Veganism has gone mainstream. Once relegated to the counterculture, the vegan lifestyle is gaining steam among the general public, with millions of Americans reporting that they eat a primarily plant-based diet and the market for plant-based alternatives to animal foods growing into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Everyone has their own reasons for embarking upon a plant-based path. While many vegans cite animal rights, another leading factor is the detrimental impact that meat and dairy production has on the environment. This industry accounts for as much as 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, who tout following a vegan diet as the “single biggest way” to reduce one’s carbon footprint. From a health perspective, numerous studies have found that a vegan diet is a cost-effective and low-risk way to both prevent and alleviate high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
But not all vegan foods are created equal. Take Oreos, for example. Though they’re not made with dairy or meat, these treats are certainly not doing much to lower cholesterol or mitigate diabetes. This is one of the primary distinctions between vegan and whole-food, plant-based diets: While the former can include highly processed imitations of meats and cheeses, the latter prioritizes eating minimally processed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. And although vegans abstain from all animal products and byproducts, those who follow plant-based diets opt to primarily eat plants but may not eliminate animal products altogether.
Whether it be for morality or to delay mortality, more and more Americans are vegan-curious. And while South Florida—with its sizeable Hispanic population and penchant for lechon—may not be top of mind when it comes to vegan utopias, the region is making headway, with restaurateurs creating more vegan menu items and new vegan eateries, bakeries, and delis opening to meet demand.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel the world and go to these vegan communities, and I would say South Florida ranks in the top 10,” says Sean Russell, who founded the vegan directory and app SoFlo Vegans in 2017. “What sets South Florida apart from anywhere else in the world—because of our geographic location and being the gateway to the Americas—is we have a lot of Latin-inspired vegan restaurants, and the Caribbean influences are felt in the vegan options down here as well.”
Read on to learn more about vegan cuisine and discover plant-based culinary highlights from across South Florida.
Plant Eater’s Glossary
Vegan: One who abstains from consuming food that comes from animals such as meat, eggs, fish, or dairy products, as well as using any products derived from animals (such as leather) or tested on animals.
Raw vegan: A subcategory of veganism that also involves eliminating foods that require cooking and highly processed foods. Raw vegans eat foods either completely raw or heated at temperatures below 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant-based: A diet that either solely or primarily consists of plants such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Those who take a whole-foods approach to eating plant-based avoid highly processed foods.
Vegetarian: One who abstains from eating meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. While there are subcategories within a vegetarian diet, most vegetarians (like vegans) do not eat products or byproducts of slaughter, but they will consume animal products such as eggs, dairy, and honey.
Flexitarian: A “flexible” approach to vegetarianism. A flexitarian will primarily eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, but might also eat meat on occasion.
Omnivore: Someone who eats animals, animal byproducts, and plants.
Protein: Substances made up of amino-acid residues linked together by peptide bonds, elements, and a variety of essential biological compounds such as enzymes, hormones, or antibodies. The National Academy of Medicine recommends adults eat 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight each day.
Amino acids: The primary components of proteins that are synthesized by living cells or obtained as essential dietary components.
Organic: Per the USDA, produce that is labeled as “certified organic” has been grown in soil free of prohibited substances including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Three tips from chef David Lee of Planta and Planta Queen
Ever since the Toronto-based vegan restaurant Planta and later its Asian-inspired sister, Planta Queen, entered the South Florida food scene, vegans and omnivores alike have been singing its praises with their mouths full of elevated plant-centric iterations of bao buns, udon noodles, truffle fries, pizza, carbonara, and even sushi. Currently, the restaurant group operates Planta locations in West Palm Beach and South Beach and Planta Queen locations in Coconut Grove and Fort Lauderdale.
“Our mission is to reinvent and revitalize the plant-based dining experience,” says executive chef David Lee. “Coconut Grove, South Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach all have different demographics, but we’re really grateful to the community as a whole and the impact they’ve allowed us to make.”
For Lee, eating plant-based gives him “more energy” and allows him to “think sharper.” It’s not just a specific dish or menu, but a lifestyle he’s proud to promote and introduce to omnivore diners.
Cooking vegan at home? Lee shares some advice to help you get started.
Demand quality produce.
“Ingredients are very important. They tell the story. If you buy crappy ingredients, you’re going to tell a crappy story. [At Planta] we obsess about vegetables for obvious reasons. I’m a firm believer that you have to be the fussiest client so that you get the best. When you buy a great ingredient, you can let it speak for itself.”
