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Vegan Jacksonville, Florida Guide

written by Veren Ferrera June 4, 2019
Vegan Jacksonville, Florida Guide

Who would’ve thought that nearly 20 years later my sister and I, vegetarian for most her life (while I wasn’t), would converge on vegan Jacksonville?

My sister’s vegetarianism would set me up for being a very veg-friendly person until I eventually became vegan myself around 10 years ago. Often I cited myself as a vegan ally saying, “Oh yeah I get it, my sister didn’t like meat growing up.”

Treaty Oak in Jacksonville
My sister and I converging on Vegan Jacksonville

For me, it wasn’t strange or unheard of to not eat animals. I tried my best to be respectful and considerate (except when I was a kid and joined my brothers in mooing at my sister at a steakhouse – SORRY DOMINIQUE).

But back to vegan Jacksonville! And why it should be on your plant based radar.

At first glance this Floridian city may not seem like a vegan destination. Truth be told, there is a steadily growing number of vegan restaurants in Jacksonville.

The biggest city by area in the US, Jacksonville filled the snowbird role now taken by Miami for most of the Northeast. While it is not quite the tropical winter escape that most Northeasters are looking for, many have found the mild winters strong enough reason to settle down.

My sister has done just that, and with the unwavering support of her gregariously Canadian husband, she’s had a few years to clock in some local vegan research, while overcoming a gluten intolerance. Navigating veganism while avoiding gluten is no small feat.

So just how has this city become so vegan-friendly? Jacksonville vegans have been a sly bunch, slowly infiltrating the predominantly omnivore realm, with even local residents offering free consultation to restaurants to veganize large swaths of their menu.

The results are that many places don’t just offer a couple vegan options. Many go above and beyond and make some of the best vegan food we’ve had. And we’ve been to quite a few of the vegan hot spots in the world!

Read more:

Consequently, there are more vegan-friendly restaurants in Jacksonville every day. However, I wouldn’t recommend just walking into any place and expecting good vegan options – like most of America, vegan isn’t common – yet. We spent 6 weeks eating our way through the best of vegan Jacksonville, so let this post guide you on your plant-based adventures.

There is one vegan restaurant in Jacksonville and an amazing vegan bakery that should be top priority if you only have time for a meal and dessert.

If you have more time (or are a resident), many restaurants are revamping their menus and offering well-intentioned vegan options. Some even have entirely separate vegan menus!

Vegan Restaurants in Jacksonville

Technically you have two fully vegan spots: one is a restaurant and one is a bakery.

Murray Hillbilly – entirely gluten free

Murray Hillbilly is THE vegan restaurant in Jacksonville. They started as a food truck that quickly developed an impassioned following. Once they decided to open a brick and mortar, fans came into support via their Kickstarter. The food is that good!

My sister helped pledge some cash and in return got a deal for the soft opening that the four of us happily attended.

This is delicious Southern comfort food made vegan and impressively 100% gluten-free. There are hush puppies, muenster mac and cheese, bbq chickun, mushroom and beet burgers – the list goes on. They’re all about house made quality over quantity. Come for great, nostalgic sandwiches and sides.

Don’t let the lack of gluten make you hesitate! You’ll hardly miss wheat, as they utilize top of the line ingredients, locally sourced and/or organic when possible, prepared perfectly. No crumbly dry, tasteless bread with off-putting textures.

As glutenful eaters, we can tell you that the vegan gluten-free scene has made impressive leaps and bounds in the last few years. We often try gluten free foods for fun and have tried stuff better than the original wheatful recipes. Murray Hillbilly is no exception.

So how about the food?

The crab cake sandwich was my personal favorite. Crispy golden on the outside with chewy, savory mushroom shreds on the inside. They locally source Lion’s mane mushroom to create this tender texture.

The BBQ jackfruit with a tangy sweet snap was also incredibly tasty. Popular sides are the hush puppies and aptly named muenster mac and cheese. It is served creamy with a slightly smoky tart taste (but not like cheddar or American), much like actual muenster cheese.

And for you fermented folks, there’s even sangria kombucha on tap!

They’ve clearly put a lot of thought into their vibe, as their new space has an eclectic selection of furniture. No matching chairs and tables here! Everything looks artfully vintage but not pretentious. They’ve even got some arcade games in the back.

The place has a cozy, welcoming feel, and I suspect they want you to stay awhile.

Vegan Bakery in Jacksonville

While there are some places that make vegan goodies, there’s just one entirely vegan bakery in Jacksonville. We will also mention some places that have vegan options in this section.

