Reubens are the best classic sandwich to turn vegetarian, hands down. Griddled rye, sauerkraut, melty Swiss, Russian dressing–who cares what else you put in there? All right, a few smoky slabs of corned beef or pastrami make for an addictive combination. But if you’re vegetarian, or just overloaded with meat after this long winter, these riffs hit the spot.
Pastrami-spiced tempeh Reuben at DGS Delicatessen
1317 Connecticut Ave., NW
DGS makes one of the best Reubens in the city, and the meatless version isn’t too far from the original. The kitchen treats tempeh the same way it does pastrami: rubbing it with mustard, black pepper, and coriander, smoking it until tender, and stacking it on buttery rye with local No. 1 Sons sauerkraut and Swiss. House-made Russian dressing spiked with pickle juice drives the flavors home. Try it any time of day in the deli, or take it to-go from the lunchtime counter.
Smoked beet Reuben at Family Meal Ashburn
20470 Exchange St., Ashburn
Chef Bryan Voltaggio loves a classic Reuben, but as he says of his new meatless riff: “If my doctor told me I couldn’t have pastrami anymore, this would be the cure.” The kitchen pressure-cooks beets to intensify their flavor, smokes the rounds, and crusts them in pastrami spice. The sandwich is finished with kraut and Meunster, plus an umami-rich version of thousand island kicked up with soy.
The Reuben is also served in DC at G by Mike Isabella during the second round of the Sandwich Madness competition, where guest chefs compete to make the best creation. If you’re not in the mood for beets, Isabella crafts a tasty wild mushroom version that’s a staple on shop’s menu.
Portobello Reuben at Ris
2275 L St., NW
This is one of our favorite veggie Reubens around, even besting some of the meat and fish dishes on chef Ris Lacoste‘s menu. The sandwich is comfort food at its best: a hearty roasted ‘shroom, tangy Russian dressing, and bright slaw, all heaped on rye that tastes like it’s griddled with a generous amount of butter.
Vegan “tofu Reuby” at the Randy Radish
Food truck locations in Virginia (@therandyradish); 506 Shaw Rd., Sterling
Taking the meat and dairy out of the equation definitely makes for a different sandwich, but this self-described “compassionate cousin” of the Reuben still delivers the salty, spicy, creamy notes we crave without any animal-related products. Baked tofu is infused with spices for a corned beef-like flavor, and topped with caramelized kraut and a smoky house dressing before getting stuffed between slices of toasted marble rye.
Grilled veggie Reuben at Corned Beef King
Food truck locations in Maryland (@cornedbeefking); shop inside Exxon at 18000 Georgia Ave., Olney
Though the King (a.k.a. chef/owner Jon Rossler) reigns true to his name, he can still whip up a vegetarian version that deserves its own crown. Unlike most meatless riffs that pick one beef substitute, here you’ll find marinated eggplant, zucchini, seasonal squash, and pickled cabbage atop toasted nine-grain bread. The sandwich isn’t particularly healthy–all those veggies lay under a blanket of melted Swiss, Provolone, and creamy Russian–but it’s one of the tastier ways to eat your vegetables.