Roman Holiday – Top Ten Italian Vegan

vegan-chao-italy

Italy has always been on my list for veggie destinations — pizza, pasta, and gelato on every corner pretty much sounds like heaven on earth!

In reality, there weren’t as many vegan-specific joints as I would have liked, but I certainly did not go hungry. With the help of websites (HappyCow, Tripadvisor and Yelp) and apps, I was able to find plenty of targeted vegan/vegan friendly spots to get my nosh on.*

*One tip before investing travel time and money to an app/website-discovered location is to check when their last review was posted — I ended up wasting quite a bit of time trekking to a bookmarked business only to find that they had closed (and if you do end up with an unfortunate closed-business surprise, be a good vegan-maritan and report it closed).

Italians also tend to rise on the late side of the day (around 11:30am – 1pm), to the chagrin of many a hungry vegan tourist (namely: moi) at the mercy of whenever restaurants decide to open. Many also close in the middle of the day, (usually anytime from 1pm – 5pm), so be mindful of Italy’s work schedule so your tummy doesn’t suffer when you assumed you could take a late lunch — not so!

Finally, Americans seeking a hearty, protein-heavy breakfast will also be disappointed — Italians tend to favor a light, coffee-heavy breakfast, often only consisting of an espresso paired with a cornetto (similar to a croissant) or other pastry, no veggie bacon, egg or cheez here!

Having said all that, take a look at my tried + true list of visit-worthy, open-as-of-this-posting vegan joints around the boot of Europe (in order of most to least liked).

Le Fate

This unique, astrology-inspired restaurant was my favorite out of all the restaurants I tried in Italy. The ambiance was elegant and relaxed, the cuisine was carefully thought out and prepared, and the tastes I encountered were exemplary.

Vegan Chao Italy Top Ten le fate
So tasty, I wish I could pull out an extra stomach to eat more!

Everything, down to the reusable cloth towels in the bathroom, exhibited great attention to detail. The complimentary bread was + tasted homemade, as well as the hummus amuse bouche. We practically licked our plates clean!

Zenzero Biorestaurant

Though this restaurant is a ways off the beaten path in Ostia Antica, it is worth a visit for their unique vegan dishes — crepe stuffed with almond and cashew ricotta, olives and sundried tomatoes, mixed appetizer dish, red and white pizzas and tricolor ice cream cake.

Vegan Chao Italy Top Ten zenzero biorestaurant
Absolutely worth a trip if you’re in the Ostia Antica area.

The restaurant is situated at the entrance of a beautiful public park, giving it a natural vibe, though maybe a bit TOO natural because mosquitoes frequently wandered in and had dinner while we had ours!

A live jazz saxophonist, who came and introduced  himself and chatted a bit before service began (they open for dinner service at 7:30 PM) was a nice touch.

Universo Vegano

Since most Italian restaurants like to open whenever they please, it was refreshing to find one that not only opened at a normal hour (10:30 AM), but served actual, substantial food in the morning! UV was truly a lifesaver because of this, and their amazing menu was the clincher for me. All manner of vegan entrees — vegan burgers, pizzas, soups, platters, wraps and more — could be ordered anytime they opened for business.

Vegan Chao Italy Top Ten universo vegano
Vegan franchises don’t get much tastier than this!

UV also has innovative vegan products — their “tuna pizza” was my first experience trying vegan tuna — and delectable vegan proteins like chicken nuggets and fish fillets. They also have a commendable dessert case, where you can choose to indulge in tiramisu, sweet or savory cornettos, parfaits, fresh fruit tarts, strawberry almond cake and more that my stomach wasn’t able to contain. Best of all, it’s part of a franchise (Italy only), so it’s a harbinger of vegan demand in Europe!

Bistrot Veg + Veg

Vegan restaurants in Rome were few and far in between, and especially annoying to get to since many a) require taking a bus from the subway or b) are accessible by subway but require walking a ways from the station. I had a hard time finding a vegan-specific restaurant without dedicating at least 20 – 30 minutes commute-wise. Bistrot veg+veg was slightly easier to get to, being that I only had to take a subway.

