It seems as if we’ve all been told by our mothers growing up to eat our vegetables. Turns out many of us are doing just that. For a number of reasons—including health, moral and religious concerns, folks are celebrating the vegetable by shifting toward a more plant-based diet.
The term is flexitarian, meaning that an otherwise carnivorous diner is shrinking the portion of meat on the plate and sometimes eliminating it all together for fruits, grains and vegetables. This differs from true vegetarians and vegans who eschew meat and animal products completely.
No one is calling for an end to meat at a meal—it’s a highly personal choice.
But in a world of wild mushroom pizza with truffle oil, soba noodles with braised tofu, grilled veggie and hummus wraps, butternut squash risotto, chickpea curry over long-grain rice, spicy lentil cakes, grilled cauliflower steaks and other wonderful options, you may find yourself not asking where’s the beef, but why the beef?
Often some of our favorite things to eat are meatless, or more plant-centric, than we realize. Don’t believe us? We bet you'll love the options below, all of them sans animal protein.
Linguine Pesto Genovese
Mannino's Italian Bistro, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach
What’s there not to love about pasta? We adore it in its many forms—elbow macaroni, angel hair, and broad egg noodles—as well as its many toppings. So when we say the Linguine Pesto Genovese at Mannino’s is among our top three favorite pasta dishes anywhere, any time, you can take it to the bank.
Imagine a big plate of perfectly cooked linguine noodles bathed in a cheery green basil pesto, made in house, and topped with earthy pecorino cheese and toasted pine nuts. Meat? Fuggetaboutit.
Kung Pao Tofu
Peter Chang, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg
I like Chinese food that makes you sweat; give me something loaded with those red hot little peppers that are hotter than a dragon’s breath. Fortunately, that covers many dishes in the Sichuan repertoire, including the Kung Pao Tofu from the masterful Peter Chang.
This dish of stir-fried tofu and fresh vegetables gets its punch from blistering chilies and a sauce spiked with Sichuan peppercorns. It’s also a wonderful dichotomy of textures, from the firm-but-creamy tofu to the crunchy peanuts on top.
Smoked Mushroom Stir Fry
The Point at Phoebus, Hampton
We adore mushrooms—earthy, meaty and full of umami, you definitely don’t miss the meat in a dish, especially when these fun guys take center plate.
Here local mushrooms and deliciously sweet carrots are sautéed in flavorful, fragrant ginger, garlic and scallions. The whole dish is then served over plantation rice. It’s delicious and (healthfully) decadent.
Chickpea Veggie Burger
Public House, Norfolk
Oh, burgers—so good and not always so good for you. That was, until this beauty came into my life.
A rich, creamy paste of chickpeas—someplace firmer than hummus but less firm than chunky peanut butter—is transformed into a patty of perfection and grilled. That’s served on a challah roll, and topped with delightfully bitter frisee lettuce, earthy cilantro and sharp red onion. Yum.
Grilled Eggplant Wrap
Azar’s Café & Market, Norfolk and Virginia Beach
Like mushrooms, eggplant is one of those vegetables that can have a rich, meaty quality about it. That’s the case with this wrap, where the eggplant is sliced and grilled, which imparts a bit of smokiness.
The slices are wrapped in a house dressing and a gorgeous creamy, piquant tzatziki (a Greek cucumber-yogurt dip), salty feta cheese, bright parsley and tomatoes.
Margherita Pizza with Faux Chicken
Cogans on Colley, Norfolk
Pizza is so ubiquitous with the way we eat that it’s hard to believe that it’s not an American invention—although over the 100-plus-years since the first pie was tossed at Lombardi’s in New York City we’ve put many spins on the original.
And the original was the Margherita; named after an Italian queen its simplicity is delicious—tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, the red, white and green honoring the flag of Italy.
We love the offering at Cogans and also love to top some faux chicken on top from time to time.
Masala Bites, Virginia Beach
There is something so comforting about Indian cuisine. Much of it is rich and creamy, with exotic, warming spices; much of it too, is vegetarian or vegan.
At Masala Bites, a darling, upscale eatery in Virginia Beach’s Red Mill, the Dal Tarka is as good as it gets. Order it and be rewarded with a large bowl of slow-simmered lentils, enriched with creamy butter and delicately flavored with fresh garlic, ginger and tomatoes.
It gets better with the addition of assorted breads to sop up each bite. The assortment comes with naan, garlic naan and masala lachha paratha.
Grilled Portobello Mushroom Cap Sandwich
The Ten Top, Norfolk
We are fans of veggie burgers, whether they are made with chickpeas (like the one at The Public House), black beans or textured vegetable protein.
But another favorite is when that beef patty is substituted for the beefiest of all edible plants—the mushroom. In this sandwich from The Ten Top, a glorious portobello mushroom cap—big, thick, meaty—is grilled.
The mushroom, resting on a sesame seed bun, reaches a whole new level of deliciousness with the topping of balsamic-glazed onions and melting bleu cheese.