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Traveling Gourmet: Great Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants

by Rich Rubin
Sasha Raj at 24 Carrots Vegan Restuarnt

Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are becoming more and more popular, and you can feast meat-free at plenty of amazing restaurants worldwide.

Sasha Raj at 24 Carrots (Photo by Mark Lipczynski)

When I was a kid, I shocked everyone by announcing I was giving up meat (I really had no reason to, except I thought it was “sorta cool.”) At that time, being a vegetarian was fairly unheard of and caused problems when I’d eat out with friends or family. Now, several decades later, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are becoming more and more popular, and you can feast meat-free at plenty of amazing restaurants worldwide. These days, those who want a great meal without meat can eat with the best of them, whether it’s at a totally vegan place (about half the ones included here) or a vegetarian spot. The one thing they all have in common is wonderful food.

Beet Tartare at Tian Bistro Vegetarian Restaurant

Beet Tartare at Tian Bistro

Tian Bistro is the casual outpost of Paul Ivić, who also created Austria’s only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant. I love the bistro, with its low-key look of wood tables and taupe-hued booths, creating a feeling that’s organic, homey, and welcoming (there’s lovely garden seating too). At the end of Schrankgasse, a long and narrow street in the hip Spittelberg area, it’s a revelation of great food and friendly service. The cuisine is creative, original, striking, and oh so delicious. You might start with a tartare of beets, a soft and flavorful column, with little gumdrop-shaped dollops of paprika mayonnaise scattered about the plate, and three caperberries resting insouciantly at the top. Another great choice is the watermelon and button mushroom salad. Although it sounds like an unusual combination, it’s actually perfect. The watermelon chunks display a depth of flavor that’s like the watermelon of my memory, and the whole dish is infused with a mild sesame taste, and little rounds of scallions and sunflower petals completing the beautiful visual and flavor palate. Zucchini blossoms come in a rich miso broth, the crunchy flowers resting atop a bed of potatoes, baby yellow squash, and chanterelles. Wash it all down with organic wine or perhaps lemonade flavored with blackberry/rosemary or elderflower/ginger. Do save room for dessert, which might be their amazing hibiscus sorbet resting on a round of soft, gooey, beautiful polenta, strawberries and toasted oats lending a variety of texture and flavor. If everything on the menu looks great (and it is), you might decide to free yourself from decisions and do the “Sharing Chef’s Garden” option, where the chef chooses two appetizers, a main, and a dessert for you. It gives you a taste (literally) of the wonders the chef is creating here. Schrankgasse 4, Vienna, Austria. Tel: +43 1 526- 9491. www.tian-bistro.com

Udupi Vegan Restaurant

Photo: Courtesy Udupi Palace

Udupi Palace, a vegetarian Indian wonder, serves dishes mainly from the region of India that gives the restaurant its name. Located on East Gerrard Street in the heart of “Little India,” it’s remained one of the city’s most popular spots for its tapas-style menu of meat-free delights that are perfect for sharing. Start with crispy onion pakora, or the amazing vegetable samosas. (Note: I could make a meal of the sweet tamarind and spicy mint sauces served with some appetizers). Continue, perhaps, with a dosa, a large coneshaped “crepe” made from lentils and rice, crisped on a griddle, and filled with everything from chiles and cheese to spiced potatoes and onions to spicy chutney. My suggestion: the paper dosa stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, black mustard seeds, cumin, white lentils, ginger, and green and red chiles. One of the several “paper dosa” selections (the thin, crispy crepe shows you where they got their name), it’s easily big enough for several to share, and served with coconut chutney and sambar. Channa bhatura, meanwhile, is a delicious chick pea dish in a rich curry sauce, served on the puffy bread known as bhatura that’s made from the same dough as the more familiar naan, but put into hot oil till it puffs up like a pillow. The long, narrow room is unassuming, with a mural of columns and palms at the back, Indian statuary on wall pedestals, and metal/leatherette chairs. 1460 Gerrard St. E., Toronto ON. Tel: 416-405-8189. www.udupipalace.ca

Restaurateur Tamearra Dyson grew up in Oakland, but her family hails from New Orleans, which explains the amazing vegan takes on traditional Louisiana Creole cuisine dished up at her friendly and fabulous restaurant. In the back, you’ll see portraits of her Louisiana forbears (“my comfort blanket,” Dyson smiles), and on your plate you’ll see some great vegan takes on the cookery of that region. Start with their Seitan Spicy Strips, served with hot sauce and vegan ranch dressing (you’ll never miss chicken wings again), before moving on to Zucchini Etouffe, with a coconut-based sauce and just a hint of heat. Try their flavorful gumbo, rich with okra, garlic, corn, tomatoes, and a saucy array of spices (along with what Dyson calls “The Holy Trinity” of onions, peppers, and celery). You’ll find the gumbo also in the Southern Staples Bowl, in which it’s joined by perfectly-seasoned grits and crispy tofu. Louisiana Hot Links make a perfect sandwich, spicy and toothsome, served with garlic aioli and dill slaw, while Mac & Cheeze is livened up with jalapeños. Oh, and don’t forget dessert, maybe a mini sweet potato pie, washed down with their perfect housemade lemonade. The diverse crowd, young and old, Creole fanatics, and dedicated vegans, with everything in between, has kept this place one of the most appealing spots on Oakland’s restaurant map. Souley Vegan lives up to both halves of its name: 100% plant based food and a dining experience from cuisine to service to charming setting that’s unmistakably good for the soul. 301 Broadway, Oakland CA. Tel: 510-922-1615. www.souleyvegan.com)

