If you don’t have a dietary restriction, often your only concern when choosing a restaurant is if the cuisine offered suits your current craving. Likely you don’t have much of an issue finding something on a menu that you not only can eat but also want to eat regardless of where you are dining.
But, what if you were vegan? What if you were limited to dishes without meat. Without cheese. Not made with milk, butter or cream. Would it be as easy to find a place to eat? More importantly, would you find restaurants where you want to eat?
That is exactly what I sought to find out when I challenged myself to a week of eating my main meal of the day like a vegan.
About My Grand Rapids Vegan Challenge
If you read this blog regularly or know me in real life, then you are well aware that I am not a vegan. I’m not a big meat eater, but I do love cheese. I’m confident I could rock a vegetarian challenge, but a vegan challenge is … a real challenge.
Since I wasn’t doing this to test the vegan lifestyle for a personal life change, I wasn’t going to deny myself the ability to indulge in a pepperoni pizza, if I really wanted it. I just made a commitment to eat at least one meal each day 100 percent vegan. In doing so, I found myself trying to stick to the spirit of the challenge at most of my meals. Over the week, I realized being vegan at home is not difficult aside from my personal cheesy cravings. Being vegan outside my home became the more difficult challenge.
I found Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers a variety of restaurants serving vegan dishes or even dedicating a whole section of the menu to vegan options. But dining as a vegan took more planning. I often checked menus on restaurant websites before going out to eat to ensure there were vegan options I would eat — remember it’s not just about being able to eat, but also desiring the vegan dishes offered.
This issue of planning became very apparent on the Saturday night of my challenge. I was going out to dinner with a couple girlfriends before a River City Improv show. We had decided upon Stella’s Lounge, a downtown bar with plenty of vegan options on its menu, but it was crowded and we were crunched for time. Next we figured Thai cuisine would include plenty of vegan options, but Bangkok Taste was closed. We rounded the block to the Cottage Bar, where I figured I could at least find a veggie burger to order sans cheese, but it was packed with a 30-minute wait to be seated. With showtime on our minds, we went to the one restaurant we had passed with open tables, and luckily it was a vegan-friendly Indian restaurant.
To help you get the planning of your Grand Rapids vegan dining down, I’m sharing my findings from the five restaurants I tried during the challenge.
Cherry Deli & Catering | East Hills
This casual East Hills spot on Cherry Street is a great option to grab a vegan sandwich or salad. The menu features a whole section of vegan sandwiches further separated between grilled and cold options. Many of the salads have meat or cheese in them, but the Wilcox Park — with spinach, grilled squash and zucchini, marinated tomatoes, red onions, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, cucumber, red pepper, and artichokes served with an Italian dressing — sounds like your best bet. The rotating soup may also be vegan. If it is, Vegan Grand Rapids says it will be labeled as such.
Since I’m not a falafel fan and have a tofu texture issue, I veered away from the vegan sandwiches. The vegetarian menu has a few options that seemed easy enough to make vegan by eliminating the cheese or making a dressing substitution. So, I inquired about the Kellogg sandwich — a tomato wrap filled with marinated tomatoes, red peppers, cucumbers, marinated artichokes, romaine lettuce, and a pesto hummus. The pesto hummus contains Parmesan cheese, so my sandwich maker suggested swapping it out for the regular hummus to make it vegan. I was sold.
A fun feature, the sandwiches are named for Grand Rapids streets and neighborhoods and the salads for local parks. Cherry Deli also offers a neat happy hour special from 4 to 8 p.m. of buy-one-sandwich-get-one half off. Along with Two Beards Deli from the same owners, it also recently offered an app so loyal diners can keep track of their points digitally. Seating is limited, and parking is only available along the street.
Cherry Deli & Catering | 34 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Marie Catrib’s | East Hills
Known around town for its vegetarian and vegan offerings and beloved by locals for its potatoes, deli sides, and sandwiches, Marie Catrib’s was a no-brainer for my vegan challenge. I had dined there only once before for those amazing potatoes and a filling tuna salad sandwich.
Returning for the vegan challenge, I ordered the ancho lentil tacos. They were filled with ancho-chilli-spiced lentils, roasted poblano peppers, and garlic-lime slaw and served with a veganaise and a pickle spear. I don’t know that the tacos are a dish I’m dying to order again, but they were incredibly flavorful and just a bit spicy.
