Ham barbecue. Baskets of 25-cent chicken wings. Juicy burgers (slathered with Heinz, of course). Historically, meat has played a starring role in the iconic dishes of Pittsburgh, a cuisine born of immigrant traditions and a need to nourish famished steelworkers. From towering Primanti’s sandwiches to platters of smoked kielbasa, we are a town with a fierce carnivorous streak.

But a new generation of chefs and eaters are beginning to expand, if not totally reimagine, what it means to dine in Pittsburgh. Vegetarians are no longer relegated to uninspired pasta primavera and hummus wraps, and thoughtful meatless options pepper the menus at Pittsburgh’s best restaurants. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or simply want to move towards a more plant-centered diet, Pittsburgh grows ever more accommodating to a wider range of eaters.

You don’t have to look far to find a decent meatless meal. But what about the places that are entirely dedicated to it? Read on for our updated guide to Pittsburgh’s best vegetarian restaurants.

The bar at Apteka. Photo by Jennifer Baron.
The bar at Apteka. Photo by Jennifer Baron.

Apteka, Bloomfield

Apteka offers a new all-vegan twist on the traditional Eastern European foods that are central to Pittsburgh’s cultural heritage. What started as a pop-up pierogi night in 2010 by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski has manifested itself in a brick and mortar location that opened this past February in Lawrenceville. Creative pierogi (like the ones filled with smoked potato, parsnips and turnip greens) are still the highlight, but other options include kanapki (Polish finger sandwiches), borscht, and several salad options. The cocktail list features homemade cordials and savory ingredients, and the bourbon, pickled prune and sage drink has quickly become a favorite. Apteka will soon open a patio seating area, adding one more reason to hit up this casually cool spot.

A feast at Udipi. Photo by Erika Gidley
A feast at Udipi. Photo by Erika Gidley

Udipi CaféMonroeville

To know about Udipi is to feel pretty damn cool. It’s got no website, no social media presence, and even if you happened to be driving aimlessly around Monroeville, the bare-bones sign and drab exterior would hardly make you hit the brakes. Nevertheless, people talk about Udipi. And when they do, it’s often in hushed and reverent tones peppered with groans of delight as they remember meals past. Udipi specializes in South Indian food, all of it vegetarian. The menu is large and a bit overwhelming, but it’s tough to make a bad choice when you order there. Whatever you do, don’t miss the vegetable samosas and at least one dosa, a thin crispy crepe filled with various veggies and chutneys. The ambience is a bit like a cafeteria and the service comes with even fewer frills, but the food at Udipi has charm for days.

Amazing Cafe
Tulum tacos at Amazing Cafe on E. Carson St.

Amazing CaféSouth Side

Amazing Café is a bright and peaceful restaurant with a focus on vegan and raw dishes, plopped right in the middle of the greasy spoons and rowdy dives on the South Side. It’s a welcome respite. Amazing Café is all about food that makes you feel good—not surprising for a place connected to a yoga studio. I must confess that I wasn’t quite sure what I was ordering when I got the Spontaneity, but I was pleasantly surprised by the bundles of veggies and walnut puree that arrived. It was just what I wanted out of a raw, vegan dish—thoughtful, balanced, and simple enough to let the fresh, local produce shine. I left feeling full and energized, ready for yoga (or maybe a beer). Now they’re serving breakfast and new items like the tulum tacos pictured here, with roasted veggies that are, well, amazing. Be sure to try the fresh juices and smoothies, too. Every neighborhood should have a place like this.

Randita’s Organic Vegan Cafe, Aspinwall/mobile

Randita’s food truck has been serving up nourishing vegan fare to the Pittsburgh community since 2012. Though the solar powered food trailer continues to appear at events across the city, the venture has since expanded to a permanent location in Aspinwall. At their cozy spot on Commercial Avenue, husband and wife team Randy and Dale Cinski concoct soups, salads and sandwiches that feature creative meat substitutes (think lentil meatballs and grain-and-bean burgers). On the weekends, Randita’s features dinner specials that draw on an array of global influences. Whether you want to grab a BBQ wrap (made with seitan) or bring home a frozen prepared meal for dinner, Randita’s offers a range of inventive options that won’t leave you yearning for meat.

