Even though it is the smallest state in the country, Rhode Island boasts a dining scene with a reputation that extends well beyond its borders.
Now the culinary landscape is being enhanced by a slew of new plant-based restaurants, as well as eateries that have developed separate vegan menus or made available numerous vegan options for diners.
At a recent Rhode Island Vegan Awareness awards luncheon, several of the establishments that received awards were not even fully plant-based.
Providence’s Casa Azul Taqueria took home awards for Best Value and Best Mexican Restaurant, thanks to its extensive vegan options (including tacos, burritos, and bowls). Co-owner Alejandra Ruelas said when the restaurant opened in July 2020, vegan offerings accounted for only about 20 percent of sales. More than two years later, due largely to word-of-mouth referrals, she said that it’s now 50-50 — “maybe even more on the vegan side.”
And Chelo’s Hometown Bar and Grill took home top honors for Best Entrée (“a spicy and flavorful” chickpea and potato curry) and Best Menu for its use of vegan cheeses, shredded oyster mushrooms, chickpeas, curry, and its yummy desserts.
Corporate chef Zachary Fernandez said a vegan buffalo mac and cheese dish he made for a special event three years ago was such a hit it is now on the regular menu. Fernandez said he enjoys experimenting with plant-based recipes and predicted that “vegan food is the future.”
Pawtucket’s Garden Grille, a longtime main staple on the veg dining scene, is primarily vegan with a handful of vegetarian offerings, and Julian’s in Providence has an extensive assortment of plant-based offerings.
The vegan steak and cheese and the vegan hash (with tempeh sausage, a variety of veggies, and plant-based pepper jack cheese) served with grilled tofu and toast, are just a couple of customer favorites, said owner Brian Oakley, who added that his favorite dish is the veganized “Desperado,” a take on eggs Benedict (with tofu instead of eggs) and served with Hollandaise sauce, home fries, avocado, and salsa.
With the increasing number of people adhering to a plant-based diet, Oakley said he believes that “every restaurant should have that consideration [vegan options] at this point in time.”
On the fully dairy- and meat-free front, ever since the hugely popular (and expansive) Plant City opened in June 2019, other vegan restaurants have been appearing at a surprisingly fast clip.
”I’m very proud that others who may have wanted to open a vegan food truck, bakery, café, or restaurant have been encouraged by our success,” said all-things-green entrepreneur Kim Anderson, who founded Plant City with celebrity vegan chef Matthew Kenney. “It’s a beautiful thing — and that they are finding success as well. The goal has always been to encourage new plant-based restaurants and more options at conventional restaurants.”
Anderson said Plant City has served more than 1.4 million customers — most of whom are not vegan, she noted — since opening.
”I’m amazed to see how far the vegan dining scene in Rhode Island has come,” said Laura Barlow, president of Rhode Island Vegan Awareness, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that promotes peace and justice for all life. “It makes me feel very grateful to live in this state and hopeful for a future where there is access to food options that are healthy, sustainable, and kind to animals.”
Here are some of our favorite plant-based eateries in the Ocean State.
1. Apothica Café
Owned by vegan couple Eddie Sandoval and Christian Torres, this apothecary-inspired cozy coffee shop and café gets an “A” for creativity for its take on popular café drinks, specializing in espressos with homemade syrups and tea-based lattes. The herb-infused moon milks and dragonfruit matcha are customer favorites. Enjoy your favorite drink with one of the many sweets available, from donuts to French macarons. And for something on the savory side, try one of the creative and filling breakfast sandwiches or burritos, or the comfort foods like mac and cheese and the (incredibly delicious/decadent) crunch wrap supreme. 3 Dexter St., Cumberland, 401-205-2063. apothicaherbs.com
2. Basil & Bunny
This bright and open restaurant in the new Unity Park development opened in early August after its owners had two years of success with a food truck. Basil & Bunny is open Wednesday–Saturday, but co-owner Mathiew Medeiros said days and hours will be expanding soon and will include a full brunch menu. Try the popular double-decker Bunny Mak (a plant-based take on a McDonald’s Big Mac) with a homemade bean and mushroom burger, cheese, lettuce, onions, and a secret “fancy” sauce. Medeiros said the Bunny Cheezesteak, made with Impossible burger, onions, peppers, cashew queso, and homemade barbecue and ranch dressing on a locally sourced hoagie roll, is especially popular with those who want the meat taste without the meat. And for dessert, don’t miss the Cottontail mini cake bites rolled in white chocolate and covered in cookie crumbles. 500 Wood St., Bristol, 401-490-1918. basilandbunny.com