Experiment with new, seasonal ingredients.
“For instance, citrus in Florida tastes amazing. I can go to Canada, and it just doesn’t taste the same. So, the first step is to go to the farmers market. I have so much respect for all the little purveyors that are out there, and we try to support them as much as we can. Then buy the fruits and vegetables, cook them, and experiment with them. I have the greatest job in the world because I get to research, look for, and work with all these great ingredients. Bringing them to the table is really rewarding.”
Don’t rush the process.
“There’s a big misconception about the time it takes to cook [plant-based cuisine]. For instance, we have 10 ingredients in our burger, and they’re all natural. When you look at a regular burger, it’s just basically one ingredient: red meat. But we have to cook all 10 ingredients that we put inside, handle it, mix it. In the end, we get a great product.”
The science behind eating plant-based
A resident of Pompano Beach, Geoff Palmer has led a plant-based lifestyle for more than 30 years. He is the founder and CEO of natural sports nutrition company Clean Machine, which presents the Vegan Health and Fitness Expo and the World Vegan Bodybuilding Championships at the Broward County Convention Center. Ranked by Plant-Based News as one of the 100 most influential vegans in the world, Palmer is a self-described “science geek” who takes to Facebook Live every week to debunk many of the misconceptions associated with a plant-based diet. Here, he offers insight into vegan nutrition.
Aventura: What are the most important nutrients in a vegan diet?
Palmer: I know the typical response would be protein. Although protein is important, to be honest, polyphenols are probably the most important. Polyphenols are a class of phytonutrients. They exist only in the plant kingdom and include most of your antioxidants, catechins, and all these different things with very powerful healing properties. They’re also prebiotic, so they feed our bacteria and then break them down into other metabolites that do wonderful things for weight loss, brain health, and eye health.
Is getting adequate protein a big concern in a vegan diet?
There is no real protein deficiency in the United States. In fact, 95 percent of Americans are fiber deficient, and fiber only comes from plants. I understand a lot of people, when switching to a vegan diet, will want to try the vegan versions of their favorite comfort foods … but if you’re serious about your health and nutrition, and if you’re wanting to add muscle and lose body fat, it’s best to keep a whole-foods, plant-based diet as much as you can. You’ll cover your nutritional needs.
[For muscle gain] make sure you hit 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, I weigh about 180 to 190 pounds, so that’s about 120 grams of protein per day. That ends up to be about 30 grams of protein per meal if you’re consuming four meals a day. It’s so easy: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread is 30 grams of protein, a stir-fry easily has 30 grams of protein, a good-sized bowl of oatmeal with some nuts and pumpkin seeds is 30 grams of protein. It’s not as hard as most people think.
Do vegans build muscle differently than omnivores?
It has to do with the amount of inflammation. Plants are naturally alkaline. Proteins are naturally acidic. When you work out, you produce lactic acid. The acid has to be equalized by alkalinity. So, vegans recover much faster and can build stronger and healthier muscle than people on an omnivore diet. So [it’s] just the opposite of what people think that you can’t build muscle; you actually build it a lot better and stronger on a plant-based diet because of the alkalinity. Some bodybuilders who still don’t want to go plant-based are [consuming] baking soda because it’s super alkaline, to try to replicate or reproduce the effects of a plant-based diet.
Vegan Hit List
Veronica Menin and Diego Tosoni run this bright and cheery café in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. From breakfast sandwiches to pizzas to hearty grain bowls, the menu is completely plant-based yet versatile enough to accommodate any eater. Just ask Payal Doshi, who runs the popular @vegansofmiami Instagram account. “I took my husband, who is a carnivore, and he loved it there,” she says. As for herself, Doshi recommends any of the café’s pizzas, which are topped with a Parmesan substitute and can be made with gluten-free crust. Regardless of what you order, save room for dessert. “They have the best carrot cake,” Doshi adds.
Since 2016, this inconspicuous eatery inside the historic Alfred Dupont building in downtown Miami has been a staple among the neighborhood’s hungry workforce—regardless of their dietary restrictions—who are often looking for a meal that won’t induce a food coma yet will keep them full until dinnertime. It’s a fine line to walk, but Manna Life Food does it, offering a robust vegan and gluten-free menu with smoothies, bowls, seafood-less “ceviche” made with oyster mushrooms and coconut meat, and more than eight types of vegan arepas. “The peanut butter and jelly arepa is my favorite,” says vegan bodybuilder Torre Washington, who lives in Tamarac. “Everything there is super organic and just so good.”
