1. GODLY (Nanjing Lu)
Good For: Group meals with people from out of town.
This one is Shanghai's OG vegetarian restaurant -- it's been around since 1922. Even the famous writer Lu Xun visited this place. As the place and concept grew in popularity, GODLY expanded into chain restaurants and veggie snack specialty stores. Strong, strong flavors here (perhaps overwhelming for some), and a lot of mock meat. Go for the kao fu with mu'er, or the veggie crab spawn, vegetarian chicken, or the veggie moon cake. The branch on Nanjing Lu is the most popular one, with traditional style and rosewood furniture. Nice spot. Hot dishes cost around 35rmb each. They also have a branch on Wuyuan Lu.
2. Jen Dow (Jing'an Temple)
Good For: Quick and cheap cafeteria style sets.
Also called Ren Dao, the Jing'an Temple outpost of this chain from Taiwan is divided into three levels. The first floor is a standby for cheap, cafeteria style vegetarian food, with some of the best sets in town, meatless or otherwise (even if they do serve a lot of mock meat here). Go for the curry set. They've also got a bakery, and folks will walk around and give you bread or bean cake after your meal. Sets with soup, fresh fruit, sides, and whole grain rice are around 25-35rmb.
The second and third floor are fancier and suited to group dinners, with round tables and dishes to share. Expect to pay 80-100rmb per person on the second floor, and around 200rmb on the third floor, which has a buffet with weird desserts like awkward ladybug cakes. The place is right next to the temple. Good vibes, solid establishment.
Good For: Consistently tasty and filling vegetarian food that won't break the bank.
Just a good, affordable vegetarian café around the corner from Donghu Lu. They've got wraps, salads, and several tofu dishes like their "biang biang tofu", which isn't anything like biang biang mian but it's good. Check out the Mexican quinoa wrap and the avocado wrap too. This is a nice choice for people who aren't into mock meat. The café itself is bright and pleasant, and sometimes they play older HK and Taiwanese pop music. The Taiwanese owner Gwen and the rest of the staff are super friendly too. Recommended for quick and cheap healthy food. Lunch will cost around 50rmb per person for people with normal appetites.
4. Veg Inn (Huashan Lu)
Good For: Buddhist vibes and escape from the city.
You know that apartment complex on Huashan and Huaihai where Basement 6 used to be? There's also a really good vegetarian restaurant in there. The menu is handwritten, and the smell of sandalwood and sounds of Buddhist chants grab you as soon as you walk in. Exit Shanghai, enter Veggie Inn. The food is really good too. A monk named all the dishes on the menu, so it may be hard to decipher (even for native speakers), but the staff will happily give recommendations. Expect to pay around 100rmb per person, and you might want to make a reservation.
5. Wujie (Several Locations)
Good For: Creative and photogenic Asian cuisine -- minus the meat -- in a nice environment. They have a vegetarian tonkatsu (!!!).
Upscale chain with three branches around town, including The Bund, Xujiahui Park, and the Bottle Opener. This one is great for special occasions and dates. Lots of creative takes on Asian cuisine here, like tonkatsu and lemongrass chicken but without the rou. Plenty of mushroom dishes, too. Good service and environment. Expect to pay around 200rmb per person, possibly a bit less. They can do gluten-free cooking as well.
"No fish in my sushi, please."
6. Wu Guan Tang
Good For: Creative cuisine without the mock meat.
Serene and popular vegetarian option in a lane house on Xinhua Lu with a great hidden rooftop patio. The handwritten menu is full of inventive, seasonal dishes, and the food is thoughtful and full of flavor. You won't find mock meat in brown sauce or unidentifiable molecular spheres here. Recommendations include the baked scalloped potato (烤土豆), which looks innocent enough when it arrives sliced in a little metal tin, but under that golden caramelized top it's pure buttery crack; and the "dragon eye beans" stir fried in preserved olive leaves come served with 窝窝头, those fluffy little concave baos made of cornmeal, like the Tostitos Scoops of Chinese food. Expect to pay around 100rmb per person.
7. Ji Xiang Cao (Lucky Zen)
Good For: Zen and good food in Huangpu.
Also known as Lucky Zen, Ji Xiang Cao has been around for a decade, just south of Xintiandi at Madang Lu and Hefei Lu. You might not notice the gate from the outside, but it gives way to a quiet and peaceful environment full of Buddhist books. The dishes range from fake meats to just straight up vegetables, and they have a couple vegan options. Their famous dish is the Shepherd's purse. No alcohol. Ordering is done via iPad menus. This place gets busy on weekends, and Chinese celebrities occasionally pass through here. Reservations recommended. Expect to pay less than 100rmb per person.
8. Yu Fo Su Zhai
Good For: Cheap food in the temple.
Yu Fo Su Zhai is in the Yu Fo temple, up in the Northside in Putuo. The temple was built back in 1918, and you get a really nice view when you walk toward the restaurant. The setup is divided into two parts. The first one is like a canteen, and they sell dishes like soup noodles, mushroom soup noodles, Lohan (arhat) soup noodles, rice with the toppings and wontons, all for around 15rmb. The food is average but the environment is cool. Then there's the nicer restaurant, where dishes are around 35rmb. Lots of mock meat here. Busy on weekends. This neighborhood is worth exploring, too.
9. Pure & Whole (Several Locations)
Good For: Western style vegan food with big portions.
Formerly known as "Kush", this is a go-to for real Western vegan health nuts, with locations all over town. This one isn't local at all, but they do some really good wraps, smoothies, salads, and soups (along with calorie and nutritional breakdowns), though they don't come cheap. Environment is bright, Western cafe style, with good service. Expect to pay 80-100rmb per person.
10. Fu He Hui
Good For: This is your bougie veg option.
Fortune, Harmony, Wisdom. These are the the translations of the three characters that comprise the name of this posh vegetarian Chinese restaurant. It's courtesy of restaurateur Fang Yuan and Tony Lu, the culinary brain trust behind the famed restaurants Fu 1039, 1088 and 1015. Cuisine ranges from traditional to experimental dishes like stir-fried lily bulb with asparagus and elm ear mushrooms, or seared king oyster mushroom with tofu skin on a mandarin pancake. Reviews on the food are really mixed. You might get the same quality elsewhere for a fraction of the price, but you're paying for an upscale experience in private rooms. Menus are prix fixe in eight courses at three different prices: 380rmb, 680rmb, and 880rmb per person.
SmartShanghai would like to extend a huge "Xie Xie" to Harauld "Ox" Sextus, William Haglund, and Rhiannon Florence for their contributions to this list. The animal friends thank you too.
If you know of other spots that should be on this list, feel free to drop a comment.