Capitol Hill sprouts vegan dining scene like no other

Anthony Bourdain, former chef and current television personality, famously wrote in Kitchen Confidential, the book that catapulted him to celebrity status back in 2000, “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.”  This sentiment echoes resoundingly in the Seattle dining scene.  Even during high summer, when local vegetables are abundant, restaurants such as Crush, Zoe and Spur are loathe to place a single vegetable-centered entree on their menus.

On Capitol Hill, however, new eateries that cater exclusively to vegans have sprouted.  We asked Anikha Lehde, a Seattle vegan who runs Vegan Score (a resource for Seattle vegans), to comment on the vegan dining scene in Capitol Hill:

Although the U-District is lucky enough to have “little vegan” (a vegan pizza joint, grocery store, and home cookin-style café on the same block), Capitol Hill still takes the cake in both quantity of vegan places (five) and novelty.  Newish Plum serves Puerto Rico influenced sweet and spicy cuisine and Highline will serve you a fried fish sandwich or habanero tequila – You can’t get that type of vegan fare anywhere else in the city.  Probably not anywhere else, anywhere.

As Lehde mentions, Plum Bistro debuted at 1429 12th Avenue last July.  With frequent mentions of celebrity sightings (including Tobey Maguire, Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix) and having the advantage of an owner and chef well-regarded in the local vegan community in the form of Makini Howell, Plum gained a quick and loyal following.  Standout dishes at Plum have included the Spicy Mac ‘n’ Yease ($7), the Mama Africa Salad ($9), and the Yam Fries ($5).  Plum has been so successful here in Seattle, that Howell recently announced that she will establish an offshoot in Los Angeles

Howell’s first outpost in Capitol Hill was The Cafe by Hillside Quickie’s at 324 15th Avenue East, which opened in 2005.  After undergoing a few name changes and some remodeling, this location is now known as Sage Cafe.  In contrast to the quick success enjoyed by Plum, Howell revealed to the Seattle Times that Sage (then Hillside Quickie’s) was more challenging to grow as a business.  In fact, Howell considered closing this first Capitol Hill location at the end of 2006.  Currently, Sage benefits from a large take-out business (made all the more acute by the removal of some seating inside the already tiny space).  Note that it no longer sells beer.  Popular deli items include the Fremont Philly, El Besito Caliente, and the Mama Africa Burger (all hover around $12).

Like Plum, Highline brings a new type of vegan establishment to the Hill.  Howard Clark and Jarrod Ducat had enjoyed success operating Squid and Ink in Georgetown since early 2008.  Along with Dylan Desmond, they relocated the vegan bar to 210 Broadway and opened in May 2010 billing it as the Highline.  Ducat described Highline’s concept as a Linda’s for vegans.  We asked Desmond to name his favorite items on the Highline menu, and he responded, “My personal favorites are the Meltdown and the Chicken Mushroom ala king.  Both are rich, creamy and very filling.  I also find that I nearly eat my weight in potato salad every week.  We make a lot of our own faux cheese/meats, so everything has it’s own interesting personality.”  Asked to explain how Capitol Hill differs from Georgetown, Desmond replied:

As far as the Highline vs. Squid and Ink was concerned, my first reaction was that Capitol Hill had a way less small town feel than Georgetown …but as time goes on and I’m starting to recognize faces and make lots of new friends.  I see now that this is not true at all, rather a similar feel with four times the population.  And on Capitol Hill there’s no planes scraping our roof to land.      

Most food items at the Highline are priced $12 and under.  When we dropped by for lunch, we enjoyed the Fish & Chips ($8) paired with a draft Duchesse de Bourgogne Flemish Red Ale ($5).

Though older than Plum and Highline, In the Bowl is also a newer vegetarian/vegan addition to the Hill, having established itself at 1554 East Olive in February 2007.  When you peer into this tiny space, it is nearly always packed.  Customers attribute its success to low prices, a convenient location and satisfying, delicious fare.  Dishes cited with the most approval online included Melting Culture ($8), Fresh Veggies and Herbs Rolls ($7) and the Lemongrass Delight Stirfry ($9).  All main dishes are served with a complimentary sticky rice dessert.  

Like In the Bowl, Teapot Vegetarian House at 345 15th Avenue East serves Pan Asian vegetarian/vegan fare.  Teapot, however, is a grande dame of vegetarian/vegan dining for Hill dwellers, having been on 15th Avenue for 14 years.  CHS commenters commend the spring rolls, Fried Lotus Root, and the Vegetable Vermicelli.  In addition to the eateries named above, more casual vegan fare is offered up at CHS advertiser Healeo (the tahini bowl with quinoa is memorable and cheap at $4) and Cyber-Dogs (all vegetarian and some vegan hot dogs).

Does the increase in eateries on Capitol Hill focusing on vegetarian/vegan have any import?  As Karen Gaudette noted in a Seattle Times article entitled “Seattle’s garden of vegetarian options continues to grow” in 2008, environmental reasons are increasingly cited as a reason people move from omnivore diets to vegan/vegetarian ones.  Bourdain himself has moderated his anti-vegetarian invective/schtick.  In a recent article he penned for The Guardian, he acknowledged “I’m beginning to think, in light of recent accounts, that we should, on balance, eat a little less meat.”  He goes on to add, though,  “But what I’ve seen of the world since my first book was published has, if anything, made me angrier at anyone not a Hindu who turns up their nose at a friendly offer of meat.”  Well, here on the Hill, who would turn down a friendly offer to dine at any of the places listed here?

