Vegan Grand Rapids Guide to Eating Your Way Through ArtPrize

ArtPrize, the world’s largest open art competition, has descended upon Grand Rapids for the fifth time. Once again the top artist (chosen by public vote) will be awarded $200,000. There are over 1800 artists competing in 169 venues, mostly concentrated in downtown GR. You’ll have 19 days to explore the city, vote for your favorite artists, and of course, find the best places to eat. Ideally, what you’d have below is an assemblage of the finest pieces on display. A preview of top-10 contenders that you can seek out right away to make sure you see the best of the best. But there’s one problem.

We don’t know anything about art.

But hey, no worries. In lieu of an art degree, we’ve got an honorary degree in exploratory eating which counts for something, right? We’ve listed some cool places to grab a bite while you’re downtown – and just from experience we know the venues that generally are worth checking out. So without further ado, here is our top list of places to go to see some pretty cool, sometimes bizarre, and always interesting art during ArtPrize. If you get hungry, we’ve got you covered there too!

The hippie stuffed burger

The hippy stuffed burger from Stella’s

UICA | 2 Fulton West
UICA is known for displaying some of the top contenders in ArtPrize. This year will surely be no exception. With 13 artists displaying a variety of types of art, you don’t want to miss stopping in here. Woolhouse is a life sized room that was hand knitted. It’s complete with a knitted couch, lamp, and chair. SERIOUSLY. Another interesting piece slated for UICA, is Climb, three fully-playable vintage Donkey Kong cabinets arranged in a geometric configuration. A video screen depicts a hopeless Mario who forever climbs without ever saving his princess.

After your visit to UICA, take the short walk around the corner to Stella’s Lounge at 53 Commerce Ave. Stella’s has a decent section of their menu dedicated to vegan dishes. Order a  No Bull Steak (seasoned tempeh, sauteed onions, peppers, mushrooms and sunflower vegan cheese served on a baguette) or Hippy Stuffed Black Bean & Lentil Burger with a side of Poor Man’s Wings (breaded potato wedges tossed in buffalo hot, mild, golden BBQ or sweet-chili sauce with the most delicious spicy avocado ranch on the side). To learn more about Stella’s, check the Restaurant Guide.

SiTE:LAB | 54 Jefferson
Located in the former home of the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, SiTE:LAB is one of our favorite ArtPrize venues. Oftentimes the installations incorporate aspects of the old museum, which stir up memories from past visits for many locals. One of those is Ecosystem. Using the original dioramas and showcases from the museum (dated in the 70s) that were used to educate about the local wildlife, Ecosystem aims to create “a new museology” with paint and color. Dance in the Annex, or DITA, will be performing Angle of Repose, which explores gravity’s impact on the body in motion. There’s so much more to see here, SiTE:LAB needs to be on your must-do list!

Double Decker Vegan Breakfast Pizza

Double Decker Vegan Breakfast Pizza from CVLT PIZZA

Two vegan meccas are just a short walk away from SiTE:LAB. Go north on Jefferson and you’ll hit Bartertown Diner and CVLT PIZZA. Both restaurants strive to use only local and in season ingredients, so the menus are everchanging. Bartertown is all vegan with the exception of dairy cheese (you can also get a non-dairy version) and features burgers, sandwiches, and one of Kolene’s favorite dishes, tofu rancheros: tofu scramble with black beans, onions, and greens, served over tostada shells with cherry-guajillo sauce. CVLT serves up pizzas, calzones, and salad. One of our favorite pizza pies is the Double Decker Vegan Breakfast pizza. Don’t worry, it’s available all day.

Grand Rapids Art Museum | 101 Monroe Center
The GRAM has been home to two ArtPrize winners. In 2012 Adonna Khare won for her intricate  drawing Elephants, and in 2010 Chris LaPorte took the top prize for, you guessed it, the intricate drawing Cavalry, American Officers, 1921. They have also had several artists in the top ten, so this is another must-stop destination. It’s also a great time to visit the GRAM because you can get in for free and view all of their current collections. GRAND is a 22-foot sculptural portrait of the Grand River after midnight. Sessilanoid is an interactive sculpture that “hypothesizes what happens as synthetic lifeforms take the place of the organic while exploring the balance between pollution and sustainability.” Looks super trippy! ILLUSION is a 3-sided acrylic painting that allows you to step into a room and be surrounded by it for reflection and meditation.

