Powered by Plants: Vegan Restaurants

Vegan food

From “chicken” and waffles to Caribbean barbecue, deli sandwiches to house-made soups, apple-cider donuts to organic smoothies, local vegan restaurants are bringing the flavor

Photo Above Luvenia Hankins’ CLTRE. Vgn Jnt in Virginia Beach

These 11 establishments throughout Coastal Virginia are serving up fare that celebrates plants and the planet. Innovative, imaginative and downright delicious, this cuisine will tantalize the tastebuds of even the staunchest omnivores.

Portsmouth’s Beyond Vegan Cell Food—a wordplay on “soul food”—is Jackie Jackson, Ph.D’s, response to a wellness journey that led her from a hog farm and family history of poor health to the nutritional work of Alfredo Darrington Bowman, AKA Dr. Sebi, and Arnold Ehret and ultimately to her own restaurant. Jackson chose mushrooms for their nutritional properties, showcasing King Trumpet, Oyster and Lion’s Mane varieties in the likes of plant-based bacon, chicken sandwiches, best-seller chicken and waffles, crabcakes and so much more. Though Jackson’s personal passion remains helping people achieve optimal health, the collateral benefit is a mouth-watering menu served up in a charming storefront in historic Olde Towne.

Luvenia Hankins’ CLTRE. Vgn Jnt in Virginia Beach

Just across the street from its original location in Virginia Beach—and with a second location in Norfolk’s Selden Market—CLTRE. Vgn Jnt offers the same delicious breakfast and lunch fare for which it quickly became known—did someone say waffles?—only more of it. The expanded menu and larger space provide retail opportunities for employee-made products, which contribute to the personal experience and family dynamic that Luvenia Hankins set out to create when she opened in 2018. Chik’n Waffles are only available on Saturday, but there are five others from which to choose not counting some 10 each build-your-own sweet and savory toppings. Other breakfast items and beverages plus sandwiches and sides round out the menu with the Brekkie Burrito—a happy accident—easily taking the top spot.

Guyanese-influenced vegan Caribbean food is the name of the game at Desmond’s Island Soul Grill in Virginia Beach. Executive Chef-Owner Shavonne Alexander named her restaurant after her late father and cooks the fragrant food she grew up eating in New York, only with a vegan spin. She and her team serve up all the staples one would expect, like the ever-popular barbecue jackfruit, stew-like curries and a long list of sides. But, especially the starters menu offers less familiar but equally delicious fare like arepas and pholourie, an Indo-Caribbean split pea fritter. 

The brainchild of Greg Rozeboom, Fruitive supports customers’ plant-based, from-scratch and sustainable health journeys at both its Virginia Beach and DC café style locations. A rainbow of luscious “liquid meals,” gluten-free Superberry Bowls, and overnight oats join gluten-free waffles, handhelds, soups and salads plus teas, coffee and ginger lemonade on Fruitive’s curated menu that bursts with color, flavor, texture and nutrition. 

Located at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, al fresca dining is especially appealing at the Green Cat Juice Bar and Market where plant-based, raw, organic and gluten-free fare is almost up with the sun. Though smoothies and smoothie bowls, juices, oatmeal, coffee and tea are in abundance, pairs of toasts, farm fresh salads and soups made in-house daily—like pinto bean and lentil chili with chipotle cashew ranch dressing—join a quartet of oatmilk soft serve-based desserts. Affogato features a swirl of the soft serve topped with three ounces of espresso and a cascade of cacao nibs. 

Jackie Jackson, Beyond Vegan Cell Food in Portsmouth

Honest Pastures Deli in Virginia Beach is Dacia Thorson’s answer to Subway her way. Coastal Virginia’s first vegan deli is known, in part, for sandwiches stacked high with house-made, plant-based “meats,” the result of years of R&D, and a dazzling selection of cheeses, toppings and condiments. Ruebens, wraps, deli sandwiches, burgers, “side chicks,” subs and stadium dawgs are just the start. Soup, salads, drummies and desserts keep the good stuff coming. On weekend mornings, a mind-boggling array of breakfast dishes are made fresh, each one more tempting than the last. The biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, challah French toast and donuts are honestly delicious. 

