There’s a reason why the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” have been largely supplanted by “vegetable-focused” and “plant-based.” At some of the country’s best restaurants, vegetables are taking center stage, whether those restaurants are vegetarian or vegan, or just use meat more as a supporting player than star.
Vegan restaurants like Crossroads and Plant Food + Wine in LA and Vedge in Philadelphia have had major influence on chefs nationwide, encouraging them to see freedom from the slab-o-protein as an opportunity for invention.
In Portland, Farm Spirit turns local farm produce into mind-bending tasting menus that are among the country’s most ingenious (sample dish: Brussels sprouts in a butternut-hazelnut velouté, with black garlic, red jalapeño and fermented sunflower). Many other, non-plant-based restaurants known for their tasting menus—such as NYC’s Daniel and Chicago’s Grace—offer entirely vegetarian options that meat-eating diners often choose.
Earlier this year, Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened abcV, a plant-based entry in his ever-expanding empire, a natural move for a chef who has always celebrated the freshest local ingredients. And the name alone should give away the inclinations of Bad Hunter in Chicago, which turns traditional menu structure on its head by treating the few meat and seafood dishes almost as a sidebar among the thrilling vegetable options.
Furthermore, this year vegetable cuisine got its deserved literary treatment in the book On Vegetables (Phaidon) by meat-loving Rustic Canyon Chef Jeremy Fox, including his famed “Beets and Berries” dish.