The decadence of barbecued meat is hard to replicate. While the scent of The Rabbit Hole’s cuisine in Pompano Beach is enough to ruin anyone’s vegan streak, the good news is you won’t have to: Everything on the menu, from the Southern barbecue platter to the jerk chicken and the surf and turf dinner, is completely plant-based. When the cravings for comfort food staples hit (think: mac and cheese, cornbread, fried okra, and shrimp po’boys), The Rabbit Hole promises to quash them without compromising your plant-based beliefs.
After getting his start as a kid in his father’s restaurant in Argentina, chef José Pablo Luque worked in some of the most respected vegan kitchens in South Florida, including Plant and Holi Vegan Kitchen, before launching PS Green Vegan Express in 2020. From the open kitchen at his café on Oakland Park Boulevard, Luque does it all—including whip up blueberry and lemon zest pancakes, hearty lentil soups, barbecue jackfruit burritos, chimichurri-marinated tempeh tacos, and his vegan take on the classic BLT.
Palm Beach County
South Florida has a sizeable Hispanic population, and when immigrants or first-generation Americans consider a strictly vegan lifestyle, letting go of the meaty platos tipicos reminiscent of home and family is no small ask. But chef Jennifer Rosa of La Chia Vegana doesn’t want you to. From her cozy café tucked inside the City Soccer indoor sports facility in West Palm Beach, she whips up plant-based iterations of Cuban sandwiches, empanadas, loaded arepas, and Mexican street corn, plus original creations such as a café con leche parfait and a Latino bowl packed with pico de gallo, black beans, and rice. Come November she offers “jacfurkey,” “shicken” pot pie, and mushroom gravy to order—a feat South Florida vegans can all give thanks for. “It’s this little hole-in-the-wall place, but everything’s perfect,” says West Palm Beacher Anuella Alexandre, who chronicles her plant-based lifestyle on her blog, The Green Goddess Diary.
Named in honor of the owners’ poodle, Darby, this West Palm Beach restaurant panders to patrons and their four-legged companions. Darbster serves plant-based versions of classic dishes such as “chick’n” parmigiana, as well as elevated vegan originals like eggplant “scallops.” Since 2009, the restaurant has combined the artistry of a French tweezer kitchen with the ethics of an animal rights activist, with all profits benefiting the Darbster Foundation, which funds spay and neuter programs and assists with other animal issues in Palm Beach County. “Their brunch is really good, and everything on their lunch menu is great,” Alexandre says. “But I really love their dinner staples, and the eggplant scallops over mashed potatoes with bok choy are really, really good. I’ve ordered that meal more than anything—ever.”
Chef Dina Lauro is proof that while you can’t take the Philly out of the girl, you can certainly take the cheese and steak out of the Philly cheesesteak. Lauro is the granddaughter of a Philadelphia steak and hoagie shop owner, so serving an authentic Philly cheesesteak is part of her family legacy, but she also wanted to use clean and healthy ingredients. Though her Riviera Beach deli serves vegan Italian hoagies and Buffalo cheese fries, the Philly cheesesteak is the best-seller; it’s made with seitan “steak” and vegan cheese whiz, and topped with fried onions, hot peppers, and ketchup. “The Philly cheesesteak is the bomb, and their loaded fries are so good,” Washington says. Alexandre concurs: “I don’t believe in cheat days, but if I have a girlfriend in town who’s not vegan [and] we want to eat junk food and have a good time, this is the place where we always want to go.”
The Art of the Plant-Based Patty
The ultimate vegan iterations of an American staple
Snail Mail, United States Burger Service (USBS)
“United States Burger Service is a little vendor inside The Citadel food hall in Little River, and they make my hands-down favorite burger in Miami, but I love how their veggie burger [the Snail Mail] isn’t just an afterthought,” says Ryan Pfeffer, an omnivore food critic and senior editor at Infatuation Miami. “They make just about everything in-house, from the spectacular little potato bun to their beautiful cheese sauce. The veggie patty they use could probably fool me into thinking I’m eating beef if I wasn’t paying close attention.”
Junkie, Vegan Junkie
Vegan Junkie has “a food truck at the Art of Coffee Café in Dania Beach, and they’re known for their plant-based burgers,” says Doshi of Vegans of Miami. “My favorite thing is their patty, which is made in-house. I really like the way they use beans to solidify the patty, and that makes it so delicious.” The Junkie burger is made with a “superfood” patty, melted cheddar “cheeze,” grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and the signature Junkie sauce.
