The road to healthy eating has often felt like an either/or choice. You can be a vegan, or you can be a foodie — and never the twain shall meet. It’s time to reset those expectations. Culinary excellence and vegan cooking have never been more simpatico, and today Tacoma boasts a vegan food scene that’s impressively deep and delicious. There’s great vegan food all over this town, if you know where to find it.
There’s a reason Viva keeps winning South Sound’s annual Best Of award for vegetarian restaurants. Across a 100 percent organic, vegan menu served in a bright, minimalist Proctor District dining room, Viva spans across cuisines and styles to encompass a rangy representation of American comfort food with global influences. All of this food is elevated, and all of it is plant-based. The house-made kombucha is exquisite; the dessert case runneth over; there is a wonderful brunch menu on weekends, plus a range of wines and beers. Viva puts out a daily product as good as anything you’ll find in the Portland and Seattle vegan scenes — I know a few vegan foodies who visit Tacoma just to go to this restaurant. 2602 N. Proctor St.
You should get: Every Tacoma vegan has a favorite on the Viva menu. And though I feel strongly about the zucchini lasagna, the exemplary walnut meat nachos, and the portobello Philly cheesesteak, my go-to here is actually the Canadian Lodge Salad — a massive portion of fresh organic arugula and mixed greens, served with sliced sweet onion and apple, walnuts, and an addictive scratch-made maple mustard dressing. Get yours with the add-on grilled mushrooms — trust me — and expect every diner to turn their heads when your plate comes out.
A Tacoma institution since the early 1990s, the Quickies family of Afro-centric restaurants has fed a generation of vegans across the region. Behind it all is the Howell family — mom Niombi Howell opened the original Hillside Quickies back in the Clinton administration, while daughter Makini Howell has built a much-lauded vegan empire with multiple locations in Seattle under her flagship brand, Plum Bistro.
Today Quickie Too occupies a casual restaurant space on MLK Jr. Way in the heart of Tacoma’s historic Hilltop neighborhood, serving up a daily, all-vegan menu with southern soul food and Caribbean inspiration. Their influence can be felt across vegan restaurants far and wide, most pointedly in Quickie’s iconic “Mac & Yease” dish — a perfect dairy-free version of traditional mac and cheese, widely imitated but never better than right here at Quickie Too. 1324 MLK Jr. Way
You should get: The “Crazy Jamaican” burger has been on the menu for as long as I can remember, and it will probably never leave, because it’s perfect: house-spiced Jamaican tofu paired with caramelized sweet plantains, grilled sweet onions, tomatoes, a little bit of potato salad and vegan mayo. Take big, perfect bites, then pull out parts of the sandwich to nibble on individually. This is filling and truly soulful vegan cooking.
The Peterson Bros. beloved Hilltop tavern and sandwich bar is also sneakily, happily home to one of Tacoma’s very best vegan menu sections. That means vegan bar-goers can enjoy a set of sandwiches and salads every bit as good as what’s being served to carnivores the next table over. All of this food — the vegan seitan meatloaf sandwich, the soy curl ranch salad, you name it — goes great with a beer from the bar’s generous tap and bottle selection. Eleven Eleven is a special little place where Tacomans of all ages gather to eat sandwiches (vegan and non), have a beer, and watch the Mariners lose. 1111 S 11th St.
You should get: The unexpectedly light and flavorful buffalo melt, made with spicy soy curls, vegan ranch, melted vegan cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a classic hoagie roll. With apologies to the veggie hoagie at MSM Deli (hold the cheese; hold the mayo), this is the best vegan sandwich in Tacoma.