I became a vegan* over a year ago. Before that, for 27 years of my life, I was what they called a hardcore omnivore, eating anything and everything (except lamb, veal and lobster), as long as it tasted good and I was hungry.
But I decided to become a vegan for ethical reasons, because I love animals so much that Id rather see them alive and running around, rather than dead on my plate.
And while I may have changed my lifestyle, I didnt change my geographic location. Cincinnati isnt really synonymous with being a vegans playground, so I had to work with what I had; thus, the purpose of this guide.
These are my go-to-vegan-friendly places in the city. So, if you are thinking about becoming a vegan and feel like there arent any dining options for you in Cincinnati, or you already are one and havent ventured to see whats out there, then give my picks a try and see if you can be a happy and content humane foodie in the Nati as well. (Note: this guide applies to vegetarians as well, but mainly focuses on the vegan options in the city, since most places are vegetarian friendly.)
1. Melt, Eclectic Deli
Located in the heart of Northside, Melt is one of a few places in the city that offers café-style vegan options. According to Lisa Kagen, owner and general manager, Melt opened to provide healthier casual eating for mainly vegetarians and vegans, but also caters to its carnivorous clients by providing meats which are raised humanely and produced with a higher level of quality (meaning antibiotic- and hormone-free).
Melt ensures the integrity of its vegan foods by always placing them away from the regular orders so that animal products dont contaminate them. Staff is instructed to cut sandwiches in the order of vegan first, vegetarian second and meat last. Knives are sanitized between every meat/vegan order.
Sandwiches are made on Shadeau Breads preservative-free, vegan bread. Dressings, condiments and soups are all made in-house. Sandwiches come with your choice of Sunchips, purple slaw or mixed greens w/choice of dressing (maple balsamic, lime cilantro, ginger hoison, curry yogurt and Greek vinaigrette.)
Salad: Get the Spinach Orzo Pasta ($4.50). Baby spinach, Kalamata olives, chopped red onion, Roma tomato and feta tossed with orzo pasta in a Greek vinaigrette…without the feta of course.
Sandwich: The Yeehaw BBQ Seitan* ($6.75): sliced red onion, Roma tomato and banana pepper rings drizzled with lots of BBQ on a whole-wheat hoagie. Typically served with melted smoked mozzarella, you can swap out the mozzarella for the Rinotta, Melts spicy spreadable blend of tofu*, cashews, herbs and spices.
Soup: Try the African Peanut, when its available; the soups change daily, with vegan chili as a constant. Its the perfect blend of mild, smoky Indian spices with tomatoes and a hint of peanut butter; perfectly light and delicious. Trust me, its good. Usually soups are only $3.25 for a bowl.
Highlights: On Sundays from 11 a.m.-2p.m. (or until the food runs out), Melt offers a vegan brunch. The menu changes every month, but typically theres vegan waffles, a main vegan dish such as breakfast burritos or vegan quiche, and vegan biscuits and gravy. Either go early or go later, the place is usually standing room only on Sundays and who wants to have a brunch order to go?
Gripes: I understand that Melts foodosophy is all about using whole, unprocessed ingredients, but they really should consider using some good ole junky vegan cheese, such as the Vegan Gourmet line by Follow Your Heart. The Yeehaw would be perfecto with some ooey, gooey vegan mozzarella!
Also, have more baked vegan treats available daily! They have the whole savory department squared away, now they just have to get some vegan cupcakes and cookies stocked up in the dessert case! Melt usually has desserts from the Take the Cake bakery (a few blocks away) for customers every day, but nothing vegan. They typically make their own vegan desserts and their reason for only having sporadic offerings is due to being super busy, but cmon people! Make time for the baked goods! Vegans have a sweet tooth as well; at least I sure do!
4165 Hamilton Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45223, Northside
(513) 681-MELT (6358)
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. 8 p.m.
