Whenever Romeo’s parks its food truck, vegans and meat-eaters alike line up and wait for hours to try the popular plant-based burger.
The big picture: Charlotte’s vegan food scene is growing fast. In the past year, at least five new restaurants and food trucks specializing in vegan cuisine have opened around the city.
- They’re showing meat-lovers that good plant-based meals don’t skimp on flavor or substance.
Romeo’s, for example, has only been open since November, and it’s already so popular it can’t post its schedule online in advance in an effort to temper crowds. Now, it’s opening a brick-and-mortar location, the Observer reports.
Most of the customers in the crowd, owners Monty “Tigo B.” Faulkner and Lamont Heath tell me, aren’t actually vegan.
What’s happening: Julia Simon, of Plant Joy and the vegan meal delivery service Nourish, attributes some of the increased popularity around plant-based eating to a better understanding of its health benefits.
“You’re basically (giving) your stubborn uncle who has a heart problem and won’t listen to his doctor … an argument that he can taste,” Simon tells me. “That he can still have all the food he loves and be a much healthier person.”
The state of play: Simon says Charlotte’s vegan scene has gotten “a lot more diverse and definitely a lot more delicious,” recently by gaining more vegan options, and more vegan restaurant owners of color.
“We finally have crossed this interesting threshold where veganism is legit and we’re not crazy and there’s more and more of us,” she says. “And people you never thought would eat a vegan burger are trying them.”
If you’re new to vegan cuisine, or just vegan-curious, start here.
Bean is Charlotte’s oldest vegan restaurant. And it has a lot to offer, including re-imagined versions of classic dishes like fried tofu fingers, chicken and waffles, and biscuits and gravy.
Chef Joya is a personal chef who creates experiences centered around tasty plant-based meals. She offers a number of services from private dining to consulting. Simon says services like Chef Joya’s make it easier for people to transition to and maintain a vegan diet.
Let the long lines be a testament of how good it is. Romeo’s menu consists of burgers, shakes and fries. You might also try Mike’s Vegan Cookout for a similar experience.
Places like Mike’s and Romeo’s, Simon says, show non-vegans how plant-based meals can mimic meat. They play a big role in combating the myth that vegan food isn’t good.
Ma Ma Wok is a good example of restaurants changing to accommodate vegan diets. Plant Joy general manager Shirley Griffith says the Chinese restaurant transitioned to a mostly plant-based menu after the restaurant owners became vegan.
Griffith calls Ma Ma Wok a great place to get classic Chinese takeout. The menu includes dishes like fried rice, lo mein and General Tso’s tofu.
Simon sees her own restaurant as a place to push the boundaries of plant-based eating with dishes like a grilled greens sandwich is great and a nachos-like dish called the “falafel tower.”
“I’m curious, what does veganism look like when it’s not mirroring meat?,” Simon says. “We’re asking that question here at Plant Joy.”
Full guide: Check out our list of more vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Charlotte here.