Sweet Theory Baking Co. – mostly gluten-free

Established in 2012, when the world was a veritable vegan gluten-free desert, this vegan bakery in Jacksonville must’ve been a wheat-free oasis.

If they teach classes in Sweet Theory, consider me an unofficial pupil. Never has so much gluten-free deliciousness been packed into such a modest space. They easily beat out their glutenful counterparts with amazing gluten free baked goods. Virtually all items are gluten free with two exceptions: yeast raised donuts and cinnamon buns.

The donuts are top notch, on par with our fave Delish Donuts in Madrid, Spain.

Read More: Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid

Sweet Theory is also soy and peanut free. They exclusively use cold pressed coconut oil, agave nectar, and whole unrefined sugar.

We went back a couple of times and tried a significant selection of their treats. Everything is mind-blowingly good. No chalky textures or desert-dry crumbles that scrape your tongue like tumbleweeds. Just moist, rich, fluffy, and flavorful goodness. You could fool many a glutenful non-vegan with any of their goodies. Coffee cakes, cupcakes, layer cakes, cornbread cake muffins, caramel brownie bites – the list goes on and changes regularly.

If you’re looking for something savory, their sausage, biscuits and gravy are not to be missed.

To this day I still crave them.

The house made white bean sausage tastes just like the breakfast patty you remember, with the white bean pieces acting as those little tender bits (minus the porkiness). Get it topped with coconut bacon bits (something I usually don’t like but here they pull it off quite nicely). If you’re not into biscuits covered in gravy, you can get it as a sandwich with cheese and/or bacon bits.

These folks must’ve written a dissertation on gluten-free baking, as this is the best we’ve had since Back to Eden of Portland fame.

Read more: Epic Vegan Guide to Portland

Seriously, this food makes us wonder why so many wheat based vegan food makers are missing the mark. Maybe it’s the extra challenge and experimentation of creating satisfying wheatless versions that levels up these gluten freers from plant based apprentices to Vegan Masters.

Community Loaves Bakery and Cafe – pescatarian  

This is where the Murray Hill locals gather. The space looks refurbished, with second hand furniture and little green adornments here and there to give it an earthy, cozy feel. Yet at the same time it’s not a pretentious boutique place that’s crafted to look secondhand – this spot is the real deal.

The space is cozy and attracts an interesting mix of folks. The perfect spot for a slow morning sipping some coffee while nibbling on a treat.

They primarily bake breads and serve mostly vegetarian brunch options (one has fish), with vegan add-ons or substitutes, like tempeh and vegan cream cheese.

All of their sourdough loaves are vegan (except for their Parmesan loaf), and all are made from their own starter culture. And they make their own bagels!

In terms of vegan baked sweets, you can usually find a couple items, like their delicious vegan banana bread. The only non-dairy milk is coconut milk for coffee.

You can find their breads at stores and we highly recommend their sourdough baguette. It is super crusty, dense, and chewy, made with unbleached flour and their own starter. We wish all bread was fermented by default, but the process is inherently a bit more intensive, costly, and less practical, than commercial level bread made of yoga mats, like Wonder and Bimbo. (These brands and others use an ingredient also used in yoga mats to give that forever spongey softness – we’re not kidding – look up azodicarbonamide).

Good Dough – omni place with a vegan donut

They offer vegan donuts only on Friday morning and usually sell out early (like, by 10-11 am). We tried them and they’re okay but nothing to rave about. They’re not nearly as soft, moist, and fluffy as Sweet Theory’s. If you don’t get there early, you’re likely to miss them.

Want the best vegan donuts in Jacksonville?

Instead go to Sweet Theory (mentioned above). Good Dough clearly hasn’t tried their vegan donuts, or hasn’t figured out how to get the same top tier results.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Jacksonville

The two technically vegetarian restaurants in Jacksonville are practically vegan but technically not. Both offer almost entirely vegan food by default, but one serves local dairy by request and bulk honey, and the other uses honey in a beverage.

These are solid breakfast and lunch spots. Don’t plan on swinging by these for dinner – they close at 4 pm and 6 pm respectively.

Southern Roots Filling Station – all organic, gluten free options

This local favorite is a cafe AND bulk store with an extensive menu. Lots of bagels, sandwiches, bowls, granola, puddings, and parfait. For the most part, the food is geared towards lighter, less indulgent fare (as compared to Murray Hillbilly’s southern comfort food).

Many ingredients are locally sourced, which is awesome. The delicious Shakti Life raw vegan cheeses are served here, so definitely try these. Many items on the menu are made in house, like pickles and vegan garlic cheez.

