If you’re a vegetarian, you probably understand the struggle of ordering a new take on the same veggie burger. Again. And again. Tapas are a great way to handle restrictive (by choice or otherwise) diets in a way that ensures all parties are happy. D.C. is full of tapas restaurants and other joints that focus predominately on small plates for sharing. From Spanish to Mediterranean cuisine, we put together a roundup of some restaurants putting out can’t-miss small plates.
Bar Pilar bills itself as “inspired by regional farms and providers with a focus on what tastes good right now.” Makes sense, then, that this is a must-hit for the modern vegetarian looking for meatless small plates. The veggiecentric dishes, especially, are inspired by regional farms and suppliers, with a focus on fresh, seasonal, organic, and local produce.
One can easily build a small feast by focusing on the restaurant’s regular dinner menu (there’s a specific section dedicated to vegetables, which often showcases some of the most innovative cuisine the menu has to offer; 10 dishes are strictly vegetarian; and numerous others can be made vegetarian), but the smart play is to head over on Monday night for the chef’s Meatless Monday evenings.
Each Monday night, the chef creates a special menu made up exclusively of vegetarian dishes designed around what’s best from their produce order and farmers’ market excursions. There’s almost always some kind of cold soup, whether that’s a green gazpacho with creme fraiche or a tomato and apple gazpacho with cayenne and sherry vinegar. There’s almost always a celebration of one pristine ingredient, such as in a zucchini fritter topped with a dollop of corn and tomato jam, or charred Brussels sprouts with a pistachio amaretto cream sauce.
Larger courses often focus on an internationally-inspired flavor profile. To wit: Latin, with a veggie quesadilla with Oaxaca cheese, mushrooms, roasted zucchini, and pepita sauce; Asian, with a mushroom soup dumpling in lemongrass chili broth; or Middle Eastern, with a roasted eggplant and squash kabob with a red onion salad, spicy tzatziki and house-baked naan.
Point of the story, Bar Pilar kills at catering to vegetarians. Whether a normal weeknight rocking through the regular dinner menu or a Meatless Monday feast, Pilar has to be at the top of any vegetarian’s tapas list. -Logan Hollers
The tapas at Boqueria are quintessentially Spanish; veggie options include spinach with raisins and pine nuts, shishisto peppers blistered to perfection, and artichokes drenched in a bold garlic dressing. I am huge fan of their selection of Spanish cheeses, and I love their Romanesco salad, which comes with earthy hazelnuts and mint. Come early so you can snag a spot on their coveted patio. Spanish cava will complement any and all of the vegetarian tapas. -Priya Konings
I know for most people brunch tapas sound like a horrible thing, but think about it for a second. It’s an opportunity to eat both sweet and savory things and more easily controlled portions so you don’t spend the rest of your day napping and hating yourself. Brunch tapas make the most sense. Since you’re obviously getting the Khachupuri (don’t tell me you’re not because you are) round off brunch with an order of the Shakshuka and Zeppole. That way you’ll get equal parks savory, sweet and cheesy, also known as the Holy Trinity of breakfast. -Kaylee Dugan
This is a D.C. classic for vegetarian tapas. I will never get sick of their grilled bread, smeared with tomatoes and Spanish olive oil and sea salt. And that’s just the beginning. Green beans with brown butter, almonds and lemon are bright and fragrant, roasted wild mushrooms are garlicky and meaty, and the vegetarian croquettes are crunchy and irresistible. The vegetarian options are endless, there is fried eggplant, roasted cauliflower, sautéed pea shoots, and even bomba rice with truffle butter. It’s a veggie lover’s dream. Remember to order loads of sangria to wash down all the deliciousness. -Priya Konings
Is it someones birthday? Did someone get a promotion? Did someone have a really hard week and they just need a pick me up? Take them to Iron Gate. While the vegetarian menu isn’t quite as diverse as I’d like, it’s still a pretty solid pick considering it is hard to find high end vegetarian focused restaurants in D.C. Sure, you could go to Zaytinya or Rasika, but it’s nice to mix it up. Halloumi, Patzarosalata and honey roasted carrots are a good choice, as are their delicious boozy cocktails. -Kaylee Dugan
To be able to enjoy food from José Andrés as a vegetarian is an absolute pleasure, and Spanish tapas happen to be surprisingly vegetarian inclusive. Vegetarian or not, crispy patatas bravas with cool garlic aioli and zesty salsa brava are an absolute must have. Jaleo has a pretty substantial vegetable section as well, with eight tapas that are meat and seafood-free (excluding cheese and dessert). The endibias con queso de cabra y naranjas is a particular favorite dish of mine. The acidity of the orange slices brightens up the slight bitterness of the endive and the creaminess of the goat cheese and the whole dish is tied together by the crunch of crushed almonds sprinkled on top. Another vegetarian standby is trigueros con romesco, a bountiful plate of grilled asparagus resting atop a bed of heavenly puree made from roasted red peppers, almonds, bread, and olive oil. To round out a satisfying vegetarian meal in true Spanish fashion, a cheese board is truly the only way to go. Smokey San Simón, sweet Caña de Cabra, and spiced Rey Silo Rojo create the ultimate after dinner treat while you finish up your wine. -Allison Desy
In addition to being a mojito bar that serves ice cold rum-based beverages infused with every kind of fresh fruit under the sun, Mezé also offers a large menu full of options for vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, and omnivores alike. I started out with a delicious trio of dips, consisting of homemade hummus, babaganush, and muhammara (a roasted red pepper spread mized with walnuts, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice) served with warm pita bread. After immediately deciding that the hummus was the best I’d ever had, the yumurtali ispanak, made of sauteed spinach, onion, and tomato served in a personal vintage skillet and topped with a sunny side egg, seemed like a good idea along with some tulum, a soft goat’s milk cheese served with jam. The slight saltiness of the tulum was heightened by the sweetness of the jam, and the yumurtali ispanak was like brunch food that can (and absolutely should) be eaten at any time of day. I rounded out my Mediterranean tapas experience with crispy mucver, zucchini and feta pancakes served with creamy yogurt and savory tomato sauces. Being able to choose from nearly 30 small plates that were either vegan or vegetarian was amazing, though slightly stressful. I almost feel sympathetic for omnivores after being reminded of what it feels like to have to choose between so many delicious options. Almost. -Allison Desy
So many new restaurants have opened up in the city lately that I almost missed this one. But I recently stopped by and was super impressed with the selection of vegetarian tapas. Highlights include hunks of fried goat cheese drizzled with orange infused honey, grilled eggplant soaked in a rich, heady red wine sauce, roasted carrots served on a bed of earthy lentils, and of course classic patatas bravas, which come with a spicy tomato sauce. The décor is modern and cute and the wine list is great. It’s an awesome spot to go with a group of friends; order a heap of food and drinks and indulge. -Priya Konings
There is nothing I love more than sharing food. I think it was the way I was raised. When I get dinner with my family, we’re constantly cutting pieces off for each other, or handing our plates over. If you have a love for Mexican food that just wont quit and you want to try all of the things, look no further than Oyamel. Their vegetarian selection is vast enough for even the most picky and particular vegetarian and it’s definitely good enough to satisfy those who prefer meat as well. Stand outs are the Quesadilla huitlacoche made with melty Chihuahua cheese, the Frijoles refritos con queso because refried beans are gods beans and the Nopal asado con salsa molcajete which is served with some crazy good grilled cactus. You can never go wrong at Oyamel. -Kaylee Dugan