Eating out with a dietitian's fork: Healthy picks at Philly’s vegan restaurants

hipcityveg
The "Philly Cheesesteak" as served at HipCityVeg. (Photo via HipCityVeg Instagram.)

Editor’s Note: Philadelphia is a foodie's paradise, with more great restaurants and fun bars than we can count. But for someone watching their weight, dining out in Philly can feel overwhelming. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to ruin your healthy eating goals to enjoy our city’s booming restaurant scene.

Over the next few months, Theresa Shank, RD LDN will be traveling around the city to provide Philly.com readers with information on healthy meal selections at popular bars and restaurants. (Yes, dietitians eat out, too!) Consider Shank your personal menu navigation guide.

We’ll let Shank take it from here…

Today, I am highlighting a cuisine that is becoming more and more popular, VEGAN. Yes, that’s right, the vegan dining profile of Philadelphia is on the rise as more Philadelphians are becoming adventurous, health-oriented eaters.

Veganism is vastly considered a healthy lifestyle, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always guarantee a guilt-free meal while dining out. For this month’s series, I tried dishes from some of Philadelphia’s best-known vegan restaurants. Here are my menu recommendations:

HipCityVeg

Philadelphia vegans and the health-conscious alike are familiar with this quick service eatery on South 18th Street.  Most meals offered here are healthy, however be mindful when ordering some options on the menu such as the Crispy HipCity Ranch which is a battered and fried “chicken” sandwich or the Buffalo Bella. Remember, anything fried is higher in fat and calories, regardless if it’s fried soy chicken or vegetables.

For a healthier choice, try the Udon Noodle Salad, a delicious combination of udon noodles, arugula, spicy glazed chick’n, peanuts, daikon and sprouts, mixed with a Chinese black bean dressing.  This salad has the perfect balance of sweet and spicy and offers 23 grams of plant protein. If you are looking for a lighter salad, try the Arugula Taco Salad served with black beans, grilled corn, pico de gallo and arugula. Compared to the other salads on the menu, this salad is light in calories and fat so no need to skip the tortillas or ask to have the cilantro dressing on the side. If you are looking for a heartier meal, try the Fajita Wrap with the chipotle crema (vegan mayo-based sauce) on the side. The Classic Veg Burger is a delicious substitute for a hamburger and is lower in calories and sodium compared to its menu rival, the Ziggy Burger, which is topped with smoked tempeh and special sauce.

Pro Tip: According to Healthy Dining Finder, The Groothie contains 210 calories, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 33 grams of natural sugar and only 3 grams of protein. Even though this smoothie is bursting with phytonutrients from the fresh fruits and veggies, it is too large to have alongside of your meal.  My recommendation is to share it or pass it. 

Charlie was a sinner.

Small plates are quite the appeal of this vegan restaurant, located in Midtown Village.  The speakeasy atmosphere is softly lit but the tastes of the vegan plates are vibrant, unique and well prepared. The signature cocktails are pleasantly potent and mixed with only natural ingredients and absolutely no refined sugar!

You’ll want to order 3-4 plates per person since everything is served tapas style. If you are dining alone, one selection from the Soup and Salad or the Vegetables paired with a Pan Roasted selection is enough to leave you feeling light but completely satisfied.

If you are dining with a group, I recommend ordering from most sections of the menu. Under the Soup and Salads, try the Charred Caesar for a lighter taste of the real deal or the Marinated Beet Salad, which is served with the most flavorful beets I’ve ever tasted, cauliflower panna cotta (the fluffiness reminded me of a light ricotta or goat cheese), apple and horseradish vinaigrette.

Skip the Salty section as this section is all fried. I am sure the Chickpea Fries and the Potato Croquettes with smoked paprika aioli are delicious like everything else on the menu but even fried vegetables hold weight, literally.

