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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Excited about Austin Restaurant Week? Wondering where to go if you’re vegetarian or vegan?

The Austin Restaurant Week website has a cute guide (carrot = veggie option), but it doesn’t work perfectly. Some restaurants (Fino) have veggie options but don’t have a carrot. Trace has a carrot, but their main course has scallops – good for a pescatarian.

So here are my picks for central restaurants with veg-friendly options:

A lot of Austin vegetarians will be eating risotto this week: Olivia, Asti, Driskill Grill, and Paggi House all offer this as a main, in various yummy-sounding versions.

Cipollina has pasta with sweet potatoes as a vegetarian entree. Botticelli’s  will be serving roasted beet napoleon and mushroom pasta as part of a four-course meal. Gusto has butternut squash ravioli, and Braise has gnocchi.

Foreign & Domestic will start you off with spring vegetables in a spicy sauce (with nasturtiums – I’m intrigued) and then serve you pappardelle with fresh truffle butter. (Seems like a deal for $36.)

Olive & June has gnocchi and contorni (vegetables). Parkside has parmesan polenta with tofu.

Dallas import Coal Vines has multiple veggie options, though you’ll have to go with a like-minded friend who wants to split a veggie pizza or be ready to eat the penne vodka. You can also split a pizza and enjoy delicious veggie starters at Backspace.

If you’re dining with a carnivore, you might try steakhouse chain Finn & Porter – they have veggies with port sauce as a main.

Austin vegans dining out for Restaurant Week have five options this year. Garrido’s has chiles rellenos stuffed with vegetables. At Papa Tino’s, you can pick between enchiladas or eggplant rolls. Judges’ Hill has a vegan spaghetti squash dish. Roll on Sushi has veggie sushi. Fino has market vegetable couscous. I had it tonight, and it was delicious:

I don’t know how to summarize the veg dishes at Green Pastures. Once a year, they cook every vegetarian dish they can think of, and serve it all on one plate. I ate there during Restaurant Week two years ago, and it was overwhelming – but delicious. Go here if you’re very hungry.

I’ve made my reservations to check out the cauliflower steak at Haddington’s. I love Restaurant Week.


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Vegeria is San Antonio’s only fully vegan restaurant. Are the city’s vegans rejoicing that they have a restaurant for their needs? Especially a spot with a pleasant deck?

And signage that would make a cool tattoo?

In addition to the deck, Vegeria has a simple but pleasant indoor dining room.

The menu has a Mexican influence, with dishes such as potato poblano lentil cakes and quinoa burritos. They have tamales and baked treats, which can be hard to find in vegan versions. And salads and sandwiches, including a BBQ one made with mushrooms.

I started with the vegetarian posole because the server said she loves it so much, she sometimes has it twice a day.

The garlic and chili broth with hominy was delicious.  I wish it were easier to find versions of posole made without chicken stock. (At least it’s rarely made with human flesh these days, in the style of the Aztecs.)

Next up, green chili lentil burger:

The side salad was fresh, but the lentil burger itself was very dry. It needed something (oil? mushrooms? tomato paste?) to keep it moist. The green chili sauce, while tasty, didn’t add enough moisture  to this dish.

Maybe I ordered the wrong thing. Maybe, when in San Antonio, one shouldn’t venture too far from the local specialties. If I find myself in Vegeria again, I’ll try the enchiladas. And a giant bowl of the posole, please.

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If you love Mex but could live without the Tex, Hugo’s on Montrose is the place for you. Complex flavors + fresh ingredients + inventive dishes.

And they have a vegetarian menu. (As well as an impressive wine list and cool cocktails. This is a sophisticated spot.)

Hugo’s is in a 1925 building with a big dining room that feels like a cool old hacienda. I love the huge chandeliers and stamped tin ceiling:

Starters on the veg menu include butternut squash soup, potato tacos with tomatillo sauce, and avocado mango salad with blue cheese (intriguing combination).

The waiter assured me that the butternut squash soup was made with vegetable stock, so I ordered that and a glass of wine:

Really liked this creamy soup. The richness of the cream and butternut squash were set off by the light dusting of chili and the crunch of pumpkin seeds. Almost too pretty to eat. (Almost.)

It was tough to pick from the many delicious entree choices, including “deconstructed” vegetable enchiladas and chiles rellenos (large stuffed peppers) served with a pipian (pumpkin seed) sauce.

I ordered the vegetable plate to taste as much as I could:

Way more food than I can eat in one sitting, but it was fun to sample different dishes. My favorites were the creamy corn pudding (like a molten corn muffin) and the vegetable stuffed ancho pepper, made more delicious by the spicy habanero salsa my server brought me when I asked for something hot. If you get the vegetable plate, ask your server to bring out a couple of salsas – they’re terrific. My plate also had quinoa, lentil salad with spinach, roasted mushrooms, nopales (cactus), and asparagus.

Hugo’s is a great place to eat your veggies (or deconstructed enchiladas) in style.


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I get a little surly when I have to fork over $5 for a footlong. I can make that myself.

I could also re-create the FoodHeads experience at home, but it would involve making pickles, mustard, and beans from scratch. A little much for a Saturday. These folks are serious about quality ingredients.

FoodHeads is in a cute little bungalow just off of Guadalupe, north of UT. I like sitting on their patio, maybe with one of the food magazines they have on a rack near the door.

The menu, written out on a chalkboard, has tacos, sandwiches, soups, and salads. There is usually a vegetarian soup, often a vegan one, and the salads are pretty tasty.

Sandwiches though are the reason you’re here. The hummus and veggie sandwich is good, as is the grilled portabella and blue cheese. My hands down favorite is the grilled squash, spinach, and fresh mozzarella sandwich – an amazing combination of flavors. The blackberry balsamic vinaigrette (made in house) brings out the rich flavor of the cheese.

