Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa and full of Midwestern small town charm. The city bursts with energy from an ever-changing student population. There’s pride in local food, a bustling farmers market in warm weather months, and a surprising amount of vegan options for a town in the middle of the Heartland.
In no way does this cover all of the options, but here are 13 vegan-friendly businesses in the home of the Hawkeyes (and surrounding area):
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant – Coralville
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Iowa. It opened in April 2017 and is located in a strip mall on the main strip in Coralville.
While they don’t specify on the menu, all of the vegetarian items are vegan (except for the baklava). Start with a sambussa, which is similar to an Indian samosa but stuffed with brown lentils.
(Note: In the past, the sambussa was served with salsa. However, the last time we were there, it was served with a creamy dipping sauce. The sauce is mayo-based and not vegan. So request it without the sauce.)
For the main course, I recommend getting a vegetarian sampler, so that you can taste the wide array of wots (stews). My favorites are the shiro, red lentils in a berbere sauce, and the yellow split pea stew. But you can’t go wrong with the cabbage and potatoes, green beans and carrots.
All of the food has a layered, warming flavor that lets the vegetables and legumes shine. With so few Ethiopian restaurants in the state, Eastern Iowa is lucky to have this gem.
Oasis – Iowa City
An acquaintance told me that when Oasis opened in 2004, he was dubious about how well it would do. He’d never heard of falafel, and he didn’t think Iowans would get behind something called baba ganoush. Well, that acquaintance has eaten his words… along with a heaping serving of hummus.
Oasis is a big fan favorite in Iowa City. Not only does the restaurant itself have a cult following, they also sell Oasis hummus and baba ganoush in many grocery stores throughout the area.
The menu offers loads of vegan options. I’m a big fan of the vegetable kebabs that have a fire-licked flavor from being cooked on flames. The onions in the kebabs take on a caramelized sweetness. The meal comes with two falafel and a choice of sides.
I also recommend the create-a-plate with baba ganoush or hummus, chickpea salad or Mediterranean salad, and madjadra. Their French fries are especially good and taste great alongside a vat of hummus.
Trumpet Blossom – vegan restaurant Iowa City
Trumpet Blossom is Iowa City’s sole vegan restaurant. They serve lunch and dinner plus brunch on the weekends. They have a full bar, and the menu is focused on local and organic cuisine.
My favorite dinner option is the solstice salad. It’s a kale salad with tahini dressing, topped with falafel. The sweet potato fries are also a “must.”
If you get a chance to go for brunch, don’t miss the seitan chorizo burrito. It’s packed with sweet potatoes, greens, black beans, brown rice, and big pieces of seitan made in house. It’s typically served with a poblano cream sauce, but I prefer it without.
Dumpling Darling – Iowa City & Cedar Rapids
Dumpling Darling is a cute order-at-the-counter place in downtown Iowa City. They started as a stand in the Iowa City Farmers Market and have since grown to include a location in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo City Market as well.
Plus, they’re slated to open a restaurant in the East Village of Des Moines in the summer of 2018.
They have several vegan items on offer including roasted ramen salad with Napa cabbage, roasted ramen, and almonds, tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette. They also have fried Brussels sprouts, which can be tossed with sea salt or Korean BBQ, edamame, and steamed bao buns.
For Corridor Veg Week (a yearly restaurant week that happens in April) they had chipotle tofu dumplings, fried and stuffed with local tofu, chipotle peppers, sautéed onions, and spinach. Dumpling Darling has since added it to their permanent menu!
Zombie Burger – Coralville (as well as other Iowa locations)
If you’re craving a vegan fast food experience, Zombie Burger at the Coral Ridge Mall offers two vegan burger options. (You can find these options at other Zombie Burger locations in Iowa as well.)
Both burgers are made with Beyond Meat veggie burgers, which are very meaty in texture and flavor. (They replaced their former handmade veggie burgers, which were on the mushier side.)
The Undead Glenn (shown above) is topped with shredded lettuce, pickles, and vegan zombie sauce. The zombie sauce is kind of like a spicy Thousand Island with sriracha instead of ketchup. (I’ve only tried this one so far, and it was delicious!)
The Lucille is topped with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, guacamole, and vegan chipotle mayo.
You can also get fries or sweet potato fries. Just make sure it get them without any non-vegan dressing.
RSVP – Iowa City
RSVP is a stationery store in the North side of Iowa City. Their spirited cards are far outside of what you’d find at Hallmark. Designs range from artistic to outrageous. They even have some punny vegan-oriented cards on occasion. They also have pens, artwork, jewelry, and notebooks.
What makes RSVP especially vegan-friendly is that they carry casual cloth bags and upscale vegan purses from Matt & Nat. They have a nice selection of full-sized bags along with wallets and wristlets.
They also carry cards to offer condolences for people who have lost a companion animal. Dogs and cats become true family members in our lives. It’s nice to have a place to get a grieving friend a card that honors that bond.
New Pioneer Co-op – Iowa City, Coralville & Cedar Rapids
New Pioneer Co-op has three locations in Eastern Iowa (Iowa City, Coralville, and Cedar Rapids). Much of the produce and prepared products at New Pi comes from local growers.
In addition, there’s a deli and bakery, where there are vegan sandwiches, salads, breads, and dessert. You can’t go wrong with the tempeh reuben, spicy Cajun tofuwich, or Cashew on a Hot Tin Roof.
(If you get hooked on that last one, try my recipe for making your own picnic sandwich at home.)
