Reviews written by conde.kedar

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Registered on Dec 6 07
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TerraSource Gourmet Chocolates in Internet
Mar 5 09

rating star

I am a chocolate fan and TerraSource's wonderful, all-vegan chocolates are a treat.

For one thing, they use fair-trade, lush dark chocolate that breaks and snaps in perfect geometric patterns when you take a bite.

Also, their flavors are unusual: masala chai; rhubarb; Jasmine green tea; orange ginger; coconut; and more. As such, TerraSource combines my love of chocolate with my love of tea and unusual fruit fillings (with fruit grown in Wisconsin!).

The fillings are soft and subtle and mix perfectly with the oh-so-slightly-bittersweet dark chocolate. My favorites were the masala chai and the coconut dream. The only flavor I didn't like a lot was the Hi-C Seaberry, which had too-strong a taste of seaberry; that said, it was still more than edible.

Finally, I loved their packaging. The "Native Prairie Seed Favor Box" is a cute little package that biodegrades and is made of Midwestern seeds; when you put it in dirt and water it, it will germinate. How cool is that?

If you're looking for eco-friendly, vegan and delicious little chocolates for yourself or as a gift, TerraSource is a great choice.

Mediterranean Grill in DTW - Detroit Wayne County, Airports
Mar 3 10

rating star

By airport standards, Mediterranean Grill is great for vegans. It offers hummus, baba ganouj and falafel, as well as salads. To this day, it is the only airport joint I've seen that offers falafel.

I had a falafel sandwich ($7.99) which was problematic. For one thing, the pita was dry and chewy (they also don't offer a wholewheat option). Also, they put picked in the wrap. What's up with that? Pickles and tahini don't mix.

The vegetables (lettuce and tomato) were limp and cafeteria-grade plastic replicas, in my opinion. I guess I couldn't have expected more than this in an airport.

Lastly, the falafel pieces themselves were decent. The next time around, I would skip the falafel sandwich and just get a falafel plate, so as to avoid the crappy vegetables and the sub-par pita.

The service here was acceptable, though the joint itself is a bit grimy and decayed.

I give this place three stars only because it is exceptionally vegan-friendly (by airport standards).

Online Cafe Bar and Grill in DTW - Detroit Wayne County, Airports
Mar 3 10

rating star

The service here was really friendly and helpful. They have a few dishes that are vegan or can be made vegan.

I had their pasta with marinara ($10) which was white-flour fettucine covered in an above-average tomato sauce. I wasn't expecting much from this dish, but I was impressed by the freshness and flavor of the sauce.

The house salad that came with the dish was not as impressive, but it was acceptable.

If this place offered tofu or seitan dishes, and clearly labeled its vegan options, I would not hesitate in returning.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe in JFK - New York City John F. Kennedy International , Airports
Nov 16 08

rating star

And so the heavens opened, the birds sang, and I found marked vegan food in an airport other than MSP (Minneapolis). Admittedly the food was from a Minneapolis-based restaurant but it was still good, and once again proves that Minneapolis will save the world. French Meadow is the type of classy, principled establishment that can lure philistine suburban-types in droves, while also maintaining a steady grip on its edgier vegan clientele, without ever compromising its lofty ideals.

This tiny quick-serve station had only one vegan option at the time but man was it delicious. It was a "cosmic vanilla creme" cupcake which I've never seen before at either the MSP branch or the Lyndale Avenue restaurant, suggesting that while French Meadow might be expanding nationally, it is NOT homogenizing and replicating itself mindlessly from location to location.

Bravo, French Meadow, for your passionate embrace of organic, natural and vegan-friendly foods for everyone.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe in MSP - Minneapolis / St. Paul, Airports
Jul 3 08

rating star

I travel a lot and, as a vegan, I've never been well-accommodated at airports; but thanks to Minneapolis' progressive attitude, I can get vegan cookies, muffins, prepared wraps, and hot, fresh, organic cooked dishes before catching a flight. They also feature a bar.

When I had dinner there, my vegan burger was tasty and fresh, as was my side dish of Minnesota wild rice. The menu features at least two other vegan dishes.

In their dessert section, their vegan carrot cake is wonderful and inexpensive, as is their vegan chocolate rice bar.

UPDATE: The service is generally slow, either in the table-service area, or in the self-service area. If you have a flight to catch in a hurry, don't order anything and expect to get it quickly. Anticipate at least 15-20 minutes before your food will arrive and plan accordingly.

For breakfast items, they only offer one vegan selection, a microwaved oatmeal porridge in a black styrofoam bowl. I found it to be bland, watery and not edible. Also, it took them 20 minutes to bring me the dish, which is remarkable, given that the dish was microwaved; lucky for me, I had enough time before my flight.

Unfortunately, they don't let you order from the lunch/dinner menu if it's before 11 a.m.

Their pre-made vegan wrap is big and filling, and a decent option if you're in a hurry, but not as good as their fresh-cooked dishes.

Because of the consistently slow service and the low quality of their sole vegan breakfast item, I have to dock them one star.

Argo Tea in ORD - Chicago O'Hare International, Airports
Jan 6 12

rating star

Argo Tea is awesome. It's like Starbucks, but way better---it offers a few dozen varieties of high-grade loose-leaf teas, all set to go in lovely pots and, best of all, Argo offers vegan baked goods!

Up until recently, the only place I could find labeled vegan foods in an airport was French Meadow in the Lindbergh Terminal of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. But Argo offers vegan chocolate chip, as well as lemon poppyseed, muffins. I got a delicious chocolate chip one, which was moist and filling, before my flight to NYC.

The tea they offer is delicious and well-selected. This isn't your average "black, earl grey or green" trifecta; at Argo you can get any number of amazing brews.

I love Argo. If they had hot vegan sandwiches/paninis I'd give them another star.

Cafe Zoot in ORD - Chicago O'Hare International, Airports
May 12 11

rating star

For airport food, this place isn't bad. I had a toasted veggie sandwich (made with bell peppers and mushrooms), and had tomatoes, lettuce and hot peppers added to it, along with Italian dressing (~$7 with tax). Pretty basic, but tasty enough. Given the lack of other options in Terminal 1 (United's main terminal at O'Hare), I'll take it.

Currito in PIT - Pittsburgh International Airport, Airports
Mar 19 11

rating star

This place is basically a slightly modified Chipotle. That said, it's better than Chipotle, because it offers tofu as a filling, as well as options for whole wheat tortillas and brown rice.

I got a whole wheat burrito with brown rice, tofu, a variety of vegetable fillings (grilled peppers, caramelized onions, guacamole, etc.) which cost about $7 or so.

It was a filling meal and pretty tasty. My biggest gripe is that once the burrito was made, they wrapped it in foil, and THEN put it on a heating pad contraption. This made the burrito too hot to eat (and too hot to hold), and also caused the tortilla to get seared into the foil, causing the burrito to fall apart once I tried to remove it from the foil. I had to eat it with a fork when it was all said and done.

