Vegan at the diner? Plant-based options abound at these NJ restaurants – Courier Post

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There are few things more comforting in life than a favorite diner.

The cozy welcome of your usual booth, the smile of recognition from your favorite waitress and the bounty of options on the voluminous menu.

New Jersey’s many diners can be counted upon to satisfy your craving for gooey, cheesy omelettes with sides of bacon; sugar-dusted Monte Cristos or old-school cheese burgers and fries. None of those diner staples are going away anytime soon.

But being vegan — or heading out to eat with your favorite vegan — doesn’t mean giving up your diner creature comforts.

As more of us adopt a vegan lifestyle or want to add more plant-based foods into our diets, these Jersey diners are not about to be left behind:

Chit Chat Diner, Hackensack

Start with a smoothie at Chit Chat Diner. The restaurant offers an array of fruity drinks blended with coconut milk to make them creamy, such as the Mango-Coco smoothie with mango, pumpkin seeds and coconut milk ($6.50).

Meatless, dairy-less food items include the veggie burger ($6.95) and the Cavatappi Pasta with baby kale, cherry tomatoes, asparagus and capers, tossed in a extra virgin olive oil and garlic ($15.95). Other vegan options are available with a bit of modification; such as the veggie wrap, made with portabella mushrooms, roasted peppers, red onions, roasted tomatoes and red pepper basil sauce tucked into a whole wheat wrap ($12.95) – just ask for it without the mozzarella cheese.

Go: 515 Essex St., Hackensack; 201-820-4033, chitchatdiner.com.

Colonial Diner, Woodbury 

What do you get when a restaurant’s chef and owner takes customer suggestions to heart, then crafts a menu – that changes monthly – just for them?

One of the most popular vegan-friendly diners in the state. 

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It doesn’t hurt that George Ragos is vegan, too.

Since summer 2018, the chef and owner of The Colonial Diner has offered a hearty menu of his plant-based takes on cheesesteak; gumbo; gyros; pot pie; crab cakes and crab cake-stuffed mushrooms; “toona” made from chickpeas; meatless chili-stuffed potato skins; poutine made with seitan, and chocolate mousse.

Go: 924 N Broad St.; 856-848-6732, thecolonialdiner.com.

Manalapan Diner, Manalapan

A diner that serves bread baked in house and hand-breaded onion rings is definitely one to try, and while the Manalapan Diner doesn’t have a dedicated vegan menu, there are a few good choices.

The restaurant began serving the Impossible Burger last fall, and we suggest ordering one topped with the balsamic and olive oil-dressed tomatoes and arugula from the bruschetta burger on the menu.  

There’s also avocado toast made with multi-grain bread, arugula and diced tomatoes ($8.99); a Greek salad (skip the feta); a portobello salad (skip the goat cheese); whole wheat penne with marinara (add a side of sauteed spinach or asparagus); and a wrap filled with roasted red peppers, eggplant, mushrooms and arugula ($5.49 to $11.99).  

Go: 48 Route 9; 732-462-7165, manalapandiner.com.

Prestige Diner, New Providence

The Prestige Diner has been around for over 50 years, but don’t mistake it for being old-fashioned – this flagship New Providence diner has changed with the times since it was founded by current owners Dimitrios and Harry Vardas’ uncle, Tommy.

Today, the menu reflects classic American favorites as well as the staples that 2020 diners crave, including vegan eats. With an entire ‘’Impossible’’ menu, the Prestige Diner offers dishes such as an Impossible burrito with rice and beans; as well as stuffed peppers with brown rice and vegetables; and a superfood bowl with quinoa, brown rice, lentils, black beans, roasted peppers, tomatoes, grilled onions, cilantro and avocado.

“Four years ago, we started adding more vegan items to our menu because there was a demand and we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Dimitrios Vardas.

“We want to eat healthy and our customers want to eat healthy, so it’s a win-win.”

Go: 1318 Springfield Ave., New Providence; 908-665-0211, prestigediner.com.

