The Vegan Food Wars of DC

A crew of innovator chefs and entrepreneurs have turned Washington into a hub of plant-forward dining. But they have all kinds of competing ideas about what meat-free fare should be.


by Nancy Scola, Washingtonian

October 7, 2021


“I thought I would die eating cured salami,” says Margaux Riccio, starting in on the unlikely story of how she came to be the vegan co-owner of one of the buzziest new plant-only restaurants in Washington—and also the nemesis of a lot of people who would be her natural customers.


The place is called Bubbie’s, and the tale goes like this:


Riccio grew up around her father’s California steakhouse, among a big meat-eating Italian family. She started cooking at the Atlas Room on H Street, Northeast, in 2010, but two years later she was forced to quit the kitchen, stricken with hives and mysterious allergies. When doctors eventually diagnosed one of the main culprits—dairy—it was ruinous for a chef who liked to hit Bistrot du Coin for ham-and-Gruyère tartine and crème brûlée on her days off. Her partner was vegetarian, so suddenly there was not only no prosciutto or lamb in their home, but no milk or fresh mozzarella, either. “I was just starving,” she says.


Riccio started experimenting with plant-based cooking, crafting a passable imitation chicken from wheat gluten and tofu, and a feta from soy. She made everything by hand, manipulating the ingredients so the resulting proteins would exactly mimic the foods she missed. In 2016, when she was able to get back into a professional kitchen full-time again, she was functionally vegan. And an innovative vegan cook...