On my last visit, I had half of the grilled squash sandwich and a cup of vegetable soup, served with FoodHeads’ crunchy and sweet cucumber pickles.

Next time, I’m getting a whole sandwich. And a fat stack of old Gourmet magazines. And a table on that porch.

Great spot.

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The only problem I have with Hillside Farmacy is that it isn’t in my neighborhood. Pout.

Hillside is in an old building that has been stylishly fixed up. Old pharmacy cabinets have a selection of groceries for sale. Glass cases hold a gorgeous selection of cheeses and pastries from Elizabeth St Cafe and La Patisserie.

There’s a raw bar (oysters) and a bar bar. The cocktails look good.

Hillside focuses on fresh, quality ingredients, so that even simple dishes like sandwiches stand out. There are a couple of vegetarian sandwiches and salads, as well as cheese selections and small plates.

We had the Dough Well Done, a grilled cheese with tomato relish and nutmeg. I’m picky about grilled cheese, and this one was tasty. Our server said the tomato relish was a family recipe – it’s pretty great.

In terms of small plates, we loved the gigante beans with olives and the marinated mushrooms, which had a rich aioli on top.

We also had a nice panzanella salad with a poached egg.

They have Stumptown Coffee — I can so imagine coming here some Saturday morning for coffee and a pastry and hanging out in this lovely space.

But this place is from Sonya Cote of Eastside Showroom. There was a two hour wait (!) last time I tried to go there.

So go to Hillside Farmacy right now, before it’s absolutely mobbed.

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Ever eat badly for a few days? Coffee for breakfast, pecan pie for lunch? ME NEITHER. But people who have: get yourselves to Field of Greens.

It’s a simple, unfussy joint in a Houston shopping center with lots of options for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, raw foodies, and anyone who needs an infusion of vegetables. Lots of burgers, salads, pastas, as well as a few juices and smoothies.

After a few minutes of my usual deer in headlights routine (vegetarians don’t always have so many choices!), I went with the waiter’s recommendation, tofu quiche salad. And a carrot kale juice.

The dish looked great, and the tofu tasted like a crustless quiche. It was filling, and, especially with a dab of the garlic soy sauce, delish. I loved the bed of fresh greens and my juice.

At the next table, people in scrubs were discussing flax seed. People who know about food and nutrition eat here, OK? So should you, especially after a week of nutritional lapses.

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When visiting Austin, the temptation is to eat nothing but breakfast tacos. (It’s a temptation if you live here, too.) But Austin has so much good food — you just have to know where to go for vegetarian and vegan options.

Here’s my list:

For Mexican food, try the gorgeous La Condesa downtown (limited vegetarian and vegan options, but everything is delicious, especially the chili relleno). A quick cab ride away on the East Side is El Azteca, which has a colorful vibe, cheap food and gasp — a vegetarian menu! I usually get the cheese enchiladas here. (And an Aztec maiden calendar.)

El Meson on South Lamar is also a cab ride/drive away. The large space and reasonable prices are great for big groups. Get the huitlacoche quesadillas if they have them. Unless corn fungus is regularly available in your hometown? Manuel’s on Congress downtown (try the Rojas Adobadas salsa on vegetable enchiladas) and Z Tejas a few blocks away on West 6th St. (an entire vegetarian section on the menu) are both wonderful.

If you’re with someone who must have BBQ, head to Lamberts on 2nd St. downtown. It’s in a cool old building and has some veggie food, including a chickpea/goat cheese dish I regularly crave. Ruby’s near the university, a fast bus ride from downtown, has inexpensive veggie Cajun food. (At many other BBQ places, vegetarians get crackers, pickles, and dirty looks.)

Italian is usually vegetarian friendly, even in TX. Olive & June is in a beautiful old house north of town (reasonable taxi ride or drive) and has amazing food, for vegetarians and others. My latest food crush. Their sister restaurant Backspace downtown has creative vegetarian starters in addition to great pizza – I usually order a few small plates and filch a slice of pizza from a dining companion. Enoteca on South Congress is fun and easy – their chopped salad without the meat is a satisfying, protein-rich choice.

Elizabeth Street Cafe on South 1st St (another taxi ride) has vegetarian pho and other Vietnamese dishes, as well as French pastries. Check out Koriente on East 7th, a stroll from SX happenings, for a healthful take on Korean food. A very good spot for vegans. Clay Pit is on the northern edge of downtown and has vegetarian and vegan Indian food. I love lunch at Trace in the W Hotel, their veggie pakora burger is fabulous.

Paul Qui won Top Chef, so his restaurant Uchiko on North Lamar (cab ride away from downtown) is no longer a secret. If you can get a table, do it — fair number of delicious vegetarian/vegan options for a Japanese Farmhouse restaurant, even if you don’t eat fish. Uchi (on South Lamar) has limited veg options unless you eat fish. Both are expensive, and only Uchiko takes reservations.

If you have cash to spend and want New American, Congress is for you. It’s downtown and has won awards for its amazing food. They have a vegetarian tasting menu, something other upscale Austin restaurants don’t have. Green Pastures in a gorgeous old house in South Austin serves French-influenced food and always has a vegetarian entree (often with tofu) on its menu. Peacocks roam the lovely green lawn.

Too many enchiladas and late nights? Detox with some Raw Food. Beets is on W. 5th St. and Daily Juice Cafe is north of downtown in the Hyde Park neighborhood – both are cab rides away from downtown. And Leaf, a build your own salad place on 2nd St. in downtown, has options for carnivores, vegans, and folks in between.

Snack Bar has an Eclectic menu with lots of vegetarian and vegan options, including house-made seitan. Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse also has vegan/vegetarian salad, sandwiches, and breakfast dishes. Both places are south of downtown.

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