Red Lion Diner, Southampton

Think of Beyond Burgers and vegan cheesesteaks perfectly at home beside chipped beef, chicken croquettes and, of course, meatloaf. The Red Lion Diner in Southampton works hard to balance the tried-and-true with contemporary plant-based fare.

“We have a great following within the vegan community because not too many places offer that option,” says Efthimios Tsiknakis, whose family took over this iconic diner when the former owners retired. “Now their entire family can come in to order anything from a meatloaf to a filet mignon to a Beyond Burger, and it makes our business very versatile

He says his favorite item on the vegan menu is the “Not Cho’’ Cheesesteak, made with seitan and vegan cheddar with onions.

The best-seller is the Beyond Burger but there are also more unexpected items such as Seitan Marsala, prepared with mushrooms, garlic, fresh basil, wine and olive oil served over vegan pasta.

“All our vegan options currently come with a cup of vegan soup and a vegan muffin for dessert,’’ Tsiknakis says.

The family also owns The Monarch Diner in Glassboro, which also has a vegan section of the menu featuring power bowls, Beyond meatballs and egg-less veggie omelettes.

Go: Red Lion Diner, 1753 Route 206 (Red Lion Circle), Southampton. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.  609-859-2301 or redlionnj.com/

Go: Monarch Diner, 500 Delsea Dr., Glassboro. 856-881-0020 or monarchdinernj.com

Rutherford Pancake House, Rutherford

The Rutherford Pancake House has done an admirable job of making its menu accessible to vegan diners.

This diner offers vegan pancakes, French toast and Belgian waffles (which are also gluten-free). These eggless, dairy-less breakfast foods can be topped with fruits, jams, sweetened coconut flakes and, of course, maple syrup.

For lunch, a veggie quesadilla is available with portobello mushrooms, spinach and roasted peppers.

Go: 40 Park Ave., Rutherford; 201-340-4171, rutherfordpancakehouse.com.

Silver Diner, Cherry Hill 

Chef Ype Von Hengst, co-founder of the Silver Diner chain, was an early adapter to healthier diner cuisine.

Juicy cheeseburgers, chocolate milkshakes and other classic diner fare are abundant at the 1950s-style diner’s only New Jersey location in Cherry Hill. But you also can find plenty of much more virtuous dishes to sink your teeth into – and keep those New Year’s resolutions.

How about a Tofu Banh Mi, made with Sambal agave glazed non-GMO tofu, banh mi slaw, vegan mayo, ciabatta and sweet potato fries ($12.99), or In-House Roasted Tomatoes over brown rice, organic roasted corn, mushrooms, leeks, zucchini, pistachios, lemon pesto, asparagus and peach salsa ($13.99); or Pineapple Basil Vegetarian Stir Fry with cremini mushrooms, carrots, mixed peppers, organic non-GMO edamame beans, cilantro, cucumbers, reduced sodium ginger teriyaki, scallions, black sesame seeds and organic gluten-free quinoa pasta ($13.99)?

Look for these and other vegan dishes, and if you time it right, you might get to take in an antique car show in the parking lot.

Go: 2131 Route 38, Cherry Hill. 856-910-1240; silverdiner.com

Skylark Diner, Edison

With elements of both the jet-age of the 1960s as well as funky, futuristic twists, the Skylark Diner is both your classic American diner and the diner of the future — which is why its menu includes diner favorites as well as today’s restaurant must-haves, including vegan dishes. 

Although the Skylark Diner has long had at least one vegan item on its menu, within the last year and a half, the Edison eatery has added other vegan options, said co-owner and chef Jeff Jeff McNamara.

Some of those items include their Cauliflower Rice Bowl; vegan burger; Mediterranean Fettuccine with artichokes, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, baby arugula, tomato and basil; and Cavatelli with Broccolini, chickpeas, roasted peppers and toasted fennel seed. 