The reason we never ended up here is because the food is basically what Sam and I eat at home: chopped raw or roasted veggies and cooked plant proteins over rice or other grains. Our preference is to eat like that at home and prioritize more indulgent fare eating out.

If we were in Jacksonville for only a short stay without a kitchen and fridge, this would be a great spot for a light breakfast or lunch. We recommend this spot to whole foods plant based eaters as it came highly recommended. You’re sure to love it!

Finally, if you’re looking to buy staple goods like grains and legumes, herbs, teas, liquid bulk they’ve got it here.

Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Jacksonville

If you’ve got time to try more than the best vegan restaurants in Jacksonville (Murray Hillbilly and Sweet Theory), then there is even more vegan food in Jacksonville that you can’t miss.

Believe it or not, these vegan friendly restaurants in Jacksonville go above and beyond sad salads and boring black bean burgers (not that these are inherently bad – they just tend to be overused and an uninspired vegan option).

Some even sport separate vegan menus with dozens of options! Others can veganize more than half the menu, while many offer well designed vegan options for every category.

Sushiko – separate (huge) vegan menu

Think about your typical Japanese menu. Usually one can expect appetizers like gyoza and miso soup, a simple maki section, a deluxe roll section stuffed with several ingredients and drizzled with sauces, hand rolls, sushi pieces, teriyaki, and some dessert.

Now imagine that all vegan and in one place!

Yes, you read right. Sushiko overwhelmed us in the best way possible.

They’ve got a whole separate vegan menu here – and not just one page either. You could have a separate restaurant based off this menu – that’s more or less what they do here. If you’ve got a partner or friend that’s scared of raw fish/seafood, this is perfect for them! They also serve noodles, fried rices, teriyaki and curry entrees.

If more Japanese restaurants offered a quarter of the vegan options that they do here, we’d be ecstatic. We kid you not – there are over 50 vegan dishes.

But who cares about the quantity – what about the quality?

Fear not, as it’s definitely the best traditional Japanese vegan sushi experience we’ve ever had. Perfectly cooked and seasoned rice, fresh stuffers, and creative combos are sure to please.

This includes the famed Beyond Sushi in NYC, which is amazing but more like fusion sushi rather than traditional style rolls and Japanese dishes.

Read More: A Local’s Budget Vegan Guide to NYC

Sushiko has everything from your basic one main ingredient maki rolls to super deluxe loaded rolls stuffed, layered, and drizzled with sauces like spicy mayo. We prefer a mix of simple and deluxe.

Everything tastes delicious and the use of vegan ingredients is well executed. Half of the sushi experience is texture, and with this quality and selection, you’ll feel like you never went vegan.

It’s a cozy, modest spot and there’s even some seating in front of the sushi chefs.

Buddha Thai Bistro (formerly Buddha’s Belly) – vegan options by request

A first glance at the menu and one might think, “Damn, what does a vegan get to eat here?” with not even a tofu dish listed. Actually, nearly 80% of the menu can be made vegan (with mock meats or veggies), including Thai iced tea. You just need to ask your server.

This spot is tucked away and confusingly named because they were sued for their old name, and go by a new one, but the old name is still physically on the place. They were legally forced to change their name but not the actual sign.

They’ve taken a very practical approach to vegan food here by replacing all proteins with soy based chicken, fish, and shrimp by request, and coconut milk for the dairy. Again, you just need to ask.

Their vegan friendliness spans a several year history. Apparently they’ve hosted a vegan Thanksgiving buffet for the past 7 – 8 years.

Vegan food is not an afterthought here, as someone clearly knows how to prepare these mock meats. Each one really feels distinct and different in texture and flavor. If you need help asking which ones work best with each dish, just ask your server, or choose the closest analog of what they list in the menu (for example, vegan shrimp or vegan chicken instead of shrimp or chicken).

The fish breaks like fish into shreds, with a slight fishy taste (probably via nori), and works great in the green curry. The chicken is more chewy, but less stringy than the fish, and works great with stir fries. The shrimp is texture is pretty damn close to actual shrimp in appearance and taste, so try it if you loved shrimp.

We had the fish green curry, the drunken noodles with shrimp, and a chicken dish with holy basil.

Regarding spiciness: like many real deal Thai spots, they use a lot of spice by default and will ask you to request the level of spiciness based on a 5-star system, with 0 being none, and 5 being astronomically spicy. Spice is integral to Thai food, so I’d recommend at least doing one star unless you’re extremely sensitive to spiciness. If you have to do none, they do serve spices on the side, but it’s not quite the same as a topping versus how they cook it in.

