Veganism is one of the most popular culinary and philosophical movements of the 21st century. The term “vegan,” while once taboo, now rolls off the tongue in colloquial speak. In every pocket of the country, people are familiar with the idea of being plant-based.
Now, Portland, San Francisco or New York may currently be hailed as the animal-product free Goliaths of the US, but — in our opinion — no one does vegan food quite like St. Pete. From plant-based cocktail bars to dimly-lit gastropubs, the ‘Burg has a vegan restaurant scene that reflects the creativity, artistry and genuine heart of its residents. Sink your teeth into a Mexican Pizza from Golden Dinosaurs or the “Kimchi Fried Rice” at Good Intentions, and you’ll taste ingenuity and fun as much you do flavor and seasoning.
With so many great vegan restaurants in St. Pete, however, we know it can be overwhelming to pick a plant-based treat to devour. We created this guide, therefore, to not only help you find the best vegan-friendly spots to visit, but also the most unique and delicious dishes to try while there.
So, ‘Burgers, get your veggie-loving forks ready: these are our 7 favorite vegan dishes in St. Pete.
1. ‘Where’s the Beef? Bolognese’ – Jay Luigi, 3201 4th St N
In Italian cuisine, “Bolognese” is almost synonymous with “meat sauce.” We were super impressed, therefore, when 4th Street’s fast-casual hot spot Jay Luigi replicated the dish from mushrooms, walnuts, garlic and seasonal vegetables.
Featuring that fresh, textured mixture blended into a rich pomodoro sauce, the dish will hardly have you asking “Where’s the Beef?” — because, chances are, you won’t even miss it.
2. ‘Mushroom and Kale Paella’ — Wild Child, 2710 Central Ave
When we think of dishes that are (like St. Pete) unique and innovative, none comes to mind more than Wild Child’s “Mushroom and Kale Paella.” Served in a notably large, ceramic bowl, the paella comes crispy on the top, almost like one giant rice fritter. Crack through that upper layer, however, and you’ll reveal a hot, runny interior loaded with all sorts of flavorful fillings and surprises.
Vegan or not, we can never visit this popular ‘Burg restaurant without chowing down on this iconic plate.
3 . ‘Donut Burger’ — Freya’s Diner, 2462 Central Ave (closing on August 6)
Just because something’s vegan, doesn’t mean it has to be “healthy” (though, let’s be real, that term is subjective). At Freya’s Diner, the “Donut Burger” is proving that plant-based fare can taste just as sinfully good as its non-plant, junk-food counterparts.
With an Impossible patty, cheddar “cheese” and “fancy sauce” piled on a toasted Valkyrie donut, the only veggies in this delicious sandwich are the ones served on the side as a garnish.
4 . ‘The Cuban’ — Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli, 2930 Beach Blvd S
If Florida had a signature sandwich, it would probably be the ham, pork and swiss Cuban. What the tourists don’t know, however, is that one of the state’s best Cubans actually doesn’t include any of those things.
In its plant-based version of the classic dish, Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli simulates the meatiness of a standard Cuban with house-made mojo “pork” seitan and roasted jackfruit, but also upgrades the interior by using a creamy mustard-mayo sauce instead of a thin spicy mustard.
Give us the choice between this gooey sandwich or one with meat, and — at least 50% of the time — we’re still choosing Dino’s.
5. Lunch Buffet — Naan Boti Chai Shai, 908 22nd St S
Ok, so this isn’t technically one dish, but we can’t choose the best amongst all of Naan Boti Chai Shai’s vegan offerings. We recommend, instead, the restaurant’s daily lunch buffet.
Starting at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. on weekends, the buffet features at least two vegan entrées and two vegan sides per day. Some of our favorite plant-based dishes offered in the past have included Saag Tofu Masala (creamy spinach curry with tofu) and Chef Mehreen Fayyaz’s famous Daal Tarka (thick lentil curry).
And yes — their naan bread is vegan, too.
6. ‘Fish and Chips’ — Cider Press Vegan Gastropub, 3118 3rd Ave N
We all mourned the loss of a Central Ave restaurant staple when Cider Press Café shut its doors on at the end of 2021. We were overjoyed, however, when it re-emerged on 3rd Ave less than a year later.
Making its return as a vibey gastropub rather than a simple café, the restaurant’s new menu features many pub-grub style entrées. Our favorite of the bunch is the “Fish and Chips,” which features crispy banana blossom “fish” over a bed of thick-cut french fries.
7. ‘The Skyway Melt Burger’ — Good Intentions, 1900 1st Ave S
Deep in the Grand Central District lies a trendy vegan metropolis known as Good Intentions. And deep on its menu (like, three quarters of the way down on the back) lies “The Skyway Melt Burger,” which — to us — is the best vegan dish in St. Pete.
Featuring a smashed and grilled vegan patty with caramelized onions, white cheese and kimchi mayo on warm, buttery sourdough, the sandwich communicates intelligence and originality as vividly as it does great taste. From the way the onions nearly dissolve into the burger (leaving the latter with a sweet, umami taste) to the subtle notes of garlic in the bread, the Skyway is a refined piece of culinary smarts disguised as an unassuming plate of comfort food.
Simply put, it’s outstanding.