“I’m not a vegan, and as a chef, you of course put things on the menu that you like to eat,” said McNamara. “However, it’s really about what your guests want to eat, so when we received more requests for vegan items, we wanted to add them.” 

Go: 17 Wooding Ave., Edison; skylarkdiner.com, 732-777-7878.

Tick Tock Diner, Clifton

The Tick Tock Diner recently reopened after a months-long renovation – its first in 25 years. It sports a more modern interior and a revamped menu – including quite a few vegan items.

The Tick Tock’s Beyond “Meatless” Burger comes with lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun and is served with sweet potato fries ($12.95).

The veggie wrap is stuffed with beets, sweet potato, quinoa, avocado and hummus ($12.95). The Greens, Grains & Garden Bowl is a bounty of hummus, chickpeas, avocado, carrots, red cabbage, quinoa, barley and sweet potatoes tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.

And the vegan rigatoni Bolognese is made with gluten free pasta and a vegan Bolognese made of vegetables and lentils. Not bad for a diner that opened in 1948.

Go: 281 Allwood Road, Clifton; 973-777-0511, ticktockdiner.com.

Toast, Red Bank

Amy Russo Harrigan opened the first Toast, serving breakfast, brunch and lunch, in 2007 in Montclair. A second followed in 2011 in Asbury Park, and a third opened in Red Bank in 2015 in the space once held by Broadway Diner.

It is this one that most resembles a diner: Russo Harrigan renovated the interior but maintained the shiny steel siding on the building, which originally opened in 1959 as Palace Diner.

She also updated the menu, which includes a handful of vegan-friendly dishes.

Customers love the tofu scramble with scallions, onions, mushrooms, tomato, soy sauce, garlic and turmeric ($11.20); the falafel wrap, which has patties made in-house from chickpeas, black beans, pepper and onions, served with lettuce, tomato and sprouts and a side of air-fried sweet potatoes ($11.95); and a kale salad bowl (minus the poached egg) made with massaged kale, grape tomatoes, toasted pumpkin seeds and black currants, tossed with olive oil, lemon and sea salt ($13.20).

Go: 45 Monmouth St., Red Bank; 732-224-1234, toastcitydiner.com. Also at 700 Bloomfield Ave. in Montclair, 973-509-8099, and 516 Cookman Ave. in Asbury Park; 732-776-5900.

Toms River Diner, Toms River

When Mohamed Emara became the new owner of the Toms River Diner two years ago, he gutted the decades-old building, which had closed nearly two years earlier, and started from scratch. 

His son, Ahmed Emara, had a suggestion: Put a plant-based burger on the menu.

The elder Emara was hesitant, Ahmed said: His father has owned another restaurant, Holiday City Diner, for more than a decade and knew that diner patrons come for the classics. But Ahmed convinced him, and the Beyond Burger made the cut ($9.95/$11.95).

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Vegan diners have a few other options here as well: spaghetti with marinara sauce, a Greek salad sans feta with pita on the side, stuffed grape leaves, a vegetable wrap and a side of home fries ($3.95 to $11.95).

The diner also serves canned cold brew from NITRO Beverage Co. in Asbury Park; the original, coconut, espresso and seasonally released pumpkin spice are vegan while tasting creamy, thanks to a bubbly infusion of nitrogen. 

Go: 445 Route 37 E; 732-288-2808.

Tops Diner, East Newark

Tops Diner is widely lauded as the best diner in the state. It would be a shame to miss out on this New Jersey gem simply because of dietary restrictions.

We scoured the menu and found a dish that’s permissible for a vegan palate. The vegetable stir-fry is a medley of wok-fried wild mushrooms, broccoli, peppers, onions, snap peas, carrots and white rice. The whole shebang is glazed with an Asian sesame-soy ginger sauce ($15).

The selection may not be extensive, but it’s better than asking for a cold salad, sans cheese.

Go: 500 Passaic Ave., East Newark; 973-481-0490, thetopsdiner.com.

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