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Vegetarian options in Iowa City?

I'll be spending my vacation next month to come check out Iowa City and visit my best friend who is a resident at the University of Iowa Hospital. We're both residents in internal medicine, which means we mostly eat reheated hospital food, coffee and odwalla bars. I'm a foodie, she isn't, which is why I'm coming to you guys for help. I may be vegetarian, but I'm in love with cheese and I'm ready to taste the heartland! Would appreciate any help making an itinerary for my trip to Iowa City.
We're open to any kind of food! Except meat, haha!

Veggie from Texas

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  1. IC is very veggie friendly. I left four years ago but was quite fond of Red Avocado.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mander

      If I am not mistaken, Red Avocado lease not renewed by owner and they plan to bulldoze the building (if it hasn't been done already). Red Avocado owners seeking to get another space and have asked for some help from the city.

    2. Masala and Exotic India offer pretty good Indian Fare. There are also very good veggie options at Orchard Green, Devotay and Lou Henri's all have pretty yummy veg fare. There are multiple noodle houses that quite a few options also.

      1. Red Avocado has been bulldozed. Most places are veg friendly. I like Oasis falafel for casual middle eastern, mekong for vietnamese. Spendier spots to try are Devotay and Lincoln Cafe (30 min out of town). Lincoln has a small menu, look at the web page and maybe call before going to see how they can accommodate your diet.

        5 Replies
        1. re: corneygirl

          Thanks!!! Been looking at devotay's menu, looks fun! Any pizza recs?

          1. re: veggiedoc

            As for pizza in IC, you may as well start with the very best and try Wig and Pen, which is really a tenant of neighboring Coralville on The Strip. My recommendation is to build your own Flying Tomato veggie. If you click on the link, the Eastside location takeaway link actually gives you better info and prices. You also could try Pagliai's downtown which year after year wins the "favorite pizza" contests in IC. Falbo's ,Sam's and The Sanctuary are very good. On the north side near I-80 is Bob's Your Uncle, and that is top notch as well.


            1. re: veggiedoc

              Wig and Pen is good if you want a thicker crust and lot's of cheese (really good with a hangover). Pagliai's is my favorite - they have a thin crust. Plus, Pagliai's is totally old school - the pizza makers are all in the front window wearing white paper hats. Dine-in or carry out only and they only serve pizza, no salad, no cheese bread and if you want parm bring your own. Sanctuary has a great atmosphere, last time I was there the food was underwhelming (but nobody ordered pizza) - they have a great beer list if you are into that it's definitely worth checking out (as is the beer room at John's Grocery).

              1. re: veggiedoc

                You Know, I'm still a big fan of the Wedge, plus you can easily have a ton of vegan options if that interests you.

                1. re: veggiedoc

                  My favorite pizza in Iowa City is at The Sanctuary, which is an eclectic restaurant/pub ...

              2. I also just remembered there's Fair Grounds Coffee, the entire menu is vegetarian.


                1. You can also check out the New PIoneer Coop and Bread Garden. New Pi has a great veggie burrito that I eat just about every morning, and some really yummy veggie sandwich options with tempeh, etc. I am not a vegetarian, but I always order a veggie sandwich from there because I think the way they combine ingredients is really interesting. I'm not sure about Bread Garden's veggie choices specifically, but they have a steam table and salad bar, so it's generally a nice place to hit for a casual lunch. I like their cous cous salads. Breakfast there is pleasant also as you can pick up a small portion of eggs, french toast, etc. at exactly the quantities you need. Both places are also grocery stores, so you can pick up food for those days you're not eating out. Oh - and both places are definitely the place to go to scope out local cheeses.

                  I do think most places here are will generally have a couple of decent veggie options. Other restaurants with good food you might want to scope out online to see anything if appeals to you are Atlas, Heath/126/moonmrakers, Short's burgers (black bean burgers, but I haven't tried yet), Leaf, and Stella's.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Pandora

                    Alright guys, itinerary is April 8-15th, here's the tentative list:
                    What do you guys think?

                    Java House- for coffee
                    Thai Spice- for pad thai!
                    Red's AleHouse- looks fun
                    The Wig and the Pen- for pizzzzzza
                    Heyn's Ice Cream- for ice cream
                    New Pioneer Food Coop- for cheese and picnic stuff, pre-picnic.
                    Devotay- sounds fun
                    Oasis- for falafel
                    Motley Cow or Bluebird

                    1. re: veggiedoc

                      Motley Cow! Definitely. (Maybe not their brunch, though, which is a buffet and a little less loved than their dinner options.)

