In a town dominated by cheese and brats, Milwaukee boasts incredible vegan options. These ten local restaurants offer vegan dishes you won’t want to miss!
I discovered the vegan biscuits and gravy back in the late 90s when Comet Café was still a small coffee house. I had recently become vegetarian and couldn’t fathom that this existed (options were limited back then, trust me). Comet has since expanded into a larger restaurant and bar where you can still get great coffee drinks, those awesome biscuits, and a wide variety of brunch options. Not feeling brunchy? How about some delicious vegan “riblets” served with hot wing sauce, barbecue sauce, or some tasty vegan chive mayo for dipping? Other noteworthy options include the Reuben, the Big Rig (made with the aforementioned riblets), gyro, Salisbury “Steak,” and the newly added vegan Apple Walnut Burger. On top of all this, VegNews distinguished Comet’s vegan Big Luck Burger as #2 on its list of best veggie burgers in the U.S. It’s #1 in my book, though!
The Riverwest Co-op is a small cooperatively owned grocery store with an even smaller all-vegetarian café. Don’t let its size fool you though — this is some of the best vegan cooking in the city, using organic ingredients whenever possible. Delectable vegan breakfast options include French toast, biscuits and gravy, and Korean bi bim bop. Stop in for lunch or dinner and try the Chix Fried Tofu (simple, but one of my favorites), the Notorious BBQ, Tempeh Reuben, or the Phamous (Seitan) Philly. Seating is very limited, so order some Mac and Trees (secret ingredient is broccoli) or mock tuna salad to go, with a vegan chocolate chip cookie for dessert.
Beans & Barley has been a staple of the Milwaukee vegetarian and vegan community since it opened in 1979. Started as a small health food store, B&B has expanded to include an incredible restaurant, deli, and bakery. Brunch on the weekends is not only reasonably priced, but offers a nice variety of vegan options. I always struggle with whether to order the Tofu Scrambler with parsley shallot potatoes, toast and homemade strawberry jam (you can also request vegan butter), or the vegetable-studded biscuits with savory mushroom and vegan sausage. The solution is to order both and share with a friend! For lunch or dinner, try the Balsamic Tofu Sandwich covered in spinach, onion, pepperoncini, and Vegannaise or the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burrito filled with oven-roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, guacamole, Mexican rice, and corn. After you’re done with your meal, walk over to the bakery window and pick out something sweet. The peanut butter cake is spectacular!
The Eatery on Farwell opened its doors in 2010, and from the outset, the owners solicited community feedback to include a variety of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly menu options. Even though the Ratatouille Burger is more of a sandwich than a burger, VegNews called it the third best veggie burger in the U.S. The Ratatouille is a grilled portobello mushroom with roasted veggies, garlic aioli, and Teese mozzarella on a homestyle bun. I like to add some grilled tofu on top, too. For brunch, try the Veg-a-Stack Benedict with roasted tomato and peppers, mushroom duxelle, and sautéed spinach topped with vegan curry hollandaise on a ciabatta bun. You won’t find this anywhere else!
Every vegan has visited a Mexican restaurant and had to adjust menu items, removing cheese and sometimes beans just to be left with limp lettuce and tomato wrapped in a tortilla. This is not the case at Café Corazon. Hearty vegan tacos, fajitas, burritos, and enchiladas spotlight tasty ingredients such as soy chorizo, herbed tofu, black beans, or sautéed vegetables including broccoli, yellow squash, carrots, and red peppers. For a unique appetizer, try the Vegan Mushroom Ragout — crimini mushrooms sautéed in white wine with onion, garlic, soy chorizo, tomato, and jalapeños, served with tortilla chips. If you’re so inclined, top off your meal with a refreshing margarita. I recommend the Corazón Punch made with Corazón tequila, fresh lime juice, and pineapple and cranberry juices.
Who doesn’t love pizza? Milwaukee has two fantastic pizzerias that offer vegan pies.
One word: pesto. Get the vegan pesto at Classic Slice. Use it as a base for your pesto pie or add it on top of red sauce with your favorite toppings. It’ll change your life. Customize any pie with Follow Your Heart vegan mozzarella, or order a special like the Mediterranean with olive tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and vegetarian sausage. Or be bold and order the Anne Curry made with curry sauce, fresh tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and tofu. The awesome Vegan Soy Cheese Stix have fooled many a non-vegan. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, how about a football-size calzone and the special vegan cupcake of the month? You won’t go home hungry!
Ian’s has gone above and beyond in reaching out to the vegan community in Milwaukee, so I loved it before I even tried the pizza! Unique pizza concoctions that you can’t find anywhere else include Mac & Cheeze pizza, Smokey the Bandit (with a barbecue sauce base, Beyond Meat brand chik’n, and housemade vegan ranch), lasagna pizza, and much more. You can order a whole pie with Daiya vegan cheese any day of the week, or the featured vegan slice on Tuesdays at the North Avenue location and Thursdays at the Downtown location.
I love a buffet! You know, even vegans like to stuff their faces at a buffet once in awhile, and Milwaukee has got delectable Ethiopian and Middle Eastern lunch buffets that will satisfy vegans and their omnivore friends! So, put on your stretchy pants and dig in!
If you haven’t tried Ethiopian food yet, a buffet is the best place to do it! Use the spongy injera bread instead of utensils, or grab a fork if you’re not feeling ambitious. Tuesdays through Fridays, Alem’s all-vegan lunch buffet features lentil-based dishes, vegetable stews, spinach, collard greens, and rice. Flavors range from mild to fairly spicy, and since I lean towards the spicy side, one of my favorites is the Yemiser Wot — split lentils cooked slowly in Ethiopian red pepper sauce and tasty spices. If you can’t make the lunch buffet, stop in for a super-delicious dinner dish called Shimbra Asa made with chickpea dough and cooked like a traditional fish stew. And, if you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry. The Vegetarian Sampler platter gives you a little of everything, and it’s so big you can share it with a friend or two!
Falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj, lentil soup, vegetable stews — Casablanca has all this and more! The all-vegetarian lunch buffet is offered Monday through Saturday and also includes fresh salads and fruit. Ask your server to point out the vegan options, but steer clear of the desserts because they contain honey. Don’t worry though — skipping dessert just leaves more room to fill up on all the other amazing foods!
Finally, even though my last choice isn’t really a restaurant, delicious ice cream options are a vegan dream-come-true, so I consider it a must-visit destination for any vegans in the area!
Located in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee, Babe’s Ice Cream has offered vegan ice cream for many years and continues to be more and more vegan-friendly. There are at least two vegan ice cream flavors per day — my favorites are Raspberry Nebula Soy and Espresso Oreo Soy — yum! Vegan shakes and ice cream cakes are also available. If you’re looking for some bakery wrapped into your ice cream treat, Babe’s features brownies and cookies from East Side Ovens, a local vegan bakery, in its sundaes and ice cream sandwiches. Everyone can find something to love!
These ten standouts just scratch the surface of vegan eats in Milwaukee. Check out VeganMilwaukee.com for a full list of vegan-friendly restaurants and shopping in the area and start making your own top ten!
Colleen Lawrence has lived in the Milwaukee area her entire life, currently residing in the Bay View neighborhood. Vegetarian since 1998 and vegan since 2004, she is thrilled to see how vegan food options have grown significantly in Milwaukee and all over the country. Motivated to share how vegan-friendly her city is, Colleen started VeganMilwaukee.com in late 2010, and she continues to expand the site to meet the needs of its ever-growing audience.