This year, my wife, daughter, and I vacationed on the island of Ocracoke, the most remote of North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands, a 40-minute ferry ride from Hatteras. I was a tad concerned about the vegetarian options on the island, but was pleasantly surprised by the choices. In addition to staying at an accommodating bed and breakfast, we found that the island has a surprising amount of vegetarian food available for the taking. Here’s a quick run-down of where we went (and a few we didn’t) for others that might be considering a visit to Ocracoke. Keep in mind that many of these places don’t have web sites (and those that do are often very low-budget), but if you Google the name and “Ocracoke” you may be able to find menu scans or, at the very least, an address.
Ocracoke Coffee Company – A great little coffee shop that seems to have its fair share of regulars. They have the standard assortment of coffee options (with soy milk on hand), a modest loose tea selection (sadly, stored in glass containers, exposed to the light), and some really good smoothies. The smoothies are cheap ($4 for 21 oz.) and tasty. Their Very Scary Berry smoothie (which is their Very Merry Berry smoothie plus spirulina) is excellent and their Tea Breeze smoothie with berries and black tea is unique. Some smoothies have yogurt but soy milk can be subbed. I didn’t ask about the source of their optional protein powder. None of their baked goods appear to be vegan. Free wi-fi and a connected bookstore make this a must-visit if you’re on the island.
Fig Tree Deli – Right next door to where we stayed was The Fig Tree Deli and Bakery (also the Sweet Tooth ice cream shop). They offer three vegetarian sandwiches. One is cheese-heavy, but the other two are perfectly serviceable (and, indeed, tasty). So stop by and enjoy the Hummus and Veggie Wrap (homemade hummus, lettuce, and cucumber-tomato relish on a flour or tomato tortilla) or the Rice Salad Wrap (marinated rice, black beans, and veggie salad with lettuce and tomato on a flour or tomato tortilla), just ask them to hold the feta.
Ocracoke Pizza Company – Take out only here, but they offer olive oil (with no cheese) or tomato sauce as a base on a hand-tossed or thin-and-crispy crust. All the standard toppings. Note that their pesto base does contain cheese. We ended up ordering twice from here. Both times, our pizza was decent.
Thai Moon – A Thai restaurant seems out-of-place here, but it’s mighty welcome thanks to their good vegetarian selection. I was told that their vegetarian options do not have fish sauce or fish seasoning, though I’m not sure whether the oyster sauce used in one of their vegetarian dishes is vegan or not. I really liked their veggie fried rice (which uses fried silken tofu!) and Huyen enjoyed their sweet and sour veggies. Take-out only and very easy to miss. Shop next door at the Natural Selections hemp store while you wait for your order.
Mango Loco – Though not very vegan-friendly by default, this Mexican/Carribean restaurant on Hwy 12 turned out to be a great visit. Knowing that the preparation of Mexican food varies greatly from restaurant to restaurant, I told our server I was vegan and wanted to make sure the beans weren’t cooked in lard. She said, “The beans are safe, but the rice isn’t. That’s cooked in chicken stock.” She then offered alternatives and said she’d check on anything else we had questions about. Huyen had a mighty spicy spinach and mushroom enchilada (hold the cheese and sour cream, white rice instead of their regular rice). I opted for a delicious Mexican lasagna with layers of tortillas, beans, and salsa (again: hold the cheese and sour cream, swap out the rice for white rice). The plate was huge and I only managed to finish half, still coming away feeling uncomfortably full. Chalk this one up to a good vegan experience in a seemingly unvegan restaurant thanks to a very helpful waitress and accommodating kitchen.
Places We Didn’t Eat That Have Veggie Options
Back Porch Restaurant – There’s not a lot here for vegans, but their Chana Masala (tofu, spinach, and chickpea curry) sounds mighty good. I might have given it a shot if it wasn’t $18.
Cafe Atlantic – They have a vegetarian pasta that would likely be vegan without feta and a veggie or Carribean wrap that could easily be made vegan.
Howard’s Pub – Their “PETA Burger” is vegan, though I was told that it’s just a frozen patty (Boca?) that’s been reheated and not homemade. I haven’t confirmed this.
Creekside Cafe – Standard wrap options.
If you’re going…
The Variety Store across the street from the Fig Tree Deli/Sweet Tooth seems to be the best place to get groceries, but you’ll definitely want to stock up before coming because it’s small and isn’t exactly teaming with vegan convenience foods. However, they have a large selection of menus posted outside and flyers and newspapers inside that will help you decide about where to go for dinner.
The Natural Selection hemp store (mentioned in the review of Thai Moon) is worth a stop for their inventory of hemp, organic cotton, and bamboo products. They’ve got a few vegan snack items in their kitchen area.
A B&B is a good way to go, though it is a tad more expensive than other options. But, B&Bs will often cater to your dietary needs when they serve up a homemade breakfast. Our hostess was wonderful, serving up fruit and toast with hummus one day, nearly-vegan waffles and pancakes two other days (we found out later that they were made with honey… an honest mistake), and delicious black bean enchiladas on our last morning. She noted that it was a challenge for her, but she never complained about it and was extremely friendly (and not just because we were her last guests before selling the place!).
Of course, it’s also worth looking for lodging that offers at least a fridge and perhaps a microwave or kitchenette.
I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of options there were on the island. Being as remote as it is, I was half expecting to be subsisting on Clif Bars for four days. But thanks to the B&B and the good restaurant options, we ate well during our entire visit.
(I also can’t let this post go by without a shout-out to my sister who made some kick-ass vegan cupcakes for our daughter’s second birthday and put us up for the night on our way to the island.)