Dolma in Brussels, Belgium
Jan 19 08

rating star

Dolma's buffet is simple, but tasty, with a few vegan options. Their salads are fresh, and their rice and cabbage dishes are wonderful. I just wish they had at least one main-course vegan dish; most of them seemed to be lacto-vegetarian. Also, there were no vegan desserts. Service is friendly and our waiter spoke English, which helped. The decor is quiet and cute. Lunch buffet is 15 euros (US$21), and for dinner it's 18 euros (US$25), both of which seem extremely high, given the simplicity of the food and that it's a buffet. But pure vegetarian and vegan options are limited in Brussels, so they can afford to charge that much.

La Tsampa in Brussels, Belgium
Jan 19 08

rating star

La Tsampa is a cute little place located at the back of a health store. Service was friendly, though I'm not sure my waitress understood the word vegan. My Indian curry dish was tasty, but extremely small in size, and maybe added up to ten bites of food, not including the boiled carrots and green beans on the side. It was tasty, but super-expensive at 12 euros (US$17). Vegan and vegetarian options are limited in Brussels, so this is one of the best you'll get.

Au Lac Cafe in Central Valley, California
Dec 29 08

rating star

This is a great restaurant with the best soy chicken I've ever tasted (lemongrass chicken). The main courses are fresh, healthy and nicely-seasoned and served with a tasty side salad, too. You can pick from a number of stir-fry type dishes, though they also have vegan burgers and sandwiches. My non-vegetarian colleagues were impressed with the food here, too.

The service is amazingly friendly and they also have superb vegan cakes (which are made by an independent baker). The prices at Au Lac are really low (most dishes range $5-8), too, considering the value of the food.

I think Au Lac closes too early, and I wish they accepted credit cards, but it's otherwise highly recommended.

Cha-Ya in East Bay, California
Jul 6 08

rating star

I appreciate the large, all-vegan menu at Cha-ya, but was not thoroughly impressed with the food. My kitsune noodle soup was a bit too salty and didn't stand out in any way. The tempura didn't taste right and the miso soup seemed more like a veggie soup than anything else. My chocolate mousse cake was dry.

Prices at Cha-ya are good, and the space is quaint and inviting. But the food was only decent and nothing special. The service was wonky and curt and all of our dishes came out at random times. I appreciate any all-veg restaurant, but this one has some room to improve.

Cinnaholic in East Bay, California
Jul 22 11

rating star

I rarely give 5-star reviews (only 5% of my reviews have 5-star ratings), but Cinnaholic is seriously awesome. It's a simple bakery where you can make your own cinnabon with a huge variety of sauces and toppings, or you can just get one of their pre-set styles (the varieties change by the day).

I had a chocolate chip cookie dough cinnabon ($5) and man was it good. Soft, delicious bun, with a sweet (but not sickly sweet) sauce and chunks of cookie dough on top.

It must have been close to 1,000 calories, but how often do you get vegan cinnabons? And this thing was high grade.

My only gripes: the service is kind of slow as they carefully make each cinnabon to-order; there's not much seating (it's designed more for grab-and-go); and their tea offerings are unimpressive (generic bagged varieties, rather than loose-leaf).

I can't wait to go back and try some new toppings (chocolate and hazelnut come to mind).

Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar in East Bay, California
Sep 7 11

rating star

I had high hopes for Encuentro as, quite frankly, I find the vegan food in the Bay Area to be woefully mediocre. Millennium is at best competent, Gracias Madre is a dud, Gather is lame, and I'm sick of all the repetitive mockmeat Asian joints (which comprise probably 50% of the vegan food in the Bay).

Sadly, Encuentro basically failed me. The menu is mostly vegan but there are some cheese dishes. Most of the tapas options seemed to basic to warrant my interest (olive plates and the like), so I went straight for an entree.

For my main course I got a sundried tomato pastry with navy beans (~$15). The dish took a while to prepare and had numerous flaws. The dish is presented as the phyllo pastry sitting atop a bowl of navy beans. Problem #1: the taste of the navy beans (which were seasoned with lemon) did not mix at all with the blandness of the pastry. Problem #2: the navy beans were overly acidic; they must have dumped a whole lemon's worth of juice into this tiny bowl, because that stuff was excessively tart. Problem #3: the pastry itself was bland and unmemorable. Where were the seasonings? The dish tasted more like a thin egg roll wrapper stuffed with unseasoned tomatoes and tofu ricotta.

For dessert I got a piece of the tiramisu ($7). You don't seen vegan tiramisu often and so I order it whenever I can. What they presented me was not tiramisu. It was more like a chocolate chip blondie bar with layers.

Don't get me wrong: the dessert tasted great. But it didn't even bother to try to replicate the look and feel of tiramisu. No ladyfingers. No cocoa powder (instead they used actual chocolate chips---what a mistake).

Worst yet, the dish was sloppily presented. For an upscale restaurant, Encuentro seemed negligent and imprecise by serving me a dish that had already slid into a big mush on the plate by the time it arrived at my table. Shame on you, Encuentro.

These types of mistakes---sloppy presentation, imbalanced flavors, disregard for tradition---are precisely the type of things that make omnivores dismiss vegan and vegetarian food. As such, I think Encuentro is doing a disservice to not only the veg. community, but anyone who loves food in general.

I'm giving them two stars because I liked the friendly service and the interesting concept (vegetarian tapas). But, on a whole, Encuentro did nothing to shake my opinion that the Bay Area falls short on quality vegan food; all it did was reinforce my opinion.

Flacos in East Bay, California
Aug 19 11

rating star

This is a great, inexpensive, small vegan taqueria. If I had my wish, this is the type of simple, fresh, busting-with-flavor food that Gracias Madre (the more famous, but far less tasty, vegan Mexican joint in the Bay Area) would serve.

I had a taquito ($2) and a soft shell taco ($3) as well as a "polveron" ($1).

Warning off the bat: You can choose "mild" or "spicy" for the taco. I chose spicy, as I love spicy food. But the spice levels here were nearly off the chart. They must use habaneros because one bite of the taco set my tongue on fire and made my lips burn for fifteen minutes straight.

I kind of liked it (I grew up eating Indian and Mexican food, after all). But I'm sure that 95% of the population cannot handle this level of spice.

So don't mess around: order the mild version.

Anyway, the taco was great: an open-face, hand-made corn shell with shredded soy protein and some simple vegetable toppings (a piece of radish, some onions). This is how a taco in Mexico would be served.

The taquito was even better. It's a deep-fried shell wrapped around a piece of soy protein. They use a great variety of soy protein which seemed a lot like real chicken to me.

My only gripe: both were covered in a bright green sauce (made of cilantro? avocado?) that didn't add much in terms of flavor. They did make both items gooier, though, which wasn't great. As such, I'd hold off on the green sauce.

