Jasiatic Anderson resides at the cultural and philosophical crossroads of world travel, radical taste making, “artist as art,” and avid unschooling. She is the creator of the Liberation Dinners and co-creator of Bloom a womxn-centric, plant-based gathering. Her creative works extend over various mediums, including but not limited to creative portraiture, documentary photography, event curation, cooking and writing. For Queen City Nerve, she’ll be covering something she has over 25 years of experience with: vegan food in Charlotte.
Tell someone in Charlotte you’re a foodie and a vegan and watch the dissatisfaction spread across their face. “You can’t really be a foodie because… you know…?” I don’t.
Gone (mostly) are the days when lay people imagine iceberg lettuce as the idealized feast of their best vegan friend. “We got salad!” (eyes bright). “I’m good sis” *blinks* (I’d rather eat cardboard).
Listen, I like greens and all of the accoutrements that I imagine a salad to be, but I can’t trust people that treat their vegetables like a side piece. You have to grow a thing, love it, massage and be patient. Steam alone does not do it. And bagged salad won’t work here.
As I write this, I’m in my brother’s Texas home awaiting a connecting flight to Oaxaca, the gastronomic capital of Mexico — and maybe the world, I’ll have you know. It’s the birthplace of mole … MOLE y’all!!! Oaxacan cuisine is based on beans, corn, chiles … ancestral foods.
In fact, much of the food that we consume outside of what is deemed American cuisine holds these truths. Trust the basics. Eat from the earth. Gather more often than not.
I love all the foods. I love the magic and creativity of what it takes to make a reeeally good vegan carbonara (that’s my new shit to make). I love to play in the kitchen and I love to eat. A solid “vegan restaurant” elicits both excitement and gratitude. Honestly, there’s nothing like it.
Flavor is my forte. I grew up on hot fish in the black pot, grits with loads of butter, fat back that’s simultaneously crispy and melting. How is that even possible?! It’s all magic baby. Food should be a mouth-watering whimsical delight.
I became a plant-eating person 26ish years ago. As a Charlotte native and longtime vegan, pickings were slim here. Remember Kelly’s Café on North Davidson Street, when it was actually an arts district? To my knowledge this was the first vegetarian restaurant (circa 2000) and it was only around for a moment. Despite the lack of vegan and vegetarian restaurants during that time, I along with my small vegan children needed options. Who loves to cook and nurse all day every day? Nah. Not this girl.
I want to highlight those that held me and my budding babies down — and not just the exclusively vegan spots you can find on a Google search, but the ones with hidden gems on a mostly meat-eating menu. Some of these restaurants may not have been around quite that long, but they all still hold a special place in my food heart.
Lang Van, 3019 Shamrock Drive; 704-531-9525
If you don’t already know, you’ve been missing out on this east-side staple, and a hidden gem for vegan food in Charlotte. And if you do know, then you’ve gone home with a bottle of wine on your birthday and a warm sesame ball on lucky days.
What to eat: #123 forever. An amazement of vegetables and garlic sauce with the starchiest of rice. Get it spicy … even if you’re not. There’s also #62, unless you wanna roll your own spring rolls (there is a dish for that, too), but this lemongrass goodness wrapped in rice paper is a meal of it’s own. Oh, and if sweet tea is your thing … theirs does not disappoint. Who knew? You do now.
Ben Thanh Restaurant, 1806 Windsor Square Drive, Matthews
I live to see the owner’s smiling face. Back in the day they worked at another amazing Vietnamese restaurant, but that’s not my story to tell. It’s like seeing old friends from back home and they know just what to make you. What can I say … Ben Thanh has enormous flavor and is it’s own wonderful entity.
What to eat: Fresh rice noodles with tofu. Just the right amount of garlic, oil and love. The pineapple fried rice; it’s beautiful! Also, just eat anything that they can make vegan for you. Listen, it’s all good.
Kabab-Je, 2233 Matthews Township Pkwy., Matthews
Where do I start? This Mediterranean and Lebanese spot opened a new south Charlotte location in the Stonecrest shopping center in 2017, giving vegans in Charlotte more options.
