by Madeleine Herbert
(Daily Info's Resident Vegetarian)
1. Alpha Bar / Vaults / Will's Deli
These three are all in completely different places and have slightly different purposes. However, they are all owned by the same person (and it's hard to get this list down to ten) so the similarity in their actual food warrants a joint position in the top spot. These sister eateries are not solely vegetarian, but they do offer a big selection of vegetarian and vegan options.
Alpha Bar is a takeaway hot food and salad bar in the covered market. They have delicious salads which are all vegetarian and mostly vegan so a solid lunchtime favourite. Plus, the hot vegetarian option is always vegan too, so you can rest assured there'll be something for you.
The Vaults and Garden is a café/restaurant situated under the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. They always have a hot vegetarian option, a soup option, and their delicious rarebit (Welsh cheese on toast) with salad is also vegetarian. Their cream tea is also deeelish, and veggie though not vegan.
Will's Deli is (you guessed it) a deli and café on Woodstock Road. They have a selection of hot and cold salads as well as a good selection of cakes, including vegan cakes. Their coffee is nice and there is a lovely rustic feel - and you may find it easier to get a spot to sit down in there than in the Vaults and Gardens.
2. The Nosebag
This upstairs café is a real Oxford treat and provided a home-from-home for me as a student, with its cosy window seats for people-watching and hearty homecooked meals. The menu is slightly larger in the evening (5.30pm - closing) but both day and evening menus have a good amount of food with no meat in. They have a history of providing well for us veggies and they know what they're doing - my Mum recommended it to me when I came here, as she used to go there when she was a vegetarian schoolgirl in Oxford in the early 80s!
Vegetarians can choose a hot meal, homemade soup and bread, a baked potato or a salad. There is also always a hot dish for vegans and some salads are vegan too. In fact, particular mention must go to the salad selection - there are lots of different options and the portion sizes are well-suited to the hungry student, even if you go for the budget side salad (£3.10). Top trick is to choose fruit salad as one of your choices; they'll put it in a separate bowl for you and that's pudding sorted without any extra paid!
Third in my list is The Gardener's Arms. This is a lovely friendly pub where they ONLY serve vegetarian (and vegan) food. The (vegan) burgers are quite extraordinary (apparently coming all the way from Norway) and please even the most dedicated carnivore - indeed, normally blood-stained gastronomes have been heard to declare that it is in fact better than the meaty alternative. Further to their excellent burger offering (with many toppings - pickles, salad etc) are the hearty and varied pies, platters and curries which promise to provide options even for the most picky of dining companions. They even serve a veggie 'chilli dog' which is apparently both enormous and delicious - I'd wager that a tastier nod to the burgeoning "pulled pork (Quorn, surely - Ed.) on everything" and "if it doesn't give you a heart attack it's not real food" movements exists nowhere this side of London (or indeed beyond, probably). Mix in an excellent range of (burgeoning movement strikes again) craft ales, lagers, real ales and a nice garden with a cosy pub and large, separate games room makes me wonder why I don't go more often. (Spoiler - I moved to East Oxford). But it remains an excellent spot to sojourn to after a bracing walk on Port Meadow, or a venue to meet a group of friends. Tables are plentiful and generally can accommodate any normal size of group. Plus the landlord has an excellent dog - large, hairy, welcoming. Do give it a try.
Oxford's Kebab Vans are an unlikely haven for vegetarians looking for a cheap, quick and easy dinner or lunch. They are particularly useful for those vegetarians in Oxford who happen to be awake in front of their laptops and papers at 3am and find themselves hungry again. Obviously I can't comment on that situation as my essays were always finished days in advance.
In Gloucester Green you'll find Falafel House, where the shakshuka wrap comes highly recommended, but the regular falafel wraps are great too. On Broad Street there is Hassan's, which boasts the usual falafel and chips but also enormous jacket potatoes for those with healthier eating in mind.
Finally, special shout-out has to go to Pizza Artisan for their extensive menu of meat-free pizzas (they do do meat ones too). They can even switch to vegan cheese if you ask. This van sits outside Christ Church College in the evenings rolling out box after box of crispy and delicious wood-fired pizza goodness. You will be hard pushed to find a better pizza in Oxford; I have heard Italians saying that this is the real deal.
Formerly Zappi's bike café, this restaurant and café has grown steadily over the last few years and its latest incarnation is very vegan-friendly, with vegan cakes and sweet treats, breakfasts (you have to try those vegan pancakes) and even regular vegan weekends where they roll out extra vegan specials alongside their normal menu. I took my carnivorous Dad along and he was effusive about the vegan brunch; he even said he felt smug looking over at people eating their meat alternatives. We all know the sadness of food envy, so when a vegan option gives you food pride it is a pleasant surprise and you know the establishment has got its priorities bang-on.
For those vegetarians who are doing grocery shopping in Oxford, the Wednesday market on Gloucester Green is a good place for cheap fruit and veg. It is open 9am - 4pm but get there early to find the freshest stuff or late to avoid the midday queues, which can be pretty long. There are also some tasty takeaway lunch options for veggies at the market - from vegetable Chinese dumplings to curry to churros. You may even find vegan cakes!
The Thursday Farmer's Market is great too, with local farmers selling organic and seasonal produce in abundance. There is also local bread, honey and cheese, along with the fast food stalls of the wednesday market. When it comes to markets, everyone is well catered for in Oxford.
Pomegranate is a Lebanese restaurant on Cowley road and a great place for a vegetarian meal out, especially if you are with meat-eating friends as it will cater well for them too. There are lots of different veggie sides for a fun sharing meal (the crispy while fluffy falafel are my fave), but they can do full portions too. The staff are friendly and helpful (look out for my wonderful Geordie friend Elaine who will serve you your falafel with her characteristic effervescent charm).
8. Organic Deli
The Organic Deli, hidden away in Friar's Entry, is a little deli and cafe serving panini, salads, soups, as well as stocking a variety of veggie bars, chocolate, herbs, spices and goodies. The organic nature of the deli means it can be on the pricey side, but you may decide that it is worth it for the knowledge, care and friendliness of the institution (I once tried to buy a bottle of water and when I found I had left my purse at home, the man gave it to me for free). They know what they're doing when it comes to specialist foodstuffs (plus they have excellent allergy knowledge), and they do it well.
Gaf is a gastro dining experience. It is a bit of a way out of Oxford, in Cowley (to the east) but I would really recommend making the journey out of town to try it out, to visiting and permanent vegans and vegetarians alike. The idea is that their vegan and vegetarian food takes up at least half of the menu, and should be equally as carefully constructed as anything else. Their menu changes regularly, and incorporates local and seasonal produce into innovative, exciting dishes. For more details on how great it is, you can read my recent review of it here.
The Crisis Skylight Café in the Old Fire Station on George Street is great for vegetarians. You must go and get the tasty and generous vegetarian breakfast, which is almost big enough to share and comes in at only a fiver!! There's also a good range of veggie jacket potato fillings and the cakes are veggie too. What's more, you'll be supporting a really fantastic social enterprise which gives homeless people a chance to find work and training in the kitchen and on the till. All in all, the friendly service, affordable prices and free wifi make it a great spot for a veggie breakfast/brunch/spot of tea.