The polveron is a baked flour ball covered in powdered sugar. It had hits of almond as well. I liked it a lot, especially considering it cost only $1.

There's some outdoor seating and maybe three tables for two on the inside, as well as a few spots at the counter, but don't come here with a group larger than two.

Flacos serves straight-up, simple, fresh, spicy vegan Mexican food. It's delicious, cheap and just awesome. If you have to choose between Gracias Madre and Flacos, don't even think twice: Flacos is the place to try.

Gather in East Bay, California
Aug 19 11

rating star

"Local food" restaurants suck. While I like the "idea" of local foods, I find that local-food restaurants tend to serve really bland and boring dishes that make me wonder if "eating local" is synonymous with eating unseasoned, dry and boring preparations.

Indeed, didn't Columbus cross the ocean in search of spice? Surely all food in Europe in 1492 was local. And, of course, it sucked. Entire empires were built around sending ships across the globe in search of spices and seasonings to make European food palatable.

Fast forward to the present day. Local food is fashionable. We have access to spices from all over the world. But we willingly give them up in favor of some unrealistic notion that you can feed 7 billion people with organic wilted greens and pasture-raised beef.

There are a few vegan options on the menu here, but not as many as I expected. I ended up with a braised mushroom sandwich and a cup of soup ($11). The sandwich was passable, but nothing more. It consisted of marinated chunks of portobello mushrooms served in between two dry, excessively-large pieces of white flour baguette. Why no whole wheat? Why were the bread pieces so damn large, such that they drowned out the meager portion of mushrooms?

The bread was slathered with a cashew puree sauce which was pretty tasty, though. The sandwich didn't come together on a whole, however, and tasted like a to-go sandwich I could get at any simple deli.

The "soup" was a watery soy base with five or six pieces of chickpeas floating in it, alongside some green onions. Not very impressive or tasty.

One of my colleagues got the vegan pizza (which is made with a cashew "cheese"); this, too, was pretty bland, and the cashew sauce lacked any herbs or seasoning. It would have been better if Gather combined the cashews with tofu and herbs to make a kind of pate, instead of a "cheese" that looked and tasted like tahini (which is to say it barely had any taste).

The crust was overly thick as well. The only thing going for this pizza was the sauce, which popped with flavor.

For dessert I had the sole vegan dessert option, a chocolate chip cookie ($2.50). It was dry, mealy and over-baked. It came out crunchy and crystalline rather than soft.

The service was friendly but slow. We'd place a drink order and wait 10 minutes to receive it.

Gather is a disappointment. That said, this might be a decent place to take a mixed crowd, as it's upscale, has lots of space, and vegans can find something on the menu as can non-vegans.

Gelateria Naia in East Bay, California
Jul 21 11

rating star

There's a pretty good variety of vegan options here, and the prices aren't ridiculous, which is a plus (I've gotten used to paying $5+ for small cups of frozen yogurt and gelato and whatever else).

I tried their chocolate sorbetto and the hazelnut gelato. Both are vegan, though I found the chocolate to be bland and not creamy or chocolate-y enough. The hazelnut was slightly better (thicker, smoother), but also not great.

The combination of chocolate and hazelnut is divine, but in this particular incarnation it didn't come together for me. For $3.50 for a cup with both flavors, though, it's not a bad value at all.

Kadupul in East Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

It's a rare thing to find Sri Lankan food in the US, let alone well-prepared Sri Lankan food. Kadupul is excellent on that front and also great for vegans.

This is a small place (large groups will have issues without prior reservations), but clean and modern.

We started off with an order of vegetarian pan rolls (~$8) which were basically Sri Lankan egg rolls, but somewhat different: here they were breaded and had an awesome soft-but-slightly-crunchy texture and were filled with a savory mix of vegetables. The dish comes with three rolls standard.

For my main course I had the "kuttu" (~$13) which is a traditional Sri Lankan dish. It was basically a casserole-type offering made with a coconut sauce, a variety of diced and mashed vegetables, and bits of Sri Lankan bread that reminded me of wide rice-noodles. This dish was delicious: it was savory, spicy, and had a robust flavor that made you want to keep eating. The portion size was huge, too, and easily constituted two meals.

Unfortunately there are no vegan desserts. Our server was aware of what veganism is, and also said that pretty much any dish on the menu could be made vegan (some are made with egg, so make sure to ask questions).

They also have a mockmeat dish somewhere on the menu, but it wasn't clear to me which one that was. The menu could be improved if they labeled their vegan options.

If you haven't had Sri Lankan food before, this serves as a great introduction. I just with they were closer to San Francisco instead of far-off Dublin.

Mama Buzz Cafe in East Bay, California
Sep 7 11

rating star

This is a grungy, no-frills coffee shop that has some loose-leaf tea as well as a good variety of vegan baked goods from the two major vegan bakers in the area: Fat Bottom and Pepples. They get cookies and cupcakes from Fat Bottom and donuts from Pepples. If you're looking to sample a variety of the East Bay's best vegan baked goods, Mama Buzz is your one-stop shop.

I had a cup of tea, a red velvet cupcake and a chocolate chip cookie. The cupcake in particular was great and the cookie was solid as well.

Mama Buzz is cramped up front but there's a covered, enclosed patio in the back and a room to the side with lots more space. It's a good venue to hang out and read or do computer stuff.

Millennium in East Bay, California
Jul 15 08

rating star

Millennium's location, ambience and service are all top-notch. This is arguably the ritziest veg*n restaurant in the US, no doubt. However, I went there twice and was not completely impressed by some of the food. The appetizers were uniformly excellent, especially the savory, creamy gnocchi; the desserts were out-of-this-world, either the blueberry tartlette or the chocolate-almond midnight. They have a separate pastry chef, for god's sake! But the main courses I tried---the blackened tempeh and the roulade---were a bit flat. They were tasty, and would be acceptable at any other restaurant, but not at a place like this, which charges $23 a dish.

I would definitely recommend Millennium for drinks, desserts and appetizers; it's a great place to take a date. Maybe I picked the wrong main courses, and their menu does change frequently, so I'll keep trying new dishes whenever I'm in town. But in terms of overall delectable, unusual and spectacular vegan food, my favorite remains Horizons in Philadelphia.

Pepples Donut Farm in East Bay, California
Sep 7 11

rating star

Pepples is a hip cafe/coffee shop with vegan donuts and brunch (only on the weekends). The menu is small but offers all the usual stuff: pancakes, tofu scramble, etc.

I came for brunch and got a tofu scramble ($9) with spicy sausage as a side ($3).

I thought the scramble and the toast that came with it were both really solid, and much better than the brunch food I had a Souley Vegan further south in Oakland. If you're looking for vegan brunch food in the Bay Area, I'd say Pepples should be at or near the top of your list.

