As a suburban meat-lover from New Jersey, staples in my diet include a meat-lovers pizza and Italian sausage. Eating food that doesn’t contain any animal products seems like a completely foreign concept to me.
But in the District, a handful of vegan restaurants have cropped up, so I set out to find a meatless meal that could change my mind.
For anything but an actual meal: Woodland’s Vegan Bistro at 2928 Georgia Ave. NW
Nearest Metro stop: Columbia Heights
Dark wooden walls and hanging plants give the bistro a sleek, urban feel, and almost the entire menu is $10 or less. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.
I ordered my food in the back of the bistro, in a loud industrial kitchen area completely devoid of the same modern decor of the dining area. I received my food in plastic containers, very similar to cheap Chinese takeout boxes. I ordered the Caribbean Chickpea Salad, the Thai Noodles, the Israeli Couscous and the Yellow Curry Tofu – each less than $4. Each dish was made with a similar combination of excessive amounts of sesame oil and overseasoned vegetables that made everything blend into one unpleasant meal.
But on the plus side, the desserts were phenomenal. I ordered a colossal cinnamon roll, priced at $4. I was shocked by how delicious a vegan dessert could be – the icing was not too sweet, and the roll was fluffy.
I also ordered a berry smoothie made with a soy milk base for $4, and though I had to wait almost 10 minutes, the smoothie itself was creamy, delicious and not as horrifyingly sweet as a regular fruit smoothie.
For an actual meal: Native Foods Café at 1150 Connecticut Ave.
Nearest Metro stop: Farragut North
Native Foods has a cozy, comfortable vibe. High chairs and wooden booths make the restaurant contemporary and each table has a stone centerpiece.
The restaurant’s menu was delicious and surprisingly satisfying. As a starter, I ordered the $6 nachos. The crunchy chips paired well with salsa and guacamole that offered a hot punch. For my main course, I went with the Thai Meatball Earth Bowl ($10), one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, packed with seitan meatballs and quinoa. But the real standouts of the dish were the kale, red peppers and lemongrass broccoli tossed in tangy mango-lime chili sauce.
Though the meat substitutes at Native Foods didn’t taste quite like meat, it was still flavorful and satisfying. The restaurant defied the odds, showing me that vegan food can actually be pleasant.
For a feel-good experience: Soupergirl at 1829 M St. NW
Nearest Metro stop: Farragut North
Smaller than a Thurston quad, Soupergirl cannot hold more than 15 people comfortably and has no seating. Nevertheless, it’s a cozy hole in the wall, with an adorable logo (a female superhero) and a handwritten menu.
Soupergirl only offers about five soups per season, each with a very distinct flavor (unlike other vegan foods I’ve had, which are often either bland or overseasoned). I was able to sample each soup and none of the soups reeked of unappetizing vegetables to my surprise. Plus, the woman behind the counter was extremely kind, answering all of my questions with a polite nod and warm smile.
I ordered a small Indian Spiced Lentil soup and a medium Bulgur Chickpea Herb salad, a combo meal priced at an astonishingly low $12. The warm soup and fresh salad – garnished with cilantro, parsley and lemon juice – left me feeling unexpectedly full and not craving any meat.
With their soup, sandwiches and salads all priced under $5, Soupergirl is the perfect fix for a college student who is trying to eat healthy, but doesn’t have the funds to do so.