Sun 10 Jul 2011
Philadelphia prides itself on being “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City,” which may be a debateable topic (look how many other cities have attempted to copy our “beer week.”) I’d argue, without question, that Philly is also America’s most vegan-friendly-beer-drinking city. In other words, when I’m out drinking, I want good vegan pub food. And without a doubt, I get that at many, if not all, of the establishments I normally frequent.
Here’s my attempt at introducing & summarizing what you can get while visiting the many bars & pubs around town. My criteria was simple:
- Must have multiple vegan options on the menu, clearly marked as such. Lame attempts like hummus & portabello sandwiches don’t count.
- Must have craft beer. No crap on tap!
I’ll start from deep South Philly (where I live), working my way north through the city, as far as Fishtown, before swinging out west to University City. I don’t think I’ve missed anything, but please let me know if I have!
South Philadelphia Tap Room
SPTR has a special place in my heart – for the longest time it was the only craft beer bar in my area of town – and it is the place where I learned to love craft beer. In fact, I still remember the 3 beers I had my first visit over 7 years ago: Victory Throwback Lager (a pre-prohibition style lager), Hoegaarden, and Troegs Dreamweaver Wheat.
The tap room has 13 taps and one cask-ale hand pump – always filled with a variety of awesome stuff. Their main vegan option on the menu is the vegan hoagie – grilled tempeh, marinated mushrooms and tofu mayo on a long roll. I’ve traditionally not been a fan of any mayo-type foods, vegan or not, but this stuff is to die for. For the longest time I felt this was the best vegan sandwich in the city, though it has some serious competition now (see Khyber Pass Pub below.) Pair it with the steak fries – which come with the best homemade ketchup in the world (I normally don’t like ketchup, but I love this!) During weekend brunch, you can get a nice tofu scramble dish as well. Sometimes the soup specials are vegan; check the menu – they normally label everything appropriately. They also recently introduced a vegan pizza as a starter – roasted eggplant, spicy marinated cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, black olive olive oil, which is fantastic provided you like the flavor of black olives.
They also own & operate BREW across the street, which is a coffee bar & takeout beer shop all in one. They probably have the best selection of takeout beer in South Philly.
1509 Mifflin Street, South Philly (Newbold)
From the subway (orange line) get off at Tasker/Morris, walk south on Broad 2 blocks to Mifflin, and head west on Mifflin for a block & a half
Cantina Los Caballitos
The Cantina is probably my go-to spot for food, year round. On the vibrant and now-hip East Passyunk Ave, this Mexican restaurant/bar has a handful of craft beer taps, but more importantly, vegan fajitas. These fajitas are no joke: smoked tofu, perfect seitan, wild mushrooms, onions & peppers, black beans, rice, guacamole… It is suitable for splitting between two people (but I rarely do, instead opting to roll myself home afterwards.) Dining in at Cantina also means a bottomless bowl of freshly made chips and two salsas for dipping (red & verde.) Like the other bars from this owner (Royal Tavern, Khyber Pass Pub) – everything vegan is marked as such on the specials board & in the menu.
If the vegan fajitas are too much food for you – try the vegan beef burritos, or go light and refreshing with a mixta salad (avocado, romaine lettuce, jicama, orange sections, radishes, almonds, piquin chile vinaigrette.) If you have room after your meal, they always have Vegan Treats cake available for dessert. Prime eating hours are usually pretty cramped here, with a decently hipster’ish crowd, so be warned.
1651 East Passyunk Ave (at Morris St), South Philly (East Passyunk Crossing)
Via subway (the orange line) – get off at the Tasker/Morris stop and walk east on Morris.
Just a few blocks north of the Cantina on Passyunk lies the Pub on Passyunk East, or as most people call it, The POPE. This dark bar (with a dungeon-y feel to it) has 14 craft beer taps & several vegan food items on the menu (clearly marked as well – notice a trend?) Beer-wise, they almost always have Sly Fox O’Reilly Stout on a nitro tap, for those seeking a Guinness-esque (but fishgut-free) dry irish stout. Their happy hour (4-6pm during the week) offers you half-priced draughts. They regularly get all of the “good” stuff that gets distributed to Philly – think Russian River Supplication & Lost Abbey Angel’s Share. On the food side of things, you can find fried seitan fingers, & a seitan cheesesteak (with a cheeze-wiz’esque nutritional yeast-y type of vegan cheese)
, and a mushroom & nut meatloaf. (Edit 11/9/11: Menu was recently downsized, and the vegan meatloaf is now gone.) Sometimes their daily specials include vegan options, so check the board outside of the bathroom. And on the weekends you can stop by for brunch, which always has at least 2 vegan options.
