The Upper Midwest's reputation as a meat-or-perish stronghold is diminishing every year that passes. More and more diners (vegetarian, vegan and omnivore alike) are coming to realize that much of the area's best eating comes in the form of market-fresh produce, pickled goods and ethnic food that relies on spice and heat to convey gastronomic excitement—not animal products. To say that there are plenty of options for the vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly diner is an understatement: The following survey just scratches the surface.
Duluth Grill, Duluth
Outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, sometimes vegetarian options get a little sparse. But the fresh, local and organic-focused Duluth Grill has vegetarians and vegans covered. Not only does the farm-to-skillet diner have plenty of meat-free breakfast options, it also has a dedicated vegan section with entrees such as the "Living Nutty" taco with vegan walnut taco "meat" and "Raw-Ghetti," zucchini noodles with raw walnut marinara sauce, kalamata olives, basil, tomatoes and nutritional yeast.
Fitger's Brewhouse Grille, Duluth
When you think of Fitger's, your mind probably goes immediately toward the classic burger plus beer combination that has put them on the map as a pre- and post-wilderness stopping point for travelers enjoying the charms of the northern part of the state. But those in the know will order one of the restaurant's wild rice burgers—vegetarian burgers so well-balanced and beloved that confirmed carnivores coming off the trail have been known to order them—with gusto.
The Herbivorous Butcher, Minneapolis
The world's beating a path to the door of The Herbivorous Butcher, a brother-sister team that's slinging some of the most flavor-forward and ambitious faux meats in the country. (Guy Fieri turned up recently to film a segment about the shop.) Everything from "pepperoni" to "chorizo" to "breakfast sausage" is available for purchase and takeout, and the decor is hipster-meets-butcher shop: In other words, it's both a shop and an Instagram-worthy destination for herbivores, omnivores, and even emotionally stable carnivores.
Tonic Local Kitchen and Juice Bar, Rochester
This Rochester-based juice bar and restaurant serves up drinks as ambitious as anything you'll find, well, just about anywhere. Its artfully composed beverages range from the surprisingly sophisticated Banana Latte (milk, fair trade coffee, banana, cinnamon, raw cacao, organic amber agave nectar) to the Salad with a Straw (red beet, tomato, carrot, celery, baby spinach, cilantro, parsley, lime) to the Matcha Cooler (Japanese Matcha green tea, milk, banana, organic amber agave nectar, mint leaves). Are there wheat grass shots? You betcha, and they're available "Midwest style" (with lime shaken over ice) or California style (as is).
Domacin Restaurant and Wine Bar, Stillwater
This charming little wine and cheese bar in Stillwater doesn't aim itself at a vegetarian crowd, but its small menu offers a great many pleasing options for non-meat eaters regardless: from its cheese plate to tomatillo bisque to mushroom pappardelle, this sophisticated spot is able to please large and diverse groups of diners. And a little wine never hurt anybody.
Cheng Heng, St. Paul
Vegetarians hoping to dine like royalty always have an ace up their sleeves—namely, the often vegetarian-friendly cuisines of Asian nations like Vietnam, Japan and India. Add Cambodia to that list. Rightfully renowned and venerable Cheng Heng restaurant in St. Paul does some lovely curries and special entrees that can be prepared without meat—but with a ton of rich, layered flavor. For that matter, University Avenue in St. Paul is chock-a-block with great spots like Thai Cafe and Tay Ho that can do everything from vegetarian banh mi to lovely salads and rice plates.
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