Kermit told us it’s not easy being green, and we could say the same of eating green – or meat-free, plant-based diets – in Charlotte. But with dietary restrictions and preferences becoming more widespread, it’s easier than ever to be vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free here.
Chains from Domino’s to TGI Friday’s to Jason’s Deli have gluten-free options these days (though vegans may have a tougher time at chains), but Charlotte has many local establishments that are happy to accommodate. Here’s a rundown of some of the best VV&G places – for both carnivores and herbivores – to grab a delicious, at-least-semi-healthy bite.
Note: Restaurants take care to avoid contamination, but many are not gluten-free facilities, as co-owner Charlie Foesch of Bean points out. Gluten-free items may or may not be kept separately, and the place may or may not have a dedicated fryer for gluten-free dishes (Bean does both), so there is still risk for those highly sensitive to gluten. They should ask questions if they have concerns.
For the Initiated
The raw, plant-based menu uses flavor to make up for a lack of meat, cheese and heat. Cashews and Brazil nuts form the base for vegan creams and cheese in dishes such as the gorgeous Lunasagna. While much of the menu is already gluten-free, burgers can be wrapped in a collard leaf for those needing to skip the bread. They also offer incredibly fresh juices and smoothies that are shockingly worth the $8-and-up price tag. Just wait until you taste the Avocolado.
This vegetarian spot isn’t afraid to experiment, switching up the menu based on what’s local and fresh. Curiosities include mushroom bacon, new chef Matt Martin’s butternut squash risotto and shepherd’s pie, and Sunday brunch’s “chicken and waffles” with crispy tofu fried chicken-style with syrup over fluffy spelt and sweet potato waffles.
For the Uninitiated
The best ways to introduce vegan food to open-minded meat-eaters is through familiar comfort food, which these folks take seriously with dairy- and meat-free versions of barbecue (two kinds), burgers (six kinds) and crab cakes. The carrot bacon helps create an addictive club sandwich, which isn’t on the menu regularly but can be requested.
This exclusively vegetarian and vegan Indian restaurant has been an eastside staple since it opened in the late ’90s, when ethnic fare was the only dependable vegan cooking in town. There’s a list of gluten-free rice dishes, uthappam (chickpea pancakes with veggies) and dosa – lentil and rice crepes stuffed with a variety of potato-led fillings, as well as an entire organic menu with organic appetizers, curries and breads.
Quick bites and first dates
Opened this summer, this rock ’n’ roll-themed pizza joint’s only downfall is that it’s not closer to town (for townies at least). There are diet-friendly salads and apps (like kickin’ fried Brussels sprouts), but rock-star-named pies, like the Vedder and Marley, are available in gluten-free and soy cheese versions (for an upcharge). The mushroom and caper topped Nowell is delicious.
Pizza Peel offers any of its pies on GF crust for a $2 upcharge, but can also turn many of their yummy veggie pies into vegan ones. Skip the mozz and pesto on the One Veggie for instance, and add green olives, tofu and eggplant puree for a divine reinvention. Ditto on the Greek and Roasted Veggie. There is so much flavor, you don’t miss the cheese.
From its veggie corn dog and organic soy dogs to killer falafel and zipping sides, this hamburger joint is surprisingly veg-friendly. And when you can get a veggie burger dressed with crunchy peanut butter and sriracha (the famous Ding-Dong version), you won’t sacrifice flavor – although if you’re a strict vegan, skip the honey cilantro slaw.
Asian cuisine has long been the go-to compromise for veggies and carnis, and this simple Vietnamese spot (a sister to staple Lang Van) remains highly recommended. Dairy is scarce. The fried tofu is the perfect mix of crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Pineapple is crisp, sweet and bright. The temple rolls are fresh – you can even make your own. Wheat derivatives in most soy and hoisin sauces are a concern for gluten-free eaters at Thai and Vietnamese spots like this one. So ask for tamari or skip it all together.
Empanadas, arepas, grilled corn with mayo, parm and chili powder and Dominican nachos (smothered yuca fries) are served alongside more familiar tacos and burritos, but among those options are tofu and grilled veggie fillings (especially yummy in the empanadas). You can opt for vegan rice and black beans and corn tortillas as well.
Ask a local vegetarian or vegan where to get authentic Mexican and they’ll likely recommend this spot. The menu may not look that veg and gluten-friendly at first glance, but it’s easy to skip the cheese and sour cream. Enchiladas de Calabaza trade meat for zucchini, for instance. Regulars recommend the enchiladas verde with ranchero sauce (which is vegan). You can also forgo tortillas altogether and wrap your fajita filling in crisp lettuce leaves for “naked fajitas.”
The vegetarian (and, with a few omissions, vegan) options are plentiful at this quirky neighborhood fixture. Breakfast served all day packs them in. The soysage and herb gravy is a must for herbivores who miss Mama’s Southern biscuits and gravy, and the lunch sandwiches and salads are rich in fresh organic veggies and hormone-free meats.
The Asheville hot spot now has eight restaurants between Knoxville and Charleston, but they’re all surprisingly veg and GF-friendly with an entire gluten-free menu that denotes which are also vegan and soy-free. If shrimp and grits aren’t your thing, you could make a meal with the sides alone. Vegans will have a tougher time with the entrées.
This intimate tapas and sushi spot offers several gluten-free items, including sushi (with gluten-free soy), skewers (except tuna), lamb lollies, a ham plate, Brussels sprouts, a guacamole stack, mixed greens, arugula salad and heavenly truffle fries. You can also replace chips with cucumber slices to accompany dips like hummus or the incredible (but not dairy-free) white bean dip.
The English pub hidden in Park Road Shopping Center’s basement has always offered plenty of vegetarian options alongside its ostrich meatloaf, but it recently began noting on its menu which dishes can be served vegan. You can always ask to skip the dairy on those. The new crispy Buffalo cauliflower, for instance, is made with butter and can’t be altered but the stuffed zucchini, quinoa and roasted vegetables and curry tofu can.
Boasting largely locally sourced ingredients, this Rock Hill restaurant offers gluten-free and vegetarian options – some of which could easily be made vegan. Vegetarians should note that pancetta comes on the otherwise veggie caramel apple salad and some shellfish dishes are marked with a V for those pescatarians. Scallops and tuna are the best entrée bets for those gluten-unfriendlies.
The NoDa craft brewery offers a mix of unusual and familiar dishes. Spicy diablo chicken leads a handful of gluten-free entrees, while eggplant BBQ tacos in a sticky bun shell falls in the vegan camp. A fire-roasted tofu steak is both, while nixing the manchego on the braised, fried Brussels sprouts with apples and pears makes for a savory-sweet starter.
Already heavy on a la carte meats and sides, Roosters offers a lengthy gluten-free menu that closely mimics its regular offerings, with plenty of roasted, grilled and cured meats and sides like the heavenly, buttery pan-fried corn. Likewise for vegetarians. The sides, pastas and pizzas alone will fill you up, although vegans will have a tougher time here.
This Mediterranean eatery isn’t kidding about gluten-free options. It boasts numerous apps and entrees from grilled octopus to souvlaki to petite bistro steak and pan-roasted corvina, and nearly all of its sides and some of its salads are, too – some of which may also please veggie and vegan eaters. Those can also fill up on appetizers.
With organic ingredients sourced from nearby farms, this Charlotte staple is healthy and high end. Although it doesn’t advertise gluten-free and vegan options (but vegetarian offerings are many), there’s plenty of flexibility in the menu, and you can easily call ahead with requests and questions. The current menu features tofu stiry-fry, mouth-watering mushroom bolognese, vegetarian couscous and equal-opportunity salads.