On Toast, try Our Ricotta, for a “creamy” taste of a lemony tofu based “ricotta” spread. Make sure you share this dish with three other people since it is served with 6 thick slices of grilled artisan bread.

The entire Chargrilled section is RD-approved. The mustard aioli on the Roasted Brussels Sprouts is absolutely delicious and the taste of heat from the chili on the Broccoli Rabe adds a flavorful dimension to mask the usual bitterness of the vegetable.

If you like meatballs, you’ll want to try the Bucatini and Meatballs with fra diavolo and basil. This dish is a hearty portion of spaghetti with four seitan-based meatballs. Usually I feel stuffed after eating a traditional plate of spaghetti and meatballs but after eating this mock dish, I felt comfortably satisfied and 100 percent guilt-free considering the lower amount of fat and zero cholesterol compared to the traditional version.

Vedge

Delightful and inventive hardly describe the food selection and drink list at Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s Vedge. The menu here is separated into three sections; The Vedge Bar, Hot Plates and Dirt List. All the plates are small and meant for sharing.  Each dish is perfectly cooked, combined and plated to offer a unique taste of flavor that would tantalize any taste buds.

All options on The Vedge Bar are served cold so there is no need to keep an eye out for fried foods. The Salt Roasted Gold Beets prepared with avocado, smoked tofu, rye, capers and creamy cucumber is substantial for sharing whereas the Roasted Rutabaga Salad is light enough to eat on your own without ruining your next course.

Moving on to the Hot Plates, the Grilled Seitan is perfectly marinated and served along side of whipped red kuri squash, black garlic cabbage and pickled mustard seeds. Aside from flavor, this dish offers an ample amount of protein compared to the other Hot Plates selections; which is important when you’re aiming for a meal that is balanced in macronutrients. If you do not care for seitan, the Spicy Grilled Tofu is also a good source of plant-based protein.

The Dirt List options are changed just about every day, however the Brussels Sprouts and Fingerling Fries are pretty much always featured. Out of the two, I recommend the Brussels Sprouts which are shaved thin, grilled (not fried like the Fingerling Fries) and served with smoked mustard.

Pro Tip: If you have a certain food allergy or sensitivity, no need to worry as Vedge offers four separate specialty menus: soy-free, gluten-free, onion and garlic-free and an all-raw menu.

V Street

Landau and Jacoby’s new vegan bar situated right off Rittenhouse Square poses a casual setting for diners to enjoy their take on vegan street food. The dishes at V Street certainly don’t lack innovation or flavor but are smaller and simpler in ingredients compared to dishes at Vedge. At V Street the menu is split into four sections and diners are encouraged to choose three plates per person.

First and foremost, skip the Street Snacks section on the menu. The Crunchy Papadum (best described as a thin crisp tortilla or flat bread) is fried and the Peel and Eat Lupini Beans are tossed with calabrian chile oil making both options higher in fat and calories.

Under the Market section you’ll find all vegetables. I recommend trying the Market Greens served with honshimeji XO sauce (mushroom-based sauce) and braised turnip over the Peruvian Fries to save on carbohydrates and fat calories. The description of this dish may sound simple but there is nothing simple about the taste of these greens! If you like a little spice, you’ll want to order the Jerk Trumpet Mushrooms served with sweet potato, dark rum and cashew.

The Plates section features the larger dishes of the menu.  Choose the Puri Puri Tofu instead of the Korean Fried Tempeh.  The Puri Puri Tofu is steamed and served on top of tricolored peppers and pickled celery.

The Bowls section is by far my favorite!  In this section, you’ll be safe choosing both the Mushroom Dan Dan Noodles and the Singapore Noodles, but you should split them with at least two other people. If you can only pick one, go for the Singapore Noodles since the tofu provides more protein. Be aware, these noodle dishes are large so if you are eating alone, eat half (save the rest) and pair it with a dish from the Market section for a more well-rounded meal.

----------

Read more Goal Getter for healthy eating, weight loss and more.