshakes. I like bringing Ted here because there are really healthy options, like veggie bowls, but you can still order a buffalo ranch sandwich with a side of chips if you’re looking for something that sticks to the ribs a bit more.
Around the corner from The Wild Cow is a place called Graze. This restaurant is newer, and it feels a little more upscale inside (but still casual). Ted got epic vegan banh mi at this spot…but be warned, we ended up in for a night of spoken word poetry without realizing. There was a lot of snapping.
Bagel Face Bakery
Vegan bagels with vegan cream cheese for everyone! Also, if you’re looking for a place to hang out or sit with a laptop, this is a great spot. The inside is huge and there are lots of seats.
(vegetarian, but mostly vegan)
Think of Sunflower Café as the Luby’s of vegetarian food. We stopped here on our last trip through Nashville on the way to New York, and it’s my new favorite. Super lowkey, really nice people, and everything from kale salad to enchilada casserole.
Ted’s one complaint about this spot is that it’s one of those more upscale restaurants where everyone sits at these long, rustic-looking communal tables with benches. “If I’m paying this much for a drink, I want a back on my chair!” I get his point, but I was SO happy here because they had food for the masses and also multiple vegan options for every course. And they weren’t flimsy slaws—think: roasted potatoes, rich eggplant spread, crispy broiled tofu. Plus near the super trendy Barista Parlor for coffee.
(vegan – mostly raw)
A couple years ago, we ended up here the week they opened and they were still figuring a few things out. For that reason, our memories are a little funny (searching for the front door because the parking lot didn’t have lights yet, sending the server back to ask the cooks what the dishes included)…but I would try it again! Everything here is raw, so you’re getting things like zucchini noodles and raw cashew cheesecakes. Not for everyone but heaven if you’re interested in raw vegan eating.
2. Denver, Colorado
It’s probably not a surprise to you that Denver has good vegan food—it’s kind of known for it’s crunchy, Birkenstock-wearing contingent. But I wasn’t prepared for there to be SO MUCH vegan food. After all, Denver is in Colorado, which is *almost * touching Texas, where “vegan” is still a derogatory or foreign word around some parts. 😛 But anyway, we originally planned to stay in Denver for one week, but extended our stay because we were having so much fun…and STILL didn’t try all the planty foods.
City O’ City
We came here 3 times on our 10-day stay in Denver! They’ve got everything from vegan chicken and waffles to Korean BBQ tacos, to pizza, to vegan spaghetti and meatballs. It was a crowd-pleaser type of place where even your meateater friends will be happy. Also, they had good drinks. 😉
Breakfast all day. Need I say more? Come here for breakfast foods, like pancakes and hash, plus comfort foods, like mac ‘n’ cheese and southern fried cauliflower.
Beet Box Bakery and Café
We were only able to swing into Beet Box for a quick stop, but I’m so glad we did. The apple cinnamon donut I got was melt-in-your-mouth. I have never had a better donut, vegan or not. They make cake too!
This is a more upscale spot in a hotel in the middle of Denver. It has a huge bar in the center and during the day there’s a coffee shop and charcuterie/deli type bar. They also happen to have an off-menu “vegan plate”—I only know it exists because of Ashlae from Oh, Ladycakes. She’s got several guides!
This is just a little coffee shop in LoDo (my impression is that this is a kind of hipster neighborhood that’s being gentrified…) but they had a really good vegan chai. Recommended by Ashlae of Oh, Ladycakes again.
Govinda’s Garden Café
(vegetarian with vegan options)
I’m cheating a little bit here, because I haven’t been to the Govinda’s in Denver…but I have been to the ones in Tucson and Houston. They are a chain of vegetarian, mostly Ayurvedic and Indian food buffets…embedded in Hare Krishna temples. There’s also one in NYC, I think. Anyway, the vibe at these tends to vary—the one in Tucson was more spiritual somehow, very quiet. And the one in Houston felt more like a bustling cafeteria. When I’m back in Denver I’ll see what the one there is like!