The GRAM’s front door is also the hub for food carts and trucks (did you miss the news? We’re going to have food trucks downtown year ‘round!). You’ll be in heaven if you like tacos. Check out Woking Taco for a spin on the classic Walking Taco carnival fare (think more adult and less gross). Righteous Cuisine will also park it in GR. They’re a food truck from Kalamazoo that told us they will have “lots of vegan tacos” at ArtPrize. Their regular menu includes a pretty delicious sounding taco with kale and quinoa. What the Truck will also be there. They told us they’d have one vegan taco option. One last exciting addition to the food truck team is Spoonlickers. Spoonlickers has a couple brick and mortar buildings that serve up frozen yogurt (both dairy and non-dairy) with a large bar of toppings to add on. The food truck features 100% vegan ice cream! Yes, you heard that right! All the flavors to choose from are non-dairy. You can get Vanilla, Chocolate, Raspberry, and Lemon Sorbetto. So exciting!

The B.O.B. | 20 Monroe NW
Located in the heart of downtown, The B.O.B is possibly more known as a place to see the crazy, wild, and large – and for its past history of controversy. The building itself is home to a few bars, restaurants, a brewery and a comedy club, and is a great place to see some pretty visually interesting art and grab a beer. There are over 100 artists on display here, and much of the art seems to intentionally fall into the big and wild category. Past top-10 winner, statue man extraordinaire Robert Shangle is back. If that alone is not enough, The B.O.B. is your best place to see a tricked out VW Bug, and a 20 foot metal crocodile. While the art here is interesting, the food is decidedly not. Don’t expect to find much of anything suitable to a vegan diet. We suggest checking out one of the places below.

Ok, so after visiting those four venues, two things will be true.

A) You will have seen LOTS OF ART.

B) You will be hungry.

Two Beards Deli | 38 Commerce Ave SW

Two Beards Deli is hosting 6 artists during ArtPrize. One pays homage to one of America’s greatest films, Taxi Driver. The oil on canvas painting features Travis Bickle, played by a young Robert DeNiro, in front of his taxi cab and asks the question “You Wouldn’t Happen to be Talking to Me, Would You?

Two Beards is open from 7 am to 10 pm daily and offers not just sandwiches, but breakfast items (the Jerry Garcia includes a Sriracha tofu sour cream!), as well as salads, soups, and even cupcakes. Their vegan mayo is made in house, as well as a faux bacon and seitan. Oh yeah, and each one of the sandwiches is names after a celebrity with epic facial hair, like the The Allen Ginsberg, a vegan spin on the classic BLT. There’s also plenty of gluten-free choices. For a full write up and to see the menu, visit our Restaurant Guide.

Grand Central Market | 57 Monroe Center St NW
Grand Central Market is a deli and small grocery store located in the heart of downtown on Monroe Center. They are featuring a few artists, one of them happens to be a dog named CsZar. CsZar is a ChiPin, that’s a chihuahua / mini pinscher mix, in case you were wondering. CsZar’s  entry is all about raising awareness about pet adoption and teaching you about the joy of “bringing a new friend into your life.” CsZar will stand on your shoulder and pose so you can have your picture taken with him.

While visiting CsZar, be sure to stop by the deli! There is a section on the menu that features veggie sandwiches. Kolene’s favorite is the Samcy Roll: hummus, quinoa salad, lettuce, tomato and onion in a spinach wrap.

Mitten Brewing

Take a break from ArtPrize with a cold pint from the Mitten Brewing Co.

The Mitten Brewing Company | 527 Leonard NW
Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown is the Mitten. Located just northwest of the city, it’s the perfect place to look at art and kick back for a pint or two. Several artists will be featured here, including a curious piece called Half full or half empty? This exhibit seems to be a pint glass filled with beer. Life imitates art? There’s also Caps off to Michigan, two hand built tables made with walnut tabletops and covered in beer caps.