If you continue heading north/east on Passyunk for another half-mile, you’ll reach the Royal Tavern. Owned by the same people as the Cantina, this really cozy establishment (complete with original tin ceiling & a gorgeous bar) has been cranking out vegan pub food for what seems like forever. They have 8 craft taps (usually featuring a lot of east coast favorites) and a decent-sized bottle list. Their menu tends to rotate every few months, but they always have several vegan salads, entrees, and sandwiches (clearly marked) along with daily specials. Some of the more awesome’r things I have had at Royal: tempeh club (grilled tempeh, vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato, basil aioli) and the sloppy joe (vegan beef, spicy tomato sauce, smoked coleslaw, sliced jalapenos.) Like their sister establishments, you can find Vegan Treats cakes offered for dessert. On the weekends, check them out for brunch and try the tofu & tempeh hash (roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, breakfast potatoes, toast.) Bonus points for having Xlerator hand dryers in the bathroom here as well!
Monk’s Cafe is one of the premier Belgian bars in America. Tom Peters, Monk’s owner, is directly responsible for first introducing Chimay to Americans, back in the 80s. Monk’s is also directly responsible for getting some of the west coast’s best breweries to distribute to the Philadelphia area (Russian River, Lost Abbey / Port Brewing.) You’ll regularly find 13 craft & Belgian beers at the back bar and 6 at the front, along with arguably (actually – this is not remotely debateable) the best bottle list in the city – chock full of all the vintage and hard-to-get beers that people regularly drool over on beeradvocate.com
If you grow hungry while getting your drink on at Monk’s, well then you are in luck! They always have several vegan options on their seasonally-rotating menu; currently you can find summer wraps (seitan, papaya, peaches, sweet peppers, fresh corn & jicama wrapped in romaine leaf with mint & sesame lime dressing), a
vegan burger (2012 Note: the bun is disappointingly no longer vegan) , grilled moroccan seitan pita, a seitan cheesesteak (omit the cheese to make it vegan), and vegan meatballs (seitan & mushroom meatballs over udon noodles tossed with a nut-based romesco sauce.)
Monk’s also has many special beer dinners throughout the year. If you give them advance notice, they will make sure all of your food pairings for the dinner are vegan (and excellent.) I’ve attended two of these thus far and they were unbelievable. A word of warning: this place can get very crowded during peak dining hours & during any special events – and the space is pretty cramped as-is. But it is a must stop for anyone seeking great beer in Philadelphia.
264 South 16th Street (at Spruce), Center City (Rittenhouse Square)
Via the subway (orange line) get off at Walnut/Locust, walk west on Locust 2 blocks to 16th, then 1 block south
Walking a few blocks north of Monk’s will lead you to Nodding Head brewpub & restaurant. A quick warning: Nodding Head fines a bunch of their beers with isinglass, so you’ll need to ask a waiter or bartender which beers on tap at the time are vegan. Usually, they only fine their hoppy beers (their pales & IPAs) so mainstays like the Grog (a nice sessionable english brown ale), 60 Shilling (scottish ale) and Monkey Knife Fight (lemongrass & ginger lager) are safe. They also have one of the best American examples of berliner weisse – the Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, which is never fined.
On the food front, you can find several tasty vegan items: white beans and sage (a tasty stew served with warm pita bread), vegan burger, and polenta puttanesca (polenta, mushrooms, basil tofu in a puttanesca sauce.) Nodding Head is a very fun place to hang out at with friends (they have dart boards and the 2nd level view of Sansom Street is nice) and the crowd is usually pretty manageable. If I worked in Center City, I’d probably find myself stopping here for lunch quite often.
2/19/2012 Note: as of recently, the “vegan burger” is served on an egg-washed roll & the polenta puttanesca is no longer vegan (it has actual dairy cream in it, as per the last waiter I had.) With the diminishing vegan options here, I can no longer recommend a visit.
