From low-budget to high-end, from brunch to late-night snacks, veg food is showing up on more New Orleans menus. During a recent visit, here are nine places I found good vegan things to eat.
Chef John Besh is deeply entrenched in the New Orleans culinary scene. He’s known for cultivating chefs working under him, then becoming partners with them as they open their own restaurants. Willa Jean’s, which bills itself as a “southern bakery café,” is one of these projects. Pastry chefs Kelly Fields and Lisa White opened Willa Jean’s about a year. The restaurant is a bright, open room featuring a large bakery case and workers wearing black and white checked shirts.
For breakfast, I ordered a grain bowl with farro, quinoa, cherry tomatoes, arugula, white beans, avocado and pomegranate seeds. It was a cheerful looking dish, sprinkled with nasturtiums and full of nutrients. Several dishes can be easily made vegan, such as avocado toast. Willa Jean’s packages its own fresh juices. I chose carrot, beet and ginger.
This café in the Bywater neighborhood does a lot of coffee business in the morning. Don’t dress up– it’s a relaxed, come as you are place. You order at the counter. The specials are chalked on a blackboard. Satsuma offers a vegan breakfast scramble, but I was in a sweet mood so I got the house-made granola and fruit. The granola turned out to have a surprising kick. At first I thought it was extra-hot cinnamon. I asked the counter guy and he told me the secret ingredient: cayenne.
This Bywater hole in the wall is a good lunch choice. The menu is mostly vegan, with the occasional notable exception, such as a boar meat special the day I visited. Inexpensive and arty, expect counter service, big wood tables – possibly shared with other customers – and colorful drawings on the walls. I can vouch for the Sneaky Pickle’s buffalo tofu salad and the vegan mac and cheese. I didn’t try the vegan chocolate chip cookies or ice cream sandwiches, but I bet they’re good.
The Green Goddess is tucked away on Exchange Alley, one of the French Quarter’s lesser known streets. Actually, it’s a short pedestrian alley. I used to eat at this exact place in the 1990s, a few restaurant incarnations ago, when it was a veg place called Old Dog, New Trick. Now it’s an omnivore restaurant with a vegan focus owned by Chef Paul Artigues.
Artigues has spent most of his life working in the New Orleans food biz, starting at a health food store. So he was introduced to health food concepts early. When he opened Green Goddess, he decided to include lots of veg food. “It was just something that made sense,” he said when I visited on a weekday evening. “It’s always good to have vegetables. It’s something I think everybody does like if you do it well.” The restaurant is known for dishes that “are a little exotic,” he said. Which is certainly true – I tried a bunch of his food, including mushroom mofongo, which featured a delicious plantain cake and spicy mushrooms over little handmade mini corn tortillas, and the yammy Indian rolled uttapam. One of Artigues’ cooking secrets is forced creativity, due to space and equipment limitations in the small kitchen.
This Garden District restaurant was the only all vegan place I visited. It’s tag line: Tag line: “Garden-based and NOLA taste.” I had a hard time deciding what to order off the large menu. My server, Amanda, pointed out customer favorites: Southern fried nuggets, Southern fried poboy, nachos, artichoke cakes, eggplant poboy, and a raw pad thai. She said New Orleans has a growing vegan population, but a lot of their business comes from foreign and domestic tourists and people in town for conventions. “It’s culturally diverse and food is a huge thing for the city,” she said of New Orleans
In addition to everything being vegan, many dishes are marked gluten free, soy free, raw or Eat Fit NOLA, which means they meet the health criteria of Ochsner Health System. I almost ordered Eat Fit choices. But then I got nachos and chocolate mousse instead. So good! I want more chocolate mousse just thinking about it. Seed has beer, wine and cocktails. But in my opinion, the extensive juice menu is where it’s at.
This Warehouse District restaurant bills itself as a tropical bar and café. Sure enough, the brightly painted walls invoke the tropics, and the menu features hot-weather ingredients like pineapple and mango. Carmo is an extraordinarily vegan friendly place, with choices to sub vegan ham for regular in the Carmo salad, and even a vegan cheese option for the Brazilian cheese bread, which they cook for you on the spot. I chose the EatFit NOLA certified Esmeralda salad with its black beans, quinoa, corn, peppers toasted pumpkin seeds, organic lettuce and coconut chili lime vinaigrette. But I probably negated the health benefits by eating four hot, doughy lumps of vegan Brazilian cheese bread. I managed to forego the vegan Caribbean banana cake, but don’t think I wasn’t tempted.
I don’t know if any actual Vietnamese people are involved in this hipster Vietnamese restaurant near Bayou Saint John, but that didn’t stop it from being absolutely packed, even on a rainy weeknight. My friend and I thought the server had forgotten us but she was probably just overwhelmed tending to the raucous crowd. Anyway, when the food finally came it was excellent. Fat vegan salad rolls, veg pho and an eggplant bowl made our table happy. Mopho also offers a veg-appropriate fall squash curry bowl.
Super famous chef Emeril Lagasse recently opened Meril, his fourth New Orleans restaurant. This Warehouse District restaurant is upscale casual. Vegans can make a good meal out of the vegetable sides. I especially liked the zucchini and the impressive roast cauliflower, which came out as an entire intact head.
This Israeli restaurant in Uptown has gotten tons of press and garnered awards since opening in 2015. No wonder, with James Beard Chef Alon Shaya at the helm. Shaya is an excellent choice for vegans, since so many of the small plates are animal-free. I ate way too much here, starting with the hot pita coming right out of a mosaic-covered oven. Sitting next to that oven will only make you hungrier for pita. A few vegan standouts: tershi (pumpkin spread with garlic and chili), curried fried cauliflower hummus, wood-roasted cabbage with muhammara, tahini and hazelnuts and Moroccan carrots. How on earth did they make carrots taste this good? Our group ate so many small plates, we never made it to the entrees. Don’t miss the Moroccan mint tea, served in a tea press.