Vegan Detroit: How to spend two days in Michigan’s largest city eating all of the vegan foods – including vegan catfish, Big “Mocks,” and an avocado toast that will keep you coming back for more.
And even a few non-food related sights while you wait to get hungry again.
What brought us to Detroit? Mostly slow cooked collard greens & chili.
In recent years, Detroit has become known for its burgeoning vegan food scene. I can’t deny the call to vegan soul food. So when an opportunity to visit the area sprung up, I answered the call.
If Motor City is calling you too, here’s a rundown of places to visit while you’re there to see the vegan Detroit highlights, as well as the other sights & sounds the city offers.
Avalon Café & Bakery
Just a short walk from our hotel was Avalon Café & Bakery. They have multiple locations in Detroit, as well as one in Ann Arbor.
Of course, coffee is a must to start the day. And my soy latte did not disappoint. It wasn’t too sweet, which can be an issue at some coffee shops.
In addition to soy milk, they have a variety of non-dairy milks.
- At the Willis, Grand Boulevard, and Woodward locations, they have oat, soy, and almond milk.
- At the location on Bellevue, they have almond.
- And the Ann Arbor location has coconut, almond, and soy.
At home, I regularly have vegan avocado toast. But when I’m out of town, I enjoy seeing how restaurants elevate my ordinary breakfast.
The avocado on the toast at Avalon is seasoned with lemon or lime, chili flakes, and sea salt. It’s topped with thinly sliced cucumber, a drizzle of tahini, and olive oil.
The slice of farm bread was generous enough for two, and served with a knife. But it was too delicious to share.
I’m an enormous fan of tahini, but I hadn’t thought of adding it to my toast. Since that visit, that has changed!
They also have their baked goods on display that are clearly marked when vegan. The first morning David and I shared a blueberry muffin. The next day we chose monkey bread.
Detroit Vegan Soul
I’ve been yearning to go to Motor City ever since I read about Detroit Vegan Soul. (They have two locations – east & west. Each location has slightly different menus.)
I adore soul food, but vegan soul food restaurants aren’t something you find everywhere. (Although, if you ever make it to Southern California, Stuff I Eat is very much worth a visit!)
For my lunch, I made a meal of sides, so that I could taste several things.
First and foremost, let’s talk about these collard greens. These smoky greens were tender, juicy, and falling apart in my mouth. They were the star of this meal.
I also had to order the “catfish” tofu, because I have never seen that on a menu anywhere. (Vegan fish, yes. Catfish, no.)
The tofu was thinly sliced, which really let the crisp, cornmeal breading take the center stage.
I finished my meal with mac and cheese. The mac and cheese had an interesting subtle sweetness to it.
David had the seitan pepper steak stir-fry. Peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger were stir fried in a special sauce alongside a generous mound of sesame broccoli.
David was especially taken with the broccoli, which was surprisingly delicious for something that looked so simple on the face of it.
Chili Mustard Onions
The restaurant that was recommended over and over again was Chili Mustard Onions. (Known as CMO by the locals.)
The small space was nicely decorated with big paintings of rock stars.
The comfort food-heavy menu includes pita sandwiches, subs, and a coney dog, which is basically its own food group in Detroit.
(Not going to Michigan anytime soon? Check out my vegan chili dog recipe.)
I ordered a gyro, which was stuffed with house-made seitan, tzatziki, sliced onion, and tomato. This monstrous dish was worth the extra napkins. The pita was pillowy and fresh.
I didn’t want to miss out on chili entirely, though. So I upgraded my side of fries to chili cheese fries, which were very tasty.
I make vegan chili cheese tater tots at home. So it was a treat to get something similar in a restaurant.
In the same way that I have to order a vegan reuben if one is on the menu, if David sees a vegan Big Mac, that’s his order.
At CMO, they call theirs the Big Mock. It’s made with two Beyond patties, lettuce, onions, and pickles on a sesame seed bun. With special sauce, of course!
(If you’d like to make a version of your own, check out my recipe for a vegan Big Mac slider.)
The Eastern Market is an enormous farmers market, which welcomes 45,000 people on Saturdays. (The market is used on other days as well for a variety of markets. Check out their website for more information.)
The Eastern Market first started in 1841, and moved to its present location in the 1850’s. It’s the largest historic public market district in the United States.
On Saturdays, you’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants, as well as prepared foods. The market is also known for its surrounding murals. (David is standing in front of one of them at the top of this post.)
Many visitors pull wagons behind them to carry any plants & produce they purchase while they’re there. The aisles get pretty packed with people & carts. So definitely bring your patience along with you.
Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts isn’t just one of the top six museums in the United States. It’s also a meeting place where the city comes together.
While I was there on a Friday night, there was free live music, sitting easels for museum goers to draw the artwork, and kids playing chess in the basement with the Detroit Chess Club. They also have a movie theatre!
Kresge Court looked like a charming place to have wine & dinner in a setting that feels like they brought the outdoors indoors.
As for the art itself, their museum boasts works of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and impressive murals by Diego Rivera.
Seva is a vegetarian restaurant with a location in Detroit, as well as the original in Ann Arbor.
The Detroit location is an easy walk from the Detroit Institute of Arts. So I headed there for dinner after spending several hours admiring paintings.
While it is a vegetarian restaurant, most of the menu items at Seva can be prepared vegan. They have an outdoor patio, as well as indoor seating.
I took a seat outside and ordered the cilantro-peanut stir-fry. It included lots of fresh vegetables like broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, sprouts, onions, and carrots.
The vegetables were coated in a ginger peanut sauce and served over brown rice with a smattering of roasted peanuts. I wasn’t blown away by the dish, but it was completely satisfactory.
Third Man Records
One of the things David was most looking forward to on the trip was visiting Third Man Records. It’s a record store, performance stage, and pressing plant for the record label of Jack White.
David and I saw Jack perform with the White Stripes several years ago in Los Angeles. So it was cool to see the Detroit branch of his record label. (The headquarters are located in Nashville, Tennessee.)
I listened to some records in one of the private booths while we were there. And we watched records getting pressed. Of course, David also had to pick up an album.
City Bird & Nest
Across the street from Third Man Records, you’ll find the sister stores, City Bird & Nest.
They have lots of eclectic products, stationery, artwork, t-shirts, and home goods. I picked up a few souvenirs, including a greeting card and smiling face cup.
Other things to do in & around Detroit:
I didn’t have a chance to hit everything on my list this time around.
At the Henry Ford Museum, you can see the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and John F. Kennedy’s presidential limousine.
All the more reason to plan another trip to Detroit!
By the way, Canada is just a stone’s throw from Detroit. So for more vegan eats in the area, check out this post on Windsor Ontario. We also stopped in Ann Arbor, Michigan at Detroit Street Filling Station on the way home.
Thank you to Visit Detroit for providing tickets to the Detroit Institute of Arts. As always, all opinions are my own.