2. Apna India Restaurant
My home away from home, at least in relation to food. In my opinion, Apna has the best Indian food in the city; the way my mom cooks and the way my grandmother used to. So, right off the bat, its off to a good start. Located on Ludlow Ave in Clifton, the staff is warm, friendly and attentive and service is relatively quick. The dining room has a open, roomy feel and is clean and bright.
The key to eating vegan in any restaurant – ethnic or not – is special requesting that animal products are omitted in pre-existing menu items. A lot of the dishes at Apna are vegetarian but may contain heavy cream or butter, so by requesting that your dishes are made without those items, a vegan option can be ensured.
Appetizer: Vegetable Samosa. Deep-fried, crisp pastries stuffed with mildly spiced potatoes and green peas accompanied with a trio of chutneys. Two pieces for only $3.25. These are absolutely delicious.
Entrée: My absolute favorite is the Aloo Saag ($9.49), spinach and potato curry without any cream or butter, spicy six. (Apnas spice scale ranges from one to six, six being the hottest.) I also get the Bhartha ($9.99), eggplant curry cooked with vegetables, also spicy six. I also get the plain naan ($2.19) to sop up the yummy curries.
The trick is to mix the two curries together for the perfect combo! Yum, yum! All curries are served with their fragrant and moist basmati rice garnished with peas.
Another tip: even though Apnas buffet is sufficiently good, order from the menu instead. They serve more food and since you wont be able to eat it all, youll have leftovers to last you at least two days, depending on what a glutton you are! A great way to get your moneys worth.
Highlights: Hands down, Apna makes the best plain naan ever. I can say this because Ive eaten a lot of Indian food in my 27 years. I dont know what they do differently from the other restaurants in town, but fresh from the Tandoor oven, their naan is the fluffiest baked Indian dough Ive ever had.
The samosas. Again, other places have them as well, but Apnas key to superior veggie samosas lies in the batter, light and crispy, creating a perfect purse of golden fried goodness. Also, their rice is never dried out and is always freshly made.
Prices are higher than most other restaurants with a $7.99 lunch buffet and a $10.99 buffet for dinner and menu entrees as high as $14.49. Im afraid people will shy away from the pricier options, so maybe management should reconsider their prices.
Apna India Restaurant
341 Ludlow Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45220, Clifton.
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Sunday, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Prices: Moderate. Grade: A+
3. Green Papaya
If you dont pay attention, youre more than likely to drive past one of the citys best-kept secrets. Located in a mini strip mall, caddy-corner from the Hyde Park Kroger, in the old Bebe Kitchens space, is Green Papaya, probably the best Thai restaurant Cincy has to offer.
The décor isnt kitschy like other ethnic restaurants and is sleek and modern. The dining room isnt that big, but instead of feeling cramped and crowded, a sense of intimacy is created, a perfect place for a first date or you and a friend to catch up.
Depending on your degree of veganism, whether you are strict or vary your commitment when you go out to eat, you have to be careful eating at Thai restaurants, because they use honey as a sweetener in a lot of their dishes and sauces. I always double-check with the servers and management, to make sure something is not tainted with honey. Also, make sure that fish sauce is not used in any of your dishes, since it is the base of many sauces.
Green Papaya has a lot of menu options that comes with tofu as the main protein, but you can order any other dish with animal protein and substitute it with tofu. Dont be afraid to take a dish that looks interesting and tasty and veganizing it.
Sushi: I usually get the avocado roll, usually six pieces for $4. The ingredients are always fresh and crisp.
Appetizer: The Siam Roll, order of three miniature rolls for $3.95, is filled with vegetables and served with a sweet and sour sauce, which I dont get because it has honey in it.
Soup: Try the Tom-Yum (Hot and Sour) ($3.95). I get mine with steamed tofu and vegetables in a hot and sour soup, spiced with exotic Thai herbs, lemongrass, mushroom and limejuice.