The sausage was tasty, but it seemed an awful lot like Field Roast to me, and nothing special (I hoped for something home-made).

At $12 you don't get a lot of food for your money, either.

The service was friendly and prompt.

If Pepples were open for lunch and if it offered more food options (how about breakfast sandwiches with veggie sausage, tofu and nut cheese on a bagel or English muffin?), it would warrant another star.

Picante in East Bay, California
Dec 28 12

rating star

I give Picante some credit for having a separate vegetarian menu, with all vegan or veganizable options identified. On the other hand, the food here is really bland and basic, and not that distinct from what you'd find at virtually any other generic Mexican restaurant in the US.

Also, the menu repeats itself from section to section, akin to the old saw about Taco Bell basically just rearranging the same three ingredients. For example, do you want a plate of rice and beans and potatoes served with corn tortilla on the side, or would you prefer a tostada salad with rice and beans and potatoes? Why are these considered separate dishes and worthy of separate placement on the two-page vegetarian menu?

We started off with the guacamole and chips ($6.50), which was okay, but not great. This guacamole was heavy on the avocado and had too light a touch on every other critical ingredient---the citrus, the cilantro, the tomatoes, onions and garlic. The chips were good---crisp and not oily.

Next we shared the "legumbres" platter ($11) which came with four corn tortillas on the side. This was your generic dish with black beans, Spanish rice, and some seasoned potatoes all on a piece of heavy fiestaware. It was boring.

Lastly, we shared a margarita, which was pretty decent.

The ordering system here is weird. You stand in a line, place your order at a counter, and then someone brings you your food. On the other hand, it's up to you to get your own water, salsas, napkins and utensils. In other words, it combines all of the bad aspects of fast food (waiting in a line, self-service on everything), with none of the good (at Picante, you have to wait in line AND you have to wait to get your food).

If Picante had more flavorful seasonings and used more varied ingredients (how about seitan or tofu, just to start?) it might be a bit more interesting.

If you're looking for good vegan or vegetarian Mexican food, go to Flacos in Berkeley and get their taquitos or their soft tacos. If you're looking for good vegan or vegetarian food in general, that's seasoned, varied and delicious, go to a Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian or Indian restaurant instead.

Souley Vegan in East Bay, California
Aug 17 11

rating star

I've eaten a lot of vegan soul food and I don't get all the hype around Souley Vegan. It's not that great. I think this is another example of "it's a vegan restaurant in the Bay Area and therefore must be better than a vegan restaurant elsewhere." A false sense of Bay Area superiority, in other words.

Those of you who have been to Soul Vegetarian in Chicago will know what I'm talking about.

In any case, I came here for brunch and got their three-combo choice for $10. I ordered tofu scramble, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy.

The tofu scramble was above average. I've had a lot of tofu scrambles in my day, and I'm always disappointed, but this one was actually serviceable: it was savory, colorful and nicely spiced.

The pancakes, on the other hand, were middling. They were just a shade dry and also slightly mealy. They did not impress, to say the least.

Lastly, the biscuits and gravy were passable. The biscuit was more like an airy dough-ball, rather than a flaky, thick, true biscuit, which disappointed me; the gravy tasted okay, but the gravy could have been much better with the addition of some diced tomatoes and mushrooms.

Portion sizes are large. For $10 this is a pretty decent value.

A cup of tea or coffee costs $1, which is a reasonable rate, but the cups are small and the refills don't appear to be unlimited. I would prefer and bottomless cup for $2, which creates a convivial spirit.

This is a pretty good spot for groups of 4 or more as there's plenty of space in the front and back but, on the other hand, I wouldn't call this place a cozy hipster hangout either.

The service is friendly and knowledgeable.

It's possible that Souley Vegan's brunch menu isn't up to the quality of its separate lunch menu (the lunch menu isn't available on the weekends). But based on what I saw at brunch, I wouldn't have high hopes for the regular menu.

Tea Here Now in East Bay, California
Dec 23 12

rating star

Tea Here Now is one of the finest tea shops I've been to in the United States. It's elegant, friendly and accessible and it offers a fine, nicely cultivated selection of loose-leaf teas from around the world. It also has a bunch of delicious vegan baked goods from Fat Bottom Bakery (try the shortbread).

Unlike other tea shops, this is a place to sit, relax and savor what you order; you're not affronted by gimmicky sales tactics like the tea shops in San Francisco's Chinatown, and you're not overwhelmed with a dizzying (and unnecessary) array of mostly mediocre teas that other shops offer. At Tea Here Now everything they serve is carefully selected and finely presented.

I love the two Kenyan black teas and the floral, vibrant earl grey (this isn't the industrial-grade earl grey you find at the grocery store or Starbucks).

You can't go wrong with any of the baked goods or the salads, either.

The owner is a lovely person and I've had some great conversations there, both with the staff and with other patrons. This is a rare, beautiful, community-focused business that happens to also offer cutting-edge and high-quality food and drink. I'll be back often.

Chango Coffee House in Los Angeles, California
Jun 7 12

rating star

This is a standard coffee shop that has a few nice perks: ample seating, lots of outdoor seating, and a great selection of loose-leaf teas. Its vegan food options are basic (breakfast burritos with potatoes or black beans) and it oddly enough doesn't offer any homemade baked goods.

That said, the service is friendly and the wifi is free. Chango also is in an actual building, and it's a nice change of pace to not be in an actual neighborhood, not an isolated stripmall, which is basically the rest of Los Angeles.

If they reduced the price of their tea, that would make them more appealing. $3.50 for a pot is expensive, even if you can get a couple steeps. If they added some great vegan baked goods, they'd get another star.

Happy Veggie in Los Angeles, California
Jun 8 12

rating star

Update: After a gap of nearly four years, I can say that Happy Veggie is not as good as I remember it. The service was spacey and weird, with multiple servers, though the young woman who helped us was friendly and attentive. I found my curry vegetable lunch special ($9) to be passable, but under-seasoned. The pumpkin soup that comes with the lunch special was pretty good, however. Brown rice costs $1 more which made this meal not much of a value (it's good for a single meal, but I'd like to have leftovers for $10 worth of food from a stripmall joint).

Lastly, we got the tiramisu ($4.50) and coconut cake ($4.50) for dessert. The tiramisu was tasty, but came to us semi-frozen, which made it difficult to eat. I wish they'd thawed it. The coconut cake was dry and did not taste of coconut or anything, really. We complained and they at least took it off the bill.

All in all, Happy Veggie is now run of the mill and not unlike the dozens of other vegan Thai/Asian restaurants in the LA metro.

Original review (October 12, 2008): I loved this place. It's a cute little place with a super-friendly hostess (who was on the phone organizing an animal rights meeting when we entered). The decor is bright and inviting.

