Life Alive is a destination for the crunchy (or crunchy-curious!) vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore. The official mission of Life Alive, in fact, is to “renew your energy and connection to life by soulfully serving you the most fantastic, vibrant, organic, therapeutic, whole food you could ever imagine.” Based on the line often displayed out the door of the restaurant, the community is on board.
The menu includes 13 different smoothies—picking from them is one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make—as well as warm grain bowls, salad bowls, and grilled wraps with ingredients like miso, ginger nama shoyu sauce, toasted sesame, brown rice, tofu, any veggie imaginable, and plenty of Bragg nutritional flakes (which are a vegetarian’s dream for getting extra B vitamins). Of course, there’s also kombucha on tap.
In addition to the healthy heartiness of the menu, Live Alive’s signature digs are part of the experience. Walking through the doors of Life Alive feels like walking into a woodland oasis, away from the concrete landscape just outside the doors in Central Square. Plants of all sizes press themselves against the expansive windows facing Cambridge City Hall as they bask in the warmth of the restaurant and sunshine that streams in during the day. You’re greeted with the sights and sounds of staff blending smoothies or dropping off orders with names like “Goddess” or “Swami” to eagerly awaiting eaters. Downstairs is a warm, welcoming seating area with meditative art, tapestries, rustic wooden table tops, and couches tucked away in corners. It’s a space that feels like it should be a secret in such a busy urban area.
765 Massachusetts Ave • lifealive.com • (617) 354-5433
Veggie Galaxy is the go-to spot for funky atmosphere and a bit of indulgence.
A diner right in Central Square that serves breakfast all day, Veggie Galaxy is brightly lit, with glittery booth seats, fun wait staff, and a rotating pie display case in the front window to tempt passersby.
Aside from the all-day breakfast, Veggie Galaxy has vegetarian and vegan spins on all the classics: salads, sandwiches, “meat” and potato- type platters, milkshakes (even boozy ones!), and a litany of desserts. Some favorite dishes include mac and cheese, cheese fries, “chicken” and waffles, and five kinds of burgers. All dishes, of course, can be made vegan (or are only offered vegan, like the milkshakes).
Michael Bissanti, who ironically owned the non-vegetarian 4 Burgers joint in Central Square until 2016, first signed on to work with Veggie Galaxy as an operations consultant and is now the general manager. After learning the ropes of vegan/vegetarian operations, Bissanti says he appreciates how much he’s learned about the cuisines. His favorite thing to eat at Veggie Galaxy? The carrot cake—“I have a real sweet tooth … good luck telling that’s vegan,” he says.
But you can feel good about eating at Veggie Galaxy for more than just the vegan and vegetarian dishes. At the bottom of each check, customers will see that a three percent fee is charged, all of which goes directly to the kitchen staff. The idea is that when servers are earning more tips on busy nights, the equally busy kitchen staff deserve a bump too. The diner adopted the “Close the Gap” practice in September 2017.
“Our staff mean a lot of us,” Bissanti explains. He estimates that back-of-house staff at Veggie Galaxy, who were already paid above minimum wage, now make an additional several more dollars on top of their hourly rate with the new practice.
450 Massachusetts Ave • veggiegalaxy.com • (617) 497-1513
One might consider Clover the laboratory for vegetarian eating that provides a perfect mix of adventure and nostalgia. In the fall of 2017, it introduced an “impossible meatball sandwich,” which used a form of new vegetarian food intelligence direct from a San Francisco lab. The “meatball” is completely vegetarian, but the secret, meat-like ingredient is heme—a protein found in all living things (including plants!). Heme is what gives meat it’s meaty flavor, smell, and red color. In the meatball, heme has been extracted from yeast and made an ingredient of the meatball, making it almost indistinguishable from a real meatball.
While the impossible meatball is a new level of experimentation for the folks at Clover, the vegetarian fast food joint has always had a propensity for adaptation and testing new recipes. Clover sources as much as it can from local suppliers, and so the menu changes based on seasonal availability. This winter, Clover will introduce three daily winter soups for lunch (think African Peanut and Parsnip Pear), as well as a new breakfast series of indulgent oatmeal and granola.
While Clover is proud of keeping it local, scale is a key aspect of its mission. Creative Director Lucia Jazayeri tells me with excitement that Clover is now at the point where one of its farmers in Hadley, Mass. calls the restaurant up to ask how many fields of parsnip he should plant for them. On a visit to the farm, she’s seen a barn full of carrots and parsnips just for Clover—their soups and sandwiches deconstructed in a barn.
One day, the folks at Clover would love for their low-emission, meatless, compostable packaged business model to become the way to do fast food. “We want to be bigger than McDonald’s,” Jazayeri says.
Speaking to that mission, Jazayeri explains that Clover hasn’t outright branded itself as vegetarian in part because the restaurant would like to invite more people into the meatless movement without making it the immediate focal point of the business.
“Our mission is to get carnivores to fall in love with vegetables,” Jazayeri explains. With four locations in Cambridge alone, it seems to be going well: “So many people come eat at Clover, and over a year later they ask us, ‘Oh, are you guys vegetarian?’”
Various locations throughout Cambridge • cloverfoodlab.com
VO2 Vegan Cafe
The inspiration for VO2 Cafe arose from the blissful feeling of community that often follows a yoga class—and the cafe literally taps into that feeling, as it operates in the lobby of Cambridge’s O2 yoga studio.
“We wanted to have more space for people to hang out after class … a space for community building,” Mimi Loureiro, the owner of O2 Yoga and VO2 Cafe, explains.
With VO2 located at the front end of the Cambridge yoga studio, that mission is being filled. In Loureiro’s eyes, offering food seems a natural way to bring the practice of yoga off the mat and introduce consumers to more thoughtful options.
“We wanted to extend the ethics of the practice into another realm,” Loureiro says. “Our goal has always been to make people think more thoroughly … to make it easier for people to make good choices.”
Lucky for us, ethics never tasted so good. The VO2 menu features sandwiches, soups, smoothies, tea, coffee, and even nachos—all vegan, and all recipes created by Loureiro herself.
Clearly, her expertise was in demand: within a few months of opening VO2 in 2013, Loureiro and her crew quickly moved from serving just smoothies and brewed drinks to a full food menu.
While the food at VO2 may be unlike what most people ate during their childhoods, Loureiro makes food that conjures nostalgia and warmth. “The food should feel like someone who cares for you made it,” she says. And VO2 itself is full of Loureiro’s loved ones— her partner, Steven Carpenter, has been her regular source of encouragement, a creative force and responsible for the physical build outs of the Cambridge studio and cafe space, she says. Her sons have spent time helping with build outs and behind the counter.
It’s a business that Loureiro is proud to say is compassionately and thoughtfully run—something she’d like to see more people demand when they make purchases: “I’d say that I’d just like people to support owners who give a s–t.”
1001 Massachusetts Ave • o2yoga.com/o2-vegan-cafe • (617) 492-2233
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