Bistrot Veg + Veg vegan chao italy rome
The interior is chic, rustic and cozy.

The vibe of BV+V is chicly rustic, with shelves filled with wine bottles lining the walls and plants hanging from the ceiling. The only thing I thought was weird about BV+V was that the toilets didn’t have seats (though this is a common practice throughout Italy for some reason).

Bistrot Veg + Veg vegan chao italy rome
The seitan cutlet was tasty, though had a weird consistency.

Cuisine-wise, BV+V had several tasty Italian pasta and seitan dishes. The flavor was quite subtle and didn’t stand out as being especially notable, but we did enjoy our dishes nonetheless. The dessert, a dry almond cake, was also not memorable.

Un Sorriso Integrale

Top marks for food but extremely low marks for the service go to USI, which is truly a shame. We enjoyed nearly everything on the menu — the veggie wok, tofu cutlet and chocolate mousse in particular — but the waiters are either mentally handicapped or extremely rude as we waited to be served or at least have menus brought to us/orders taken/updates on the status of our orders.

un sorriso integrale vegan chao italy naples
Too bad a picture can’t capture our wait time for this dish!

They never checked on us or stopped by our table, we had to call them over after 15-20 minutes of wait between each interaction. Truly a missed opportunity for a better rating. The wait time was so long that it’d been two hours since the time we sat down till just before they closed for the day. Unacceptable. Too bad coperto was already included — that might also be a reason they don’t give AF!

Ristorante Quinoa

Again, another missed opportunity for a better rating — the space, the food and overall experience would have been stellar if it wasn’t for a mess-up by one of the waiters.

ristorante quinoa vegan chao italy florence
Tasty burger, not-so-tasty service.

Having truly enjoyed the seitan curry and the quinoa burger, we were dictated the dessert menu by a different waiter who took our initial order, which apparently had on it a vegan orange cake, which I ordered. As I ate it, I noticed that the yogurt topping smelled quite suspect of dairy, but I attributed this to skeptical paranoia.

Out of a desire to quell and dispel my gnawing curiosity, I finally asked our original waiter if the cake was vegan. Apparently the dessert menu dictator was extremely ill-informed, since the cake had BOTH eggs and yogurt with milk was the topping.

ristorante quinoa vegan chao italy florence
Orange cake — decidedly NOT vegan.

Though they did recompense me for the price of the cake, I was still left with the cautionary tale of: Italians don’t know what “vegan” means, even with a vegetarian-conscious menu, so eat at your own risk!

Ecru

With already plenty of high reviews on most travel/review sites, Ecru certainly doesn’t need me to vouch for its tastiness, but I’ll do it anyway! This café-staurant has one of the most extensive, all-vegan menus I’ve seen during my trip, as well as a separate, entirely English version on each adjoining menu page. I was also a big fan of their gazpacho soup, which tasted so fresh it was almost like the tomatoes had been plucked from the vine that very morning.

ecru vegan chao italy rome
So healthy, it’s like eating grass :P

I also ordered a veggie wrap, which was housed in a translucent rice wrapper alongside a chopped avocado salad. It almost tasted TOO healthy — my juice lacked any sort of sweetness but was no doubt fresh and additive free. The veggie sushi was underwhelming since it was basically just carrots, avocado and alfalfa bound together by seaweed.

Mangia RE

There’s nothing quite like eating after a long trip during which you’ve just lugged your suitcase half a mile because the neighborhood you chose for your hotel doesn’t have UBER or a reliable public transportation system. Well, having learned to be more strategic after poor planning on my part, we nonetheless found a silver lining in our shitty, self-created situation: Mangia RE.

mangia re vegan chao italy signa
Simple, rustic and full of flavor: just three ways to describe the pizza at Mangia RE.

