At the heart of Wagamama's philosophy is the word "kaizen," which means good change, or continuous improvement, in Japanese. Since its early days in London in 1992 and throughout its expansion into Boston and New York (there are three Wagamamas in each city), the ramen chain has been practicing kaizen through recipe innovation, like putting more plants on the menu.
"I think the plant movement, or the vegan movement, is coming on really fast in the U.S. We've had it in the U.K. for quite some time," says Steve Mangleshot, Wagamama's global executive chef. "This is about having fresh Asian food that can excite people's taste buds. I want people smiling about the fact that we've got great food, not necessarily vegan food. A lot of the ingredients we use every day are vegetables, so plant-based was a natural step for us."
While taste ultimately takes priority over plants for the sake of plants, that doesn't mean that Wagamama doesn't have some mean vegan options in its roster of kokoro bowls, ramen, teppanyaki, donburi, curries, and salads. The brand goes beyond veggie incorporations, often coming up with creative replacements for animal products.
In 2019, the chain debuted the world's first vegan soft-boiled egg in a new kokoro bowl. The Summer in a Bowl was added to the menu in 2019 and includes barbecue-glazed seitan, a coconut and sriracha vegan egg, grilled shiitake mushrooms, and asparagus over brown rice with edamame beans, carrots, scallions, sweet amai sauce, sesame seeds, and lime.
This year, Wagamama followed its innovative egg with Asian Sticky Vegan Ribs made from barbecue seitan glazed in a spicy cherry sauce. A slew of other tofu and veggie mains, sides, and desserts are also available, including the crispy, wok-fried Bang Bang Cauliflower—a favorite of Mangleshot.
"This cauliflower is absolutely superb, because we make the vegetable the hero of the dish," he says. "People who aren't vegan come in for this because it just tastes so good. If a diner who isn't vegan is trying our veggie dishes, that's when I know I'm winning because that's when I know we've succeeded in making great food."
Vedge, V Street, and Fancy Radish
Philadelphia & Washington, D.C.
For chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, every vegetable is deserving of a spotlight. At their first restaurant, Vedge, farm-to-table fare takes on new meaning with dishes like the Wood-Roasted Carrot (pumpernickel, crushed garbanzos, carrot mustard, and carrot kraut) while V Street proves that global small plates can be rooted in veggies as with the Ethiopian-inspired Charred Berbere Broccoli (with harissa hummus, chermoula, and nigella). The couple's D.C. outpost, Fancy Radish, brings classics from the original two, plus new dishes.
Ava Gene's and Tusk
Zeroing in on "locally sourced, aggressively seasonal" cuisine, Submarine Hospitality houses Ava Gene's, a Roman-inspired eatery underpinned by local ingredients, and Tusk, a Middle Eastern concept that changes menus daily depending on what's in season. Both outposts balance a cornucopia of fruit-and veggie dishes with thoughtfully sourced meats, rather than building their menus the other way around.
Jinya Ramen Bar
HQ: Los Angeles
While Jinya's 30-plus domestic restaurants do serve animal proteins, herbivores needn't despair; plant-forward options are far from an afterthought. The authentic ramen bar builds veg-friendly broths, salads, small plates, mini tacos, and rice bowls, creating scratch-made dishes like the Flying Vegan Harvest (vegan miso broth, soy meat, tofu, bean sprouts, broccolini, green and red onions, corn, crispy garlic, chili seasoning, and thick noodles).
You'll find animal proteins at Bad Hunter but as an addition rather than a foundation. As part of Chicago's celebrated Heisler Hospitality group, the New American eatery offers a set of majority-vegetarian small and medium plates, such as Parsnip Pavé with black truffle, carrot miso, and ubriaco cheese. The whole roasted cauliflower with sambal, ginger, and peanuts is one of the larger plates on offer.