Credit: Jessica Sidman

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Philadelphia transplant HipCityVeg is vegan, but founder Nicole Marquis isn’t necessarily getting on a soapbox about it. 

“Nobody wants to hear about factory farming when you’re ordering a burger, right? Because it’s a bummer,” Marquis says. “At the end of the day, we really do compete based on taste.”

The fast-casual restaurant opens today at 712 7th St. NW in Chinatown with a “plant-based” menu that includes salads as well as burgers, sandwiches, and other dishes with faux meat. The “pulled steak” in the Philly steak and “chick’n” in a chipotle fajita wrap are made out of organic soy and grains by a company called Gardein.

Marquis says the restaurant’s top sellers at its two Philadelphia locations are the Crispy HipCity Ranch with battered “chick’n,” lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and peppercorn ranch as well as the Groothie, a green smoothie with fruits and leafy greens. 

The last time an out-of-town restaurant group brought fake meat vegan food to D.C., though, it didn’t work out so well. (Ahem, Native Foods Cafe.)

“I was definitely a little shocked when I heard they closed all of their restaurants [in D.C.], and I had to think, ‘Oh my God, I just signed a lease. Are you kidding me?’” Marquis says. “Is it that Washingtonians don’t like this food? I don’t know if that’s it. It might be some other business aspect of it, but we’ll see. I’m biased: I think our food is better.”

If the shop is a success, Marquis is interested in further D.C. expansion. But for now? “I think D.C. is going to tell me what to do.”