Unless you’re really into interdimensional travel via intense spiciness, don’t go beyond 2 star, as it was plenty hot and correlates to heat levels at other places that use the system.

German Schnitzel Haus

This Haus isn’t just schnitzel! There are sausages, tenders, goulash, spaetzle (think fresh made chunky German pasta) and guess what – you can order these all vegan!  

So how did they create such satisfying vegan options? Apparently they’ve received some guidance from Instagrammer JaxVeganLove.

The result is an incredibly vegan friendly menu, with a way to veganize at least one item per section with their housemade vegan substitutes.

All of their vegan options for meat have a seitan base that they prepare and season differently for different dishes. The least different are the schnitzel and buffalo wings. Essentially they just give you same breaded schnitzel cut in half but with dipping sauce. As the schnitzel it works great, however, with the bratwurst, it’s just formed as a sausage, seasoned much less and much too dry. What they really need is to use the Beyond Meat Sausages for that juicy greasy sausage snap.

Finally, they use the same seitan base for the goulash, which is one of the best items on the menu. They make a separate vegan cream sauce, vegan spaetzle (usually has egg), and the seitan crumbled on top. This brought back memories, as I loved goulash, and this had me not missing the meat version one bit.

Also, they serve the Impossible burger, and according to my sister, they make it even better than the Umami Burger restaurant chain. These new realistic faux meats do require proper cooking and often people fault the product when they have an underwhelming experience.

The pretzel is delicious too, and comes with a couple kinds of mustard.

Much attention is paid to providing vegans with satisfying options, so they get an A+ for effort. Every omni restaurant should aspire to this level of vegan friendliness.

They also serve an (apparently) baller vegan brunch. Unfortunately, the day we went to try it, brunch wasn’t available, as there was some issue in inventory delivery. We were quite frustrated, but fortunately Sweet Theory handled our brunch tooth with biscuits, sausage, and gravy.

Vegan Pizza in Jacksonville

It’s great to see that restaurateurs are learning how easy it is to make pizza vegan with the plethora of vegan cheeses available these days, such as Daiya.

And before you Daiya haters lament, know they’ve continually updated the product recipe, and recently even fooled us once (we didn’t guess it was Daiya). Also, a couple of places use Teese, a damn good vegan cheese with the pull and heft of fresh mozzarella – if prepared properly (sometimes places overcook or undercook).

Mellow Mushroom

Mellow Mushroom is a sit down restaurant franchise spanning the Southeast that actually offers many vegan options. They even have an online menu where you can choose your allergens and they show you all the choices that do not contain them. Vegans will be pleased as there are a lot of a choices.

We feel like this is peak American style pizza – super doughy crust, very mellow tomato sauce, and all the typical ingredients, but everything is fresh, and made in house. They also offer tofu and tempeh tossed in house-made sauces. We strongly recommend the tempeh over the tofu. We aren’t tofu-haters, but here they were like flavorless clouds. The tempeh just holds the sauce better and has a superior, chewier texture. Works great tossed in barbecue or jerk sauce.

They use Follow Your Heart cheese and it’s melted to perfection – still moist and slightly stretchy.

To Mellow Mushroom’s credit, they try to locally source as much products as possible, and often there are specials unique to a location. Expect to find lots of a local drafts and maybe even desserts.

Crispy’s Springfield Gallery

This fairly new Jacksonville spot is a sit down restaurant decorated with local artwork and a big bar with tons of craft beer.

This will be a less chewy and risen, more crispy sort of a pizza pie.. Not a bad thing, as pizza styles, can vary dramatically. There’s no build your own pizza option, and we don’t want to spend time trying to swap out nonvegan ingredients, so we opted for just vegan cheese and fresh basil.

They use Teese for their pizza and your experience may vary. What we had was delicious and well melted. Yet one time my sister ordered a pizza and was given unshredded, haplessly tossed around chunks (we saw the photo evidence). Teese is supplied to restaurants only, and it comes in blocks – it’s up to the cook to grate or slice it.

V Pizza

Florida based local chain specializing in Neapolitan style personal pies. Offers Teese for vegan cheese.

Your Pie

Southeast USA based fast casual franchise that uses Daiya and offers the usual veggies, like onions, peppers, mushrooms, artichoke. No vegan mock meats. Build-Your-Own is your best bet.

Sun Ray Cinema

This dine-in movie theater is in the historic Five Points neighborhood. It was the first movie theater equipped to play “talkies” in Florida in 1927.