What to eat: Mujadara … because baby these onions! It’s like they’ve been caramelizing for days. The cauliflower; it’s the best. No breading, no silly names, no pretend chicken, just slathers of Tahini and yum. The spicy Lebanese salad is perfect and the potato harra will make you slap someone. Add toum … forget about it. (I love garlic if you can’t tell.)
Le’s Sandwiches & Cafe, 4520 N. Tryon St.
Le’s Sandwiches, aka Le’s Banh Mi, is tucked in the Asian Corners shopping center, but if you grew up here you just call it Tryon Mall.
What to eat: Vegan banh mi, of course. That’s all they do (banh mi, I mean, not the vegan. You gotta ask for that.) They do this, however you want, right before your eyes. They are banh mi pros and your taste buds will confirm. Bring cash. Be there before 5.
Thai House – University, 230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., B9
“Sometimes you wanna go … Where everybody knows your name” Seriously, these folks have watched my children grow up. Imagine being vegan 20-plus years ago and having tofu as the only faithful meat substitute and then — bam! — mock duck!
What to eat: Sweet and sour mock duck with rice. Any curry (I love the red, my children love the Massaman) with mock duck or tofu. The best fried spring rolls. Fried tofu appetizer (extra crispy, please). For lunch they will bring out a soup that’s almost always vegan (just ask). The lunch specials are plentiful; try Pad Krapow if basil is your thing. For dinner, if no one’s counting the carbs, Pad Woosen (why is this so good?). The jasmine sweet tea is one of a kind and there are refills (who does that??).
Cedar Land, 4832 Central Ave.; (704) 535-9662
Remember when there was a full-service restaurant adjacent to the Cedar Land grocery store? I do. Although I was saddened to see it go, I was thrilled that the kitchen still exists! You can get almost anything that your eastern dream palate desires at this store, including plenty of injera options. Before you shop though, put in an order.
What to eat: The falafel sandwich (the best one in Charlotte). The fries taste like my childhood. The spinach pies are delectable and the fattoush is on point.
Nile Grocery, 3113 N. Sharon Amity Road
The Habesha have blessed Charlotte with their presence. We see y’all! Thanks to them we have plentiful Ethiopian and Eritrean food options and are a better food community because of it. If you aren’t new to veganism, you know that the food of this region serves up some of the best plant-based options ever! We all have our faves, mine is Nile Grocery. You can get a solid batch of Mimita or Besobela but there is also a kitchen in the back.
What to eat: A veggie plate. Call ahead and tell them what you want and let them know that you’re vegan. In terms of taste and customer service, they win. I love it. You will too.
BerryBrook Natural Foods, 1257 East Blvd.
You know, the spot with the red wagon outside. Your grandma gets her alkaline water from here, but it’s not just herbs and vitamins. Once upon a time I worked in this kitchen. We made soups, smoothies and possibly the only veggie burger in town. Before “beyond” when it was “impossible” to find a simple plant-based burger, BerryBrook had it on lock. I learned a lot, mostly about food integrity. “The juice bar” as it’s affectionately called, is to be trusted.
What to eat: Soup of the day; just ask them to taste the daily options. The veggie burger (soft and yummy, get in my tummy!). The black bean burrito (hold the olives for me). A Funky Monkey when your mind says smoothie but your heart wants a milkshake. Also grab one of those cold spinach pies from Sami’s Bakery out of the cooler. Eat it cold, in the car, warmed up near or far … just eat it.
Pho An Hoa Restaurant, 4832 Central Ave.
Got a hangover? Struggling through a cold, gloomy day? Just like to eat? Listen I know … there are lots of solid Vietnamese recommendations on this list, but if you want pho, darling, and you gotta go to the pros. In fact, you’ll see all the other owners of previously mentioned businesses there on any given Sunday.
What to eat: Vegan pho, duh. My daughter asks for the sweet and sour broth. Talk to them and they will guide you. Noodles you didn’t know existed. If you think you can handle real pepper, have them pull the special chili oil from the back. Be careful. Get a lemon soda on your way out.
We are ever grateful for all of the exclusively vegan spots in Charlotte that are always holding us down. But for those of us that have been in the game a while it’s always good to keep expanding and finding the hidden gems.