7 Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants to Try in Waterloo Region

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by Andrew Coppolino | January 2024

Quick-service fast food restaurants have embraced plant-based diets like never before: Impossible burgers, vegetarian “Crunchwrap Supreme Bean” tortilla wraps, crab cakes made of chickpeas, hearts of palm and spices, and a non-dairy Dilly Bar for dessert are just a few examples.

The options have grown as demand has: since the pandemic, many more conscientious eaters have shifted to a plant-based diet, or at least one that draws on animal proteins considerably less.

And, if you search out area restaurants and their menus, you won’t have to sacrifice flavours, textures and overall tastiness. Here are just a few examples as you explore Waterloo Region for its plant-based restaurants.

Cafe Pyrus, downtown Kitchener

Food vibe: A leader on the independent vegetarian restaurant scene and now in its 15th year, Café Pyrus has been in their new King Street location in Kitchener’s west end for about three years. Their objective has always been to use fair and sustainable locally-sourced and organic ingredients wherever possible – and few animal products. They’ve partnered with Kitchener’s Henry’s Tempeh for many of their vegetarian menu items. Everything at their main location, the Café Pyrus Outpost on Roger Street and at the Kitchener Public Library is made in-house.

“There’s no bottled sauces, or anything like that, so we can control both quality and ingredients,” according to owner Tyson Reisor.

On the menu, look for this month’s re-appearance of “Cajun Crusher.” Probably Pyrus’s most popular feature, it’s spicy Cajun-marinated tempeh with red peppers, aioli, lime-soaked cilantro and choice of cheese or Daiya.

“We want someone – even someone who is a carnivore – to eat something here and say, ‘This is amazing.’ The vegan and vegetarian dishes are not trying to be something else. We want people to see how good this food can be.”  

Sustainability ethos: Take-away options include the choice of using “Friendlier” re-usable containers (a company, in fact, launched by two University of Waterloo graduates). All cutlery, cups and packaging are compostable. Cow milk that is used at Café Pyrus is from Harmony Organic, and they also use lactose-free aged organic Cheddar by L’Ancêtre.

Coven, downtown Kitchener

Food vibe: In a nutshell, Coven is 100% vegan specialty grocery store and deli, according to manager Alex Robson.

“Everything is plant-based, and we specialize in products you can’t find elsewhere.”

Their new takeaway menu features “Sandys” and “Sallys” (sandwiches and salads, obvs!): that means Megg sandwiches, carrot lox sandwiches and Toona sandwiches along with pastrami, ham and turkey – the latter trio made of seitan which is wheat gluten, spices and seasonings. Check out their vegan bakery schedule, too: there’s a couple of dozen selections from cinnamon buns and Nanaimo bars to carrot cake and tiramisu.

Sustainability ethos: Coven sources locally-made products and those with as few carbon miles as possible.   

Copper Branch, Uptown Waterloo

Food vibe: A popular plant-based restaurant (across Canada and now in several countries around the world) known for its all-vegan menu with gluten-free options that boasts healthy eating in a fast-food world.

The smoked tempeh sandwich features the marinated and roasted fermented soybean protein tempeh with sweet potato, zucchini, caramelized onions, provolone “cheese,” tomato, lettuce and barbecue sauce. Or try the Copper Deluxe Burger: brioche burger bun, gluten-free bun or tortilla wrap swaddling a beet and brown-rice burger, caramelized onions, lettuce, guacamole and the crispy-crunch of kettle chips.

Sustainability ethos: 100% recyclable and/or compostable packaging and utensils.

The Healthy Owl Bakery Café, north Waterloo

Food vibe: Having opened in 2013, The Healthy Owl is dedicated to making wholesome, accessible and affordable food from scratch, according to owner Lora-Lee Lawson. That means fresh baked goods and snacks, lunches and salads as well as the day’s first meal, including a breakfast frittata with egg, spinach and ricotta; a dairy-free vegan breakfast-scramble burrito; and vegan rancheros with black bean dip and avocado-cilantro sauce – all priced below $10. Look for the daily feature and soup that changes with the seasons.

