14 vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants in the Madison area
Whether you’ve been a vegetarian or a vegan your entire life or are trying to reduce the amount of meat you consume, there is a herbivore-friendly haven for you.
Almost every vegetarian has placed a menu order like this: “I’ll just have a side salad.” If you’re a vegetarian and eating out with friends, you likely spend a couple minutes clarifying whether a risotto is free of chicken broth or if there is oyster sauce in the curry. Sometimes you settle for a side salad and ask to remove the bacon or Caesar dressing. But there are some places that go beyond a single black bean burger on the menu — where you might find a handful of options that will excite your taste buds. In Madison, you can find meatless dinners with flavorful smoked tempeh, pasta dishes topped with house-made vegan cheeses or sweet treats that everyone can enjoy. Whether you’ve been a vegetarian or a vegan your entire life or are trying to reduce the amount of meat you consume in 2020, there is a herbivore-friendly haven for you in the Madison area.
Bandung Indonesian Restaurant
Tempeh saturated in flavor and fried to crispy perfection is not easy to come by, but Bandung nails it with a version made in-house. The process — which involves boiling, fermenting and incubating the soybeans — is complex and can take up to 48 hours. Try the marinated and grilled satay tempeh with a sweet peanut sauce served over a bed of rice cakes. Or for a spicy punch, try the sambal goreng tempeh, which features green beans, lemongrass and potatoes sauteed in an Indonesian candlenut sauce. Bandung’s meat-replacement option is so good, even nonvegetarians may be tempeh’d to try it. 600 Williamson St., 255-6910
We tried to avoid including mention of the typical hummus spread you can get at any chain restaurant, but Banzo’s hummus is on another level. Only a few trusted people know the secret chickpea-based recipe, and even co-owner Aaron Collins was kicked off hummus-making duty by his wife and co-owner Netalee Lev Sheinman shortly after Banzo opened in September 2011. “My wife, Netalee, said I didn’t quite have the touch and was better [at] making falafel,” Collins says. The Banzo team produces 400 pounds of hummus per week, just for the restaurant’s wholesale locations. Guests can sample the hummus in the Banzo Pita, which includes vegan crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside falafel balls, chopped salad, pickles and homemade chips. Or if you just want the hummus, get three sides of it for $10 and eat the dip for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 2105 Sherman Ave., 441-2002
Bar Corallini, a new addition to the Atwood area, aims to serve vegetarian-friendly twists on typical Italian fare. Front-of-house manager Samantha Barczak says the surrounding neighborhood has a large vegetarian population. To cater to those guests, Bar Corallini has a devoted vegan menu. “We wanted to provide options that weren’t just vegetables or pasta with sauce,” Barczak says. The restaurant makes two house-made vegan cheeses. The ricotta is made with tofu, fresh herbs and garlic and the vegan Parmesan is a combination of fermented cashews, nutritional yeast and garlic and onion powders. The cheeses have been a huge success, Barczak says, and can be added or substituted in any dish including the tomato and burrata pizza and mafalda pasta. 2004 Atwood Ave., 709-1316
This Nepalese restaurant has been a staple of State Street since 1986 and was a local food cart before that. It has been churning out its signature vegetarian dal soup for nearly 40 years. The white bean and lentil soup is a family recipe that owner Bishnu Pradhan offers as a side for every meal. It is a savory and light soup sought out by patrons, who often stop by just for a warm cup, Pradhan says. Himal Chuli’s menu has an entire vegetarian section with rotating vegetable dishes, but it’s worth stopping in for the dal alone. 318 State St., 251-9225
Hạ Long Bay
The sheer number of vegetarian options at Hạ Long Bay, a haven for herbivores located on Williamson Street, offers non-meat-eaters the rare and infrequent power of entree choice. In Southeast Asian cuisine, you’ll generally find a bit of fish sauce in peanut sauce, soup broth and curry dishes. However, Hạ Long Bay takes special precautions to keep its dishes safe for vegetarians and vegans. Steamed tofu dumplings are a popular choice with ginger, onion and napa cabbage, or choose any of the seven entrees dedicated to vegetarians to get a hearty portion of vegetables. If you’re hoping to try an option outside the vegetarian section, chances are you can, since almost every entree has a tofu option. 1353 Williamson St., 255-2868
