1. Life Alive (Cambridge, Lowell and Salem)
This urban oasis and organic café strives “to renew your energy and connection to life by soulfully serving you the most fantastic, vibrant, organic, therapeutic, whole food you could ever imagine in an inspiring environment that honors local artisans, the community, and our global ecology.” Whew, and not only that, they serve delicious vegetarian rice bowls and wraps featuring ginger and soy dressings over tofu, broccoli and kale. Top them with extras like nuts, raisins and an egg. Smoothies and lattes are worth a look too, but order them with your meal, because the lines form quickly.
2. Whole Heart Provisions, Allston
Located next door to Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and under the same ownership, this street food take on vegetarian by Rebecca Arnold offers bowls—of rice or greenery—influenced by cuisines from all corners of the world. We like it “Mission style,” but you can customize from a build-your-own selection of vegetables, fruits, seeds and dressings. If doing a bowl isn’t your thing, try the falafel dog with tomato, Grillo's pickles, tahini, mustard and hot peppers.
3. Oleana, Cambridge
This one’s not vegetarian, but how many restaurants boast a James Beard award winning chef (Ana Sortun), farm fresh vegetables, bold Turkish spices, an extensive vegetable-heavy small plates menu, inventive preparations, outdoor patio dining in the summer, a fireplace in the winter and… wait for it… a vegetarian tasting menu? Look no further than Oleana. Also look into the innovative desserts menu by Maura Kilpatrick that includes exotica such as salted butter ice cream with a pumpkin-brown butter crêpe.
4. Veggie Galaxy, Cambridge
Next to the Central Square Theater is this vegetarian diner and 100% vegan on-site bakery where everything’s made from scratch and every item not already vegan can be made so. They serve breakfast all day, featuring items that IHOP would never dream of: vegan doughnuts, smoked tofu, tempeh bacon, seitan sausage, seitan hash and six different omelets (hundreds if you go the build-your-own route). These same ingredients are also the foundation for sandwiches on Iggy’s bread at lunchtime. Dinner showcases cornmeal crusted cauliflower, seasonally changing vegetable entrees, a seitan cutlet of the week and daily specials. Fans of Taza Chocolate, take note: it’s the key ingredient in the hot fudge on an expansive desserts menu.
5. Clover Food Labs, Cambridge, Brookline and Burlington
Multiple brick-and-mortar offshoots spawned from (still-operating) food trucks pump out healthy, clean-tasting food from a menu that changes daily. Beyond the ketchup and mayo, nothing they serve has preservatives. The food is locally sourced whenever possible and so fresh that they refuse to have freezers. Not a single tomato is sliced until it’s ordered. Go for customer favorites like the chickpea pocket to make healthy eating easy and the rosemary fries for a guilt-free (or at least low-guilt) indulgence.
6. Ritu Ki Rasoi, Burlington
Don’t let the trek or the hard-to-find location behind an auto supply store scare you away from this “eclecting Indian vegetarian restaurant” (that’s what the sign says). There’s a daily lunch buffet and a Wednesday evening buffet with a changing theme and menu announced on the website in advance. Curries also change daily.
7. FōMū, Allston and Jamaica Plain
Just a few doors down from Whole Heart Provisions, this dessert shop is the perfect vegan second stop after dinner. The ice creams are 100% plant-based (faux moo, get it?) as well as kosher pareve and allergy-friendly. Coconut milk, organic agave, unrefined cane sugar and minimal air inclusion give the ice creams a dense, creamy, gelato-like consistency. All of the products are made from scratch locally using locally sourced ingredients. And every baked good tastes just a little better with a cup George Howell coffee.
8. Toro, Boston
If an energetic Barcelona-style tapas joint in the South End by uber-chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette isn’t a place you’d think of for vegetarian dining, think again. Olives with sea salt get things started. Then move on to the Tortilla Española, a quiche-like housed omelet with potato, onion and kale. Grilled street corn with Cotija cheese is ubiquitous but delicious. But our favorite pinxto (snack) is pimentos de pardon: spicy peppers with olive oil and salt so addictive that Calvin Trillin penned an essay about the search for great ones in Spain. For something heartier than tapas, there’s a vegetarian Paella de Verano for two made with seared squash, kale, fried Brussels sprout leaves, porcini powder and fried egg.
9. My Thai Vegan Cafe, Boston
This Chinatown favorite elicits gasps for its skeevy entrance but raves for the Thai cuisine that’s meatless and still satisfying. Many of the dishes use soy products to emulate meats, right down to the texture. Does it taste like meat? You be the judge, but many say yes. Made with coconut milk, the bubble teas are thick, smooth and dairy-free.
10. Rialto, Cambridge
Elegant dining at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge need not be confined to the classic Tuscan steak unveiled decades ago by celebrity chef Jody Adams. It’s easy to build a vegetarian meal from multiple salads and a trio of creative vegetable-focused pastas bolstered by Mediterranean accents. All of the contorni (sides) are vegetarian and easily grouped into a makeshift entrée. Or just sit back and spring for the vegetarian tasting menu with optional wine pairings.