6 surprising plant-based standouts from the Restaurant Show

Reyna Estrada, the resident vegetarian editor on FoodService Director. identifies the meat-free dining trends on the Show floor.
Boldly's tuna tartare
Boldly displayed a plant-based Tuna Tartare at the Show made with root blend and seaweed extract. | Photo: Benita Gingerella

The sheer number of plant-based products on display at the National Restaurant Association Show this year could be overwhelming at first glance. However, products on the show floor provide valuable insight into trends in the foodservice industry. It’s clear that plant-based fare isn’t going anywhere, but it’s continuing to change and evolve. As FoodService Director’s resident vegetarian, I decided to dive into the plant-forward products on the Show floor and a few trends emerged. There seems to be a focus on cleaner, simpler, plant-focused ingredients. Many exhibitors used that as a selling point for their products. Plant-based seafood continues to shine, but in even more creative ways than last year. Vegetables as center of the plate was another trend on the Show floor with dishes featuring Asian cuisine or mushrooms as the star of the show. Plant-based food can be difficult to perfect but these flavorful dishes were wow-worthy. Here’s a look at six products you don’t want to miss.

1.Impossible Foods plant-based chicken nugget with sticky sesame sauce

The way a product is dressed can really make or break it, and with this recipe, the “chicken” was covered in the perfect amount of sauce. The nugget was crispy and the texture was on par with a genuine chicken nugget. While this was one of the simpler plant-based recipes on the show floor this year, it still stood out, as who can go wrong with a classic chicken nugget?

2. Chi Food’s plant-based ground chorizo crumble

Plant-based fare is not limited to chicken and beef anymore. The show floor was scattered with a variety of other types of meat analogues, including chorizo. Chi Foods showcased a few of their plant-based crumbles, but the chorizo was definitely a standout. The texture was fantastic, though the flavor wasn’t exactly how I remember chorizo to taste. It was still full of flavor and tasty with a slight nutty flavor. The product is also gluten-free which could be helpful for operations trying to expand their gluten-free options. This product also falls in line with a major trend in the foodservice industry that was spotlighted at this year’s show—embracing global flavors.

3. 24Vegan’s vegetable red curry

If you need a break from all the meat analogues and are craving a vegetable-forward dish, 24Vegan’s curries might be for you. On offer at the show was a red and a green curry. The red curry had a bit of a kick to it. The ingredients are simple and plant-forward with bamboo shoots, carrots, green beans and of course coconut milk and a red curry paste. This recipe falls into the trend of vegetables as center of the plate, without a reliance on meat analogues. The meat analogues are great, but sometimes a vegetable-centric dish just hits the spot.

4. Better Balance’s chickenless chicken salad

Texture can be hard to perfect, but Better Balance does a great job with its chickenless chicken salad. The company offers an array of plant-based products ranging from dairy to “meat” shreds. The chickenless chicken salad recipe on offer at the show was made using those products. The ingredients for the chicken shreds are simple, as it’s made with mostly soy and pea protein, showcasing once again, the shift toward simple ingredients.

5. Boldy’s plant-based tuna tartare

We couldn’t call this a plant-based taste test without trying out the variety of seafood analogues. Plant-based seafood company Boldy presented a plant-based tuna tartare. The product was presented beautifully and the texture was definitely akin to seafood. Its ingredient list is short, made with root blend, seaweed extract and a few other products.

6. Oatly’s Coffee Shakarado

To round out the taste test I decided to opt for something sweet so I headed over to the Oatly booth. They were serving up plant-based soft- serve made of oats and a coffee milkshake. As a huge lover of both coffee and ice cream, I could not pass up the coffee milkshake. Oat-based ice cream is creamy and sweet, and this milkshake was no different. While Oatly has been around since the 90’s and is not new to the space, there does seem to be an expansion in plant-based dairy options as of late. On offer at the show were a handful of plant-based ice creams and cheeses.

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