Duluth, MN. A seemingly progressive oasis in the upper Midwest, a destination for tourists from across the nation, yet not really known for its spectacular dining options. Especially vegan options. In this issue of “The Dish” I will dispense my knowledge and experiences on the availability and quality of vegan food in the Twin Ports area. I am excluding chain restaurants like Chipotle and Noodles & co. because you probably already know what they have. I am also not counting side salads as valid dining options because those don’t fill anybody up. I will be updating this regularly as I find out more tips and tricks for Vegan Twin Ports dining!
Restaurants in Duluth, MN with labeled vegan options:
The following is a list of restaurants that have menu items that are labeled vegan and suggestions on what to order!
- Pizza Luce – Lots of options here! You can get pizzas, hoagies, salads, brunch dishes, etc. even their spicy bloody mary mix is vegan! I personally like to order their “Rustler” BBQ sauce, mock duck, pineapple, and banana pepper pizza with their “rinotta” tofu and cashew based cheese substitute. . I also really like a vegan “Ruby Ray” subbing the sausage with either vegan sausage, mock duck, or cubed tofu with rinotta. The “Mock Muffelata” and other vegan sandwiches are all good too. As far as brunch options, I like the “City Slicker” vegan version of their Cajun skillet, the “Buckaroo” (they sure like goofy names) vegan brunch burrito that features scrambled tofu, vegan sausage, and daiya cheeze wrapped in a flour tortilla topped with their spicy “quito” sauce over jalapeño hashbrowns. So spicy. So dank. They also have a vegan florentine benedict style dish which is very good and very salty. I like their “vegandaise” hollandaise analogue sauce that comes with it. There is also a “Huevos Luceros” dish that can be made vegan but has lately proved disappointing. And last but not least, they have Apple Quinoa pancakes to satisfy those with a brunchy sweet tooth.
- The Juice Pharm – Duluth’s only ALL VEGAN establishment! They started out as a juicery with a focus on fresh juice, super-food smoothies, and have recently started selling vegan food! They have vegan lunch and breakfast at their new location below Anytime Fitness right off of Superior Street. If you go you will find granola, a hot quinoa porridge, acai bowl, a variety of deliciously topped toasts, tacos, burritos, and more! Duluth has needed this for a long time and I’m so proud of them. Support the Juice Pharm everyone!!!
- At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe – At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe (I know…two names…it’s weird… I answered their phones for 5 years when I worked there so you don’t have to tell me) has vegan breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. They also make most things from scratch so they can veganify some things. They always have a vegetarian soup on hand and sometimes it is vegan. However, be sure to ask for a vegan dinner roll as the bread they serve with it is not usually vegan. Their “House Salad” is also vegan when you choose a vegan dressing The “Thai Curry” with tofu is vegan, albeit overpriced, and a vegan “Buddha Bowl” that can have tempeh or tofu added to it. I have yet to try the “Buddha Bowl” but I hear it’s delicious. They also have a vegan veggie burger that is pretty good, a bean and rice “Peasant” bowl that is simple and overpriced, and a mouthwatering “GTLT” which stands for guacamole, tempeh, lettuce, and tomato and is served on a ciabatta roll with vegan mayo. My favorite vegan breakfast there is the “Vegan Veggie Scram” however it tends to be a little dry so you might want to order a salad dressing on the side or some extra hot sauce. They also have an oatmeal that can be made vegan and regularly have vegan brownies and cupcakes for the sweet stuffs.
- Duluth Grill* – I used to eat at the Duluth Grill relatively frequently but have decided to stage a personal boycott of this formerly favorable establishment. The reason being that they’ve recently opened a new BBQ joint and opted to name it “OMC” (which is unfortunately not the brilliant mind behind “How Bizarre”) but rather stands for “Oink, Moo, Cluck” which is not only tacky and offensive, but a complete reversal on everything they claimed to stand for at the Duluth Grill. I find their transition from “local, organic, free range, gluten free, vegan” to artery clogging, torture celebrating, and unabashed environmental disregard to be a dismissal of the company’s former “values.” Because if you claim to be an ecologically responsible establishment and then turn around and open a meat only restaurant (everybody who’s reading this hopefully knows that meat production -INCLUDING “FREE RANGE”- is unsustainable and elitist). But mostly, I refuse to support anyone who names a restaurant “OINK MOO CLUCK” and you can’t even get a drink at the Duluth Grill* anyway.