Though, by this point in our vacation, we were already super pizza-d out, we were too famished to be picky. However, the crispy yet soft, immensely flavorful and almost flatbread-like crust of our cheeseless pies quickly disappeared off our plates. THIS is pizza. We immediately understood why business was booming at 10PM, when (I would assume) most Italians in sleepy little Signa would already be tucked in for the night. Several awards lined their wall, well deserved. You know the pizza is good when the owner flashes a judgemental side-eye at you when you tell them “senza formaggi,” because they take their pizza game serious!

Important detail: the veggies that topped our pie tasted super fresh, no canned produce here! I also had tried chinotto (a bitter orange drink popular in Italy); not my favorite, but I can see its appeal for those who like bitter, less sugary drinks (shudder).

Il Vegano

Right off the bat, this restaurant gets points for being open during breakfast time and having ACTUAL food. A homey, cozy vibe and chalkboard menu makes Il Vegano feel familiar and friendly. We ordered a burger with fries, soup of the day, juices and freshly made cornettos and were pleased with the quality and flavor of the dishes.

Vegan Chao Italy Top Ten il vegano
Courgette soup, hit the spot!

The potato fritters were a bit dry, not recommended. The location is also quite convenient: only a 14-minute walk from the Firenze train station, making it a good pit stop before/after embarking on your next Italian destination.

Vitto Pitagorico

If this restaurant had food on par with its décor, our experience would undoubtly have been much better. We were so looking forward to indulging in a pizza pie with vegan cheese for the first time in Italy (when we visited VP it was still early in our trip), but for some ridiculous reason they had run out of vegan cheese. Quite unacceptable! We were pretty hungry, so we ordered the mushroom pie cheeseless, and got what basically amounted to a flatbread with a few sad mushroom pieces on it.

vito pitagorico vegan chao italy naples
Some measly mushrooms on baked dough.

You’d think they’d compensate their lack of inventory control by giving us more mushrooms or another topping, but no, they decided to just be cheap and dump a few shrooms on there. The pasta was also mediocre. Still, on a better day if their inventory is up to snuff, it might make for a good experience. Too bad we couldn’t have one!

Honorable mentions:

Milkaway Sweethouse

I’ve met plenty of charming Italians during the course of my two-week stay, but none can hold a candle to Erika, the sweetest, nicest and most friendly Napolitano I came across. Erika and her sister run this tiny sweets and takeout café with all their love, and it really shows in how delicious, unique and addictive their creations are.

milkaway sweethouse vegan chao italy naples
Uniquely delicious!

I thoroughly enjoyed my soft whole-wheat roll with green beans, crunchy bits (nuts), creamy ranch-like dressing and shredded potato hash brown. They specialize in desserts — like the deconstructed banana cream pie in a cup I gobbled in two seconds — but everything on the menu that we tried was stellar. Don’t forget to order a fresh juice — it tastes like grown up, natural fruit punch!

Ren Chinese Restaurant – Via Carlo Alberto, 33, 00185 Roma RM, Italy (no website yet!)

Yeah, I know; who decides to eat Chinese food in Italy, of all places? After a soul-crushing failure to locate a vegan restaurant (twice, both places we looked up with fairly current reviews were closed for good), we stumbled upon this gem at the far end of a busy thoroughfare. The first rule of Chinese restaurants: actual Chinese people should be inside, EATING, or else it ain’t gon’ be good for ya.

ren chinese vegan chao italy rome
Szechuan tofu – tingly hot and filling.

Ren had plenty of Chinese customers, and we soon saw why: the food was excellent, generously portioned and more than reasonably priced. They coincidentally had only been open for three days when we visited and didn’t even have business cards yet! We ordered way too much but managed to finished 90% since we were so hungry. Plus, Asians don’t kick you out if they go past closing time (like they did at Ecru)! Amen to that!*

*this is why I will always have a soft spot for Chinese food + culture; we work hard and eat harder!

 

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