Let’s be honest, what you really should be stopping in for is the pizza. Almost every pizza on the menu can be made vegan. They offer Daiya cheese, Smart Life Pepperoni and Morningstar Grillers Chik’n. One of Jon’s favorites is the Pesto Chick’n pizza (with light daiya!). The breadsticks are also vegan and they offer a gluten-free crust if gluten ain’t your thing. Oh, and the beer is pretty tasty too! Save some room after for a serving of Furniture City Creamery ice cream.

San Chez Bistro | 38 W Fulton
With just over a dozen artists on display at San Chez, a visit here is well worth your time. A 12 foot long rhinoceros made of styrofoam and covered in cork, an oil painting of a zebra that looks like it was colored by a 4 year-old (seriously, that’s what the artist was going for!), and a mixed media piece call The Crazy World of Stick Figures will all call San Chez home during Artprize.

Ve rduras y Tortas (Spicy black bean & quinoa cakes) from San Chez

Dining at San Chez is an experience all it’s own as well. The menu features tapas, or small plates, to share with everyone at your table. There’s a separate menu for vegans, just ask your server. Try the Alcachofas a la Parilla (grilled artichoke hearts) or the Verduras y Tortas (Spicy black bean & quinoa cakes). They also pour some pretty stiff drinks here, including arguably the best mojito in town. For a full write up and the menu, visit our Restaurant Guide.

Speak EZ Lounge | 600 Monroe Ave NW
A few paintings will be on display at Speak EZ, including A Tribute to Jazz. Using old bus passes and black acrylic paint, the artist has created depictions of some of the great jazz legends Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Be sure to grab a bite when visiting SEZ. When you get the menu, flip it over. The vegan menu is on the back. This menu includes some items that are on the regular menu that happen to already be vegan, some that are modified from the regular menu to become vegan, and some items just for us. The black bean quinoa salad is pretty good, as well as either of the risottos. For a full write up and to see the menu, visit our Restaurant Guide.

Founders Brewing Co. | 235 Grandville Ave SW
You might argue that the beer at Founder’s is a work of art all its own, but there’s actual art here too. Check out Whimsical Clouds, a pen and ink drawing that features a kangaroo with the head of a donkey and the tail made of an octopus tentacle! There is also a piece called OMG. The artist named the title this because she says it’s the reaction the first 3 people had upon seeing it.

The menu at Founders doesn’t have a ton of vegan choices, but what they do have is pretty darn good. Try the Hummus & Tapenade appetizer. Everything is made in house and their hummus, although sometimes pretty oily, goes down well with a frosty brew. For something a little more substantial, try the Tree Hugger sandwich. Beware, the mustard that comes on this sandwich contains honey, so substitute it for something else if that’s not your thing. Their sandwich bread is incredible and the portions are huge! All of Founders beers are vegan except any of the breakfast stouts.

ArtPrize 2013 runs from September 18 to October 6. If you find yourself in other areas of the city while visiting, be sure to check our Restaurant Guide to find out what other culinary experiences Grand Rapids has to offer.


  • Barbara Olson

    Thanks for the suggestions on where to get some good vegan fare during Art Prize. And where not to go- We will not be visiting or encouraging others to eat at The Bob. Too bad they can't solicite a good vegan restaurant to locate there.

  • Karen Hauserman

    Interesting bit on the BOB, because I was at the Artist Party with my cousin, whose art is displayed at Arnie's on Leonard (Foster Home…GO KELLY!), and they had vegan hors d'oeuvre options.

    • http://VeganGR.com/blog VeganGR

      Glad you were able to find something while there. They may have one or two items, but they certainly are not a place we can recommend.

  • Carrie

    The Organic Gypsy food truck will be in Rosa Parks Circle from 11am to 7pm on Oct 1 and they always have some thoughtfully-made, delicious vegan food!!!

    • http://VeganGR.com/blog VeganGR

      Thanks so much for the intel, Carrie!