At the Zenith Café. Photo by Erika Gidley.
At the Zenith Café. Photo by Erika Gidley.

The Zenith, South Side

Have you always wanted to graze at a vegan brunch buffet amidst giant wooden fish sculptures and kitschy religious art? Perhaps not, but go check out The Zenith anyway. Tucked away on one of the South Side’s quiet side streets, The Zenith is part antique shop, part vegetarian café. Though they do serve lunch and dinner three days a week (I had some wonderfully zingy potato salad on my latest visit), Sunday brunch is the main attraction. For just $11.50, you get an entrée, coffee or tea, and access to the array of vegan sides, salads and desserts on the buffet. The food is simple and tasty, with entrée options like blueberry pancakes and burritos bursting with veggies. Don’t go back to the buffet too many times, though. There are several Jesuses watching.

The Loving Hut, Robinson

I’ll admit: The Loving Hut was definitely the underdog on my list. For one, dining there required a long drive out to Robinson in the thick of rush hour traffic. The Loving Hut is also a chain, which does not always bode well. And it doesn’t give off the most impressive first impression. The Loving Hut has the vibe of strip mall Chinese takeout mashed up with a crunchy granola California café. Despite the odd location and identity crisis, the food is surprisingly good. The menu is large and varied, and the zippy sauces, like the hoisin that came with our summer rolls or the mushroom sauce on my chow mein, more than make up for the lack of meat or dairy. Though The Loving Hut leans a bit too heavily on fake meats for my taste (soy ham paste, anyone?), you get piles of tasty, healthy food for less than the gas it takes to get out there.

At Eden. Photo by Erika Gidley
At Eden. Photo by Erika Gidley

Eden, Shadyside

Eden, with its sub-street level patio and walls filled with rotating local art, feels like a hip East Village bistro. Instead of filling the menu with housemade charcuterie and local cheese boards, however, Eden celebrates vegetables, fruits and nuts in their purest forms. The menu of this Shadyside eatery is entirely vegan (save for the options to add eggs to some dishes) and gluten-free, and more than half of the options are raw. Though this may sound limiting at first, the choices are more varied and creative than many “fine dining” spots. The menu changes seasonally, which sadly means that my excellent eggplant and chickpea curry will soon be gone. But whatever takes its place is sure to be just as interesting and satisfying. Unlike so many trendy restaurants, Eden doesn’t grudgingly scrounge up a half-hearted entrée when someone with a special diet walks through the door. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, raw, or all three, Eden’s got you covered.

Photo courtesy of B52.
Photo courtesy of B52.

B52, Lawrenceville

Named for its location at Butler and 52nd Street in Lawrenceville, B52 is the talk of Pittsburgh’s vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike. Opened in January of 2016 by Omar Abuhejleh (owner of Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill), the restaurant provides an all-vegan menu that marries American and Middle Eastern cuisine using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the cashew cheese to the seitan sausage. Sandwiches, salads, and mezze snacks are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the coffee bar is open all day long, offering vegan treats and house-made kombucha and cold brew coffee on draft.

Also check out:

  • Polish Hill’s Lili Cafe (and their new sister spot, Liliput), a coffee shop offering a small selection of mostly vegetarian lunch and brunch fare
  • In addition to collaborating on Liliput, Onion Maiden runs Asian-inspired vegetarian pop-ups all over Pittsburgh
  • Point Breeze’s Make Your Mark ARTspace and Coffeehouse features a small and ever-changing selection of vegetarian panini, soups and sides
  • Shadyside’s new Adda Coffeehouse serves a mostly vegetarian menu of light bites created by Bar Marco’s Executive Chef, Justin Steel

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!

Drew Cranisky

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.