Restaurants that don’t have labeled vegan options but if you ask the right questions…
- Lake Ave Restaurant – Lake Ave is a nice restaurant in the Canal Park area that serves a variety of world and American cuisine. They are not known for their vegan options but usually try to have at least one option. For brunch they have the “Yucca Torta” which is kind of like a black bean burger that is vegan when ordered without the cheese. Sometimes I sneak my own vegan mayo sauce into the restaurant to liven it up a bit (shhh). That’s pretty much it for brunch unless you want to eat a side salad for breakfast. The staff is super excellent and might be able to point you to other options as their specials change. For lunch and dinner I think you can order the “Charred Shishito Peppers” appetizer to be vegan or inquire about the vegetarian “Soup of the Day” to see if that’s vegan. The “Yucca Torta” makes another appearance on the lunch menu and they go further with yucca experimentation with their “Yucca Cannoli” which is vegan, delicious, and expensive so I only order it on special occasions. Lake Ave also has a nice bar with local spirits, taps, and a tasty wine list. So even if you decide you only want to eat french fries there, you can still have a wonderful beverage.
- Zeitgeist Arts Cafe – Zeitgeist certainly does not specialize in vegan cuisine but they do have a few options except for brunch which is decidedly lacking in vegan options (this is a pity because it is a great brunch spot). For dinner you could start with an appetizer of the “Ginger Ssam” which is light lettuce wrap filled with pickled shiitakes, carrots, bean sprouts, and a slaw served with peanut sauce. They also have a “Pommes Frites” (aka french fries) option that can be ordered with truffle oil for a whopping $9… The side salad is vegan with a vegan dressing. Their vegan entree is the “Green Living Bowl” which is brown rice topped with broccoli, bok choy, kale, sunflower seeds, toasted shallots, pickled ginger, and tofu(for and extra $3) served with tahini sauce. It’s very tasty but usually comes a little dry and I recommend ordering an extra side of the tahini sauce. If you accidentally wind up there for brunch and would like to eat something more than a side of fruit, you might be able to politely ask the kitchen for a breakfast burrito or a scramble but it tends to be disappointing.
- India Palace – I go to the India Palace lunch buffet about once per week. It’s so good! It can be a little tricky to navigate the first time, though. For startsies, their buffet bread options (naan and poori) are not vegan. You can order some vegan roti for an extra $3 if you want but it’s not necessary as there is plenty of food at the buffet. The dishes vary daily but follow a similar pattern. They have vegan basmati rice, some type of fried thing like pakora or aloo tikki balls, and a curried chickpea, chickpea eggplant, or mushroom dish that is usually vegan and another vegetable curry that is vegan. The “Palak Paneer” is obviously not vegan due to its containing paneer. The “Navrattan Korma” is also not vegan as it has cream in it. There is a little salad bar with some spring greens, vegan chili sauce, tamarind sauce, a mint chutney, and some pickled onions that are all delicious. All other options are blatantly not vegan and you should have no trouble discerning what to eat. Ask the friendly staff if you are unsure about anything.
India Palace also has a delicious dinner menu with the following vegan** options:
- Mushroom Masala, Chana Masala, Aloo Gobi, Vegetable Curry (so good), and Baingan Bhartha. The Baingan Bhartha is super good but I suggest getting it alongside another dish as it is more of an appetizer or condiment than an actual meal.
- Be sure to get some Tandoori Roti to go with your meal!
- They will also make you a vegan appetizer sampler upon request. The vegan appetizers are: Vegetable Samosas, Vegetable Pakora, and Aloo Tikki.
- Oriental House II – A hidden gem of downtown Duluth. They have a variety of different Asian cuisines and you can get some delicious vegan Vegetable Spring Rolls, a dank vegan Pad Thai (be sure to remind them to leave the egg out), and their Thai curries are vegan (I like the green curry best). They also have a dish called the “Tofu Volcano” that has the coolest name ever, but is just a basic vegetable stir fry. You have to order it at least once to know for yourself.
- Taste of Saigon – Taste of Saigon has a surprisingly large list of vegetarian menu items on their menu. My favorite is the “Curry Mock Duck” or the “Tofu in Special Garlic Sauce.” I have yet to be disappointed by their food unless you count the lack of vegan appetizers. They will sometimes make you vegan Pho if you ask nicely. 😉
- Cloud 9 Asian Bistro – A very basic Japanese restaurant with an excellent happy hour from 3-6pm every day. They have some great vegetarian sushi rolls and I think their kampyo and oshinko rolls (pickled gourd that is almost fishy) are better than Hanabi’s. During happy hour you can get these rolls for $2 or $3 and beers and cocktails for $2 or $3. Cheap Date!!! They also have the regular Japanese restaurant rigamarole which includes: veggie tempura, veggie sushi rolls, vegetable udon or soba noodle stir fries (great with tofu for when you’re trying to chow the fuck down), miso soup, etc.
- Hanabi – Hanabi is pretty good vegan-wise. They have some of the same options I listed above in the Cloud 9 review. I like Hanabi’s lunch special (11am-2:30pm) which is 2 rolls and choice of soup or salad for $8 or 3 rolls for $11 (if you’re nice they will substitute other veggie rolls instead of just cucumber and avocado). I like their seaweed salad, vegetarian sushi rolls, the vegetable udon noodle stir fry, and the Veggie Deluxe Roll (I usually ask for no eel sauce because I’m pretty sure it isn’t vegan).
