Let’s admit it: despite a proliferation of vegetable-forward restaurants in the past two decades, it can still be hard to be vegan. While vegetarian plates are usually very similar to their meat-based analogs (just add extra cheese and put an egg on it), vegan dining is a whole other beast. It doesn't work to just subtract the meat and dairy; sometimes you don’t just want a salad with balsamic and olive oil. Fortunately for vegan and vegetable-loving meat eaters alike, plant-based options are getting more exciting—and extensive—every day. Yet starting an all vegan-restaurant is still an ambitious endeavor—and scary because it relies on the strong support of a still small (but growing) demographic. Wherever possible, we’ve tried to light exclusively vegan businesses; however, you’ll also find many vegetarian restaurants, and even ones that serve meat. Why? Sometimes, the best plant-based dishes are served at traditional restaurants—and we count this as progress. We’ve also tried to choose restaurants that really capture the spirit of their locale, as too often, vegans can feel excluded from truly sampling the culinary culture of a place. We’ve also chosen restaurants that embody many different schools of vegan cooking. Some channel the earnest sprouts-nostalgia of the ‘60s; others rely heavily on vegan-friendly global cuisines; still others are more contemporary and vegetable-centric, à la Alice Waters. Our list culls from all of the above, with a primary barometer being taste. In sum, we’ve culled the best of the best–and are happy to report that it’s been a difficult process. We hope it gets even harder in years to come, as vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants proliferate.