World Vegan Day is celebrated around the world on November 1. It’s a special day for vegans and a great time for non-vegans to try out this healthy, plant-based diet.
Who says cruelty-free eating’s a new fad?
Way back in ancient Greece, Plato was philosophizing about a menu based solely on greenery, making him – along with Buddha, Gandhi and Einstein – among history’s foremost plant diet trendsetters.
Even so, the vegan lifestyle is having a remarkable boom today, with a proliferation of in-demand meat and dairy-free restaurants, bakeries and bars around the globe. Here are our top picks for cities with the best lean, green vegan scenes.
World's hottest destinations for vegans
Portland earned top marks from PETA as America’s #1 Vegan-Friendly City for 2016, and many vegans around the world would strongly agree.
“Portland, Oregon is hands down the best city for vegans in the entire country,” declares Will Travel For Vegan Food blogger Kristin Lajeunesse. “They’ve got everything from fine dining to bars, a vegan grocery store, [a] tattoo shop…and even vegan strip clubs.”
Vegan-focused film and events producer Demetrius Bagley also co-signs Portland’s plant-eating preeminence.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere and cocktails at Sweet Hereafter … and decadent, sometimes obscene, down-home comfort food of Homegrown Smoker,” he says. “That any given bar with food offers tasty and unique vegan food is still unheard of elsewhere.”
23 best cities for street food across the world
Berlin remains Europe’s Capital of Vegan, with more exclusively vegan restaurants than any other city on the continent (Prague and Warsaw come in second and third, respectively), according to major vegetarian/vegan website HappyCow.com.
“You don’t want to inconvenience others with your dietary restrictions and around here you don’t have to,” says Sandra Espenhain, a local vegan. “What’s more? Given Berlin’s relatively low prices, the costs of vegan foods are comparably low.”
Upscale choices abound as well, including Kopps, where diners can indulge on five-course dinners in the city’s first high-end vegan restaurant, having opened in 2011.
14 of the world’s best food festivals – for the serious foodie
New York City
New York City, unsurprisingly, offers the most vegan food options in the United States.
“New York City is truly the heart of the vegan scene in the East Coast,” says Carmen Surana, the Catering Manager for The Cinnamon Snail vegan food truck. “In the last couple of years, fast casual vegan restaurants and food trucks have changed the way people think about vegan food.”
NYC also hosts some of the most trendy vegan/vegan-friendly spots in the world.
These include the new, swanky pizza joint 00 + Co. in East Village and Chalk Point Kitchen, which “has become the go-to for celebrities and savvy New Yorkers,” says local insider Chetna Sabnani.
Best rooftop and sky-high restaurants in the world
With a population just shy of four million – America’s second largest – the West Coast metropolis was bound to have a variety of dining options for alternative diets.
In fact, some vegans, such as Atlanta-based Bryan Prewitt, say Los Angeles has the edge over the Big Apple.
“While both have great vegan choices, L.A. blows NYC away,” he argues. “NYC has some great spots, but they tend to be pricier, less accessible, and they have substantially less variety. L.A. has a lot more options, including value options and niche spots like Gracias Madre, the best vegan Mexican in the world in a trendy/casual space.”
Visiting Los Angeles? Insiders share tips
Israel’s modern seaside city hosts the world’s largest vegan festival, Vegan-Fest Tel Aviv, and was recently ranked the #1 Best Destination for Vegan Travelers by The Daily Meal.
“Veganism here is a way of life,” says Keren Brown, who’s lived in Tel Aviv for three years and writes on the city’s dining scene. “Dairy has lost popularity over the last few years in many circles and the healthy Mediterranean lifestyle with its focus on seasonal fruit, vegetables, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes make it a popular lifestyle.”
One of the hottest spots is Miss Kaplan, a pop-up-turned-permanent best known for their “carrot dog” – a large, smoked carrot marinated in Jack Daniels and served in a hot steamed bun.
Down in the Aloha State, Honolulu has been taking more advantage of its bountiful access to fresh tropical produce and is fast becoming a vegan hotspot in the Pacific.
Sandra Ritchie, who was a university student in Honolulu and has committed to the vegan lifestyle ever since, raves about hip hangout Downbeat Diner.
“With regular live shows featuring local artists, a decor straight out of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and vegan options for nearly every menu item it’s a must-stop location for all of my island visits,” she says.
Vegans also enjoy Greens & Vines, a sophisticated all-vegan restaurant that also sells goods at several farmers’ markets every week.
Thanks to the predominance of Buddhism, Taiwan and its largest city stand for cruelty-free eating due to their culture’s esteemed respect for animals.
About 13% of the country, or 1.7 million, does not eat meat, and Taipei has a lion’s share of the island’s vegan-friendly restaurants and markets.
“Taipei’s chefs are re-interpreting traditional Taiwanese cuisine, using fresh local ingredients and adding some international flavor,” says Yalun Ho, a native Taiwanese now based in Los Angeles.
For example, vegans and vegetarians with ravenous appetites thoroughly enjoy Fruitful Food, a meat-free, upscale buffet with international dishes ranging from sushi to Italian pastas and Indian curries.
Perhaps the most surprising on this list, the beleaguered city is undergoing a resurgence in both its economy and vegan eating options.
At the forefront of this local dining revolution is the acclaimed Detroit Vegan Soul – the city’s first 100% vegan soul cafe – kickstarted by partners Kirsten Ussery-Boyd and Erika Boyd.
“We’re so excited about how the vegan scene in Detroit is growing,” Ussery-Boyd says. “When we first started we weren’t sure how vegan soul food would be received but three years later, we’re expanding to a second location.”
Other vegan-friendly places include restaurant and wine bar Seva and accommodating dive bar PJ’s Lager House.
Veganism is on an upward trend in Canada’s largest city, with a marked increase in plant-based eateries and shops popping up around town.
Toronto’s creative options for cruelty-free eating include vegan gastropub Porter House and YamChops, which is – wait for it – a meatless butchery, featuring Beet Burgers, and No-Crab Crab Cakes.
“One restaurant that needs to be on your radar is Tori’s Bakeshop,” states Lauren Yakiwchuk, a local and vegan travel blogger of JustinPlusLauren, referring to the bakery and cafe which is, during its evening hours, Canada’s first vegan wine bar.
Toronto also hosts a bevy of vegetarian/vegan festivals and major events, including the two-week Veggielicious celebration and Veg Food Fest one of North America’s largest vegan festivals.
In a country where roughly half its citizens have meat-free diets, finding vegan options is certainly no difficult task.
The four-million-strong city of Chennai is India’s leader of the veggie-friendly pack, due in part to its location in South India, a region known for using less dairy products and meats in everyday cuisine.
In Chennai, even vegan eaters can thoroughly enjoy one of India’s best-rated restaurants, including The Royal Vega, one of the country’s first fine-dining vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurants based in the five-star ITC Grand Chola Hotel.
•An earlier version of this article erroneously identified Toronto’s Raw/Vegan Festival as North America’s largest rather than Vegan Food Fest.
Travis Levius is a globetrotting writer, editor and photographer based in both London and Atlanta. His writing has appeared on BBC Travel, Business Insider, Yahoo!, and MSN.