These are unquestionably good times to eat a plant-based diet in West Michigan, where the vegetarian options used to consist of Gaia Cafe and... Gaia Cafe.
The bummer of the beloved restaurant’s unceremonious 2014 shuttering has been cushioned by the growing popularity of meatless cuisine throughout Grand Rapids’ dining scene in recent years.
In Grand Rapids alone, several vegetarian-friendly restaurants have firmly established themselves. There’s Marie Catrib’s (1001 Lake Dr. SE), with its wide variety of meatless sandwiches, lunch entrees and vegan treats. There’s the prestigious Grove (919 Cherry St. SE), which gives its vegetarian menu equal billing. There’s Stella’s (53 Commerce Ave. SW), whose veggie sandwiches, salads and vegan sides are presented with as much attitude as its nationally renowned burgers. There’s Bartertown Diner (6 Jefferson Ave. SE) and its neighbor, CVLT Pizza, which have turned the block into a hotbed of earth-conscious, vegan-friendly eating. There’s the dizzying array of vegetarian and vegan sandwiches at the sibling delis: Cherry (834 Cherry St. SE) and Two Beards (38 Commerce Ave. SW). And of course there’s the all-vegan Little Africa (956 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids). I would take a bullet for Little Africa.
But if you can’t always convince your friends or significant other to patronize these hot spots, you can still find good vegetarian food in unexpected places. Our dining excursions throughout the city have revealed vegetarian riches at restaurants that do not specialize in meatless cuisine.
Consider this your guide to off-brand, below-radar veggie cuisine in Grand Rapids, broken down by meal.
Wolfgang’s - The Dewey ($7.99)
1530 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids; mattwolfgang.com
Go on a weekday if you want to avoid standing in a line down the sidewalk leading into this beloved Eastown breakfast spot. My longtime favorite is the Dewey, a breakfast burrito loaded with black beans, hash browns, scrambled eggs, cheese and guacamole.
Anna’s House - Tempeh Power Bowl ($12.50)
Multiple locations; annashouseus.com
My only complaint about this Popeye-like dish (tempeh bacon, brown rice, steamed kale, dried cherries, two eggs) was that I had to choose it over the hippie hash and sweet potato/brussel sprouts hash – the other vegetarian standouts on Anna’s extensive breakfast menu.
Cherie Inn - Vegan Sweet Potato Hash ($7.95)
969 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids; cherieinn.com
This cozy, oft-overlooked Cherry Hill restaurant offers a half-dozen vegetarian omelets, plus inventive takes on waffles and pancakes. The potato hash, which includes red peppers, portobello mushrooms and broccoli, is a battery charge that won’t weigh you down all morning.
The Westsider Cafe - #3 Skillet ($7.75)
1180 Walker Ave. NW, Grand Rapids; Facebook page
The West Side of Grand Rapids is not known for its vegetarian-friendliness, but this skillet of scrambled eggs, potatoes, sauteed vegetables and tomatoes — one of the only meatless options on the menu — is hearty and unpretentious.
Tacos El Cunado – Tempeh Taco Duo ($6.25)
435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids; tacosgr.com
This was a coin toss versus the cactus tacos at Taqueria San Jose, but the Cunado location at the Downtown Market gets the crown for its tempeh, king of the soy proteins.
Maru Sushi & Grill – Simply Green roll ($8)
927 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids; marurestaurant.com
You know a sushi restaurant with a roll called “Sexy Bacon” is taking creative liberties with the concept. Some of Maru’s vegetarian specialty rolls are similarly over-the-top, but the Simply Green roll — containing cucumber, avocado, kampyo and baby greens — splits the difference between excessive and minimal. (marurestaurant.com)
Thai Express – Gang Panang Tofu Curry ($9.45)
4317 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Kentwood; thaiexpressgr.com
This punchy curry option — bell pepper, sweet basil leaves and broccoli cooked in coconut milk — is my favorite lunch choice from a restaurant located within a cluster of diverse options near the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and 44th Street SE.
Chez Olga – Creole Tofu ($11.99)
1441 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids; chezolga.com
If pressed, I’d list this masterful Haitian restaurant as my favorite Grand Rapids dining spot — so distinctive, so unassuming, so unsympathetic to your tolerance of brain-roasting heat. Think carefully when requesting the spiciness level on this entree of sauteed tofu, peppers and onions in thick coconut sauce over rice.
Mitten Brewing Co. – Field of Greens Pizza ($13.99)
527 Leonard St. SW, Grand Rapids; mittenbrewing.com
The West Side’s best bar for Tigers fanatics serves a rich variety of specialty pizzas, my favorite of which is a vegetarian pie loaded with enough house-made pesto, seasoned artichoke hearts, broccoli, green peppers, portobello mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, red onions, fresh basil and mozzarella to unite herbivores and carnivores.
Slows Bar-B-Q – The Genius ($9)
435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids (inside the Downtown Market); slowsbarbq.com
It’s annoying when people praise vegetarian food by noting how well it imitates meat, but dang, the still-fairly-new Slows location in the Downtown Market serves a meatless sandwich — soy protein doused in a sweet, bold sauce and topped with coleslaw and pickle — that stacks up admirably against the famous barbecued fare.
Brewery Vivant – Vegan Cookies and Cream ($5)
925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids; breweryvivant.com
The Belgian-themed brewery offers a dairy-free delicacy — cashew cream between two gingersnap cookies, served amidst a decorative pomegranate molasses that’s sprinkled with popped sorghum.
Jonny B’z – Veggie Dog with fries ($6)
636-638 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids; jonnybz.com
Jonny B’z has rescued me on more weekend nights than I should admit publicly. I’m lucky they serve the best veggie dog in Grand Rapids and always have vegetarian chili ready to top it. I always add haystack onions, coleslaw, pickles and mustard.
Georgio’s Pizza – Veggie Deluxe slice ($4.19)
15 Ionia Ave. SW #150, Grand Rapids; georgiosgourmetpizza.com
The small Midwestern chain’s Grand Rapids location stays open late and, situated on Ionia Avenue, offers some phenomenal people-watching if you get there shortly before the after-bar rush. Lesser-known fact — more than one-third of its by-the-thick-slice menu is vegetarian.
Taco Bell – Seven-layer Burrito ($2.79)
(address/website withheld, because… come on)
I joke, but only sort of. Grand Rapids lands on numerous lists, but “best late-night food options” has never been one of them. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who’s ever been in a pinch, you might already know that Taco Bell, despite its failings on many dietary and aesthetic fronts, boasts a remarkably good meatless menu.