Oxford! The city of dreaming spires, thronging tourists and suicidal cyclists. Although we recently moved away from the UK, we still remember the best vegetarian and vegan spots in town. Many carnivorous restaurants have vegan options and even dedicated menus; this guide has a bit of everything.
The Gardeners Arms
Nestled in Jericho is this cozy little pub serving exclusively vegetarian food, with extensive vegan options including cheese and soy bacon. Their chilli, hot dogs and thali platter are all tasty, but the highlight has to be the ‘burger wraps’ that come in a flatbread instead of a bun. (Don’t get me wrong, I love a burger – when you eat as many as I do, some variation is welcome.) The staff also know which drinks are vegan-friendly. Spoilers: the draught selection is sparse.
N.B: there are two pubs in close proximity called the Gardeners Arms. You want the one on Plantation Road, not North Parade. You have been warned.
Atomic Burger is an Oxford institution, by which I mean it’s a fantastic place you’ll want to take everyone who visits the city (not a mediocre place you feel obliged to point out but not compelled to visit — sorry, Turf Tavern). If you grew up in the Eighties or Nineties, the decor evokes immediate nostalgia. Gremlins and Ghostbusters toys on the shelves, a bar made out of VHS tapes, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wallpaper straight from my own bedroom.
The decorating gimmicks wouldn’t amount to much if the food was terrible, but in the six years I’ve been visiting Atomic it has never disappointed. At the time of writing there’s only one vegan burger on the menu: the ‘Scott Pilgrim’, topped pineapple, mushrooms, and jerk sauce. But you can construct whatever you like from an extensive list of veggie ingredients. The veggie patties are fearsome things: hearty monstrosities that you’ll never fit in your mouth without cleaving them in two. Truth be told, they’re better than the beef option even if you aren’t vegan.
It is important that you order the Sci Fries. Sweet Potato Sci Fries aren’t officially on the menu, but the staff will make them if you ask nicely, and they’re a wonderful thing.
Big Ron’s Burrito Shack
Great vegan burritos must meet the following criteria:
- The veggie option should have its own unique filling, not just meatless salad and rice.
- Guacamole must be free of charge with the veggie option. Outlets that charge extra for guacamole should be named and shamed.
- The hot sauce should have a decent kick, without inducing severe head sweats, delirium and/or death.
We haven’t actually been to Big Ron’s in a while — we like making burritos at home (recipe coming soon) — but it passes the test for an excellent burrito. Their “rocket fuel” sauce is just the right balance between hot and infernal. Yet if I’m being honest, while the burritos taste great, Big Ron’s lacks the “grab and go” appeal of Oxford’s other burrito joints. They were once much faster (and a little cheaper) but recently instigated a sit-down service instead of counter service. Sort it out, Ron!
This is the burrito place everyone knows in Oxford. There are two locations — one off the High, the other off Cornmarket Street — and they’re both the same.
The burritos taste alright, but they fail two of the three rules: guacamole costs extra (and they give you a meagre spoonful, unless you’re me and give the staff the stink eye) and their sauces aren’t good (medium sauce has no kick, hot sauce will strip the roof from your mouth and is probably classed as a chemical weapon somewhere). The staff are also not very friendly. But they’re cheap! And there is probably one near you!
The Art Café
This cosy (when writers say “cosy” they mean “small”) café has an excellent selection of vegan options at typically expensive Oxford prices: sandwiches, wraps, even the odd cake or confectionary that is mercifully dairy and egg-free. The coffee is great as well – there aren’t enough places in Oxford with enough noteworthy coffee (that’s another blog for another day)!
Buongiorno e Buonasera
This chain of cafés / Italian delis started in Gloucester Green before moving out to the Cowley Road (the branch was called Cotto e Mangiato for a while) and Headington. They’re lovely places filled with excellent food and coffee and an authentic Italian atmosphere.
Buongiorno serve vegan pizzas and bruschette that don’t feel like an afterthought compared to the meaty, cheesy options. They also have vegan croissants: despite the unconventional colour, they’re the perfect complement to an espresso.
Not sure if it’s still the case, but the Cowley Road branch once served “all you can eat” pizza on Monday evenings. I can verify that it is indeed all you can eat – and I can eat a lot of pizza.
Branca is a great Italian brasserie in Jericho for a reasonably classy dinner with friends. They have a dedicated vegan menu with enough variety for a couple to order everything between them. And they have vegan wine! The Official Reasonably Vegan Rules of Veganism state: if they’ve got vegan wine, it is your duty to drink it and drive up demand.
Even better, they allow dogs inside the restaurant. What could be better?
It’s cheap! Noodles! It’s quick! It’s cheap!
Noodle bars are a great choice for vegan dining on the cheap, assuming you avoid anything eggy or shrimpy and aren’t too bothered about a trace of fish sauce glazing your dinner. Noodle Nation don’t have a massive selection of vegan options but their Singapore vegetable, a panoply of crisp stir-fried veg with spicy seasoning, is so good I can feel the saliva pooling in my mouth just thinking about it. Don’t let that last sentence put you off the delicious food. Did I mention it’s quick and cheap?
Maybe vegan but go anyway?
Oli’s Thai on Magdalen Road is perhaps my favourite restaurant in all of Oxford, but when Jess and I visited we were mere vegetarians, so I can’t vouch for the veganicity of their menu. But I can vouch for the taste, which was out of this world. It’s worth the ridiculously lead time of two months on bookings, honest. The sweetcorn fritters are to die for; or perhaps just to pay for.