The food was spectacular. My mock chicken in curry sauce took me back to Thailand---the coconut curry was amazingly rich and filling, along with potatoes and excellent mock chicken. My friend's Mongolian mock chicken was also savory and subtly sweet, with a great array of vegetables.

Our vegan cheesecake was fresh and light. My only gripe was that our hot tea was served with our food, though we wanted it earlier. Other than that, I was greatly impressed with Happy Veggie and will definitely return whenever I'm next in LA.

Native Foods in Los Angeles, California
Aug 18 08

rating star

The service here was friendly, but it took forever for our food to arrive (at least 25 minutes). Also, the space upstairs for dining is tiny and kind of grungy and uncomfortable.

We found the food to be largely bland and uninspired. My philly cheese steak was spongy (both the bread and the seitan) and had no real flavor to it. My friend's Gandhi bowl does a disservice to the man it's named after (who believed in the inherent flavorful nature of vegetarian food), as it was basically a salad with leafy greens and some spices randomly tucked away at the bottom of the bowl.

The chicken wing appetizers were good, crispy and light. Our cheesecake was also good, though it wasn't made by Native Foods, and came in a plastic container. All in all, Native Foods in Westwood has much room to improve.

Pure Luck Restaurant in Los Angeles, California
Dec 12 08

rating star

What a great little joint. We had to wait 25 minutes for a table (make reservations beforehand), but the food and service here were excellent. The food took a little bit too long to arrive, but we passed the time with great cocktails and unusual, organic microbrews.

I was impressed with my rustic-roll "torta" that had "carnitas" made of spiced jackfruit (what a clever idea! I wish more Mexican joints would use jackfruit or tvp). The "fish" tacos and carnitas tacos were also light, fresh and flavorful, and served in an authentic Mexican way: no cheese; no excessive salsas; no filler ingredients like avocado or beans. Just lettuce, tomatoes and carnitas/soy fish. My friend enjoyed his wrap, too.

The interior decor is decidedly independent and refreshing when most restaurants these days tend to look similar. This is a good place to take a date.

My only gripes: there were no desserts (they're trying to add some to the menu); seating is highly limited; and the location is a bit shady, though there is parking available (including a small lot in the back) and lots of young people walking around, so it must be fairly safe.

Samosa House East in Los Angeles, California
Nov 21 10

rating star

Samosa House East has some unusual vegan options that you rarely ever see at Indian restaurants. The place is not without its flaws, but I think it just barely warrants 4 stars in my book.

I had the 3-choice combo plate ($7.99) with brown rice ($0.50) and chapatti ($2). I also had a soy mango lassi ($3). You choose your three dishes based on what’s sitting out there in the buffet (it’s not all you can eat, however). I had the jackfruit curry, barbecue soy chicken, and dal. The jackfruit curry was by far the best of the three: it’s a hearty, creamy dish (never fear; it’s vegan) and jackfruit is a delicacy you rarely see on Indian menus (it’s more common at Nepalese restaurants, for some reason). The barbecue soy chicken was basically large tvp chunks in a liquid-y, spicy tomato sauce. I thought this dish was okay at best; it didn’t seem “Indian” in any way, the tvp chunks were too chewy (higher quality mockmeats, such as those made by Gardein or even Morningstar, would have been much better), and the sauce lacked any subtle flavors. It was too much tomato, really. The dal was okay as well, but fell slightly flat (I think it needed more garlic).

The chapatti was passable. It was a bit too crispy on the edges and also not as soft and fluffy as it should have been.

The soy mango lassi was extremely tasty and nicely done. I wish all Indian restaurants would offer non-dairy alternatives, especially because there are so many to offer these days.

But I do have problems with Samosa House East. For one thing, they don’t consistently label what’s vegan and what’s not. Also, there were at least a couple of dishes that could have easily been made vegan, but they weren’t, which makes me wonder why don’t they just offer more dishes? For example, the curry soy chicken and one of the paneer dishes both could have easily been vegan by making the sauces in each without milk/cream/butter/yogurt, and by using tofu (in the case of the paneer dish).

Also, everything here is served using paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. A lot of it was biodegradable, but in reality, this stuff all ends up in landfills and doesn’t biodegrade (you need the right conditions for compost to be produced). It wouldn’t be that difficult to switch to durable plastic plates and glass cups and metal utensils and would make so many people feel less guilty about eating there.

On a whole, Samosa House East has some stuff going for it. It does have room to improve, though.

Seed Kitchen in Los Angeles, California
Dec 11 10

rating star

This is a hippie vegan macrobiotic-type of cafe that serves room-temperature water while you sit at a large wooden picnic table with other hippie vegan macrobiotic diners. I'm vegan myself, but not macrobiotic (I guess I'm kind of a hippie, though). Anyway, at least Seed Kitchen is close to the beach.

I had a Japanese Vegetable Curry with house-made seitan ($10.95 base + $3 for the seitan). My friend had an espresso/coffee ($2.50). For dessert we had a chocolate chip cookie ($3).

The Japanese curry was bland and not satisfying at all. For $14 it was extremely expensive considering the small portion size. Basically it was brown rice and some vegetables (carrots and mushrooms) in a sharp-tasting sauce (I'm guessing it wasn't cooked enough). The house-made seitan was the best part, but it wasn't as good as the seitan you can get at a grocery store.

My friend didn't enjoy his coffee; it wasn't smooth at all.

Lastly, the chocolate chip cookie was okay, but dry and kind of chewy.

All in all, I was not impressed with Seed Kitchen and wouldn't go back.

Shojin in Los Angeles, California
Aug 18 08

rating star

Shojin offers an upscale experience at reasonable prices. Portion sizes are a bit small, but the ambience and service are excellent. We arrived late and stayed past closing, but our server was continually warm and gracious. I took three colleagues to this place, two of whom are non-veg, but everyone loved the joint.

The grilled seitan roll appetizer was delicious and savory, as were the Nasu miso vegetables, which all of my colleagues loved. They also enjoyed their three-mushroom pasta, whereas I found my BBQ seitan with broccoli a bit too slight---it needed rice (which was an extra charge) and its portion size needed to be increased to justify its price ($11.95).

Desserts were a mixed bag. The green tea moss cake was unusual and while I liked it, no one else did. It might have been too strange a taste for some. The peach and apple cobbler with mint ice cream was a bit pedestrian for me, though tasty enough. The walnut chocolate cake was too flat for my tastes, without enough zing or sugar.

Still, Shojin is to be recommended. The location is a bit shady, and it's on the third floor of a shopping mall which seems to close earlier than the restaurant does, so make sure to get there by 9pm at the latest. We got in because the security guard saw us and let us in.

Stuff I Eat in Los Angeles, California
Aug 18 08

rating star

This is a lovely, practically brand-new vegan soul food and Mexican restaurant in downtown Inglewood. It's not the nicest area of LA, but I appreciate the social commitment of the owners who wanted bring business to an economically-depressed area, and provide healthy food options at that (the owners, both in their late 50s, look twenty years younger than they are).

