Michelle Donovan

Michelle Donovan is the owner of the Nile Coffee Shop, a “100 percent vegan establishment” in Mesa.

In search of vegan takeout? Look no farther than Scottsdale, which recently ranked as having the country’s highest share of restaurants serving vegetarian and vegan options.

According to WalletHub’s Best Cities for Vegans and Vegetarians ranking, Scottsdale’s restaurant scene has the highest percentage of eateries serving vegetarian options at nearly 28 percent and vegan options at more than 16 percent. 

Overall, Scottsdale ranked 22nd on WalletHub’s list, while other East Valley cities such as Gilbert, Chandler, and Mesa ranked 25th, 28th, and 34th, respectively. 

“That’s great to hear Scottsdale is earning a reputation as a vegan dining destination!” said Los Sombreros co-owner Bobi Rivera. “It’s certainly something that’s top of mind for us.” 

 Los Sombreros, which has two locations in Scottsdale and Mesa, has seen an 11 percent increase in their vegan and vegetarian option sales from 2019 to 2020.

Especially popular at Sombreros are the vegan enchiladas and their crispy potato tacos.

“Vegan enchiladas are stuffed with vegetables and topped with a vegan, soy-based mozzarella. We tested quite a few vegan cheeses before finding this one that we all agree is the best: It melts perfectly and can stand toe-to-toe against any dairy-based cheese on the market,” Rivera said. 

“Our crispy potato tacos are super popular with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike – a true fan favorite and the ultimate comfort food,” Rivera added.

Los Sombreros has vegan and vegetarian dishes since first opening in 1996. 

“Our style of cooking – central Mexico-based – lends itself naturally to vegan and vegetarian options, since corn is king in our kitchen,” Rivera explained.

 “One of our most popular starters, our elote, [which] literally means corn in Spanish, features corn as the showcase and harkens back to the flavors and aromas from Mexican backyards and street festivals alike.”

But it wasn’t until their meat and cheese-based enchiladas became popular among guests that Los Sombreros added the vegan relleno and vegan enchiladas.

“We didn’t want to leave anyone out on the fun,” Rivera said. “We want guests to have a variety of options, regardless of their dietary needs.”

Since 2004, the number of Americans who have adopted a plant-based diet increased to 9.7 million people, according to Ipsos Retail Performance.

In Arizona, heavy interest in vegan and plant-based diets sates back to 2013.

Research has linked vegan diets to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

People have also turned to a vegan diet to help the environment.

According to the Vegan Society and PETA, the production of meat and other animal products burdens the environment, from the pollution created by meat production to the crops and water required to feed the animals.

“Most people become vegetarian because of health, but as more people become aware about the impact of their diet on the environment, more people will start to make the change,” said SOL Mexican Cocina Director of Food and Beverage Development Michael Gaines.

Gaines and Rivera predict an increase in vegetarian and vegan offerings at Scottsdale-area restaurants.

“More and more people are learning about the health benefits of moving away from true carnivore status. Scottsdale residents and visitors are no exception,” Rivera said. “We have seen many restaurants begin to offer different options or the ability to make it vegan.”

Gaines attributes the increase in vegetarian and vegan offerings here to the rise of plant-based, meat-alternative products like those sold by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

“More restaurants will increase their vegetarian offerings because of the increase in demand and also because there are so many options to do so now with ingredients like plant-based meat,” Gaines said.

One restaurant that has embraced plant-based meat is Dilla Libre, a Mexican restaurant in southern Scottsdale that offers gourmet quesadillas, tacos and bowls with nearly every menu available in vegan form.

Their most popular dishes include vegan carne asada fries, topped with Beyond Burger carne asada and shredded vegan cheese and served with vegan ranch; and their papa verde tacos, made with vegan cotija cheese and featuring potatoes in place of meat.

“When you start to look at the vegan demographic, it’s growing like wildfire. They’ll go out of their way to find it. So, when we put the options out there, people are on it,” said owner Mike Baum.

SOL Mexican Cocina also sells its popular Sweet Potato & Black Bean Taco.

“It is popular because it is as satisfying and tasty as a meat taco,” Gaines said. “It is sweet, savory, spicy and offers a plethora of textures in a bite because of the black beans and sweet potatoes.”

SOL Mexican Cocina added two more vegetarian tacos in 2019: BBQ Seitan Taco and spicy cauliflower taco.

“We already had many vegetarian items on our menu then but wanted to create more options for vegetarians,” Gaines said. “We wanted to create a more inclusive menu.”

SOL Mexican Cocina is one of many restaurants – like Cornish Pasty Co. and Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen – that have “vegan options” as its own category.

“I think it will become a whole new category on menus,” Rivera said.

At some restaurants, like the Nile Coffee Shop in Mesa, vegan dishes make up the entire menu.

“We are a 100 percent vegan establishment,” said the Nile Coffee Shop Owner Michelle Donovan, who also owns the attached music venue, the Nile Theater.

“I have been vegan for 10 years and was vegetarian for 15 years prior to becoming vegan. We made the transition... because it didn’t feel right offering foods that I personally have an ethical issue with,” Donovan said.

The Nile Coffee Shop also launched a vegan drive-through, which takes place on the third Saturday of each month. “You can taste dishes and treats from over 10 vendors all in one space,” Donovan explained. 

Attendees must preorder at vegandrivethru.org and the event is so popular, it fulfills between 115-140 orders over three hours.

“There are all sorts of amazing vegan pop-ups and bakers in the Valley,” Donovan continued. “We thought it would be great if people could try a good number of them all at one time while being socially responsible.”

Other popular restaurants that offer vegan dishes in Scottsdale and the East Valley include Tocaya Organica, Simon’s Hot Dogs, The Vig, Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen, Toca Madera, La Locanda Italian, Ruching Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine, Pita Jungle, Green Lotus and Hopdoddy.