NORFOLK VEGAN SPOTS
Norfolk has been growing a big vegan scene on the down-low. A few restaurants are dedicated vegan, but many more have upped their game by offering specific vegan menu items that even the omnivores among us should rightfully enjoy. Here is our first installment of the best V eats on these streets.
Senses Vegan Comfort Food
Senses serve up vegan food that makes you feel like you’re back at a family cookout. If you’re missing the heftiest and gut-busting dishes of your pre-vegan life, here’s where you get your fix. Choose from a menu full of Philly cheesesteaks made from seitan, mac and cheese, chicken wings (also from housemade seitan), shrimp ‘po boys, crab cakes, and more of your favorites ‑ all meat-free. And to top it all off, they’re run by a mom and daughter team, who are seriously kicking ass. As of 2021, they’re on their way to moving operations to a food truck; stay tuned.
You can find Jikoni Cafe inside the House of Consciousness bookstore on 35th St. They’ve developed a signature meat substitute that they call “Kush,” which is an incredibly well-spiced grain‑derived product (buckwheat). They pack that kush and their love for spices into just about everything on the menu. The pizzas are top-notch, but it’s also worth doing a kush pocket or football-sized burrito. Just be sure to try one of their many housemade sauces.
The Orapax Restaurant and Bar
Plenty of restaurants will put an asterisk on their menu indicating some vegan items. But few go as far as Orapax in offering an entirely vegan menu that rivals their omnivorous one. The vegan pizza is a crowd-pleaser, but they also feature amazing Greek treats like vegan gyro meat in wraps and on salads, vegan dolmades, and vegan eggs at brunch (when they have it). Mandatory suggestion: Order a side (or two) of the vegan Tzatziki sauce to dip your rosemary fries or pizza into, and you’ll find out what you’ve been missing your whole life.
Do you ever find yourself missing Machismo Burrito from back in the day? This place might be their spiritual successor. California Burrito hooks up their vegan bowls, burritos, tacos, and nachos with ultra-fresh beans and veggies. Guac comes included with vegan options, and they’ve got dairy-free cheese and sour cream available for a bit extra. You can get that burrito gigantic-sized if you’re looking to grub out. Get that baby deep fried too (Chimichanga is Spanish for healthy–just kidding). Also, don’t forget to check out their hidden bar in the back if you’re looking for a margarita and late-night amusement.
Cafe Milo is a pretty new addition to the NEON District, but they’ve been keeping vegan options on their menu ever since they’ve opened. Not only is their shop adorable, but their ever-expanding menu is also delicious to match. From Impossible meatball subs, soyrizo tofu scrambles, and even cinnamon buns, the vegan fare is every bit as tasty and fulfilling as their main offerings. And of course, if you grab a coffee, there’s a few plant-based milks to throw in as well.
Luna Maya’s vegetarian and vegan menu is almost 1/3rd of their entire dinner menu. When they decided to go for vegan food, they WENT for it. A big recommendation is that you try out their vegan quesadilla and its decadently melty goodness. The enchiladas and tamales are fantastic, and Ben’s Wrap is a particularly noteworthy item on the menu. Almost every side is vegan friendly, and that includes the most important part of the meal: THE GUAC.
With at least half a dozen vegan menu items on their eclectic menu of street food fare, Streats is more than veg‑friendly. BBQ Tempeh tacos and rotating curries are staples on the menu, but Streats routinely brings in specials and seasonal dishes that are plant-based too. Their Brussel sprouts are a big highlight, too.
Pelon’s Baja Grill-Norfolk
What started as a Sunday Vegan Special at Pelon’s has become constantly stocked meatless options at this SoCal-style burrito bar. Yes, even their famous fish taco comes meatless–signature Baja sauce and all. Pelon’s is packing Gardein steaks and chicken, soyrizo, and cajun fried tofu. It’s hard to beat vegan sour cream, fresh salsa, and chunky guac atop a giant veganized California burrito. Also, if you miss the T. West nachos of days gone by, Pelon’s nachos stack up just about as high (tip: order them ‘chica style,’ and they’ll come out topped with fresh pico, jalapenos, and sour cream). Started during the pandemic, Vegan Throwdown Sundays is your once-a-week ticket to Pelon’s ‘secret’ menu items. Between the potato tacos, chicken taquitos, and Mexican pizza, everything is on point. However, arguably the star of the show is the El Luchador–seriously, you’ll never go back to Taco Bell for their weak-ass Crunchwrap Supreme ever again.
Cogans Pizza (O.G. and North)
Cogans has a full lineup of their biggest classics in a vegan-friendly menu. Essentially, every pizza with meat on it has a plant-based meat and cheese substitute available. If you’re trying to cut back on pizza (Why would anyone ever?) Philly steaks, loaded fries, and garlic knots are available as well. At Cogans, you have access to one of the most extensive craft beer lineups alongside pizza pub favorites without sweating the meats. Available at both the North and Ghent locations.