Originally from the Mexican city of Aguascalientes, Antonio Estrada has been making authentic Mexican cuisine at La Mestiza for 12 years. He can offer a vegetarian twist on many dishes — just ask. Head chef Esethela Avalos creates a mole verde sauce with nuts, and a variety of dishes with poblano, jalapeño and green bell peppers. The creamy, vegan sweet-and-savory sauce can be slathered over enchiladas stuffed with nopales, cheese or vegetarian refried beans. Don’t miss the guacamole — the fresh ingredients are combined by hand daily and the appetizer is served with unlimited lightly salted chips. 6644 Odana Road, 826-0178
Although this Laotian restaurant has several vegetarian options, the no-brainer is the after-dinner specialty: sweet sticky rice with fresh mango. Made with coconut milk, the hefty portion of creamy warm rice sitting beneath a perfectly ripe half mango is enough to make anyone forgo dinner and head straight to dessert. And don’t forget about the Thai iced tea — a combination of sweet and bitter that is a staple in Laos and Thailand. Ask your server to substitute coconut milk for a vegan option. 1146 Williamson St., 280-0104
The namesake of this Creole-style restaurant in Fitchburg is a vegetarian, so executive chef and owner — Liliana’s father, Dave Heide — says he includes many vegetarian options on his menu because “it would be kind of rude if she couldn’t eat at her own restaurant.” With a separate vegetarian and vegan menu, the restaurant offers guests a choice of 18 to 20 rotating “patajes” or small plates. (Heide suggests four to six options be split among two people.) All the options are made with seasonal vegetables so they are at peak flavor and freshness. Heide, who was a vegetarian for five years, says he hates when the vegetables take a back seat and are “overcooked without any love.” Heide recommends the pumpkin ravioli with ginger and orange brown butter and the butternut squash soup with crema and chili-roasted pepitas. 2951 Triverton Pike Drive, Fitchburg, 442-4444
The lunch buffet at Swagat Indian Restaurant is a one-stop shop for vegetarian options. Voted Best of Madison 2019 in the Indian/Nepalese category, Swagat constantly rotates its options, giving guests a varied experience each time they come in. However, when you walk in the door — after you are hit with the warm aroma of Indian spices — keep your fingers crossed for a pan of chana masala on the buffet. The stew-like dish is chock-full of chickpeas and a thick gravy made of onions, tomatoes and spices. Pour this over a bed of basmati rice, grab a piece of garlic naan and a potato samosa, and lunch is served. 707 N. High Point Road, 836-9399
Vegetarian Brunch Specialties
Find eggless breakfast dishes, bloody marys with vegan-friendly toppings and other meatless options at these local restaurants known for creating vegetarian dishes.
Bloom Bake Shop
This bakery is multifaceted, offering breakfast until 3 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and all day on Sundays. The homegrown biscuit sandwich has roasted sweet potato, caramelized onion, fresh greens and curried vegan cream cheese piled between a homemade biscuit. If you’re looking for a smaller snack, you can almost always find fresh vegan pastries, too. 1851 Monroe St., 509-7669
On the weekend brunch menu, Everly offers a verde bloody mary with no Worcestershire sauce, which typically contains anchovies. It is a combination of tomatillos, celery, cucumber and some serrano peppers (without the spicy seeds) and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. 2701 Monroe St., 416-5242
Green Owl Cafe
Sunday brunch is a popular time at this vegetarian and vegan restaurant. “The Bac-un-ator” omelet is stuffed with smoky tempeh, spinach and tomatoes and topped with ripe avocado. Don’t leave without trying the vegan cinnamon rolls, which features a thick, gooey vegan cream cheese frosting. 1970 Atwood Ave., 285-5290
Vegetarian breakfast is served all day at both locations. The cafe offers four different types of toast: one sweet, two savory and one with a kick courtesy of a spicy peanut butter. If you can’t pick one, Surya offers a toast flight so you can sample all four. 3241 Garver Green, 709-7476; 5500 E. Cheryl Parkway, Fitchburg, 288-8448
This cozy neighborhood diner is known for its affordable and classic breakfast fare. Willalby’s caters to vegans with dishes like vegan biscuits and gravy or vegan French toast. It can get really busy on weekends, so if you’re hoping for a relaxed vibe it’s best to visit during the week. 1351 Williamson St., 259-9032
Mackenzie Krumme, a vegetarian for 24 years, is a Madison writer and a former Madison Magazine intern.