Entrée: I love the Green Papaya Mango Fried Rice ($8.95), spiced hot (scale is mild, medium, hot or 1-4). Fried rice mixed with chicken, shrimp, egg, fresh mango pieces, onion, snow peas and tomato is the original menu offering, but I get my order free of all animal products (make sure to request that the fish sauce is omitted) and with steamed tofu. Definitely the best-fried rice Ive had and the mango adds the perfect blend of sweetness and tang that is truly unexpected.
Highlights: Green Papaya is unlike other Thai restaurants by offering truly authentic and unique Thai cuisine, when you go, you will want to order more than just the pad Thai.
Management at Green Papaya is very understanding and willing to meet my vegan needs. By just making sure you reiterate that you want no meat, dairy, fish or egg in your dishes, you will definitely get your vegan Thai fix there as well.
Try the jasmine lime tea ($1.95), its a great refreshing twist on the usual limeade or lemonade.
Gripes: When Green Papaya first opened back in September of 2006, the portion sizes were hearty enough to have leftovers, but nowadays, the portions have become smaller and smaller, as if management decided to downscale portion size in order to downscale operating costs. Please bring back the hearty portions! At least they havent downscaled on their quality, service, atmosphere or taste.
They dont have a liquor license, and generally, that would put a damper on things; but people dont seem to mind bringing their own libations of choice, especially since there isnt a corkage fee, but its going to be almost a year and they still havent secured a liquor license. Sometimes, when Ive forgotten to BYOB and I really need a drink, I would like to order it in house.
Green Papaya, Thai, Sushi and Asian Cuisine
2942 Wasson Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45209, Oakley
(513) 731-0107 or (513) 731-0157
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. 3p.m; Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. 10:30 p.m., Sunday, 4 p.m. 9:30 p.m.
4. Currito, Burritos Without Borders
Formerly known as Boloco, Inspired Burritos, Currito is located in the new and improved commercial strip near UC on Calhoun Street. According to management, the name change will hopefully evoke a connection in consumers with the word burritos.
I was so used to going to other national burrito establishments in the area and having to walk away with a burrito that lacked substantial flair, but Currito offers such a good variety of flavors to keep me interested.
You have two options when ordering burritos, small or regular, or if you are carb conscious, you can skip the tortillas and order all the fixings into a bowl.
If youre on the run and dont have time to think too hard, you can choose from seven offerings: the Classic, Summer, Bangkok, Teriyaki, Cajun, Mediterranean, Buffalo or you can build your own, by choosing fresh and healthy ingredients from the assembly station. Carnivores have their choice of grilled chicken and steak, while vegans can choose organic tofu.
Picks: I always end up getting a regular burrito and build my own, with tofu of course ($5.49). The Bangkok flavoring is really a treat with Thai-style peanut sauce, Asian slaw, cucumbers, rice and flour tortilla.
Also try the Soy Smoothie, made with soymilk, strawberries, bananas. Just ask that the honey be omitted.
Highlights: The fact that Currito offers flavorful and unique tofu burritos and soy smoothies for under $10, is a plus in itself. If youre tired of eating at the other burrito place that lacks your tofu fix, or a variety of flavors, then go to Currito. They also have brown rice, which other places dont offer. Their pinto beans arent made in any animal fat either.
And if youre in the mood for a salad, you can try the Chinese Chicken Salad Bowl, sans the chicken ($3.99). Lettuce, rice noodles, almonds, sesame seeds, scallions and Chinese dressing make for a truly unexpected flavor option at a burrito place. You can even get it wrapped up in a burrito if you want.
Try the Berry Blitz smoothie, also vegan.
Gripes: I really dont have much to complain about a burrito joint that has tofu and soy smoothies!
222 Calhoun Street Marketplace
University Heights, Cincinnati, OH 45219, Clifton
5. Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
Located in Sharonville on Chester Road, Tokyo Japanese is an unexpected gem of a surprise on a busy stretch of road littered with hotels, small businesses and restaurants.
