Surprisingly Good and Bad Cities (US and World) for Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants
A lot of vegetarian publications have released lists of cities that are great for vegans or vegetarians. Here is my take on some great cities and then some that are disappointing for vegan/vegetarian restaurants. Note that I use the Happy Cow tally of vegan and vegetarian restaurants (but not "vegetarian-friendly" restaurants) for each city, which may not always be complete. My list of great cities does overlap some of the published lists out there, but I have listed some cities with more vegan/vegetarian restaurants than most would expect, and I have left out some of the stereotypical vegan destinations, like Portland or Seattle, since those are not really surprising.
10 Notable or Surprisingly Great Cities for Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants
1. Singapore: 496
Singapore is truly a haven for vegans and vegetarians. This is the city in the world with the most vegan and vegetarian restaurants on Happy Cow (though I suspect some cities in India would have more that are unlisted). Obviously, Indian and Chinese food are the most common cuisines at the vegan/vegetarian restaurants, but there are other cuisines represented, including Italian and MIddle-Eastern and mixed-cuisine/fusion. Fortunately, one can easily find local Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes (such as laksa or sambal goreng tempeh), including at some of the Indian and Chinese vegan/vegetarian restaurants. One great thing is that in many cases, restaurant food is quite cheap in Singapore, especially compared with the overall cost of living. If for some reason you run out of places to eat in Singapore, Johor Bauru, just across the border in Malaysia has 61 additional vegan/vegetarian restaurants.
2. London, United Kingdom: 221
London has 221 vegan and vegetarian restaurants, which is more than any city outside of Asia. London has a large diversity of cuisines represented at these restaurants as well, including Indian, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Caribbean and Spanish, among others. These restaurants are well distributed around London, covering nearly all parts of town.
3. New York, New York, USA: 211
New York City has not only more vegan and vegetarian restaurants than any other US city (to be expected with its very large population), but it has more per capita than many other US cities, including all of the other top ten largest US cities (even Los Angeles). Of major US cities, only Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Washington, DC have more per capita than NYC (they are not included in this list as they are already well-known stomping grounds for vegans and vegetarians). The vegan/vegetarian restaurants aren't as well distributed as London as almost 90% are in either Manhattan or Brooklyn (none are in Staten Island). There is more certainly excellent variety, from the various ethnic restaurants (including a vegan Korean restaurant) and prominent vegan American restaurants like Candle Cafe and Blossom.
4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: 119
This city is often left out of vegan/vegetarian friendly city lists, but with 119 restaurants on the list, this is probably #1 among cities in developing nations, outside of India. This is even more impressive since often in developing counties, the list on Happy Cow is less likely to be complete. While the diversity of cuisines is less than in most cities as most of the restaurants here are Vietnamese, the great range vegan/vegetarian dishes in Vietnam does a good job at making up for this. In addition, there is a huge amount of tropical fruits, including easy access to fruits that are rarely seen in most Western countries.
5. Paris, France: 94
Yes, I dare say it, Paris is a vegetarian and (perhaps especially) vegan mecca! Not only are there 94 vegetarian places (41 are all vegan, giving an unusually high ratio of vegan-to-vegetarian restaurants), there is quite a variety of cuisines represented, including French, Italian, burger joints, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and even Turkish. France is really improving from its previous meat and cheese-loving culture, as it now has 297 vegan/vegetarian restaurants with over 100 cities, towns and suburbs represented.
6. Bogotá, Colombia: 79
This is number one among Spanish-speaking cities, beating out Mexico City (75), Lima (68), Buenos Aires (62), Madrid (56) and Barcelona (53). Bogotá is in the Andes, and the Andes arguably has the best vegan and vegetarian food in South America due to its greater use of grains and vegetables. Due to the varying terrain, Colombia has so many different climates for growing fruits, and many restaurants have "exotic" juices like lulo or maracuyá. One note of caution, like in a number of other Latin American cities, many vegan/vegetarian restaurants are only open for lunch, not dinner, so one must search a bit harder for that vegan evening meal.
7. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: 58
This is number one among cities in the Middle East (plus neighboring city/emirate Sharjah has 8 more). The reason is the large Indian population. However, there are also vegan/vegetarian Chinese, Italian and Western restaurants as well. One cuisine missing from this list? Middle-Eastern. One can easily find vegan/vegetarian Middle-Eastern dishes here, but no vegan/vegetarian restaurant listed is dedicated to any of the Middle-Eastern cuisines.
