The Quad Cities straddle Iowa and Illinois and include Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. On the Illinois side there’s Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline. (What’s that? There are actually five cities that make up the Quad Cities? Well, yes. But let’s move on.)
David and I have family in the Quad Cities, and so we find ourselves there with some regularity. Whenever we go, we have a few restaurants that we like to hit. None of these restaurants are vegetarian or vegan; however, they do make some delicious plant-based food.
Crust in Bettendorf, Iowa
At Crust in Bettendorf, the flour for their pizza is imported from Italy along with the tomatoes for the sauce. The pizzas are cooked for 90 seconds in a stone oven. The thin pizza with pillowy edges comes out crisp with fire-licked edges. The smokiness sears the crust, making for a truly delicious pizza. It’s a real Naples-style pizza that takes me back to our honeymoon in Italy.
It would be more convenient if Crust listed out their vegetable topping options on their menu. However, a quick look through their pizzas and appetizers reveals the possibilities. I know a cheeseless pizza is an option at any pizza joint, but the toppings at Crust take them to the next level. With options like wild mushrooms, artichokes, scallions, baby arugula, asparagus, fresh basil, and garlic, this isn’t your typical Friday night pitcher of beer-variety pizza. (Although, they do have a lengthy beer list.)
They have a couple of appetizers that can be prepared vegan – truffle fries without the aioli and grilled asparagus without the cheese.
Note: They used to offer pine nuts and potatoes on their menu (as shown at the top of this post), but sadly, they took them off of their menu, along with a warmed olive appetizer I loved.
Exotic Thai in Davenport, Iowa
Another favorite choice in the Quad Cities is Exotic Thai in Davenport. (They also have a location in Moline and a sister restaurant called LemonGrass in Moline.) The lengthy menu has asterisks next to the items that can be made vegetarian. From there, you’ll need to ask if it can be made vegan. Requests of no fish sauce, no oyster sauce, and no egg are no problem.
In addition to the option of adding tofu to any dish, they also have veggie chicken, which is toothsome and juicy. Many times when I’ve ordered it, the server has told me that it’s their favorite “protein” option as well, regardless of if or if not the server is vegetarian.
We often get the Thai rolls to start. My favorite entrée is the spicy basil noodles made with stir-fried flat rice noodles, bell pepper, chilies, and onion with fresh basil leaves. It typically comes with egg as well, and so I ask them to omit it. I order it with the veggie chicken. I’ve also gotten really into pra ram with veggie chicken. It has a fragrant coconut milk peanut sauce that’s out of this world.
David’s favorite item on the menu is the tropical curry made with carrots, tomatoes, mango, pineapple, and basil in a coconut milk sauce with tofu. The shiitake asparagus, garlic black pepper with tofu, and drunken noodles are also quite good (while again being sure to ask that they be made without animal products).
But perhaps the best part of the Exotic Thai experience is the hot sauce tray brought to the table upon request. The hot sauces are made in house, and the slices of crisp jalapeño peppers are especially good. Soaking in a bath of vinegar, they maintain all of their crunch, as they haven’t been cooked and didn’t come out of a jar. The last time I was there, the server told me she’d just made the hot sauces that day.
Please note that one of the hot sauces is not vegan. The sauce that has a couple different kinds of red peppers and is floating in a vinegar bath also contains fish sauce. (In the picture above, it’s the sauce furthest from the camera in the line-up.) The jalapeño slices and the sauce that looks like Sriracha is fine.
Would you like beer or cocktails with your meal? They have those as well.
Olive Tree Café in Bettendorf, Iowa
For a quick and casual order-at-the counter option, Olive Tree Café in Bettendorf and Davenport has lots of options for vegans. (The Bettendorf location shares the same parking lot as the aforementioned Crust.)
Some of the menu options require a simple request of no cheese, tzatziki, or aioli. If in doubt, the staff has been more than happy in the past to confirm with the kitchen which items don’t include animal products.
Here we have the Marrakesh Salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, roasted peppers, onions, cilantro, and a very mild hummus. Plus, the Grilled Veggie Flatbread pizza with mushrooms, tomatoes, red onions, and olives ordered without cheese.
You can see more options from Olive Tree Café check out this Vegan Iowa post.
Mantra in Davenport, Iowa
Mantra Indian Cuisine is located in downtown Davenport, not far from the Mississippi River. It’s a non-vegan restaurant with lots of marked vegan options, which makes dining out so much easier.
If you’re a fan of spicy food, start with mirchi pakora. If you love jalapeño poppers, you’ll love these stuffed jalapeños that are filled with samosa-style potatoes. They are battered in what tastes like a chickpea flour coating and then deep-fried.
Because they are made with fresh jalapeño peppers, the amount of heat in each one will vary by pepper. Get the water glass ready just in case.
For a milder appetizer option, check out batata vada. These lightly spiced balls of potatoes and peas are battered in flour and fried. They’re served with house-made chutneys – cilantro, tamarind, and my personal favorite, onion.
(Pro-tip: The batata vada reheats beautifully in the air fryer if you can’t finish them off at the restaurant.)
My favorite entrée at Mantra is the chana masala. It has a deep, rich flavor and bold color that makes me wonder if they cook their chana masala with amla, also called awala or Indian gooseberries. They remind me of a favorite dish at Shree Indian Restaurant in Illinois.
To hear about more vegan options from Mantra Indian Cuisine, check out my full review of Mantra here.
Other vegan options in the Quad Cities
If you need to pick up provisions for the road, there is a natural food store in Davenport called Greatest Grains. Their produce doesn’t always look the freshest, but they have a large variety of packaged food & specialty items.
Simple Superfood Cafe has lots of raw & vegan options. You can read all about them in this Vegan Iowa post.
For something of the quick casual variety, there are locations of the chains Noodles & Company, Bruegger’s Bagels, Starbucks, and Chipotle in the Quad Cities