1516 Sansom St (between 15th and 16th), Center City
From the subway (orange line) get off at Walnut-Locust, walk a block north to Sansom, then head west for a block & a half
From the subway (blue line) get off at City Hall, walk a block and a half south on 16th, then head west a half block
Heading north-west of Center City towards the Art Museum / Fairmount area, you’ll find a plethora of nice bars. My favorite to go to is the Belgian Cafe, from the same owners of Monks Cafe. When the weather is pleasant, it is a nice 1.3 mile walk from City Hall up the parkway, past the Art Museum (run up the steps like Rocky if you must!) to the Belgian Cafe, where you will be greeted with 12 taps featuring great belgian imports and craft beer. The beer list tends to include more accessible beers than the often-rare offerings that their sister bar features, but it is stellar nonetheless.
Foodwise.. the Belgian Cafe never disappoints my friends and I – the menu is borderline epic. For starters, you can get the stuffed tofu (tofu marinated in Spaten Optimator, stuffed with dried cherries, cashews, cilantro, & garlic), the vegan bbq wings (corn meal crusted seitan “wings” with spicy bbq sauce – be sure to ask for the vegan basil aoli to dip in!), or the vegan spring rolls. If you want a sandwich or entree, you can go with the vegan burger or vegan tempeh cakes (tempeh with dill-lemon vegan aioli, grilled corn & grilled asparagus.) If you happen to find yourself at the Belgian Cafe on the weekend during brunch, you can get the vegan cream chipped beef (sliced seitan with well seasoned tofu “cream” served over multigrain toast.) Bonus points: Xlerators in the bathroom!
601 North 21st St (at Green), North Philly (Fairmount)
From the subway (orange line) get off at Spring Garden, walk west 7 blocks, then head north on 21st for 2 blocks until you hit Green
Khyber Pass Pub
Since the Khyber revamped itself in the last year (new ownership – same owners as the Royal & the Cantina – and new focus on dining & beer) there is no better place to go for pub & grub in Old City. Or possibly anywhere in the city, period. 20 taps (including 1 nitro) & 2 cask hand pumps – few places have such a great selection. You’re almost always guaranteed to find a fresh cask of Yards ESA on one the hand pumps – few beers pair so well with that style of serving – and they often have beers you just don’t see around town. I can’t gush enough about the beer here – but what really rules is the food!
The Khyber prides itself on Cajun/Southern BBQ comfort food, and doesn’t leave us vegans out in the wind. Everything on the menu and the specials board is clearly marked. For starters, you can have the vegan buttered popcorn (sometimes they have a vegan bacon salt varient as well!), the nachos with vegan bbq pork (sans cheese & sour cream) or one of the daily soup specials (like gazpacho or gumbo z’herbes, which is currently my favorite soup in the entire world.) If you have room for something bigger, you can get the vegan bbq pulled pork sandwich, the grilled vegan sausage sandwich, or the vegan fried chicken po-boys (complete with an awesome homemade vegan mayo that even I like.) All sandwiches come with one side; the vegan sides include fries, sweet potato fries, mashed potatoes (my recommendation), collard greens, and vegan coleslaw. Like their sister restaurants, you can get Vegan Treats cakes for dessert (I’ve sometimes stopped here just for cake after catching a movie at one of the nearby Ritz theatres.) Bonus points: Xlerators in the bathroom! Extra Bonus Points: they host many of the Vegan Cocktails Philly events & pull out even more vegan offerings (like vegan “meat” pies) on those nights.
56 South 2nd St (at Chestnut), Center City (Old City)
From the subway (blue line), get off at 2nd st and walk south one block
Cantina Dos Segundas
For completeness sake, I’m including Dos Segundas here, even though the menu is very similar to Cantina Los Caballitos (same chef, same owners, same vegan fajitas!) Last week I heard they had jackfruit tacos as a special. Yum. Dos Segunas has a very convenient location in Northern Liberties, a few doors down from the Foodery, who offers the best selection of takeout beer in the city (albeit at very premium prices.) On Thursday nights, around 7:30, you can usually see me and a pack of 30-50 other crazies running south on 2nd, past Dos Segundas, as we (the Fishtown Beer Runners) often run down 2nd as our route towards Center City bar destinations.
931 North 2nd St, North Philly (Northern Liberties)
From the subway (blue line), get off at Spring Garden, walk west to 2nd St, then up 2nd St for 3 blocks.