Jikoni Café’s superpower is Jikoni Kush, a super-nutritional non-hybrid grain that hails from Africa. Tucked inside The House of Consciousness in Norfolk, the unassuming Jikoni Café serves up Kush on nachos, pasta, pizzas or sandwiches—like a crave-worthy “chicken” or tasty “tuna”—as well as in burritos, chili or their signature pita pockets where the sauce is the thing:  African Bourbon, Curry, Nyama Crème, Jibini (alfredo), Tamu Tha or Rasta. They promise to fill up your empty stomach and open mind, so come for the Kush and browse the bookstore-shop, but don’t leave without one of what may well be Coastal Virginia’s best vegan shakes, available in 15 flavors.

At Kahiau’s Bakery & Café inVirginia Beach, breakfast is made to order until 3 p.m. with breakfast and lunch specials changing weekly. Don’t let the exterior fool you: inside is an inviting cottage-chic space where a small staff in a tiny kitchen turns out big flavors. Fancy pastries and nearly a dozen regular breakfast items make it hard to choose, especially because chef-owner Victoria Sgro has developed her own soy-free, gluten-free, nut-free liquid egg product used in all the egg-based dishes. You do you, but we think the JuJu Breakfast Plate featuring a fluffy pancake, house-made grilled sausage patty, cheesy egg scramble, tater tots, and fresh fruit is the perfect balance of naughty and nutritious. 

Chicken and waffles Jackie Jackson’s Beyond Vegan Cell Food in Portsmouth

Despite the name, My Vegan Sweet Tooth will satisfy your savory tooth as well. Perched in a sunny storefront on Virginia Beach Boulevard, its modern farmhouse vibe makes bakery case browsing or grabbing-and-going a cozy experience. Some of the richest and creamiest soups around, like butternut squash and tortilla, are served every Tuesday, January through March, with a bounty of baked goods, like bodacious apple cider donuts, available daily, not to mention the occasional weekend pop-up. With all “meats” made in house, the Grab-n-Go cooler bursts with scratch-made Italian subs (Thurs.-Sat.), hot homemade chik-un burgers (Sat. mornings), gluten-free taco pie, gluten-free broccoli spinach quiche, bacun sausage quiche, red pepper mac, mac salad (including gluten-free), and the most popular fan favorite: Canadian bacun or sausage breakfast sandwiches.

Hampton’s Palm Tree Vegan and Juice Bar offers generous portions of Caribbean-infused vegan fare, but with a few offshoots like creamy garlic fettucine and no less then seven burgers plus sandwiches, wraps, and desserts. Unmistakable Caribbean influences are featured in the likes of curries, vegan oxtail, and callaloo and veggies, while non-traditional eggrolls—like collard green or sweet potato and at least six other types—keep the menu exciting and unexpected. Lunch specials are served with two sides and a bottle of water while entrees are served with a pair of sides, cornbread, or plantains. 

Gourmet mushrooms at Jackie Jackson’s Beyond Vegan Cell Food in Portsmouth

If fried food is your jam, Vegan Planet Café will launch you into orbit. Tucked inside an Afro-centric micro-marketplace of books, herbs, jewelry, scarves and lush plants, the chill and casual vibe in this Norfolk storefront is a welcoming backdrop to piping hot, fresh, and made-to-order burgers, sandwiches, subs, “oxtail” (made with black eyed peas), and cauliflower wings. When I visited, the chef’s patter of stream-of-consciousness conversation, akin to spoken word poetry straight from Jamaica, set the cadence of food preparation in the intimate open kitchen. Simply out of this world is the perfectly crispy-on-the-outside and juicy-on-the-inside deep-fried mushroom-based “chicken” sandwich and cauliflower “wings,” the latter lightly glossed in one of one of five finger-licking sauces. 

See us in The March-April Food Feature.

Betsy DiJulio
+ posts and articles

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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