Whether you’re a full-blown vegetarian or vegan who never eats meat or an omnivore that just likes to take a break from meat every once in awhile, eating a diet that is high in vegetables is always beneficial to your health. Since vegetarian food tends to be lower in fat and higher in fiber, this type of diet lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. But if you’re overwhelmed by the thought of learning a whole new way to cook, why not visit one of these fabulous vegan and vegetarian restaurants to give it a try without all the prep work!
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The Irregardless Cafe, Raleigh (Nearby Hotels)
The Irregardless Café in Raleigh has been in the “green and sustainable” space long before it was cool. Not only do they serve up innovative meals with fresh-from-the-farm ingredients, but they do it a fun, eclectic environment with live jazz music every night. Catering to vegetarians, vegans and omnivores, you’ll find a variety of dishes here featuring local produce, as well as beef, lamb, poultry, seafood and duck. The house-made salad dressings like Lemon Tahini and Creamy Shallot Vinaigrette are not to miss, as are the Vegetable Strudel and the “Zoodle Bolognese” made with zucchini noodles. If you manage to save room for dessert, try the Chocolate Truffle made with coconut cream, cashews and cocoa, which is both vegan and gluten free.
Bean Vegan Cuisine, Charlotte (Nearby Hotels)
Although Bean may not be much to look at from the outside (in fact, you might pass it if you’re not paying attention), the food inside is a whole different story, which locals and die-hard fans of the small vegan restaurant will be happy to tell you about. Using unique “alternative” ingredients like jackfruit, house-made seitan and Daiya cheese, serves up vegan versions of comfort foods and Southern favorites like Pimento “Cheesish” Dip, Fried Tofu Fingers, Old Fashioned Meatloaf and Pulled BBQ. Don’t forget to try one of the yummy desserts like the Raspberry Zinger Cake or the Kitty Kat Cake, made with wafers, caramel, chocolate and a chocolate/peanut butter mousse. If you’re inspired to eat healthier at home too, make sure to stop by their all-vegan grocery store located on-site.
Green Sage Cafe, Asheville (Nearby Hotels)
Known as “Asheville’s Healthy Restaurant,” the Green Sage Café has won numerous awards over the years including #1 in Western NC for Sustainability-Promoting Business in 2014, #1 Green/Sustainability-Friendly Restaurant for the last four years and #1 Smoothies and Juices, also for the last four years. In addition to having the first solar thermal powered restaurant, their food waste is 100% commercially composted and all of the food they serve is organic, local, all natural, non-GMO and humanely raised. Although they do serve up some meat dishes, the menu is full of delicious options for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners like the Avocado TLT featuring maple chipotle tempeh bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and chimimayo, or the Green Beetle – a beet burger topped with avocado, red onion, alfalfa sprouts, Applewood smoked dulse and spicy green hummus, all wrapped up in a blanched collard green. It doesn’t get more Southern than that! You’ll also want to try one of their award-winning smoothies like the Love Shack, made with maca, chocolate sauce, bananas, almond butter and almond milk. Good thing for you, they have three locations throughout Asheville, so you can make a weekend trip of it and eat there every day!
Luna's Living Kitchen, Charlotte (Nearby Hotels)
Luna’s Living Kitchen is a 100% plant-based restaurant that serves up “living food” by local, organic ingredients that they buy from local farmers markets and family-owned farms several times a week. Their unique approach to classic dishes will have you wanting to try everything on the menu, but some not-to-miss items are the Manicotti made with zucchini pasta, and the Tomatico Tart – a savory almond meal crust filled with cashew mascarpone crema, cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms and arugula tossed in basil-cilantro dressing. They also have an extensive selection of fresh, organic juices, smoothies and coffee drinks, as well as kombucha and beer and wine.
Lovey's Natural Foods and Cafe, Wilmington (Nearby Hotels)
Although Lovey’s Natural Foods and Café is not a full-blown restaurant (it’s a small health food market with an attached café), their food is too good to not mention. Located in the Landfall Shopping Center in Wilmington, Lovey’s sells organic produce, healthy groceries, vitamins, supplements and non-toxic personal care products, and serves up a variety of organic and gluten-free options in their café. In fact, their quiche is so good, you won’t believe the crust is gluten free. Not to mention the delicious vegan and gluten free desserts including cupcakes, brownies, blondies and peanut butter truffles. They also have an extensive hot and cold food bar with numerous vegan and vegetarian salads.