Whether you are vegetarian or vegan, or you just like to explore non-meat options every now and again, you can find more and more Canadian restaurants that are centring their menus around plants, rather than animal protein. Some are new, many have been around for longer than you would expect, and all of them are proving that you don’t need to use meat as a crutch to make great tasting food.
The Acorn – Vancouver, B.C.
It’s pretty impressive when a vegetarian restaurant cracks enRoute’s 10 Best New Restaurants list, and that’s exactly what The Acorn did back in 2013. When you look at its menu, it’s not hard to see why. The fare is a step above comforting veg classics, like veggie burgers and curry bowls. Crafting a menu that changes with what’s in season, its vegetable-centric plates really do showcase what plants have to offer. Take, for example, eggplant with king oyster mushroom and macadamia nut cannelloni, mustard greens and a cashew rose sauce. Put that on a fine dining menu anywhere and you’ve got a winning dish, but at The Acorn, you’ve got an entire list of all-veg plates to choose from.
Aux Vivres – Montreal, QC
Aux Vivres has been a staple in the vegan food scene in Montreal for almost 20 years. Just a little café exposing locals to veganism back in 1997, it now offers many of their products for purchase, like homemade salad bowls and sauces, from retailers across Quebec. The restaurant itself is still open seven days a week, serving juices, smoothies, salads, sandwiches, bowls and the like. Stop by for brunch and treat yourself to huevos rancheros, sans eggs (it offers a tofu scramble instead), or live on the sweeter side of life with blueberry pancakes, cashew cream, and naturally, maple syrup. Take a vegan brownie to go. Why? Because you can.
Boon Burger – Winnipeg, MB
Go to any vegetarian or vegan restaurant and you’re lucky to get one, maybe two, veggie burger options. But at Boon Burger, the entire menu is dedicated to the art of the veggie burger. It has four types of patties to choose from as your burger base. The boon patty is loaded with cremini mushrooms; the Buddha patty with chickpeas; the white patty with tofu, rice and oats; and the black bean patty, as it sounds, is filled with beans. As for toppings, there is no shortage of options. The Thanksgiving burger comes complete with cranberry sauce and glazed yams, while the salsa burger is topped with corn chips, salsa and guac for a Mexican flair.
The Coup – Calgary, AB
Having lived as a vegetarian the meat-loving city, I can attest to how difficult it can be to find quality vegetarian dishes. The Coup is the go-to, all-veggie hot spot in the city. To start, you can’t neglect its extensive cocktail list. Alcohol made with fruits and vegetables still counts towards your recommended daily servings (of fruit and vegetables that is), right? Regardless, you can get your fix of plant-based goodness from its awesome salads, which seem a lot more substantial than your average salad. Try the Club Med, full of salty bites like olives, feta, falafel, pickles and banana peppers.
enVie – Halifax, NS
Locally-sourced, sustainably-produced ingredients is almost a defining aspect of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but on the flip side, there is a lot of meatless, processed junk food out there acting under the guise that if it’s vegetarian, it must be good for you. At enVie in Halifax, everything is made from scratch with real ingredients so you know exactly what is in your food. It also accommodates a wide range of dietary restrictions: gluten free, soy free and/or nut free. Try chef Lauren’s take on “scallops” that – surprise! – aren’t scallops at all but, in fact, king mushrooms. Add them to energy bowls with your choice of sauces, from cashew cheese sauce to Moroccan peanut sauce.
Hogtown Vegan – Toronto, ON
Toronto may be known as Hogtown, but at Hogtown Vegan, there are no pigs in sight. That being said, it manages to veganize everyone’s favourite meat dishes. Take the “fried clams” for example, which are actually shiitake mushrooms in disguise, or the “pulled pork” made from shredded TVP (textured vegetable protein). From their signature “chicken” and waffles, to the deli classic, the Reuben, the selection will ensure that you won’t miss the meat.
Lola Rosa – Montreal, QC
Located on Parc Avenue, steps away from Mont Royal, Lola Rosa is the perfect place to stop in for a bite after a walk or jog up the mountain. It’s difficult to make a veggie burger that is truly “meaty” but it manages to come close with their mix of lentils, tofu and chia. Or, instead of a burger, go with a veg take on the classic Quebecois poutine. Black bean and mushroom gravy smothers a mélange of sweet potato and Yukon gold fries, complete with plenty of squeaky cheese curds of course. Tres bien!
Nourish Bistro – Banff, AB
In a tourist town like Banff, there are bound to be some truly awful dining options. Thankfully, Nourish Bistro saves the day with its creative, vegetarian offerings. If nothing else, go for the nachos. Who doesn’t want nachos after a day skiing on the slopes, hiking on the mountains, or doing whatever outdoor activity tickles your fancy? With a total of 27 ingredients (including fruit), this dish has a plethora of surprising goodies. The mushroom ravioli is far from pedestrian. What sets it apart is the lavender cream sauce, which thankfully, doesn’t taste like grandma’s perfume. Instead, it is pleasantly floral to complement the earthiness of all of the shrooms packed into the tender pasta dough. Sounds like it’s time for a trip to Banff!
Rebar – Victoria, B.C.
To say that Rebar in Victoria is an institution is a major understatement. It has been around for over 25 years, it has its own cookbook, and if you know anything about Canada’s food scene, you have likely heard of them even if you have never eaten there. Whether it's a full-on meal or drinks and dessert, pretty much everything there is a home run. Its 3 Sister’s Enchiladas with pinto beans, butternut squash and corn are sure to fill you up, but you have to leave room for some cake. Make that, lots of cake. The Rebar chocolate cake might be a classic, but it has too many others to choose from. We’ll take a slice of each please!
Wooden Monkey – Halifax, NS
The Wooden Monkey may not be exclusively vegetarian, but it does offer a lot more options for those who don’t eat meat compared to your average restaurant. Plus, it makes a point of sourcing all of its ingredients, plant based or otherwise, ethically and sustainably, so it’s a good place to go if you’ve got a mix of vegetarians and meat-eaters in the crowd. As kids, we were all taught that you have to eat your dinner before you can get dessert, but it’s hard not to get distracted by its signature chocolate tofu pie. Made with locally-sourced silken tofu from Acadian soy, it’s a chocoholic’s dream. And it just so happens to be gluten free and vegan, so virtually everyone can enjoy – although you might not want to share.