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14 thoughts on “Capitol Hill sprouts vegan dining scene like no other

  1. I am grateful for the places opening up that cater to vegetarians and vegans. There are so few of them for a city of this size, and they have to make up for the “all meat, all the time” restaurants like Spur, Crush and Zoe that refuse to offer any alternatives for vegetarians on their menus; so even if I eat out with my meat eating friends, we cannot patronize these restaurants. For all I care, these three (and others like Lark and Quinn) could all go belly up – I wish they would.

    Plum is my personal favorite and I would highly recommend them to anyone who just likes good food.

    ps: Anthony Bourdain can suck it – what a total jerk.

  2. Not only does Highline have great pub food but they’re now doing a pub quiz every other Monday. Can’t get great vegan pub food with a pub quiz anywhere else I’ve found. Not to mention live music, both professionally and karaoke.

    We’re lucky to live in such an excellent neighborhood for vegans, thanks for highlighting the options, I love them all.

  3. I don’t like eating vegan food. For all I care, these restaurants could all go belly up – I wish they would.
    I don’t like eating fish. For all I care, seafood restaurants could all go belly up – I wish they would.

    Oh wait, no I don’t, because I’m not an asshole. I just choose not to go to the places that don’t serve food I like.

  4. Love how you turned around Bourdain’s question at the end. I’m not vegetarian but I love trying all kinds of new-to-me food and the quality and diversity of vegan cooking in Seattle is very impressive. I think Bourdain would agree, even if it’s not his first choice for a meal.

  5. How is the service and atmosphere? I have had friends give it a chance since the move to Broadway and they had didn’t have a good experience.

  6. Like Plum, and I an not a vegan at all. Nice place, tasty food, good service.

    We should all be a bit more vegetarian, better health.

  7. It’s hilarious how polarizing this issues continues to be. As a chef, it’s easy for me to come down hard, and with solid reasoning, on the anti-vegan side. But I believe now that to do so is closed minded and ignorant. I don’t care what diet you choose to follow; it’s a challenge to me to prepare the vegan stuff, the “lactard” stuff, the gluten free stuff. (sometimes I’m not in the mood to step up the challenge but I didn’t start cooking professionally with the mindset that I’d be high on life the entire time) I do have my beef with vegans, etc., who eat this way because it’s hip to do so, but that’s another argument.
    But to wish for Spur, Crush, Zoe, Quinn’s, Lark to go belly up? These are some of the best restaurants in the city and if you knew thing #1 about your local food scene you’d realize how stupid you sound right now, SS. To make the most obvious statement possible here: DON’T FREQUENT THE PLACES YOU DON’T LIKE. And another thing: you’re not going to win the hearts of potential vegans with a black-and-white attitude towards food and diets. (unless of course we touch on the ground of tangential argument above…but…again, I digress.)

    See you at Highline, friend. Kinda hoping you’re a troll. (if so, 8/10)

  8. I have no complaints about the service. It’s laid back, you often order at the bar and they bring the food to you. The atmosphere is great, music, outdoor seating. Never a negative experience for us.

  9. @tournant – I wrote my initial comment out of frustration with the attitude and arrogance of restaurants that serve meat and basically give the middle finger to those who choose (yes, CHOOSE)not to eat meat. They refuse to offer any options (Spinasse is another one) and alienate an entire group of potential clientele. I don’t eat meat, not because it’s the hip thing to do, but because I have issues with the ethics of how animals are raised and treated. I haven’t eaten meat for over 15 years.

    There is no ethical way to produce foie gras or veal, it’s horribly cruel and inhumane. Many of the restaurants I listed still insist on serving many of these cruelly raised meats despite knowing the suffering that went into it. I’m tired of smug meat eaters slamming vegans and vegetarians when most choose this diet out of ethical concerns or health reasons, not because it’s the hip thing to do, which is just dumb.

    Obviously I don’t patronize the restaurants I don’t like, but it’s the nasty attitude of said restaurants that could make me give a shit less if they failed. Just because I don’t patronize them doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about the local food scene. If anything, THAT is a stupid comment. I also wrote my email(s) knowing I would push a few buttons, so be it.

    See ya at the Highline.

  10. I’m vegetarian and a big fan of Crush. Every time I go they offer to adjust their menu for me. Once they invented a four course dinner out of things that weren’t even listed. And they were super-nice about it – I felt none of the “vegetarian guilt” of asking people to go out of their way to accommodate me. Give it a shot, it’s fantastic.

  11. I looked up more current information on how calves are raised for veal, and I would agree, progress has been made in how they are raised (due to the efforts of animal right advocates). And I would also stipulate that the higher end restaurants do make an effort to procure meat from smaller farms and strive to use organically raised animals.

    However, it doesn’t change my main point of the attitude towards non meat eaters. Why can’t a few vegetarian items be offered on a menu? Is that so difficult? I can appreciate that Crush made a special meal for a customer, but their attitude towards the vegetarian community in general stinks. It’s restaurants such as Boom Noodle, La Spiga, Kingfish Cafe and Monsoon that will continue to get my business as they create menus that are welcoming for people who do not eat meat.

  12. “How is the service and atmosphere? I have had friends give it a chance since the move to Broadway and they had didn’t have a good experience.”

    The food is omgamazing, I tend to go on days where it’s not packed with people. (Also not vegan.)