The service is excellent, enthusiastic and friendly (they give free sample tacos to first-time customers). The interior decor is modern and funky.

The food, particularly the tacos, are delicious, light and fresh, filled with either wild rice or wonderfully-spiced, firm, diced tofu, along with vegetables like lettuce, avocado and tomatoes.

My friend loved his jerk tofu sandwich. I liked my deluxe quesadilla, but was not impressed with the side greens, which were covered in a too-strong lemon sauce.

Our raw mango pie dessert was refreshing and not too sweet. The crust was too crumbly, though, and I didn't like that it came in a plastic container.

Portion sizes are decent, but prices are quite high ($10-11 for most dishes, and $5 per taco; desserts were $7 a piece). Worst off, this place is cash-only, so make sure to bring a wad of bills if you are a heavy eater.

All in all, this is a great, tasty joint in an area that needs it. Recommended.

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine in Los Angeles, California
Dec 10 12

rating star

Tara's is a middling Nepalese restaurant with decent, but unremarkable food. We started off with some "aloo achaar" ($4) which sounded delicious in theory (potatoes with a mix of spices) but it was basically a cold potato salad. It was bland and under-seasoned; imagine eating cold pieces of potato and you get the idea.

For our main dishes we got the daal ($7), mustard greens ($7) and aloo gobi ($7.29). The daal was made with black lentils and was tasty; it's hard to mess up lentils, though. The mustard greens consisted of lightly sauteed mustard leaves and stems and little seasoning; these tasted remarkably good, but the dish was really simple and hardly constituted a main course (even though it's listed in the mains). Lastly, the aloo gobi was unmemorable.

While the prices are pretty low, the portion sizes are also tiny---each dish consisted of maybe 1/3 of what you'd get in a Chinese take-out carton, so if you want to leave feel full, make sure to order at least three dishes. You will not get leftovers.

They do offer brown rice, which is nice.

All in all, this is not a great place, but it's not a bad one either.

Vegan Glory in Los Angeles, California
Aug 18 08

rating star

Vegan Glory is a nice little joint, though the food didn't blow me away as far as Thai cuisine is concerned.

The "chicken" satay appetizer was excellent, with richly textured chicken and a wonderful peanut dipping sauce on the side. This was the highlight of the meal. My pepper steak basil stir fry was decent, but nothing special. It didn't have the array of flavors that Thai basil stir frys are supposed to have (sweet, salty, crispy and soft). The pepper steak itself was just hydrated tvp and nothing fancy. My friend's green curry was too heavy on some seasoning, which corrupted the curry taste. Also, both of our dishes were a tad too spicy, though we weren't even asked about spice level when we ordered (note: I grew up eating Indian food, so I know spice, and if a dish is spicy for me, it'll be spicy for 99% of the world).

The service was fast and friendly. Prices and portion sizes are good.

The Vegan Joint in Los Angeles, California
Jun 7 12

rating star

This is one of seemingly dozens of vegan Thai restaurants in the Los Angeles metro. I came here, though, because they have breakfast foods in addition to curries with soy chicken. For example, they have tofu scramble, pancakes, and a variety of breakfast burritos.

I got the "chicken and pancakes" ($9) which consisted of two large, plain pancakes and two deep-fried pieces of soy chicken. The chicken was really tasty and realistic, but probably not super healthy considering it's deep-fried. The pancakes were garden variety and not particularly interesting (if they came with chocolate chips or blueberries they might have held more appeal).

The portion size is pretty large for the money. The service was friendly, but inattentive; also, the restaurant felt run-down and just a shade grimy. I wouldn't go out of my way to eat at The Vegan Joint, but I'm glad they are open early. If they had vegan breakfast sandwiches, I'd have reason to return.

The Veggie Grill in Los Angeles, California
Aug 18 08

rating star

I took two colleagues to The Veggie Grill (one is semi-vegetarian and the other is non-veg) and both of them loved it. The prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity of food offered (BIG sandwiches).

My Santa Fe Crispy Chickin sandwich was delicious---excellent textures, flavors and fresh ingredients. The Chill Out Wings were also breaded little marvels. One colleague's V-Burger had an excellent meaty texture and the other colleague's carne asada was straight out of Mexico, it seemed.

We also enjoyed our carrot cake and vegan pumpkin cheesecake, which were refreshing and not too sweet, though also rich and creamy.

Service was fast and friendly and the decor is modern, bright and inviting. The place gets packed around lunch time, so make sure to go early or late, as otherwise there will be a line to get in!

Radiance Cuisine in Marin County, California
Jul 24 12

rating star

The folks at Radiance say their food tastes good because it's made with love and care. I'd have to agree. Radiance serves the type of delicious, nourishing, invigorating food that people should be eating daily, but are lucky to find maybe a few times a year. The cuisine is largely Indian, but this isn't your average, oily Indian buffet with naan and samosas. The food here is way past that, and way better as well (and I would know, because my parents are from India and I've been eating this stuff for 30 years).

A note on the ambiance: this is a small cafe inside a new age book shop. You feel like you're in someone's living room and that's a good thing. You feel welcomed and at ease. You want to stay and meet people and make friends.

They give you a few options on what to order; you can get the daily curry a la carte, on a plate, or in a smaller combo bowl an the prices vary. I normally go for the combo bowl which costs $8 for lunch.

For this price you get a fabulous, simple curry with brown rice. One day it might be lentils, the next broccoli or beans, but it's always flavorful and satisfying and well-spiced. All of the food here comes from local farms. My curry burst with flavor and was so hearty and filling, but it also made me feel good afterward (no heaviness, no regret). You actually finish eating and feel refreshed and lighter than you did prior to eating. This is what good food should do for you.

The chocolate ladoo ($2.50) was also fabulous and an uber-rare example of an Indian dessert made vegan (impressive). And it's crave-worthy and delicious.

Radiance is at the top of the best food I've found in the Bay Area. I recommend it highly and will be returning as often as I possibly can.

Tony Tutto Pizza in Marin County, California
Dec 31 12

rating star

I really love Tony Tutto. It's a small, artisan, pizza shop that happens to be all vegetarian (with half the menu being vegan) and easily is the best pizza shop in the Bay Area, in my opinion. There are no gimmicks here---no gluten-free crusts, no vegan cheese---just simple, fresh vegetable toppings and a hand-tossed crust. While I do wish they had a whole wheat crust option, I still appreciate the elegance and simplicity of the menu here.

The "some like it hot" pizza ($11) is awesome: aside from tomatoes, the sauce includes garlic, calabrian peppers, and a few other things and is spicy and pops with flavor and savoriness. The crust, though made with white flour, is just slightly crunchy and slightly chewy, akin to the crusts you'd find in one of the top three pizza centers of the US (that is, New Haven, Connecticut).