8. Leicester, United Kingdom: 54
Leicester is an ethnically diverse city with a large Indian population, approximately 28%, and many of the vegetarian restaurants are Indian. While there is a great number of vegetarian restaurants, there are actually no vegan restaurants listed for this city. There is one vegetarian restaurant for every 6,000 people here, which is possibly the highest among sizable Western cities.
9. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: 14
This is really impressive for Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia is a country where traditionally almost everything ever eaten contained meat or dairy, and until the 21st Century, apparently even lettuce was considered rare and exotic. Awhile back (perhaps 2010 or so), Loving Hut lead the way, and now there are 7 Loving Huts there, which means there are 7 additional restaurants serving no meat. There are two other Loving Huts in smaller Mongolian towns, but obviously this is a country where if you venture much outside of Ulaanbaatar and want vegan/vegetarian food, you better pack well.
10. Asheville, North Carolina, USA: 11
Anyone who knows Asheville will not be the least bit surprised that this vegetarian-friendly enclave in the Southern Appalachians frequently makes top 10 lists for vegetarian friendly cities. What is notable is that this is the only city or town in the United States with fewer than 100,000 people to have ten or more vegan/vegetarian restaurants (though Indian hot spot Artesia, California comes close with 9). With 11 restaurants, this is as many as the entire state of Minnesota. On a per-capita basis, there is one vegan/vegetarian restaurant for every 8,000 people.
5 Notable or Surprisingly Disappointing Cities for Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants
1. El Paso, Texas, USA: 0
This is the largest city in the United States (approaching 700,000 people) to have no vegan or vegetarian restaurants. Hopefully somebody can find the energy and finances to start one (a healthy Mexican vegan restaurant would be great). However, hop across the border to Juarez, and you can find two (one all-vegan, one vegetarian, though oddly neither of these appear to serve Mexican food).
2. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: 6
In fairness, St. Paul has three, and exurb Otsego has one, resulting in a total of 10 in the greater Minneapolis area. That's still not much for a sizable metropolitan area, especially one with a considerable number of health-conscious people. And looking at Minnesota, the entire state only has 13 (the average US state has 43). Does cold weather somehow inhibit vegan and vegetarian restaurants from opening? Perhaps, but don't tell that to the people in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (see #9 in the "great" list), which is the coldest national capital city in the world.
3. Geneva, Switzerland: 6
For such an international city (though in some ways, it's kind of a small town), Geneva could do much better with its restaurants. Add to that the fact that eating out (and almost everything else) is very expensive, this definitely isn't the best place to wine and dine vegan or vegetarian style.
4. Denver, Colorado, USA: 7
7? Is that all? For a city as liberal and health-conscious as Denver? There really is no good explanation for this. Denver has a small fraction of vegan/vegetarian restaurants versus what you would get in similarly-sized cities like Portland (60) or Seattle (42), albeit these are obvious well-known vegan havens. Note that four suburbs do have a vegetarian or vegan restaurant (Aurora, Englewood, Glendale, Lakewood), and up the road in Boulder, not surprisingly there are 5, but Colorado only has 30 in the entire state (below the average listed above of 43, and we're comparing apples with apples, since Colorado has a state population that is near the national average for a state). Denver definitely needs more vegan/vegetarian restaurants.
5. Frankfurt, Germany: 10
Frankfurt does make double-digits here, but compared to Berlin, which is world-class for vegans and vegetarians (159 vegan/vegetarian restaurants), the much more conservative financial center forces one to look a little harder for good vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Two nearby suburbs do have a vegetarian restaurant, and a little farther away, Wiesbaden, Mainz and Darmstadt each offer multiple options. Frankfurt is definitely no "vegan hellhole"; it is just not particularly inspiring.
Posted by westcornersville at 06/04/17 16:10:11Marlicious,
Yep--I agree. Spain is a little like Japan where non-veg restaurants have few options for vegans/vegetarians. In my list, I focused on availability of veg restaurants (Málaga has 5 listed, though if one is there for an extended time period, those 5 could get old, especially if there are limited choices outside the veg restaurants). Too bad--great place to visit (I've been there before) and definitely one of the very mildest winters in Europe too!