Now they use their two screens to show films while offering an extensive food menu, including pizzas, sandwiches, loaded fries and nachos. There’s even a special vegan brat made with a sausage from local vegan vendor Zen Butcher.

While we enjoyed the other snacks and appetizers, we thought their pizza was the best. Not only do they offer vegan cheese, but vegan sausage and vegan pepperoni as well.

Also you can get a massive popcorn bowl (ask for it without butter – you won’t miss it). You’ll have a selection of toppings to sprinkle on, like nutritional yeast, truffle oil, and too many more to count.

Honorable Vegan Jacksonville Mentions

Whiskey Jax – Vegan Night every Tuesday

Whisky Jax has a vegan night where vegans can enjoy a separate vegan menu starting at 5 pm. They’re showcasing items in hopes of developing a regular vegan offering. Get there during their happy hour to enjoy discounted drinks!

At the time we went they were trialing a bunch of items, all done well but with room for improvement.

The proprietors are hoping to refine their vegan night offerings until they’re ready to join the main menu. (Note: if you go on a regular night, they have pretty much nothing for vegans).

The best thing was their Impossible burger, despite being overcooked. Nachos suffered the usual vegan cheese sauce problem of being too runny. The lentil lasagna with eggplant seemed to be missing lasagna noodles, unless the eggplant was supposed to be the noodles, which even then seemed nonexistent.

As of this writing, they are still doing the weekly Vegan Nights on Tuesday. But hopefully, they’ll be listening to the feedback and offering vegan options on the current menu some time very soon. For more info, check out their facebook page.

Local Vegan Vendors

Vegan Jacksonville also has a bunch of hardcore local vegan vendors. You can find their goodies in retailers, pop up markets like Riverside Arts Market, other farmers markets, or supermarkets. Check their websites for more info.

Shakti Life Kitchen – organic and raw

Shakti Life offers an impressive line of goodies, from the savory; cheese spreads, kale chips, dilly kraut, to the sweet; cheesecake and chocolate macaroons. The cheeses are some of the best raw cheeses we’ve had and we’ve tried at least four of them. Super creamy, snappy tarty, and just rich. They’re so damn good, almost too good for any old plain cracker.

Almost each retailer features something different than the others of their Shakti products. For example, Grass Roots Natural market carries more lunch meal products than we’ve seen elsewhere. They also do catering.

The Zen Butcher Company

This pacifist gently slices, dices, seasons, and prepares mock meats with a seitan base, among a few other items. You can find their products in many stores and restaurants. We’ve tried quite a few, but the standout: restaurant La Lechonera El Coqui’s preparation of their beef style meat.

For seitan, you can find gyro meat, bacon, and pastrami. All are flavored like you’d expect, but if you’re trying to get a more meat like experience, these will require some added fat, like frying in oil. Otherwise, they work great as a part of a well stuffed and layered sandwich, as opposed to eaten by themselves.

They also make creamy cheese sauces, smoked Gouda and muenster cheese. Served cold, they work great as spreads on a sandwich, or as a topping. And they do taste quite similar to their analogs. They have a smooth yet gooey texture, with a slight smoky taste in both, with the smoked Gouda being much more smoky. If you warm them up, you could mix into pasta to make instant mac and cheese. Apparently, they also serve a chicken empanada.

My only complaint is, depending on what you get, the faux meat products aren’t as flavored strongly as I’d like. Maybe we got a weak batch, but I suspect not so much as I felt similarly about their bratwurst that we tried at Sun Ray Cinema.

Hot Dog Party Cart

Think of that typical street hot dog cart, but all vegan hot dogs! They are even kept in hot water, just like a NYC hot dog stand, and made to order in seconds. Follow their Instagram if you want to know where they are located.

The most basic hot dog comes with classic toppings like ketchup, mustard, onions, and relish. There are also several more deluxe dogs on offer.

It’s a simple hot dog cart, and he uses a particular hot dog brand from Chicago with that old school, uniform hot dog texture. Sort of chewy, but not chunky like a ground sausage. Yes, not an appetizing description, but they’re based on the original weird processed animal product we all grew up around.

Vegan Comfort

This is a regular booth at Riverside Art market we missed, but hear good things and want to mention.

Vegan Jacksonville Resources

Jax Vegan Love: Great Vegan Jacksonville Instagram account!

Girls Gone Green: non-profit that puts on events like the Northeast Florida Veg Fest and No Meat March. They also have a ton of resources on their website.

VegJax: Jacksonville vegan dining website created by the aforementioned Girls Gone Green.

Jacksonville Vegan/Vegetarian Group: Active local Facebook group with over 3,000 members.

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