Sushi: The vegetable maki roll ($4.50, six pieces) is filled with the freshest avocado, daikon (Japanese radish), wakame (seaweed), asparagus and Japanese squash. Also try the avocado maki roll ($4, six pieces).
Entrée: Get the Vegetable Yakisoba ($6.50), pan-fried, ramen-style wheat noodles stir fried with broccoli, zucchini, onions, red and green peppers, carrots, butternut squash and bean sprouts, all tossed with a sosu sauce (Japanese Worcestershire sauce, which is made out of fruit and vegetables.) You can also get either steamed or pan-fried tofu added to the dish, for an extra protein kick. All dishes can be ordered as spicy, for the strong-stomached.
Gripes: Most of the soups are made of chicken broth and include Bonita fish flakes, definitely not cool for us vegans. Management should consider revising the recipe for their vegetable soup to exclude the chicken broth!
Also, business tends to be slow towards then end of the night and if you happen to stop by to get some food, youll be met with an impatient, jittery staff that makes you feel bad for ordering any food an hour before they close.
Highlights: Tokyo Japanese offers what no other restaurant in the city does, an all-you-can-eat sushi bar for only $19.95, Monday-Saturday. Its a great deal if all you want to do is stuff your face with rolls and rolls of vegan sushi. For the non-vegans who order sashimi, the only requirement is that you finish all the rice and not just keep ordering pieces of fish.
They also have a hibachi grill lunch special with a vegetable order for only $6.95.
Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
11481 Chester Rd.
Sharonville, OH 45246
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. 2:30 p.m., and all-you-can-eat sushi bar; Dinner: Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 4:30 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m. 11 p.m.
6. Myras Dinonysus
Open since 1977, except for a few months in 1985, Myras has been a Mecca in the city for homemade, vegetarian and vegan food. Myra Griffin, owner and founder, opened the restaurant in her townhouse in University Heights, originally because no gyros were available in the city; but nowadays, her menu has evolved to be what can be best described as global vegetarian.
Its not hard to find the vegan dishes amongst the numerous menu options at Myras, because all dishes void of animal products are underlined and if something has cheese in it, it can be omitted.
Soups: A bowl of the Thai Pumpkin soup ($3.75; $1.75 for a cup) is my favorite, as well as the restaurants top-seller. Its absolutely delicious.
Sandwiches: The Falafel Sandwich ($4) with spiced garbanzo patties in pita bread garnished with tomato, onion, pickle and romaine lettuce with a tahini lemon sauce, is also a winner; filling and tangy.
Gripes: The service can be very slow at Myras and sometimes when queried about the ingredients of the menu options, the staff usually takes time consulting one another to make sure something is vegan or not. The way I look at it is, if your menu is predominately vegetarian and there are only a few vegan options, then those items shouldnt be too hard to memorize!
Highlights: Much props for Myras for being the longest-standing restaurant offering vegetarian and vegan foods. Others have come and gone, but Myras has been the constant and that is reassuring on so many levels.
Check the deli case to see which vegan desserts are available daily; typically, they have vegan mousses ($2.50) and cakes ($3.50).
They have an extensive catering menu available, so that you dont have to worry about what to cook for the next vegan dinner party youll be throwing. With dishes like Saag Tofu, Tofu Bourguignon and Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili, etc., you wont be shy of tasty vegan options. Plus, Myras is willing to work with you to customize a menu according to your preferences.
121 Calhoun St.
Cincinnati, OH 45219
University Heights, Clifton
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. 10 p.m.
7. Macs Pizza Pub
Who would have thought that Cincy would have an eatery that served vegan pizza? Located on W. McMillan in Clifton, Macs is the typical college hangout that just happens to be right across the street from the Clifton Natural Foods Store, where it gets its supply of the Follow Your Heart vegan mozzarella cheese.
