Customers at DelisheeYo can eat the rainbow with all the fresh veg and fruit available in a number of popular menu items.

So, let me start in saying that while I don’t know everything about every topic we choose for Hot Spots, I usually have a strong working knowledge of the category. This is definitely a first.

This is a world that I have next to zero personal experience with. While I’m always trying to eat healthier, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. I have friends who are, but for this Hot Spots, I am relying almost entirely on the recommendations of our online blue ribbon panel.

We serve our readers above all, and so many of you have emailed or DM’ed me to request more information on the local vegan and vegetarian options – moreso than any topic requested since we’ve been doing this column.

There are those that have dismissed veganism as a fad and that would be a huge mistake. This is a $14 billion industry that is growing exponentially as more and more folks are choosing healthier eating habits. But like many lifestyle trends, it takes a bit to reach the Lowcountry in earnest.

Based on our panel’s feedback, that is the case for sure. There are far more options in Savannah and there is actually a Facebook group called Savannah Veggies and Vegans, where many of our readers are members.

Susan Rafetto moved here nearly three years ago from Philadelphia, where options were plentiful for vegans. She speaks for many in wanting to keep her dine-out dollars local. Many restaurants are getting wise to the movement, if for no other reason than the ability to reach so many more potential customers.

While there are few eateries here that are vegan or veggie exclusively, more and more restaurants are offering at least a couple “capital V” solutions.

So this Hot Spots is going to be a little different. This is going to be more of a directory where you can get started on your journey, a compilation of the spots mentioned the most in our research. Of course, there are a couple that stand out above the rest and we’ll start there.

Delisheeyo (32 Palmetto Bay Road, Hilton Head Island, 843-785-3633, delisheeyo.com) is truly leading that charge for the past 11 years. They have a .07-acre lot where they grow, prep and serve the fruits and vegetables that end up on the menu. Their Rhapsody Wrap (pumpkin seed, tofu eggless salad, beet, edamame, onion, alfalfa sprouts, Fred’s apple cider vinaigrette) won continued praise from our panel. Other popular items are the SoCal, Yom Roll and the Super Salad Sampler. But truth is, all of the 16 items on their “fresh food fast” menu are loaded with nutritional ingredients that, when combined together, equate to a taste sensation. Don’t overlook the juice fridge for colorful, nutritious and delicious drinks loaded with fresh veg and fruits.

Healthy Habit (33 Office Park Road, Suite 227, Hilton Head Island, 843-686-5600, healthyhabithhi.com) is a movement as much as it’s a restaurant. Their blogs offer constant advice and testimonials to folks who have adopted healthier living behaviors. Their combination of breakfast dishes such as the chia pancakes (chia plant-based pancakes topped with berry compote, coconut, lemon zest and cinnamon), acai bowls, juices and smoothies, paninis, and signature bowls, wraps and salads have all won consistent kudos from their fan base. They particular win praise for making healthy food look attractive, which is harder than you might think. And you must try the vegan cinnamon rolls. Yes, that IS a thing.

The Studio (20 Executive Park Road, Hilton Head Island, 843-785-6000, studiodining.com) is a sensory delight. It is truly an art gallery that serves food – though I can attest that the food is delectable. The venue is driven by the goal of exposing patrons to local artists and musicians. The owners, led by artist Lunonia Colella, are vegan and offer a number of vegan and gluten free options. Their Mediterranean Chick-un dish (plant protein and vegan mozzarella with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and vegetable ravioli) won repeated plaudits from our panel. It’s one of those places that offering a steady flow of alternatives without judgment on those who still enjoy a grouper filet, lamb rack or grilled breast of duck (all gluten-free options).

Herban Market and Café (1601 North Street, Beaufort, 843-379-5060, herbanmarketandcafe.com) is worth the trek North of the Broad and won the most online and offline praise from our panel. They have 10 menu items currently for the vegan crowd, with the BLT wrap (Veganaise, mixed greens, tomatoes, tempeh bacon, avocado and clover sprouts on a spinach wrap) and their pitaya bowl smoothie (dragon fruit, strawberries, bananas, almond or coconut milk topped with granola, fresh fruit and coconut) winning the loudest applause.

The Turn Grill (1414 Fording Island Road, Bluffton, 843-815-9444, xgolfhiltonhead.com) in Tanger 2 has been a revelation for the plant-based and vegan set. This eatery inside of the new X Golf facility has a separate section of their menu called The Fringe with 10 plant-based and vegan options. They put it in writing that all vegan options are prepared separately from animal products and a separate fryer is used for non-animal products. The Unreal Reuben (Unreal Deal corned beef, sauerkraut, vegan-smoked gouda, vegan Russian dressing, grilled on rye bread)  is a particular long drive right down the middle of the fairway for our panel (as are the Unreal Deli products in general).

The Rest

There were a number of eateries singled out for providing at least one or two strong options on their menus, including Mellow Mushroom, Tio’s Latin Kitchen, Plantation Café, Chow Daddy’s, Ruan Thai, Nectar Farm Kitchen and Red Stripes at both their Bluffton and Hilton Head locations. Red Stripes won multiple shoutouts for their rasta pasta,  brown stew tofu and vegan collards. Mellow Mushroom’s vegan cheese and Ruan Thai’s garlic tofu and veggies sparked a trio of panelists to praise.

Bluffton:

• Avocado Bleu’s chickpea-stuffed avocado with balsamic glaze earned multiple magnificos.

• Sippin Cow Café won love for their Veg Out wrap and a number of plant-based menu items.

• Some might not expect to see Southern Barrel Brewing Company on this list, given their top-notch burgers and meaty sandwiches. Those folks don’t know Hodge and his crew, who are always innovating to be more inclusive (pet owners know this, too). Their cauliflower wings are particularly delicious.

• Olive and Fig in Moss Creek also won repeated praise from our panel for their efforts.

• The Juice Hive’s black bean salad also received multiple verbal high fives.

• Hong Kong, Chin Dynasty, Stir Crazy, Zoe’s Kitchen, Okatie Ale House, Old Town Dispensary, the Palmetto Bluff eateries and Agave all inspired at least one comment for their vegan efforts. And Meg’s Sweet Treats in Tanger 2 tops the dessert devotees with their yummy vegan cupcakes.

Hilton Head Island:

• Watusi Café won the most consistent praise for their all-day vegan options, and the owners say a Mediterranean hash is coming to the summer menu that non-vegan taste testers put at the top of the menu favorites.

• Stack’s vegan pancakes won a heap of holla’s.

• Saigon Café’s vegetarian pho (one panelist said it would warm your heart and tummy) was mentioned a few times.

• Skull Creek Dockside was thanked for their Beyond Burger on the lunch menu and the veggie risotto on the dinner menu (which you must ask the staff to prepare vegan friendly).

• The Frosty Frog is said to have a delicious buffalo cauliflower.

• Casablanca Mediterranean Grill, Thai Smile, Al’s Aloha Kitchen and Nood Good Food all have options that inspired a panelist to single them out.

And finally, know there may be relief on the horizon. We were contacted by a number of entrepreneurs in Bluffton, Ridgeland and Hilton Head that on the cusp of opening vegan-focused venues when the real estate market levels out a bit (read: “stops gauging potential newcomers”).

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.