This sweet spot is known for its crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-and-sweet-on-the-inside French macarons and its artfully decorated and tasty cakes (wedding cakes are a Celebrated specialty). Owner and head pastry chef Becky Morris said that in addition to all of her creations being plant-based, she makes them gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free to order. “We want to make people feel celebrated no matter what their dietary preferences are,” Morris said. Many of Celebrated’s pastries are sold at cafés and coffee shops throughout the state, and a future expansion is planned. 901 Warwick Ave., Warwick, 401-787-4017. celebrated.co
Chef Peter Carvelli is known for his more upscale vegan food offerings, including small plates and tasting menus. After years of doing pop-ups and private dining, “Chef Pete” opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant that serves dinner Thursday through Saturday, with plans to expand hours and days in the near future. Carvelli said his “casual fine dining” menu includes cacio e pepe, fennel sausage (made with farro, mushrooms, and vital wheat) served with agave roasted cauliflower, pave potatoes, and romesco sauce, and his signature “Beet Roses” served with feta, pickled red onion, beet-pistachio crumble, and beet emulsion. The house-made focaccia at Foglia (the “g” is silent) is also a customer favorite, as is the Snack Board appetizer that changes nightly. “We try to elevate the dining experience without being stuffy,” said Carvelli, who added that the restaurant has just introduced a five-course tasting menu and wine pairing. 31 State St., Bristol, 401-261-8173. fogliabristol.com
5. Like No Udder
This company’s owners, Karen Krinsky and Chris Belanger, lay claim to making history with the world’s first vegan ice cream truck — named Betsy Loo — in 2010 before establishing a permanent location on Providence’s East Side in 2016. Ice cream flavors include Thai tea, coconut lace, and cinnamon graham swirl, as well as oat- and soy-based vanilla and chocolate soft serve, with toppings that range from coconut whipped cream to chocolate dip. Unicorns — soft-serve ice cream with mix-ins (similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard, just minus the cow’s milk) are a customer favorite, as are the whoopie pie ice cream cakes and the wide variety of baked goods. 170 Ives St., Providence, 401-228-3880. like-no-udder.com
Owner and head chef Michelle Politano received a lot of attention when she opened the first plant-based eatery on food-rich Federal Hill in May, and that interest has only grown due to the restaurant’s diverse and tasty menu. Not only does PiANTA serve traditional Italian dishes like chicken cutlets and penne alla vodka, it also offers timeless classics like grilled cheese — taken up a notch with variations that include jalapeno barbecue chicken and the “Federal Hilly Cheesesteak.” And executive pastry chef Danielle Rotella has created mouth-watering desserts like tropical yogurt panna cotta (with fresh mango and toasted coconut) and s’more’s brownie skillet for diners to end their meals on a sweet note. 408 Atwells Ave., Providence, 401-499-5354. piantaveganrestaurant.com
7. Plant City
Vegans and non-vegans alike have been making pilgrimages to this plant-based food hall and market — complete with four separate restaurants, a bake shop, coffee bar, and retail area selling everything from prepared meals to fermented nut cheeses, to cookbooks and apparel — since it opened in June 2019. The Eately-like dining establishment seems to be constantly bustling — especially since its large outdoor patio with oversize chairs provides a great place to gather with friends and enjoy an array of foods, from Italian to Mexican to several varieties of tasty I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-beef burgers. Be sure to save room for Plant City’s decadent version of Pop-Tarts, which taste as good as they look. 334 South Water St., Providence, 401-429-2029. plantcitypvd.com
8. 345 by Plant City
This cocktail lounge and speakeasy has added a very cool dimension to Providence’s dining (and drinking) scene. Not only does this new venture by the neighboring Plant City folks offer a more intimate setting, but the rotating menu features an ever-changing cast of innovative small plates — from blistered shishito peppers with a black garlic aioli to barbecue cauliflower wings with sesame seeds, scallions, and Japanese-style pickled cucumber. The nigiri and maki options are plentiful, with the yuzo-miso roasted sweet potato maki with mango, watermelon radish, mung beans, and wasabi aioli being a popular option. And the cocktails — with or without alcohol — are creative and fresh, with many of the cordials and juices made in house. Customers say the presentation, with an assortment of fruits and herbs, make their drinks even more appealing. 345 by Plant City is open evenings and is also available for private events. 345 South Water St., Providence, 401-347-4429. plantcitypvd.com