Mr. Shawarma has a cult following locally for their flavorful Middle-Eastern street food. I don’t think they set out to be a classic local vegan spot, but sure enough, they made it on the list. Their made-fresh-daily falafel serves as a vegan protein in bowls, wraps, or signature pita pockets, which you can stack high with every veggie topping behind the glass. Also, they’ve got phenomenal hummus, and who T.F. doesn’t like hummus?
Yorgos has been on the vegan wagon for quite some time. So much so that many of their most notable menu items (I’m looking at you PETERMAN) are vegan staples. They also bring the heat with vegan egg, cheese, sausage, and OR bacon packed into one of their dozen or more bagel varieties. So you can have all the glorious breakfast sandwiches you deserve. Don’t forget that they’ll sell you their housemade vegan cream cheese in a to-go tub so you can use it at home, too (be sure to pick up a bag of day-old bagels and a container of everything seasoning while you’re at it). If you show up for lunch, you’ll notice that literally half of their sandwich menu is vegan featuring classics from pulled chicken bbq and BLTs to egg salad and a gloriously greasy Italian deli sandwich.
Rajput Indian Cuisine
VEGAN BUFFET NIGHT. It’s one of the most glorious culinary events in Norfolk to behold. All buffets have been on pause because of the pandemic, but Rajput’s vegan buffet has a crowd of eager eaters ready for its return. Rajput has regular menu items that are plant-based and vegan friendly, but there’s something special about getting a whole buffet in front of your face. Be sure to don those pants with the stretchy waistband.
Cilantro Bangladeshi Bistro
Cilantro is a bit off the beaten path when it comes to Norfolk restaurants, but you’ll find yourself making the trip back time and time again. As soon as you walk in the door, you’re going to be hit with a wave of smells to let you know your tastebuds are in for a surprise—Tamarind Eggplant, Veggie Mishali, Bean Bhota, Butternut Squash Bhaji, and so much more. Take your pick of veggies and pile them atop perfectly cooked jasmine rice. On top of all that, the prices and serving sizes make it a super solid value.
Bangkok Garden Norfolk
Bangkok Garden has top-tier Thai food, and luckily, they bring that same quality right to a menu‑full of plant-based versions of their locally-revered dishes. We’re talking curries, stir-frys, pad thai, fried rice, you name it. They even have soups and appetizers that are vegan-friendly. They typically use tofu in these dishes but don’t let that scare you away (nothing scary about tofu anyway–it’s just soybeans. Eat more tofu.). The kitchen staff at Bangkok Garden could teach a college course on cooking the crispiest, juiciest tofu. Most Recommended: Bangkok Jay.
Kotobuki Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Vegan Sushi. You probably didn’t even know that was a thing. Not only did Kotobuki go there, but they’ve had a vegan menu since 1999! Enjoy plant-based versions of shrimp, salmon, and even lobster rolls. If you’re feeling particularly gluttonous, ask for the vegan volcano roll that’s a mainstay on the specials board. Aside from sushi, they’ve got your standard teriyaki, curry rice, hot pots, and vegan iterations of traditional Japanese meat dishes. Don’t sleep on that fried sweet potato roll, either.
A long-standing bastion of local music and culture, expertly-curated craft beer, and unrivaled late-night eats, the pandemic saw Taphouse finish up an incredible revamp inside (drop what you’re doing and go check it out now). Much like Cogans or Pelon’s, the grease wizards in the kitchen can make nearly any item on their regular menu into an equally mouth-watering vegan variant. Highlights include:
- The vegan chicken pesto press.
- Gouda Kaise burger.
- The fried mushroom “wings” (get it with the remoulade but refrain from bathing in its zesty deliciousness).
It’s also pertinent to mention that they have the crispiest fries and tots in town (if you prefer soggy fries, unsubscribe). Their calendar is also starting to fill up with shows so you can have your burger and eat it, too (don’t get ketchup on your new Demons record on July 10th, though).
We’re not through here. There are plenty of other places in our fine city with worthy vegan items on their menu. Please tune in next month, where we’ll cover the establishments listed below and more. Better yet, pull up to every name on this list and get some vegan junk food in you.
Tamarind Indian Cuisine
The vegan chorizo tacos from Plaza Del Sol
Vegan Planet Cafe
Slide Thru #Fam
Are we missing a restaurant? Send your suggestions!
Andrew Rios wields the mighty red pen as the editor of NFK Currents community-driven content. With an English degree from Norfolk's own ODU, Andrew got his first taste of professional writing as a digital copywriter in the bicycling industry. Currently, he's a corporate desk jockey by day and a vegan food connoisseur with a record-buying addiction by night.