Fresh Bell Peppers by pshutterbug
Dining in restaurants is a fun social event, but can sometimes leave us feeling a bit heavy. Nevertheless, there is no need to compromise between dining out in the city, and healthy eating. Anywhere from the west to the east, we've discovered Toronto's best vegan restaurants with menus offering a wide range of fresh and organic foods - from completely raw dishes to comfort food - and in between!
Arguably the best vegan restaurant in the city, Grasslands is home to chef and owner Stephen Gardner (also the owner of Urban Herbivore in Kensington Market.) Seasoned vegan chef, Stephen explains that, the idea is
not to seem too vegan-centric, not to come across as a vegan restaurant but just as a meatless restaurant, trying to go after a regular crowd.
And he certainly succeeds in doing so. Formerly known as vegan joint Fressan, the restaurant’s renovations have left this space with a casual but classy atmosphere, detailed with playful attributions like the animal figures placed on each table.
The dishes are a bit pricey, but nothing extreme and well worth the cost. Vegan sliders ($11) to start, are a treat and can satisfy any taste buds with a well-executed patty and flavourful sauce. The corn fritters ($9) have a wonderful texture and also come with a side of delicious pineapple basil salsa to complement the somewhat spicy mayo. The main courses include dishes like the crusted chicken ($18) or skewer ($18) - perfectly covered with vegan gravy.
The wine and beer list has local and organic options on it, and the cocktail menu is classic but intriguing, ranging from cocktails like an Old Fashioned ($12) to a Harvest ($10), a delicious concoction of rye and apple ginger juice. The only dessert on the menu, Cookies and Cream ($10), is a nicely plated chocolate mousse with vegan cookies. Overall, Grasslands manages to provide a fun but elegant dining experience, with options for both health and comfort foods.
Grasslands' Seitan Roast
Belmonte Raw is undoubtedly the healthiest restaurant on this list. Devoted to a raw lifestyle, chef and owner Carol Belmonte was led to her raw lifestyle after studying yoga in India. At the restaurant, nothing is served above 47 degrees because this allows the body to intake all the food’s vital nutrients and enzymes.
We believe in the power of local and organic produce and its ability to bring change to someone's life. We happen to combine it in such a way that makes you feel incredible and that tastes good too. We want people to feel cared-about.
The atmosphere of the restaurant certainly speaks to this, as it is very happy and comfortable; the food is filling, delicious and healthy. The prices may seem a little steep, but it is to be expected as all the produce is organic, high quality and packed with nutrients. Belmonte Raw also features a special ($22) which includes a dish, a fresh juice and a delicious dessert.
The dishes, which change weekly and are displayed on a chalkboard inside this quaint east end space, are perhaps made up of the freshest produce within the city.
The Hogtown Vegan
The Hogtown Wings
Often when people think about vegan food, they think about healthy and potentially boring vegetables. This trendy restaurant intends to serve up just the opposite. With the idea in mind that vegans like home cooked comfort food just as much as their carnivorous counterparts, co-founders Maddy Foote, Scott McCannell and Ross Corder opened this gem just months following the successful opening of Hot Beans in 2011, a vegan burrito joint in Kensington Market.
The varied items on the menu give vegan diners the opportunity to eat dishes they could not normally order. The “wings” ($8), for example, have a melt-in-your mouth texture with a tangy sauce. Their sandwiches are delicious for vegans and meat-eaters alike, utilizing seitan made in-house for plates like the Reuben ($12) and the Philly “cheesesteak” ($12) sandwich.
Although the menu does not have many gluten-free options, everything found on it is vegan, well-sized and moderately priced.
Established in 1999, Fresh has been a big part of the Toronto vegan scene for many years now, with new locations popping up all over the city. They have a little bit of everything and flavours for everyone.
They have great gluten-free options like their “unwraps” ($10), as well as hardier meals like their delicious veggie burger options with sides like sweet potato fries, soups or salad ($10-$11).
No matter the time of day or week, Fresh always seems to be busy. Because of this, sometimes take-out can be the best bet. Founder Ruth Tal originally opened shop as a juice bar with the hope of one day owning a hip vegan restaurant. Evidently she managed to do so as Fresh is surely a vegan staple in the city and still has juices and delicious smoothies made to order. Fresh’s executive chef Jennifer Houston describes Fresh’s vegan ideals well in saying that the food at Fresh is first and foremost vegan, ranging from comfort food to healthy dishes. Although there are dairy options available, Fresh does not cook with any animal products,
I try to work within that framework and then just come up with items that I think taste good and that are also fun and interesting,
says Houston of her culinary inspiration.
Another raw restaurant on the list, Rawlicious, also successfully manages to present fresh and organic dishes that have a nice crisp taste,
It’s great to give people an option to, and access to, healthy food… It’s an environment for them to ask questions about things they might wonder about when it comes to nutrition,
says Adam Khalfalla, manager at Rawlicious’ Yorkville location. The restaurant itself is not very spacious, but the dishes are well executed, although a bit pricey and small in portion size. The menu includes items such as pizza ($11) served under 47 degrees, soft tacos with side salad ($14), taco salad ($13) and a small but refreshing caesar wrap ($9). Founder Angus Crawford was struck with the idea for Rawlicious when a family member was dealing with a serious illness and eating healthy became a part of the healing process.
3 thoughts on “Toronto’s Top 5 Vegan Restaurants: From Organic Raw to Comfort Food”
Not only isn’t Fresh vegan, neither are the owners. They are here for the cash, hence the chaining mentality. It’s plant-based cuisine, not vegan. Huge difference. I see more fur being worn in Fresh than at a Parisian catwalk, and a friend was kicked out for calmly expressing their disgust at another customer’s cruel fur coat. It’s a joke that the Houston attempts to invoke the word.
I’m really sorry you’ve had a bad experience with Fresh! Based on what you’ve said, I can understand that it made you feel this way.
Thank you for taking the time, and giving your opinion. If there’s a great vegan restaurant that I should consider trying out on a Meatless Monday, do let me know!
Best of luck to you,
Jamie, thank you for featuring us in your list of top vegan restaurants in Toronto. We hope you enjoyed every aspect of your visit and will come back soon!