- The New Scenic Cafe – Duluth’s “fancy” restaurant located up the north shore. They have the usual upscale restaurant thing going on… small portions and big prices with little bits of things sprinkled around small things piled atop one another. Some folks love this kind of dining experience but it usually doesn’t make sense for vegans (or anyone trying to leave full). They usually have a vegan soup and salad combo ($14) and occasionally have a vegan entree or sandwich. For their current spring/summer menu they have a Japanese style “Marinated Tofu” entree that features shiitake mushrooms, wakame, hon shimeji, togarashi, and bok choy with soba noodles. I haven’t had it yet but that sounds pretty tasty!
- Mexican Restaurants – there are several Mexican restaurants in the Twin Ports area and none of them are particularly impressive but most have a vegetarian section and FREE CHIPS which is the best reason to go anywhere. The safest bet is usually Veggie Fajitas or some kind of bean or vegetable taco. OR if you want to save some money, go ahead use my special Mexican restaurant cheat by ordering a side of re-fried beans without cheese and a guacamole salad without cheese or sour cream. Dump the salad over the beans and scoop with chips to have your own Fancy Taco Salad! This hot tip work at any place that has vegetarian beans – so you might want to ask. I usually go to Mexico Lindo because it’s closest to my house, but Azteca probably has better fajitas.
- Northern Waters Restaurant – A cute little restaurant in the Mt. Royal area that has a decided a meat and fish focus but have included vegetarian (and a few vegan) options. For lunch, try the “Falafel Good Burger” sans aioli. I know their falafels are vegan but you might need to inquire about the brioche bun. If the brioche bun isn’t vegan, I’m sure they will hook you up with a ciabatta roll or corn tortillas. The “Mediterranean Plate” also appears to be vegan except for the naan which is traditionally not vegan. For dinner they have a “Fennel Salad” you can order without the cheese and “Falafel Tacos” ordered with no aioli. Slim pickins’ for brunch (but we’re used to that, aren’t we?) with the reappearance of the “Mediterranean Plate” as the only option.
- OMC – The aforementioned “OMC” has no vegan options. They have a “Sloppy Joe” type dish that is listed as vegetarian and might be vegan… but you’re basically paying a slaughterhouse when you spend your money there.
- Thirsty Pagan – This Superior, WI gem is a favorite among locals and tourists alike but totally fails the vegan test. They insist on putting Parmesan cheese in their tomato sauce for their pizzas which is not only unnecessary (it’s on the table already!) but also foolish that they refuse to change it even though a lot of people are lactose intolerant and smartly vegan. Once they made a special vegan pizza for an employee work party I was at and it was SO GOOD. I would eat there all of the time if they would just ditch the parm. I still go there sometimes because they have lovely beer and live music – I just make sure I eat beforehand.
- 7 West Taphouse – Great beer, no vegan food. They have a veggie burger on their menu that is unfortunately not vegan. Even their salads are filled with animal products. However, if you were desperate, it looks like you might be able to get the “Southwest Salad” without the cheese and bread stick and potentially substitute the cilantro-lime vinaigrette (might be vegan?) for the chipotle ranch dressing.
- Bellisio’s – An Italian restaurant in Canal Park with an extensive wine list but not so many vegan options. They have a “Tuscan Salad” that looks like you could omit the cheese and croutons. You might be able to get the Bruschetta but you’d have to inquire about the bread they use.
- Northern Waters Smokehaus – A cute, very popular sandwich shop/smokehouse in Canal Park. All meat eaters love this place and they have a vegetarian option called the “Fuzzy Bunny” that is weird and unfulfilling without the cream cheese. They have good pickles though!
- Pickwick – I hear it’s the oldest restaurant in town and I believe it. They have a nice bar and a bustling happy hour but if you’re hungry it’s either french fries or chips and salsa for your vegan ass. Even their guacamole has dairy in it. Blech.
- Va Bene – Alas, Va Bene is cute as heck and I’ve always wanted to eat there but according to my research I would be picking bits of cheese out a salad while watching my friends snarf down gelato. Their pastas look tempting and like they might be vegan, but they are house made and contain eggs. Maybe one day….
Stay tuned for updates as I discover and devour vegan treasures in the Zenith City!
*It might seem like I’m picking on the Duluth Grill because all of the other establishments I’ve mentioned also serve meat (except for the glorious Juice Pharm). The difference is that the “OMC” is celebrating environmentally devastating meat eating in one building and bragging about their healthy, local vegan options in another. I deem this trickery because folks who are ethical vegans (like myself) think they are spending their money supporting an establishment that is promoting sustainable, plant-based eating when in fact it is going directly to animal farmers.
**Ask the staff if the dish you are ordering contains dairy and to ensure your food is cooked in oil rather than ghee.