Cornbread at Souley Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant

Cornbread at Souley Vegan
Photo: Courtesy Souley Vegan

My nominee for best name ever of a vegan restaurant, 24 Carrots luckily has much more to offer than just a fun moniker. Opened in 2008, the café offers not only a wonderful menu, but a full line of tasty juices. You might start with a zucchini noodle salad (my favorite), where these green “pasta” strands are mixed with greens and other vegetables into a huge mound of goodness, topped with a balsamic or lemon-tahini dressing (I suggest the latter). Another great use of these “zoodles” is in the Alfredo Primavera, where they’re tossed with veggies and topped with a cashew-coconut Alfredo sauce, with a sprinkling of cashew “Parmesan”: crunchy/smooth, fresh, and clean. There’s a great selection of tacos, enchiladas, and sandwiches along with some vegan takes on the old favorites (“Mac and Trees,” anyone?). Wash it all down with an eye-opening Apple Zinger (apples/ginger), Carrots Over Easy (apples/carrots/pineapple/strawberries) or, the best of all, a Beet It (beets/carrots/ cucumber/celery/ginger). With its great food, friendly staff, and homey setting with plants on the tables and lots of art on the walls, it’s no wonder this spot is one of the best vegan restaurants in the USA. 1721 E. Guadalupe Rd., Tempe AZ. Tel: 480-753-4411. www.24carrotscafe.com

VegeNation Vegetarian Restaurant

Photo: Jackie Sobon

A great vegan restaurant in Las Vegas? If this sounds odd to you, then you haven’t visited VegeNation. Apparently I’m not the only one that’s discovered it, as the homey interior full of wood and plants is packed mid-afternoon when I visit. Your starter choices roam the earth, from sushi to bao to dumplings to tamales to hummus (though I admit to being a sucker for the buffalo cauliflower “wings”). I love the risotto, rich with portobellos and butternut squash, amazing in its rich depth and variety of flavors, with a close second being the wonderful sweet potato and black bean quesadilla. You might also try the excellent pho (or, as they call it, “pho-king-delicious”), or if you’re in the mood for something lighter, perhaps a Miley Cyrus Rainbow Superfood Salad, with quinoa, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds combining with the fresh vegetables and Green Goddess dressing. Pizzas hit the spot too. From your basic Margarita to a concoction called “Mac and Cheese Pizza,” complete with chipotle ranch dressing and “blazin doritos.” For dessert, there’s always a rich, luscious brownie sundae, with vegan ice cream, caramelized bananas, and berries, or a “Crazy Good” chocolate molten lava cake. Who says vegans can’t indulge with the best of them? 616 E. Carson Ave., Las Vegas NV. Tel: 702-366-8515. www.vegenationlv.com

Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Frida’s Vegan Restaurant

Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Frida’s

This sophisticated little eatery in the St. Louis suburb University City (just off the famed Delmar Loop) dishes up inventive vegetarian cookery. Marble-topped tables hold flowers in little jars, while cutouts in the gleaming white walls between rooms hold large candles. Wood floors and recessed lights give a soothing feeling. As we’re seated, our server declares, “Our water today is infused with strawberries and hibiscus.” Though an unspoken eyeroll goes around the table, it’s actually really subtle and good. I start with the roasted brussel sprouts with cherry tomatoes and aged balsamic—a simple yet totally satisfying take on this dish that’s by now a classic. Orange, beet, and burrata salad melds the flavors and colors of the three star ingredients with ease, while the signature kale salad, with sprouted sunflower seeds, tomatoes, and avocado, is as healthy as it is delicious. The selection of burgers is enormously diverse, from a slightly spicy black bean burger to Frida’s signature to Impossible and Beyond selections, and if you don’t want the exact burger dishes they offer, there’s a “build your own” section where you can go vegan or not, piquant or not, simple or amazingly complex. You might, however, opt for one of the other entrees, from a Mushroom Reuben or mushroom/avocado wrap to an enchilada filled with red beans, a variety of veggies, and a house-made smoked cashew “cheddar” enchilada sauce. 622 North and South Rd., St. Louis MO. Tel: 314-727-6400. www.eatatfridas.com

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