Happy Buddha is a new, Buddhist-vegetarian, Vietnamese restaurant and I was surprised to see it open in a far-flung suburb of Chicago. That said, Happy Buddha really disappointed me, but maybe it's still working out the kinks in its business.
We were the only customers when we went. I came with my parents and we started off with an order of fried wontons ($4.50). These were tiny fried things filled with a dab of flavorless mush (on the menu it says they're filled with green peas, carrot, jicama, tofu and more). They were bland and insubstantial.
My dad got an order of hot and sour soup ($2.75) which turned out to be the most flavorful and value-laden item we ordered. It was nicely tart and full of tofu, bamboo shoots, and a great variety of mushrooms.
For our main course we got a sauteed lemongrass soy chicken ($7.50) and a vegetable stir-fried ($7.25). The menu mentions that some of the mock meats contain whey protein, and therefore aren't vegan, but when I tried to ask about this, I couldn't get a clear answer. There was a definite language issue, but I think that should only be a problem for vegans concerned about dairy products (some of the noodles have butter, some of the mockmeats have whey protein, and some of the drinks and desserts contain milk). So, as a vegan concerned about dairy products, I felt frustrated.
The stir-fried vegetables was a joke. It consisted of a tiny portion of vegetables (maybe 3/4 of a cup), with three cubes of tofu, in a savory sauce with a dollop of white rice. The portion size was tiny and the dish was way too simple to warrant the price.
The lemongrass soy chicken consisted of eight pieces of soy chicken in a tasty (but overly corn starch-laden) lemongrass sauce with some strands of cilantro and a scoop of white rice. Again, the portion size was absurdly small.
Also disappointing was the lack of brown rice as an option to white rice.
We gave them one more shot and tried the most interesting-sounding dessert, the "Vietnamese Dau Do Banh Lot" ($3.50). I imagined it would be a pudding with the ingredients listed on the menu: red bean; tapioca jelly; and coconut milk.
What I got was a glass full of ice, with whole red beans, a little bit of coconut milk, and gooey chunks of tapioca jelly. I wasn't sure what to make of it. It was like they just threw a bunch of stuff into a glass and served it to me. It didn't taste good at all---the red beans gave the dessert a smoky, savory flavor that just seemed wrong, and the excessive and unnecessary portion of ice watered down the already-subtle flavor of the dish which came mostly from the sugared coconut milk.
In conclusion, Happy Buddha was a troublesome place. As a vegan, I want Happy Buddha to succeed but, as it stands, this place needs serious work to warrant a return visit. It needs to increase its portion sizes and just generally put more effort into preparing its food. Everything seemed haphazardly prepared and the results were underwhelming, to put it mildly.