BONUS: Crosscut Pizza in Nederland, CO
About an hour northwest of Denver (or 30 mins west of Boulder) there’s a mountain town called Nederland. I got to spend a day up here with my cousin and friends hiking the Fourth of July Trail to the Continental Divide (where the rivers change direction and start flowing towards the Pacific!). After a day of hiking over 10,000 feet, we were exhausted and I was dealing with some serious altitude wooziness. Crosscut Pizza was like a mirage in the dessert. Delicious dough, good beer, nice people.
Besides big metropolises, like Denver and Nashville, we also found good food (and had lots of fun) in a few much smaller cities.
Small cities with good vegan food:
3. Flagstaff, Arizona
We weren’t expecting to have as much fun in Flagstaff as we did. The town felt sort of like a smaller but younger (and less conservative) Waco, with lots of neon signage. It surprised us. We had fun driving around Route 66, going to outdoor/mountain shops and thrift stores, hanging out in breweries, and even hiking just outside of town.
Whyld Ass Coffee Shop
(plant-based and organic)
Okay, Ted wasn’t the biggest fan of this place because they tend to do things like add cranberries to their guacamole and only serve brown rice. But I loved it! It’s casual and in a part of Flagstaff where you can leave the car, grab some food, and then walk around and explore outdoor shops, etc. They have things like a hearty bowl of soup and a solid smoothie, but also more complex dishes, like baked falafel salad cashew mac ‘n’ cheese with caramelized onions.
Dark Sky Brewing Company
(beer – with a vegan-friendly food truck)
We had so much fun at Dark Sky we went twice. It’s casual brewery where they make lots of unique beers, they have comfy chairs, and dogs are allowed. Plus, there’s a food truck in the back making really tasty Mexican food with vegan options. Rice bowl, for the win.
We were only in Flagstaff for a few days before heading to the Grand Canyon, but I really wanted to try:
Red Curry Vegan Kitchen
I couldn’t convince Ted to go here, because they only serve brown rice and have a tendency to add pumpkin seeds at random. But it looks SO good! I want to go back and try it.
Morning Glory Café (vegetarian with vegan options)
And I really want to go to nearby Sedona! Looks ripe for the vegan snacking.
I think Vermont already has a reputation for being kind of granola, and Burlington wasn’t any different. It’s on the list because it’s a really cool place (even though it doesn’t even have a coat factory). We only got to spend one day here, but we definitely want to come back, maybe when it’s warmer. We landed there in November and it was already getting pretty chilly.
New Moon Café
When we lived in the RV, I was working a full-time remote job that I’d been in for 2 years. In Burlington, I finally got to meet one of my coworkers in person for the first time! We ended up working here for hours, and I had breakfast AND lunch at this place, plus lots of coffee. They’ve got non-dairy milks and special maple lattes, plus things like salads, sandwiches, bowls, soups, and delicious toast. They also have vegan mini-cupcakes, which is pretty neat. 🙂 🙂
Asiana Noodle Shop
On our whole trip, I was perpetually amazed by how consistently delicious Asian food, especially Thai food, was across the US. Asiana Noodle Shop was super satisfying (we picked it up before driving back to the southern Vermont where we left the RV) and the servings were enormous.
5. Providence, Rhode Island
Like our experience in Burlington, we only got to spend a day in Providence, but (thanks to some epic recommendations from a fellow-vegan I know through my old remote job—hi Sam!) we had really satisfying vegan food all day.
(vegetarian and vegan-friendly)
We were headed to Providence to cycle their miles and miles of paved trails, but after we got hung up getting our tires filled, we were really hungry…and I wanted to make sure we got lots of fuel for the bike ride. The Grange was perfect for this because they serve rich, hearty options, like kimchi burritos and roasted squash salad. Also, they have vegan sweet treats and smoothies.
Like No Udder
After our bike ride, I really wanted ice cream, and I convinced Ted to have dessert before dinner with me at a 100% vegan ice cream shop with the best name ever. They had a huge selection of flavors and hot fudge sundaes.
Sooo we really wanted to eat at Veggie Fun, a Thai place in downtown Providence, but we couldn’t find a place to park in the whole city! It was crazy. So we called in and Ted circled the block while I waited for our food. And here’s the best part, when we got home an hour later and ate it out of takeout boxes, it was STILL some of the best food we had on the whole RV trip. Spring rolls passed Ted’s muster.