                      1. re: ctscorp

                        I'd vote Motley Cow also. I don't know the Wig and Pen's pizza yet, but really ilke Pagliai's. Thai Spice is ok, not too bad, but not as good as some of the stellar Thai places in Chicago for example. I would do takeout there - the restaurant does not have good ventilation.

                        Hope you report back with your impressions.

                      2. re: veggiedoc

                        This is a good list. I live in the SF Bay Area and the falafel at Oasis is better than any I've had locally. I also love New Pi, and have enjoyed the pizza at Pagliai's. Definitely check out John's if you're at all into beer -- if I recall, they also have a huge variety of soda. Also, I don't remember the name, but when I was there late last summer there was a good crepe place about a block from the public library. Enjoy your trip, Iowa City is great.

                        1. re: TerriL

                          I don't know if it's running this time of year, but I just remembered the IC farmer's market. It has really grown over the past few years (the first time I went it seemed to be mostly corn!). There was a terrific Ethiopian vendor there with veggie options, as well as a great variety of baked goods.

                          1. re: TerriL

                            It usually starts the first weekend in May

                      3. re: Pandora

                        New Pi's Cashew on a Hot Tin Roof is what I pack before any plane trip.

                      4. A much delayed response, but I wanted to update on the places we ended up trying and thank everyone for their suggestions!

                        We started out with Thai Spice. The service was nice, it seems family owned and we had a quiet, nice dinner. I had a thai iced tea that was refreshing and vegetarian pad thai with egg and tofu and it tasted like a grandma was making it back in that kitchen, which is the way I like my thai food. I liked this place and would recommend it.

                        That night, we went to a reading at the Prairie Lights Bookstore, and the coffee store upstairs is the cutest darn thing. The bookstore should be a must-see for all tourists. I even ended up leaving with a signed book by T.C. Boyle. Anyhow, back to food.

                        We stopped at New Pioneer Coop for lunch the next day and though this was casual, the food was above par. I had a roasted tomato soup that was amazing, idyllic mac and cheese and a vegetarian sandwich that was reminiscent of eating at Whole Foods.

                        Next day was Wig and Pen, which was great, we got a deep dish and a thin crust which were both really good, I was impressed. We went during the lunchtime rush and our service was really slow, but luckily we weren't in a hurry.

                        For dinner, we met up with some of best friend's coworkers and my shy cousin who failed to tell me he didn't want to go to Devotay. I wanted to love this place, but was pretty disappointed by the food I ended up getting here. The environment is nice, it's dark and cozy and you feel like you're really out at a nice dinner, points on the decor and the service. We started with the chocolate crostini, olive oil app and this was pretty good and something I hadn't had before. Tasted kind of like nutella on bread's fancy brother. We also had patatas bravas, a mushroom dish and the market cheeses. The mushroom dish didn't meld well and tasted I admire the owner's goal to work with local ingredients and do something different, but it just didn't work the night I went, I wish this place the best though.

                        We had dinner the next night at Baroncini. We started with the bruschetta, this was fresh and light. For dinner, I had the house made fettuccini served with a truffle and mushroom cream sauce which was creamy and rich and filling. It was well done and the plate presentation was on point. The service was excellent and we sat next to the window which was a fun people-watching endeavor. The seating puts you close to other tables which can get awkward. Overall, a 7.5/10. A little pricey. The tiramisu was moist, dense and worth ordering.

                        We met up with a professor the next day we had in college and we wandered over to the closest restaurant: Mondo's Saloon. Her suggestion. I'll get off my high horse as a tex-mex aficionado and native Texan and judge the food with location in mind. It actually wasn't bad. I had some sort of vegetarian burrito and added every possible extra I could such as sour cream, jalapenos, pico, guac and so on, and it was something I remember fondly. If you're walking by and need to eat, it shall do.

                        We ended up at Sanctuary, after one of these dinners and the food looked awesome and the place was so hipster, it felt like Portlandia, but I was too stuffed to try the food. It was fun though, one of those underground pubs that every city deserves.

                        Finally, we ate at Graze on one of our last nights and while the bartenders were fun and the drinks were good, the dinner was pricey and seemed more flashy then hearty. 8 bucks for a side of asparagus? Would not do for dinner, but seemed like a place to sit and be seen, especially for the college crowd.

                        Overall, had a great visit to Iowa City, now that I write about all the food I had, I feel like I need to run to the closest gym and work out. But, my buddy who lives there was right, I did feel like I had finished with the food scene after my nine days. I am sure I am wrong about that, but I feel like the places I did try were a good sampling of the city and I would definitely return. The people were nice, I love that people care about writing here and we even visited authentic 'prairie land' which was beautiful.

                        Thanks Iowans for the tips!