You really can't go wrong with any of the pizzas. The magic mushroom is also great, and they can make it without cheese if you're vegan.

The restaurant is bare-bones: just a few outdoor tables and some basic plastic chairs and tables on the inside (which looks more like a a small Italian deli).

Don't come here in a rush; expect to sit back and relax while waiting for your pizza. Tony's is one of those joints where you feel at home and Tony himself is a friendly and helpful guy; you feel like he's your own uncle and you're being treated to a wonderful meal.

Any time I'm in Marin County I make it a point to go to Tony Tutto.

Amici's East Coast Pizzeria in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

Amici's offers one set-topping vegan pizza as well as the option to make a pizza on your own with whatever toppings.

I got their veggie pizza made with Daiya ($21.35 without tax for a medium). While the pizza tasted pretty good, it definitely wasn't "east coast"---the crust was too chewy and too thick. It was a poor imitation at best in terms of its texture. Again, though, it tasted good.

My biggest gripe is that this place isn't a good value. I cleaned off an entire medium with no difficulty (and I'm not exactly ravenous by any means). That ended up being a $28+ meal (with tip and tax) for one. I'm willing to pay good money for good food, but $28 for a pizza is absurd.

On a whole, if you're looking for vegan pizza, I'd go to Patxi's instead. Just as Amici's is a poor imitation of east coast pizza, Patxi's is a poor imitation of Chicago-style deep dish. But it's a better value and also offers Daiya.

Basil Cha Cha Vegetarian Bistro in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 31 11

rating star

This is a decent vegetarian Thai joint (that's nearly all vegan, except for two dishes that can be made with or without egg) that offers mock chicken, beef, seafood and also just your standard tofu and whatnot.

We started out with a "wing bomb" appetizer ($6.95) which basically was the same fake chicken on a drumstick that you find at a number of Asian vegetarian places in the Bay Area. That said, they seasoned it here with a sweet and sour sauce and some bell pepper pieces and basil. I thought it came together decently, but could have used more of a kick.

I had a pad basil ($8.50) for my main course, which was mock ground chicken with bamboo shoots, basil and bell peppers in a brown sauce. I thought the dish was bland, but improved once I added some chili sauce to it. The portion size was good and the presentation on the plate was lovely.

The next time I came I tried a number of dishes, including their pumpkin curry, green curry, tom yum soup, and a basil stir fry.

I wasn't impressed with any of the dishes; the curries were too sweet, the basil stir-fry was bland, and the tom yum was edible, but nothing great. Every dish felt lacking in some kind of savory element (I suspect the kitchen isn't using a vegetarian oyster sauce or some kind of replacement for the fish sauce traditionally used in Thai cooking).

The fake chicken they use isn't even soy-based; it's just mock duck from a can you can get at any Asian grocery store. I hate canned mock duck.

The service was also not very good: it was slow and erratic.

On the plus side, Basil Cha Cha offers brown rice (and a high grade variety). On the downside, they charge an extra $2, which is always a shame, and kind of cheap on their parts, in my opinion. What did a bowl of rice cost them? Ten cents? Their markup is absurd. That said, it seems like many Asian restaurants out in the Bay Area pull this ploy, so I guess it's just standard practice, albeit a regretful one.

The decor inside is nice (lots of classy dark wood). They have a large dessert menu, but nothing stood out as particularly interesting, nor was it clear which ones were vegan (I suspect only the mango sticky rice was vegan, but who cares about that, as it's a dish you can get anywhere in the US).

Basil Cha Cha is decent and I'm giving them three stars instead of two only because they're one of few vegetarian restaurants in the wasteland between San Francisco and Palo Alto. It's also right on the San Francisco Bay so you can take a stroll after dinner and see the views.

Blue Mango in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 10 11

rating star

This is one of two outposts of Blue Mango and I find this one to be not quite as good as the Coleman Avenue branch.

Both of the restaurants feature a full, separate vegetarian menu (that is mostly vegan), so make sure to ask for this upfront. I wish the waiters made a point of asking whether or not we'd like the vegetarian menu; a lot of Indians eat at Blue Mango, for example, and they often times are vegetarian, but don't realize a vegetarian menu exists.

Anyway, my brother and I shared a "Panang curry with tofu" ($10), a "Rad Na" ($10), and a "Dried Chili and cashew with tofu" ($9).

The Panang curry was nicely thick and hearty, though they skimp on the vegetables and tofu in the dish. This was unfortunately consistent with the Coleman Avenue location as well. While this dish was good, the curry was slightly too sweet (a mistake that the Coleman Avenue branch did not make).

Similarly, the Dried Chili dish was good, but not quite as savory as at the Coleman Avenue branch. At this Stevens Creek location they once again put too much sugar in the sauce.

Lastly, the Rad Na was decent. I think the sauce could have used some more seasoning and freshness (more fermented black beans, and less corn starch), but it otherwise was competently made.

While the service was friendly, it was also slow and erratic. We waited at least 20 minutes for our food, if not longer, and the place wasn't even busy.

All in all, I'd rather go to the Coleman Avenue location, if only for the food alone. While the ambiance at Stevens Creek is nicer, the food is what matters at the end of the day.

Blue Mango in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 4 11

rating star

This Thai restaurant has a separate vegetarian menu (which appears to be 99% vegan, with the exception of one or two dishes with eggs) which makes it stand out from the rest of the Thai multitudes. The menu explicitly states it doesn't use fish sauce, oyster sauce or chicken broth (that said, I didn't ask about shrimp paste, another common animal ingredient in Thai food). Despite being located in a generic stripmall, the food here is surprisingly high grade.

We started off with a "peanut rounds" appetizer ($6). This dish is unusual (I've never seen anything similar at any of the hundreds of Thai restaurants I've been to) and was also pretty tasty: basically it's a fried rice ball coated in peanuts and spiced with turmeric and basil. It's a great dish to share.

For our main courses we had a panang curry ($10) and a dried chili and cashew with tofu ($9). The curry was really thick and substantial---you don't see curries made this way very often. They must be using some high quality coconut milk, which resulted in a thick and creamy delight. The dish was skimpy on vegetables and tofu, though, which gives me some pause.

The dried chili and cashew dish was excellent. It was a robust, spicy stir-fry with baby corn, water chestnuts, tofu and some other vegetables. I really loved the savory flavor of this dish and the fact that it wasn't just a watery soy sauce stir-fry with a twig of basil (which is what you usually see at Thai restaurants). They roasted the red chili perfectly, giving the dish a smoky flavor, which only added another dimension to the spice and overall heft of the dish.

Brown rice is available for an extra charge ($2 per person), and while it's a shame they charge for rice, at least they use a really ritzy variety of Thai rice.

