These once-a-week vegetarians are participants in the Meatless Monday campaign, a call to eliminate meat from diets one day a week. While it might seem like a modern trend—the movement has a slew of celebrity endorsers including Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore, and Gwyneth Paltrow—it actually dates back to World War I, when the US Food Administration encouraged families to limit their consumption of food staples to help the war effort. Meatless Mondays were picked up again in 2003 as a public-health program.
In its modern incarnation, Meatless Mondays was conceived as a way for Americans to limit the amount of saturated fat in their diets. It has since grown into a larger movement intended to battle multiple health risks associated with eating large quantities of red and processed meat, including cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. While you can choose to eliminate meat any day of the week, Monday was selected on purpose: Studies show that people are more likely to keep up with good health habits, such as going to the gym or sticking with a diet, if they start them at the beginning of the week.
Some Washington restaurants have jumped on board with special meatless offerings on Monday night. Nage chef Glenn Babcock, who often cooks at home for his vegetarian wife, serves three appetizer and entrée specials (and often a vegan dessert), which change weekly. Recent menu items included porcini-mushroom pot pie and sesame-crusted tofu with guajillo adobo, caramelized pineapple, and roasted fennel. And while popular specials such as the veggie burger or spicy peanut pad Thai with crispy tofu and banana chips aren’t always on the chalkboard, you can request them anytime.
The white-tablecloth dining room 2941 in Falls Church also offers a selection of Meatless Monday specials on top of chef Bertrand Chemel’s regular six-course vegetarian tasting menu. The à la carte items change weekly, but dishes have included mushroom velouté, handmade cheese-fondue ravioli with cauliflower and black truffle, and butterhead lettuce with black-sesame dressing, pears, and cashews.
Looking for more vegetarian-friendly dining options? Washingtonian food critics Todd Kliman and Ann Limpert offer their picks below.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you’re a follower of Michael Pollan’s manifesto, tapas-style vegetarian dining is the way to go. Limpert recommends spots such as Zaytinya, Oyamel, Jaleo (locations in DC’s Penn Quarter, Bethesda, and Crystal City), and Bar Pilar, all of which have a bounty of veggie selections alongside items that will satisfy the carnivores in your party.
If you’re a one-day vegetarian and six-day omnivore, Limpert doesn’t recommend going all out for a pricey vegetarian tasting menu while your friends are opting for the regular version. “There’s something depressing about getting a cabbage-wrapped sweet potato while everyone else is eating lobster,” she says.
Kliman recommends ordering a “fasting platter” (also called the vegetarian sampler) at Ethiopic or Etete. Despite the name, the dish won’t leave you starving. Many Ethiopians abstain from meat during religious holidays, so the platter is composed of some—or all—of the vegetarian options on the menu. Scoop up portions of fragrant lentils, chickpeas, collard greens, and more with spongy injera bread.
Vegetarians are often dissatisfied with dishes in omnivore establishments because the cooks don’t take the same care with meatless meals. Southern Indian cuisine, which is vegetarian by nature, is an answer to the problem. Both Limpert and Kliman like Amma Vegetarian Kitchen in Vienna and Woodlands Restaurant in Langley Park for dosas, kofta, baingan bharta, and other vegetarian options. Other Indian restaurants such as Indique, Spice Xing, Passage to India, Curry Mantra, and Bollywood Bistro are also high on the list.
Kliman likes Rockville’s Yuan Fu for vegetarian groups. The all-veggie menu specializes in mock meats and seafood: Kung Pao “chicken” with portobello mushrooms, fried tofu with basil-and-ginger hot pot, and moo shi “pork.” He also recommends Sichuan Village in Chantilly and its ma po tofu, a soft tofu dish with thick red-pepper sauce, scallions, and Szechuan peppercorns.
The Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church doesn’t sound like a temple for vegetarians, but Kliman swears by the baba ghanoush, Lebanese salad, and other meatless dishes. Other spots to order good hummus and its ilk include Mama Ayesha's, Cava, and Lebanese Taverna.