Sustainability ethos: Organic, fair-trade coffee; Biodegradable Products Institute-certified take-out containers are made from 100% plant-based renewable resources; take-away cutlery is designed to break down easily in landfills. Organic waste is composted and recycling carefully sorted, says Lawson.

Odd Burger, Waterloo Town Square

Food vibe: The theory behind the name isn’t hard to discern: being different and thinking different, says co-founder James McInnes of Odd Burger which started in London in 2014.

“Being ‘odd’ is how we are going to make changes to our food system,” says McInnes, who says he realized that he could eat in a healthier way and still indulge. “We position ourselves as traditional fast food. But it’s healthier, more sustainable and ethical.”

The uptown Waterloo location is one of their busier stores with the density and proximity to the universities. Calling them “typical” burgers, shakes, wraps, salads but 100% vegan, McInnes says shakes are made with oat milk-based ice cream and sauces with organic soy milk. Plant-based proteins are made at their London, Ontario, manufacturing facility. “All the proteins and sauces you eat at Odd Burger are made by us.”

It‘s all “the best fast food” under one roof but plant based. The Famous Burger mimics the iconic Big Mac: home-made sauce with secret ingredients, shredded lettuce, dairy-free “cheeze,” pickles, either “beefy” smash patties or gluten-free patties. The Crispy ChickUn (made of hand-formed seitan) riffs on Wendy’s, while Taco Bell gets a nod with Odd Burger’s hard- or soft-shell Twin Tacos.

There’s a gluten-free menu as well, and it’s a nut-free facility so Odd Burger appeals to several specialty diets.

Sustainability ethos: All packaging is compostable – versus recycling – and will degrade wherever it goes. Odd Burger’s clear beverage cups, though they look like plastic, are made from a biodegradable corn product.

Shri Dakshin, Cambridge

Food vibe: Shri Dakshin is sister restaurant to Dakshin on Hespeler Road – and it’s a vegan and vegetarian sister with gluten-free options seeking to serve a growing demographic of the dining-out market.

Lentil and rice flour evolves as it ferments; idly “cakes” are made for breakfast and when the batter further ferments. It’s deep fried as punugulu – crispy nuggets with a fluffy interior for contrasting bite and texture. Add some cilantro and the sharpness of diced red onion and it’s a crushable morsel – especially after it’s dipped in Shri Dakshin’s peanut sauce.

Sustainability ethos: Take-away food is packaged in sustainable containers.

The Healthy Rabbit, Cambridge

Food vibe: A cool, downtown setting in an historic building offering 96% plant-based eating using local ingredients that are prepared fresh. And it’s not fast food: because dishes are made from scratch, so it can take a bit longer.

“We’re mostly plant-based, and we use local ingredients that are prepared fresh every morning,” says store manager Daniela Budimlic. “We’re not fast food, so it can take 15 minutes or so to make the dishes from scratch.”

Healthy Rabbit seeks a path to mindful eating and better nutrition through the three pillars that are stated on their website: community, plant-powered and sustainability.

It all makes good sense, and therefore the vast majority of their dishes are plant-based. However, you can find chicken and eggs on the menu (with the expected conditions of high quality and antibiotic free) as well as roasted cricket for added protein.

Healthy Rabbit is known for its bowls – and bowls are big these days. There are about 14 bowls on the menu, and Budimlic says the restaurant has become a destination for them.

“Bowls are our thing,” she says. “Customers are looking for healthy.”

The “Seeker Bowl” is a salad smorgasbord that includes avocado, beets, shredded carrots, red onion, alfalfa sprouts and kale with a lemon and maple-tahini dressing – all of which is joined by some hummus and a couple of baked (not fried) falafel that are coated with sesame seeds for added flavour and texture.

For a deeper dive into the Healthy Rabbit’s offerings, check out my blog Don’t Skip This Dish.

Sustainability ethos: Microwave and deep fryer-free, Healthy Rabbit uses eco-friendly products wherever possible. They offer a path to mindful eating and better nutrition through community, plant-power and sustainability.


Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino. 


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