Local restaurants offer fun, tasty vegan-friendly dining options


John Blair | Senior Staff Photographer

Apteka on Penn Avenue in Bloomfield.

By Shreya Singh, Staff Writer

January is Veganuary month — a month-long challenge founded in 2014 by an organization with the same name 一 which seeks to encourage people to take part in a vegan diet. In honor of it, here are some great vegan-friendly dining options in Pittsburgh. 

One restaurant with plenty of vegan-friendly options is Roots Natural Kitchen, which is within walking distance of campus on Forbes Avenue. The prices range from about $9 to $14. Customers can choose between the signature bowls — like the El Jefe and the Apollo — or the “create-your-own” 一 which invites guests to customize what ingredients they want in their bowl, from brown rice or kale to black beans or chickpeas.

Katie Bergstrom, a sophomore communication sciences and disorders major, said she likes Roots because it provides impressive vegan substitutions.

“The reason I like Roots more than other places on Forbes is because I really do think it’s the best vegan-friendly option,” Bergstrom said. “It’s easy to create your own bowl and they have so many substitution options like getting tofu instead of chicken or instead of cheese, I’ll substitute with more chickpeas or avocado and it won’t cost me extra.”

Roots Natural Kitchen on Forbes Avenue. (John Blair | Senior Staff Photographer )

Bergstrom said she gets her usual when ordering at Roots, but because the menu is so versatile, it’s easy to try new things.

“I usually get the Southern bowl,” Bergstrom said. “If there are other bowls I want to try, I just double-check that the sauces in them are vegan and if there’s chicken, I’ll replace it with the barbecue tofu which I really love. It’s really easy for me to make substitutes without having to get rid of the entire meal like at other places.”

Located on Penn Avenue, Apteka is known for having an exclusively vegan menu. As a Central and Eastern European-focused restaurant and bar, Apteka is well-known for its menu items from Silesian potato dumplings to stuffed cabbage.

Brendan Ezvan, a part-time host at Apteka and third-year doctorate student at Pitt, said the most popular dishes during dinner hours are variations of the pierogi and vegan schnitzel

“The fillings [in the dishes] change periodically, but right now the fried pierogi are a mix of sauerkraut and mushroom, and celeriac, potato and juniper,” Ezvan said. “The schnitzel also comes with a nice variety of sides like dill slaw, leek and apple salad, and I think it comes with a horseradish sauce as well.”

The restaurant is open for dinner from Friday to Sunday with a select amount of tables set aside for reservations for parties of four or more. The small plates range from $7 to $14, while the large plates are $16 each.

Ezvan also said the menu items change depending on what is available during certain seasons, as well as a special menu during January. 

“The menu changes fairly often depending on seasonal produce,” Ezvan said. “Once a year around late January, our normal menu switches to a vegan fast food pop-up, called Crapteka. You’ll find burgers, cabbage kebabs and sunflower milk milkshakes for a few short weeks.”

Although the menu at Apteka is small, Ezvan added that the dishes are distinctive and great for splitting with friends. 

“I always recommend newcomers to be adventurous and the advantage of the menu at Apteka is that almost everything is great for sharing,” Ezvan said. “If I had to recommend a dish, I think it would be the kluski śląskie. It’s a regional variety of Polish potato dumpling that we make with roast cauliflower, leek hay and a carrot, mushroom, sauerkraut paste.”

Julia Zeiser, a sophomore psychology and linguistics major, said she heard about Apteka through a friend who is vegan.

“She raved about all the options and atmosphere of the restaurant,” Zeiser said. “When I went, I remember getting the kluski śląskie which was a dumpling with some other things. Usually, I get dumplings with some kind of meat in them so I wasn’t sure how I would like these, but they ended up being really really good.”

Zeiser said the food was enjoyable enough for her to consider potentially going vegan, despite preferring non-vegan options.

“Eating at Apteka definitely helped me consider a vegan diet because before, I could never imagine giving up meat,” Zeiser said. “After actually trying the different alternatives and really enjoying them, I could see myself maybe going vegan at some point.”

Bergstrom said there are other vegan-friendly options around the city apart from Roots. 

“I think Pittsburgh has a decent amount of options for people who might be vegan,” Bergstrom said. “It is sometimes a bit difficult, but I think on Forbes you have a bunch of different restaurants like Piada and Chipotle. Even outside of campus, you have restaurants like Noodlehead, Silk Elephant and cafes like Square Cafe.”