I’ve already detailed the recent Vegan Beer Dinner at Memphis, so it should be no surprise that this place is one of the best pubs in town due to its stellar beer selection (10 taps, 2 hand pumps) and killer vegan food. The well-marked menu rotates seasonally, so some dishes may come and go (like some of my favorites: the jackfruit “crab” cakes, the beer-battered miso tofu (fish & chips style), and the smoked avocado lettuce & tomato sandwich.) Currently they have grilled peach (with buckwheat noodles, sesame, cucumber, cilantro), charred string beans, chicken-fried portabello sandwich (not your ordinary portabello & veggie sandwich! with vegan mayo), a vegan veggie burger, the famous smoked coconut club (grilled lemon garlic tofu, smoked coconut, tomato herb mayo), and shitake schnitzel (smoked potato salad, braised red cabbage, mustard “cream” sauce.) On occasion, I’ve gotten some vegan desserts like cookies here. For brunch, you can get the veggie burger or the vegan rooster (tofu scramble with vegan blood sausage, smoked coconut, roasted new potatoes and toast.)
Outside, Memphis has a cute beer garden where you can drink cans of craft beer along with gourmet hot dogs (they have vegan dogs there). Memphis is a little out of the way for anyone that doesn’t live in North Philly – but it is totally worth the trip. Bonus points? You guessed it, Xlerators in the bathrooms.
2231 East Cumberland St (at Memphis), North Philly (Fishtown / Port Richmond / Kensington)
From the subway (blue line), get off at Berks, walk north a block to Norris, take a right, follow Norris 4 blocks to Memphis, turn left and walk 9 (short) blocks to Cumberland
Out in University City (near UPenn & Drexel) – Local 44 is, without a doubt, a must stop. Owned by the same awesome couple as the Memphis Taproom, with the same genius chef behind the menu, you’ll find yourself staring down 18 taps and 2 hand pumps, then drooling over the extensive vegan food offerings (all clearly marked on the menu.) Like the menu at Memphis, some of the food changes from time to time, but the vegan options are always plentiful.
For starters, you have the warm spinach dip & pita chips (roasted garlic, fried onions, mornay sauce), chips & dip (sea-salt chips, french onion dip), grilled peach salad (avocado, baby arugula, sesame wasabi vinaigrette), shrooms & chips (chicken-fried portabella strips, maple mustard, red bbq sauce). If you want a sandwich, try the pastrami spiced seitan reuben or a black bean burger. Even hungrier? Go for the mac provencal (sundried tomatoes, soy mornay, olives, rosemary, orange zest.)
If you are looking for brunch at Local 44 – they’ve got you covered there as well! There is something called migas (tortillas, tofu, peppers, onions, ro-tel queso), tofu scramble, shirred tofu (garlic tofu, sautéed spinach, mornay sauce, roasted potatoes and toast), and shitake scrapple. For anyone not from the area – scrapple is a “pennsylvania specialty” and involves a gross mush of pork scraps (literally), cornmeal, and flour. This varient uses tasty mushrooms instead. The best brunch item they have, however, are the pb&j french toast sticks (with brown sugar banana cream & dark chocolate). A few months back, a group of 5 of us (longtime vegans) all split this and pretty much ranked it amongst the best dishes we have ever had. Period. You can also get the seitan reuben or the black bean burger for brunch.
4333 Spruce St (at 44th), West Philly (University City)
From City Hall, take the 34 trolley (along Baltimore ave) to 44th St, then walk 4 blocks north to Spruce
Mad Mex is a Mexican restaurant nestled right in the middle of UPenn’s campus. They’ve been offering tofu sour cream & vegan cheese in their burritos for well over a decade – dating as far back as the late 90s when vegan-rella was the best you could get. I don’t go here as often as I used to, but there’s plenty to be had: over a dozen different burritos, many of which can be veganized by choosing the grilled portabellos or marinated tofu as the protein source. If you don’t want a burrito (or enchiladas, or quesadillas, you can get the pennsyltucky fried tofu (tossed in sweet soy sauce, peanuts, sesame seeds & cilantro), the chickpea chili soup (you can get the vegan cheese & tofu sour cream on this as well), or the herb-o-vore’s tofu tacos. Beer-wise, you’ll find 20 taps of mostly craft beer (with some clunkers like PBR & miller lite thrown in there – this is a college bar after all.) Bonus awesomeness: show a student id from 11pm-1am any night of the week and your food is half price. (The student id is a new requirement.) This place gets very crowded late night during the school year.
3401 Walnut St, West Philly (University City)
From the subway (blue line), get off at 34th st and walk 2 blocks South on 34th St until you hit Moravian (after Sansom, before Walnut – it looks like an Alley). Make a right on Moravian and follow that till it dead-ends.