9. Plant City X
These drive-through (and dine-in) vegan eateries, which opened last year, have changed the fast-food game. Whether it’s a quick grab-and-go in the car, or a gathering with friends in the open and airy restaurants (with expansive patios for outdoor seating) that offer counter service, Plant City X is a great alternative to its meat-laden counterparts. Owner Kim Anderson called it a “smaller, drive-through version” of Providence’s Plant City with burgers, sandwiches, fries, salads, smoothies, and shakes. From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, customers can order off a menu that also features an assortment of coffees and teas, as well as breakfast items like a burrito and sandwich. In addition to a variety of burgers and “chik” sandwiches (and nuggets), the wraps and salads are innovative and tasty. The X-treme Fries with pickled fresno pepper, X-sauce, cashew cheddar, shiitake bacon, caramelized onions, and cilantro mayo is a must-try, as are the classic, truffle, and Buffalo mac and cheeses. 619 West Main Road, Middletown, 401-324-5199, and 70 Centerville Road, Warwick, 401-737-1630. plantcityx.com
10. Root on Broadway
The only fully vegan restaurant in this bustling tourist town, Root on Broadway opened in 2018 to rave reviews and has been keeping customers satisfied ever since. Owners (and spouses) Kate Moran and Paul Webber pride themselves on serving nutritious plant-based fare including toasts, soups, bowls, sandwiches, and salads. The homemade juices are a big draw, with the most popular being the Green Machine, a mix of cucumbers, apples, lemons, ginger, spinach, kale, and celery. Webber said the acai and grain bowls (with homemade dressings) are a customer go-to, as is the coconut bacon BLT. 6 Broadway, Newport, 401-847-2727. rootonbroadway.com
11. Sprout and Lentil
This award-winning restaurant uses the tagline “food with a mission” for a good reason. Founded by chef, entrepreneur, and animal rights activist Carmen Foy, this eatery has a diverse menu that reflects her world travels (including as a chef on a private yacht). Try the Thai red curry, the cauliflower nugget wrap, and “Blutos ‘Chickun’ Sandwich,” made with a cauliflower steak, veg bacon, lettuce, and tomato with either barbecue, Buffalo, or ranch sauce. While there are several burgers that qualify as customer favorites, Foy said the “V-Rex” black bean burger topped with vegan cheese, barbecue jackfruit, pickles, coleslaw, and avocado on a pretzel roll is the top-seller. The all-day-breakfast tofu scramble with onions, peppers, and plant-based sausages is good morning, noon, and night, as are the ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls. 796 Aquidneck, Unit 3, Middletown, 401-426-0500. sproutandlentil.com
12. Veggie Fun
This downtown eatery has been a main staple in Providence’s vegan dining scene since opening in 2012. Using fresh, plant-based ingredients and keeping prices reasonable has kept customers coming back for the past decade. Some of the more popular menu items include General Tso’s Soy Protein served over broccoli, and Kung Pao Eggplant with tofu, asparagus, and peppers in black bean sauce topped with peanuts. Both are served with brown rice and miso soup. On the noodle front, the Singapore Style Rice Noodle (curry sauteed angel-hair rice noodle with carrots, celery, firm tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, and cabbage) is a big seller, and the Pad-Thai in a light, spicy sweet sauce with carrots, tofu, scallions, and bean sprouts topped with crushed peanuts is also a go-to dish. The fried ice cream is a not-to-be-missed dessert. 123 Dorrance St., Providence, 401-270-4700. veggiefunri.com
13. Wildflour Bakery
More than just a bakery, Wildflour is also a juice bar and café and makes sure to keep those who prefer savory to sweet happy, too, with focaccias (garlic and herb is a customer favorite), salads, and other pre-packaged items. But if it’s sweet you’re looking for … try the strawberry cheesecake whoopie pie or the cherry lime cupcake. Wildflour also offers a variety of organic coffees and teas, cold-pressed juices, and smoothies with add-ins including vegan protein powder, maca, camu camu, hemp seeds, and spirulina. Open and bright, it’s a great place to set up your laptop and get to work. 727 East Ave., Pawtucket, 401-475-4718. wildflourbakerycafe.com