Up until a few years ago, if you were vegetarian or vegan and at Small Press Expo, you’d just go to Vegetable Garden. Vegetable Garden wasn’t the best food, but it was right there and it was reliable.
But then it closed and relocated, leaving all of us wondering what to do. And we all know that buying and selling comics makes you hungry. It’s not always easy navigating strange places and restaurants when you’re vegetarian or vegan, so I wanted to help you out.
I am primarily focusing on places close to the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center – places that are within a reasonable walking distance (about a mile or less) but I’ll also provide some recommendations that are a bit further out. (Also note, the area isn’t the friendliest to walkers – use crosswalks and common sense and all of that.)
If you are like me and leaving the hotel isn’t really much of an option (especially on Saturday), restaurant Merritage and bar On the Rocks have a few standard vegetarian options, although not particularly vegan friendly. I know none of us really want another hummus plate in our lives, but such things will do in a pinch. The menu isn’t completely clearly marked, so ask questions if you need to.
In the shopping center closest to the hotel is Ize’s Deli and Bagelry, which offers a vegan bagel sandwich (It’s even called that! And yes, there’s that hummus again, but I’ve had this several times for lunch and their bagels are good).
Probably the best thing that has happened to veggie-SPX-goers in search of a quick meal is Pike & Rose. I brought along Greg Bennett (who eats seafood but no other meat) to sample a couple of the places. Greg’s well-known for his knowledge of food in the area so I figured he would not lead any SPXers astray.
We first hit ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (Map), an Asian-inspired chain from the owners of Chipotle. Not being a particular fan of Chipotle, I wasn’t expecting too much. I got a rice bowl and Greg got a noodle bowl. We were both impressed with the freshness of the ingredients, how flavorful everything was and the clarity of the labels on items (some sauces and extras use fish sauce – but there is no dairy or eggs on the menu). For about $7 per bowl, it’s a good amount of food (I got two meals out of mine). While it’s not going to be the best Asian food you’ll ever have, for a quick, cheap option, it’s a good one. (In fact, since I don’t live too far from that location, I can see myself going there for a meal every now when I’m getting home late and such.
Next we tried local pizza chain &Pizza (Map), which offers individual, custom-made pizzas. At about $10 per pizza, it seems a little pricey, but pizzas are about equivalent to a 12-inch round pizza (we did the math for you!). &Pizza offers a few “signature” pizzas (none of which are vegan on their own) so Greg opted for the Gnarlic with roasted garlic puree and a blend of cheeses on the Ancient Grains crust. I made my own pizza, with the classic tomato sauce, Daiya cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives.
Honestly? This was one of the best vegan pizzas I’ve ever had. They have a light touch with the Daiya cheese and baking it gives it a nice color on top. I’m not a huge fan of Diaya cheese, but this worked – it took the place of real cheese impressively. Greg enjoyed his – impressed with the garlicy flavor of the sauce.
Everything at &Pizza is also clearly labeled vegetarian or vegan and they have a few other interesting toppings – including falafel crumbles, spicy chickpeas and vegan beef crumbles. They also offer a gluten-free crust.
One pizza is one meal if you’re really hungry or two if you’re not (Greg and I also did the “next day” test and tried the pizzas later at room temperature – not as a good fresh from the oven, but still tasty and edible). Along with the housemade sugar sodas, I was pretty happy to find &Pizza. I can see sending someone over there between the show’s closure on Saturday and before the Ignatz to grab me one.
Pike & Rose also has Roti Mediterranean Grill (Map), with a couple of vegetarian options (they don’t specify what’s vegan and what’s not), but since Mediterranean House Of Kabob is closer, you might as well stick to that. Nearby is a Chipotle (Map), serving tofu “sofritas” in their burritos. I’m not a particular Chipotle fan, but it’s there (go to ShopHouse instead, though).
Further up Rockville Pike is the surprisingly vegan-friendly Silver Diner (Map). I personally feel like Silver Diner is a bit expensive for what you get, but if you have several different people with different tastes, it’s not the worst option.
If you’re looking more for grocery stores, a Whole Foods (Map) is within walking distance, as is MOM’s Organic Market (Map). While I’m all for buying local(ish) and MOM’s does have a small cafe inside, it’s going to be a longer (and more treacherous) walk than just going to Whole Foods. There’s also a Harris Teeter (Map) more or less across the street from the hotel.
Most other restaurants in the area do have at least a few vegetarian options, although depending on where you go, vegan options may be harder to come by. But if you end up at some the “fancier” nearby places like Seasons 52, Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, Summer House or Chef Geoff’s, you won’t starve.
If you have a car, you should really go to Yuan Fu (Map). It’s the best mock-meat Chinese I’ve had. It’s so good. Rockville is full of amazing Chinese restaurants – such as Joe’s Noodle House (not all “vegetarian” items necessarily are, so make sure you ask. It’s worth it!) – just do your research first. (VegDC.com is an invaulable resource there.)
If you want have time to go into Bethesda (only a couple of Metro stops away!), I recommend Bethesda Curry Kitchen (Map) and Bistro Lazeez (Map), but there are many other places in Bethesda, too – too many to list!