Some of the fresh breads vary depending on the day, but I especially love the garlic sourdough and Italian-style baguette. As for desserts, don’t miss the chocolate peanut butter bars, chocolate chip cookies, or freshly made cinnamon rolls.
New Pi is also the only place in Iowa where you can get Herbivorous Butcher vegan meats & cheeses. They keep adding to their offerings, but they include hickory bacon, pastrami, brie, gouda, two kinds of ribs & steaks, chicken, and pulled pork – all vegan! They’re available at New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City, Coralville, and Cedar Rapids.
Read more about the New Pi reuben in this Vegan Reuben Round-Up.
Film Scene – Iowa City
If you’d rather spend your Saturday night watching Skeleton Twins, Boyhood, or The Overnight than Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Film Scene is the place for you. Not only do they get art house films and documentaries that you won’t find in the mall movie theatre, they also have a number of vegan food options.
Their popcorn is cooked in coconut oil, and they offer a shaker of nutritional yeast flakes. They have trail mix and banana bread from local vegan restaurant, Trumpet Blossom.
They also offer burritos from Local Burrito, and sometimes have the Thai Peanut Tempeh Burrito. They will toast the burritos in their toaster oven, giving them a crusty exterior. (Don’t arrive too hungry, though. More than once, they’ve been out of them when I’ve placed my order.)
To read more about Film Scene, check out this earlier post.
Big Grove Brewery – Iowa City
Big Grove Brewery opened an Iowa City location in spring 2017. They already had a location in Solon, and this one is even larger. The expansive building includes an outdoor seating area with fire pits.
The indoor space is open and inviting, but be warned that it’s also very loud and echo-y. Conversation may involve some yelling.
Vegan & veganizable options are marked on the menu. For appetizers, they have hummus, pretzel with mustard, chips, guacamole, and salsa. Occasionally, they have specials that can be modified to be vegan as well, like the toast above.
For the main course, they offer black bean sweet potato tacos, roasted cauliflower tacos, a Beyond Burger, and tofu banh mi. The tofu banh mi is wonderfully flavorful, and the Beyond Burger (below) is grilled to perfection. The bread used on the burger overwhelms a bit. It would be nice if they served it on a regular burger bun.
The bibimbap can be prepared vegan upon request. The grilled paneer coconut curry is listed as vegan upon request. However, a friend tried to order it and was told it can’t be prepared that way.
They have cauliflower wings on the menu, and the Korean BBQ style are vegan. The sesame ginger are also listed as vegan on the menu; however, they’re not, because they contain honey. (The same friend tried to order them and was warned by the server.)
The Korean BBQ wings would be improved with a dipping sauce. I’m going to ask for some of the vegan aioli from the banh mi next time! Two salads can be prepared vegan – the garden grove salad & house salad.
For more information on Big Grove Brewery, check out this post.
Four Square Meals – Iowa City
The Iowa City farmers market is a twice-weekly affair on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through October. While there are plenty of in-season fruits and vegetables either day, Saturdays are when you’ll find the most hot items.
My favorite? This potato pancake topped with spicy tofu scramble and a ladling of salsa from Four Square Meals. The business is headed by Dave Burt, one of the co-owners of the former vegan restaurant, Red Avocado.
Old Capitol Food Company – Iowa City
At last, there’s somewhere to find local and organic tofu in Iowa. Old Capitol Food Company was started by Ethan Brown, Jake Gratzon, and Matthew Mesaros. Their tofu is sold at New Pioneer Co-op, Bread Garden Market, and some Iowa City Hy-Vee locations.
Wilson’s Orchard – Iowa City
Visiting Wilson’s Orchard is a fall tradition. They are open to the public from August through October.
In addition to apples aplenty, Wilson’s also sells apple cider, apple slushies, and apple turnovers that just happen to be vegan. The turnovers can be purchased hot and fresh or frozen to eat later. The frozen apple pies for sale are also accidentally vegan.
For more pictures from Wilson’s Orchard, read about last year’s visit.
Wilson’s also has a full-service restaurant on site called Rapid Creek Cidery. Their menu changes depending on the season. However, when I’ve visited they’ve been able to accommodate with eye-catching vegan options.
Brix – Iowa City
While “vegan-friendly” wouldn’t necessarily be the first words that come to mind with a wine and cheese shop, at Brix they have several options for plant-based folks.
There’s a Thai curry PB & J on the menu, as well as a veggie banh mi. The banh mi can be prepared vegan by asking them to swap the Calabrese sauce with sriracha. The roasted red pepper and tomato soup is vegan and comes topped with a drizzling of balsamic reduction. Occasionally, they offer vegan appetizers as well.
As a longtime fan of nibbly nights, my favorite thing to order at Brix is one of their boards. A vegan board is not listed on the menu, but we ask them to bring out any of their vegan spreads along with bread and oil. I especially like the Marcona almonds, Spanish olives, quince-onion marmalade, and tomato confit.
I’ve asked several times for them to start carrying Miyoko’s cheese or Treeline. Or how great would it be if they added some of the Herbivorous Butcher vegan meats & cheeses, sold at New Pioneer Co-op? So far that’s a no go, sadly.
Update: Brix now has a vegan board on the menu. It includes house-made walnut-lentil pate, olive tapenade, balsamic-pickled Borettane onions, and gluten-free crackers.
There’s a small outdoor patio that’s lovely in the warm weather months, and the shop itself is quiet with low lights and a nice place to have a quiet conversation with friends on a Friday night.