Amongst the regular college bar food offerings, you will find the Vegan Pizza (small- $11.75, medium- $17.99, large- $19.75). Topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, black and green olives and smothered with that shredded vegan mozzarella cheese. You can omit or add any toppings to your preference.
They also have a Veggie Burger ($7.49), just your regular Boca burger thats grilled and topped with vegan cheese and comes with waffle fries. You can also get the Garrrrrlic Mushroom Burger ($7.49), with waffle fries.
Highlights: If youre a vegan and end up at Macs and you dont get the vegan pizza, then shame on you!
Its absolutely fabulous that Macs offers the only vegan pizza in town, but they really need to learn the art of dealing with vegan cheese. The key to get vegan cheese to be all ooey and gooey, is all in the broiling. According to the manufacturer Follow Your Heart, vegan cheese melts the best when covered and broiled at a high temperature. Macs failed to get that memo and their vegan pies always just seem to be topped with cheese that hasnt melted completely. So, if they take the time to do this one step, theyll have the perfect vegan pizza on their hands. This tip applies for their veggie burgers as well.
Also, they only carry the vegan mozzarella and havent invested in getting any of the other vegan cheese flavors such as cheddar, Jack, or nacho. It would behoove them to do so!
Service could be quicker. Also, they have a all-you-can-eat pizza lunch buffet for $7, but it doesnt include the vegan pizza! They should definitely reconsider and include it.
Macs Pizza Pub
205 W. McMillan St.
Cincinnati, OH 45219, Clifton
(513) 241- MACS
Pacific Moon On the Levee
Newport On the Levee, 1 Levee Way, Suite 2125, Newport, KY 41071. (859) 261 MOON (6666)
Highlights: Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps, Vegan Kung Po Chicken made with seitan and Vegan Orange Ribs.
Highlights: The Streamliner Burger, delicious vegan Boca burger voted by PETA as the Best Veggie Burger in a Restaurant Chain.
Nothing But Noodles
Hyde Park (513) 396-6800 and Mason (513) 770- 0020 locations.
Highlights: You can get the Thai Lettuce Wraps without the chicken and substitute with tofu instead. Their Asian pastas, ordered with tofu and no egg, are delicious semi-fast food options.
Moes Southwest Grill
Highlights: Another burrito joint with a twist that offers tofu as a protein choice. The main draw, they offer domestic and import beers and frozen margaritas!
209 W McMillan St., Cincinnati, OH 45219, Clifton. (513) 721-6999
Highlights: Literally, a mom-and-pop-hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has excellent service and food. They offer a Tofu Teriyaki that makes you feel like you are really eating good, healthy food and a great Tofu Udon Soup.
Vegan (pronounced vee-gun): A strict vegetarian who doesnt consume meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or any product derived from an animal. A vegan diet can (and should) be full of a wide variety of delicious, nutritious foods, including vegetables, grains, nuts, soy, legumes, seeds and fruits. Vegans dont wear leather, fur, silk, or wool. Many refuse to use products that are made with animal ingredients, products that are filtered using animal parts (such as some wines, beers and white sugars) and products that have been tested on animals.
Seitan (pronounced say-tahn or say-tehn): a form of wheat gluten made from whole- wheat flour, which is mixed with water and kneaded and then simmered in a stock of tamari soy sauce, that gives it a brown color. Also known as wheat meat, it is a meat substitute in many recipes and works so well that many non-meat eaters avoid because its texture is too meaty. Seitan can be used in sandwiches, casseroles and is used in a lot of Chinese cooking in mock meat dishes such as sweet and sour seitan and seitan stir-fry.
Tofu ( pronounced toe-foo ): is soy bean curd, the whitish substance made from pressed soybeans. It has a variety of uses in vegan and vegetarian cooking because of its neutral taste that soaks up other flavors. It comes in either in a soft or firm style. Soft tofu is often used to make frostings for cakes and dips for chips and vegetables, while the firmer style is generally used in stir-fries and soups where it will hold its shape.