Long ago in Pittsburgh, forgoing meat while dining out meant ordering a sad little salad (perhaps littered with fries) or maybe choosing a token vegetarian pasta dish. But our city’s reputation as purely a meat-and-potatoes town is definitely outdated. (Though we do have a restaurant called, well … Meat & Potatoes).
So many great restaurants in Pittsburgh are doing vegetarian and vegetable-forward dishes (Kaya in the Strip comes to mind, as does Bae Bae’s Kitchen Downtown) and there are a number of veg-only establishments among our city’s top eateries.
With so many to choose from, here’s our roundup of 10 particularly delicious vegetarian-friendly restaurants — with a bonus dessert suggestion.
Vegan food from Central/Eastern European seems almost like an impossibility, given that the region tends to offer a heavy, meaty cuisine. Yet Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski don’t just pull it off. They do it so well that you don’t even notice the missing meats. The pair got started hosting a pop-up Pierogi Night — and their light, soft sauerkraut and mushroom, or smoked cabbage and potato pierogies rival anything grandma makes. There are a lot of pickled things on the menu, which is where Apteka truly shines. If you can’t pronounce the Placki ziemniaczane z papryka (potato pancake with peppers and horseradish), don’t worry. Just ask. Or go with the Baba Jaga sandwich made with Polish pickles, vegetable pate, pickled beets, smoked onion remoulade and mustard on a grainy, seed-strewn housemade bread.
You’ll find mostly Middle Eastern cooking here, with a particular emphasis on excellent baked goods courtesy of proprietor Omar Abuhejleh, who also owns Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill. Some dishes are meatless to begin with, like falafel and spinach pie. Others are successfully re-imagined without meat, like the Seitan Shwarma and Spicy Kofta Tofu. Manakish flatbreads are topped with shiitake mushrooms, greens and garlic, or za’atar, among other options. B52 is in a bright, modern, minimalist space that fills up fast. They also have a full espresso bar and make their own chocolates and cashew cheese.
The Zenith, South Side
This shop — packed to the rafters with art and antiques — also houses a smart little cafe. Zenith’s brunch, in particular, is known for sending Pittsburgh’s vegan and vegetarian community home with full bellies, along with cool kitschy vintage stuff. The menu changes weekly, showcasing dishes like Vegan Linguine & Artichoke in White Bean Sauce and Vegan Almond French Toast. But the dessert table is probably the main draw. These vegan desserts are definitely not pale imitations of their buttery cousins, so indulge. And along with the food, everything in the room — from the lamps to the mismatched tableware — can be purchased. Brunch is served Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Onion Maiden, Allentown
You feel a certain uniformity at so many new restaurants, with a familiar mix of locally-sourced ingredients and dangling Edison bulbs forever popping up. Onion Maiden, which began as a vegan catering project for punk and metal shows, is truly something different. They take as eclectic an approach to the menu as they do to their heavy metal décor and their soundtrack (which ranges from hardcore punk to thrash to Judas Priest). You’ll be surprised (and, we think, delighted) by For Whom the Egg Rolls (egg rolls minus eggs) and the Coffins (scallion pancake tacos with jackfruit, enoki mushrooms, kale and jalapenos) and the Terrormisu (yes, you guessed it — vegan tiramisu).
Scratch F&B, North Side
Scratch isn’t purely a vegetarian restaurant, but veg-focused diners will find plenty of good things on the menu. This cozy, convivial Troy Hill spot is one of those places where both vegetarians and omnivores can leave happy. The King Trumpet Mushroom dish is a great example of what they do well, served with fingerling potatoes, cipollini, arugula and a vegan Hollandaise. Want something lighter? Try the Buddha Bowl, packed with grains, grilled radicchio, English peas, arugula and tomato.