The Dope Burger, Dope Vegan
“Of course, you have a lot of restaurants that have [plant-based] burgers on their menu, but there are not a lot of [vegan] places in West Palm Beach that really only focus on burgers,” SoFlo Vegans’ Sean Russell says of the Dope Vegan. The Dope Burger is served on a brioche bun and packed with a plant-based patty, vegan cheese, vegan bacon, caramelized onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, and dripping in their homemade Dope sauce.
Butternut Squash Pesto Pasta
Anuella Alexandre of The Green Goddess Diary shares a savory vegan recipe to whip up at home
- 1 butternut squash
- Extra-virgin olive oil (amounts specified in directions)
- 3 tsp. sea salt (divided)
- 3/4 tsp. black pepper (divided)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning)
- 6 garlic cloves (2 minced, 4 whole)
- 8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 tsp. Trader Joe’s Umami Seasoning (or similar product)
- 1/2 tsp. dry basil
- 1 lb. pasta (such as Whole Foods’ organic papillon)
- 3 cups basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Hass avocado
- 1/3 cup Violife Shaved Parmesan “Cheese”
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 2 tbsp. chopped basil
Lightly oil a large baking sheet or line it with parchment paper for easy cleanup and set aside. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the outer layer of the butternut squash. Cut the ends off the squash and then cut down the middle lengthwise. Scrape the seeds out with a spoon and cut each half into 1-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil before seasoning with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, garlic powder, and Herbs De Provence. Toss until cubes are evenly seasoned. Transfer cubes to the baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until squash is tender (25 to 30 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare the mushroom base. In a large skillet, brown the minced garlic in olive oil on medium heat. Add in the mushrooms and red bell pepper. Add 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, umami seasoning, and dry basil. Cover and simmer until tender. Let cool uncovered.
Add the pasta to a large pot of salted boiling water with an additional 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. olive oil to keep from sticking. Cook until al dente (about 9 minutes). While the pasta cooks make your pesto. In a food processor, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, whole garlic cloves, 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice, avocado, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Blend until combined.
Drain your pasta in a colander and rinse. In a large serving dish mix your pasta, mushroom mirepoix, and pesto sauce well. Once evenly mixed, add in the squash and toss lightly. Sprinkle with Parmesan “cheese.” Garnish with cherry tomatoes and chopped basil before serving.
Don’t Forget Dessert
Butter, cream, and eggs are staples in many dessert recipes, but these South Florida bakeries are enabling vegans to indulge their sweet tooth
With two cafés in Plantation and East Boca Raton, Parlour Vegan Bakery serves vegan lattes, including a brown butter white chocolate latte with coconut whipped cream and caramel sugar bits, as well as “beef” empanadas, chocolate salted caramel and peanut butter doughnuts, carrot cupcakes topped with frosting and cinnamon crumbs, a chocolate chip cookie dough cookie sandwich, and guava and cheese pastelitos.
From brownies and blondies to mini matcha-, rose-, and churro-flavored doughnuts, baker Pamela Wasabi’s array of vegan sweet treats can be found at more than two dozen retailers across Miami and as far north as Jupiter. Opt for the guava and rose cheesecake, avocado key lime pie, or her thin crisp cookies, which come in such flavors as Celestial Chunk, Lavender Heaven, and Majestic Chai.
In a bubblegum pink store in downtown Doral, Mariana Cortez whips up vegan three-layer and bundt cakes, plus more than 15 flavors of cupcakes, including Cookies No Cream and Dulce No Leche.
With outposts in Miami Beach and Oakland Park, this vibrant shop is brimming with Pop Art, sinfully decadent doughnuts, “and more” (croissants, empanadas, burritos). Though the vegan options are mostly limited to doughnuts, the selection doesn’t disappoint. Imagine: vegan chocolate doughnuts topped with sprinkles, Oreos, marshmallows, or sliced almonds.
With its bounty of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, this Palm Beach Gardens café has gained a local following for its plant-based sandwiches, pizzas, tacos, and more. But it is the kitchen’s two-page dessert menu that truly sets it apart from other vegan restaurants. Expect three types of ice cream sundaes, five flavors of ice cream shakes, two kinds of pie, 11 flavors of raw chocolates, and four types of dessert cups, not to mention doughnut holes, chocolate chip cookies, and brownie bites.