What I most definitely will order again is a vegan cupcake. The bakery case is full of cupcakes — some are vegan, some are not. If they are vegan, they are clearly labeled as such. There were a few vegan options that caught my eye, but I ultimately decided upon a chocolate cupcake with a delightfully massive amount of vanilla frosting and a fresh strawberry on top. The cake was so moist, and the frosting so rich. It was difficult to finish even half. These are definitely cupcakes made for sharing. Or, you know, all for you. (This blog is to inform, not to judge.)
Marie Catrib’s | 1001 Lake Dr SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Bartertown Diner | Heartside
Another spot recommended by local vegan diners, Bartertown Diner is a fully vegetarian, vegan and raw food restaurant. The Saturday brunch menu featured some sweet and savory sounding dishes, and I considered the breakfast burrito until our waitress informed us that they were out of tortillas. They did offer to make the dish as a scramble, but a few other dishes had intrigued me or sounded absolutely carbtastic. That’s how I ended up ordering the delicious pesto sticks.
My friend Sami ordered the Compost Plate. The dish is tortilla chips topped with a chickpea melt, pickled veggies, nacho cheese, black beans, macaroni salad, and greens. It was full of interesting flavors. Every bite was a bit different, always a surprise to the taste buds.
We also both ordered a two buck taco. The tacos are always $2, but the filling changes every day.
Bartertown Diner | 6 Jefferson Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Palace of India | Heartside
Thank goodness for Palace of India and its vegetarian menu for saving Saturday night of my vegan challenge. As I explained, it was difficult to find a restaurant where I could eat vegan food within a limited time frame.
But we knew Indian cuisine would have vegan options, and tasty options they were. Unfortunately, the delicious naan bread is not vegan. I now officially feel really bad for vegans. However, Palace of India has quite a few dishes on the vegetarian menu that are vegan or can be made that way.
I ordered the chana masala, a slightly spicy chickpea dish in a thick onion and tomato sauce and best eaten over rice. To add a little variety to the meal, my friend Danny, who is a vegetarian, ordered the spicy matar mushroom dish.
Our meal was incredibly flavorful. These were all dishes I’d order anyway, but I’m so glad I’m not a vegan so I can enjoy them with naan next time.
Palace of India | 138 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Graydon’s Crossing | North Quarter
On Mondays, Graydon’s Crossing offers 50-percent off select meatless dishes, so I knew I needed to include it in my vegan challenge. Most of the Meatless Monday special’s dishes are vegetarian, but a few are vegan or can be made that way.
My lunch began with the delicious roasted garlic hummus served with crostini of Field & Fire’s organic, artisanal bread and soft pita bread. I highly recommend this hummus, and being from Dearborn, a city known for its Middle Eastern population and eateries, I’m a fairly picky judge of all things called hummus.
For my entree, I selected the seasonal panzanella salad. The panzanella is a standby on the menu, but the salad will contain different ingredients depending on what is in season. I loved the flavor of this warm salad, which had spinach leaves, red cabbage, strawberry and pear slices, walnuts, and toasted bread. I did have to specify that I wanted this salad served vegan, meaning sadly no goat cheese was on it. I loved both of these dishes so much that I’ll definitely be back for Meatless Monday again.
Graydon’s Crossing | 1223 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Tips For Vegan Dining At Grand Rapids Restaurants
- For all you need to know about vegan eating in Grand Rapids, check out Vegan Grand Rapids, the definitive guide to Grand Rapids’ vegan restaurants.
- When planning where to eat, it is helpful to check out restaurant menus, hours, and locations online via the restaurant’s website, Yelp, OpenTable, or Zomato.
- If you are headed out to dinner before a show, make sure you have picked another restaurant or two in the vicinity that serves vegan dishes just in case your first choice has a waiting list.
- Keep Meatless Mondays at Graydon’s Crossing in mind for cheap eats!
- A lot of Asian cuisines — Japanese/sushi, Thai, and Indian — are naturally vegan friendly.
- Have a pizza craving? Try Cult Pizza or Brick Road Pizza Co.!
- Most bar food isn’t vegan — or if it is, it isn’t healthy — but at Stella’s Lounge you can have hearty vegan food and your whiskey too!
- Want a salad or sandwich? Try a deli! Marie Catrib’s, Cherry Deli, Two Beards Deli, and Grand Central Market all have vegan options.
- Don’t forget about the vegetarian menu. Some dishes just require a simple substitution or elimination of cheese.
- Lastly, sometimes when there isn’t a vegan option, you can ask for the chef to create a dish for you. I’ve heard Rockwell Republic does this for their vegan diners.
Are you a vegan? If so, what are your tips for dining out? Do you have any favorite restaurants or vegan dishes that you order?