I’ll begin with a confession: I am a tried and true carnivore. My relationship with meat is a meaningful one and I don’t envision us breaking up any time soon. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had a wandering eye recently as Pittsburgh has become home to more and more vegan/vegetarian fare.
As an avid meat eater, dismissing certain restaurants based on their lack of carnality can be an easy and oft too made mistake. So in an effort to expand my taste buds horizons, I have ventured out into Pittsburgh’s vegetarian and vegan food scene with an open mind and an open mouth to bring you a list of restaurants and cafes that will have even the most carnivorous of you itching to try dishes like jackfruit pulled “pork” without hesitation.
As a Pittsburgh transplant hailing from Portland, Oregon, I can safely say that stepping into Lili Cafe is like stepping into the quintessential Northwestern coffee shop; complete with barista’s that remind me of the girls I went to college with in Northern California. But don’t think for one second that Lili Cafe is just another run of the mill organic cafe. With an impressive list of specialty coffee drinks, sandwiches, full breakfast plates and other veggie filled concoctions, Lili boasts a menu that will have you dreaming about Quinoa Kimchi all week. For the diehard vegans among you, be warned, Lili does occasionally offer some meat options among their veggie friendly fare. But a link of sausage here and there doesn’t keep them from hosting pop-up all vegan specialty dinners (stay tuned on Facebook for details) and always including a delectable vegan option at their weekly Sunday brunch service. And regardless of dietary needs, be sure to check out their house-made Fire Cider, made with garlic, cayenne, horseradish, and turmeric to give it an extra spicy kick.
The newest restaurant to make this list has been open for less than a week and has already become a standout amongst vegan and non-vegan restaurants alike. B52 is the most recent creation from Allegro Hearth Bakery’s Omar Abuhejleh. The menu, although 100% vegan, draws it’s influence from the cuisine of Palestinian and Israeli cultures. The entire menu is made in-house and features breakfast and lunch items like hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli, and fermented wheat sourdough pancakes. Everything on B52’s menu is made with unique spices and fresh ingredients that enable it to stand out from other Mediterranean fare in the city.
Randita’s Organic Vegan Cafe
One of Western PA’s only all-vegan and independently owned restaurants, Randita’s offers a comfortable indoor dining experience as well as food truck fare, all at reasonable prices. Owners, Randy and Dale Cinski, opened Randita’s as a way to show people that flavor doesn’t have to be sacrificed to eat nourishing vegan food. Randita’s menu includes a range of American diner classics with a vegan bend, like their Reuben Sandwich made with shaved corned-seitan and a house-made vegan cheese. Their menu, much like the concept behind the restaurant, is simple and straightforward. If you’re looking for something more substantial, check out their weekend dinner service (the menu changes every week) that has been known to boast savory dishes like vegan Korean BBQ and Seitan Stroganoff.
Although Zenith has been a go-to brunch spot for Pittsburgh vegetarians for nearly a decade, I spent a year working one block away from it before ever realizing it was there, much less daring to enter a brunch establishment that dared not serve bacon. The cafe/ art gallery/ thrift store is undoubtedly our city’s most eclectic place to get vegan and vegetarian breakfast and lunch selections. Their menu is constantly shifting and includes a slew of hearty dishes made with tofu, seitan and fresh produce. But their Sunday brunch is what makes Zenith worth going to. Don’t be surprised to find a line of people wrapping the sidewalk corner at 26th street in anticipation of what awaits inside: big wooden tables bounding with flavorful veggie filled dishes, mix-matched vintage serving ware, and more bundt cakes than you can shake a stick at.
While I couldn’t care less about the gluten free craze and the bad name that it’s given to those who actually suffer from gluten allergies, I can admit that Eden does an excellent job of creating healthy and delicious cuisine that makes me forget their menu is vegan, raw, AND doesn’t have a drop of gluten in sight. This may be, in part, due to Chef and co-owner Hilary Zozula’s creating Eden’s menu with no agenda or dietary restrictions in mind. She merely recognized the benefits of raw cuisine and from that starting point created an innovative and colorful menu. Eden is also an avid supporter of local sourcing and has been very vocal in favor of rights for restaurant employees. The environment at Eden is an exemplary example of how mutual respect amongst all employees in a restaurant makes the entire experience a far more pleasant one for everyone involved. You can practically taste the good intentions. And don’t forget to save room for the healthiest/most delicious vegan tiramisu you’ve ever encountered.