I had only a couple of gripes: 1) the restaurant closed at 9:30 p.m. and they attempted to (politely) rush us out the door shortly after that. Seeing as how we'd only arrived at 9:10, it seemed ridiculous to push us out so quickly. If you run a service business, you should never kick a guest out, even if you're technically already closed. There were two other parties in the place, too, so it strikes me as an issue better solved with a "last orders" policy.

2) While the quality of the food was excellent here, they don't offer any vegan mockmeat products. Where's the seitan? Or fake chicken? Tofu alone is not enough in this day and age.

In conclusion, Blue Mango is a really good Thai restaurant. The flavors are bold and spicy and not adulterated like at most other stripmall Thai joints. Their vegetarian (mostly vegan) menu is also a nice feature.

Cafe Gratitude in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 26 11

rating star

Oddly enough, this was my first time to a Cafe Gratitude. This location, of course, is inside the Cupertino Whole Foods, which makes for an unusual vibe and feel for a dinner. This is either a brilliant or a terrible spot to take a date, depending on your point of view.

I got an "I Am Extraordinary" ($11) sandwich. It was a marvel, consisting of a spicy chipotle aioli, tomato, avocado and toasted shreds of maple-coconut "bacon." I think the coconut bacon idea is truly inspired and I've never seen anything like it elsewhere. Put on a sandwich, these little tasty pieces mixed wonderfully with the other ingredients of the sandwich. Indeed, the best part of this dish was the complex interplay between the semi-sweet coconut, the spicy chipotle sauce, and the neutralizing tastes of the tomato and avocado.

It all came on a sprouted bun, too, which tasted great.

At $11, however, this was a really expensive sandwich and is not a good value in terms of portion size. The sandwich itself was probably 25 bites or less and the rest of the plate consisted of a boring, bland salad.

I also got a cafe latte made with hazelnut milk ($4.25). I thought this was fairly tasty (and I'm not a big fan of coffee), but they foamed up the hazelnut milk rather than mixing it directly with the coffee.

Also, the mug they give you is enormous. It's actually a medium-size soup bowl, from what I can tell. I would rather get half the size for half the price; who would want to drink a soup bowl full of coffee anyway?

The service was friendly and fast.

So, while I liked my dish here, it's too expensive for me to warrant multiple trips. Come for the atmosphere and the interesting people-watching and dynamics of a grocery store, if nothing else.

That said, if every Whole Foods had a vegan cafe inside the world would be a much better place.

Calafia Cafe in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 11 11

rating star

Calafia is an organic restaurant/cafe started by the former head chef at Google. As such, the menu here has an earthy and healthy touch to it, with a dash of sophistication. It also has a full vegetarian menu (of which about 50% is vegan and labeled as such).

I came with a mixed group of colleagues and, while the restaurant pleased most people, the vegetarians and vegans were largely unimpressed.

For an appetizer I had the tofu lettuce cup ($10) which was dry and bland. The tofu needed to be cooked more, and diced up with a better variety of vegetables.

For my main course I had a yellow curry noodle with tofu ($12) that promised to be spicy, but wasn't at all. It, too, was dry and just didn't hit the right savory notes. Had this dish been sauteed with onions it might have been slicker and more satisfying; even the addition of fresh diced tomatoes would have enhanced this dish significantly.

Normally I would give a place with this food quality two stars, but I'm upping it to three only because Palo Alto (especially the Town and Country Mall, where Calafia is located) doesn't have enough vegan options, and Calafia does provide a fair amount. It also has nice ambiance and service, as well as one vegan baked good.

I'm willing to give Calafia another shot, maybe for brunch next time, but the food here left me wanting more.

Chaat Paradise in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Oct 1 11

rating star

There are so many cheap Indian restaurants in the South Bay (many of which use the word "chaat" in their name) and they are all virtually identical to one another. Chaat Paradise isn't that different from the rest, but it does stand out in little ways.

1. They have a "capsicum" curry on the menu. Capsicum is just the British/Indian word for bell peppers, typically green bell peppers. This might be the only cheap Indian joint in the Bay area to offer bell peppers on the menu.

2. They have a corn roti on the menu. Again, this is an unusually experimental and rare dish to see. You won't find it elsewhere in the Bay Area.

3. They serve their food on actual plates, rather than styrofoam. This might sound like a strange thing to point out, but Indian restaurants that serve food on styrofoam are pretty embarrassing and unabashedly disrespectful to the environment. Unfortunately, there's a lot of them.

I came with my family and we ordered a bunch of dishes. The menu is a bit confusing and also difficult to read, as it's made with small font placed on a picture background. Also, the menus are unwieldy and excessive in size (couldn't they have fit things onto a normal sheet of paper?).

The capsicum curry ($6) was a competent dish. It wasn't great, but I liked the generally bold flavor of this dish (nice levels of spice) and the fact that they offered bell peppers rather than the standard potato/spinach/chickpea/cauliflower stuff you see at most Indian restaurants.

The corn roti ($2) also tasted fine and offered a respite from the usual wheat and white rice that you normally find in Indian food.

The chana masala ($5), however, fell flat. For one thing, it tasted stale, and the spices didn't stand out at all, making the dish a bland mess.

The service was terrible. Unhelpful, curt and rude, and disorganized. That said, I don't really care about service too much, but this could be an issue if you're looking to place your order with a friendly face.

All in all, Chaat Paradise is decent and has a few surprises. It's not great by any means, but it does attempt to distinguish itself from the masses, which I respect and applaud.

Como Esta Taqueria in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 31 11

rating star

This is a simple taco/burrito joint attached to a Walgreens, which sounds terrible, and it truly doesn't lend itself to great results. That said, there are two things going for this place: 1) It's the only place to get a tofu taco or burrito in the whole of Palo Alto, from what I can tell and 2) It's in a less-trodden part of town, away from downtown or California Avenue, and therefore gets props for being in an area mostly lacking in food options.

I had an order of chips and guacamole ($4.25) and a "super tofu ranchero" burrito ($6.95) made vegan by omitting the cheese and sour cream.

The chips and guacamole was terrible. The guacamole was weirdly liquid-y and had a mass-produced taste; this is what guacamole would take like if McDonald's were making it. The chips, too, were either slightly stale or not fried long enough to get nicely crispy.

The burrito was also passable. It consisted of tofu cubes, rice, black beans, guacamole, lettuce and pico de gallo. I hate to say it, but the burritos at Chipotle are much better than the ones here: ironically, the Chipotle offerings are fresher and feel almost home-made, whereas Como Esta feels commoditized and strip-mall grade.

All that said, I would consider coming back for a simple tofu taco, or maybe give the burrito another shot with a whole wheat tortilla (I got mine with white flour, sadly, only because when you order they don't ask you what type of tortilla you want, and I found out only later that they offer whole wheat). Still, if I had to choose between this place and Chipotle, I am saddened to say that the chain restaurant wins out.

Cowabunga Creamery in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 22 11

rating star

This is just your average ice cream joint, though they offer two vegan flavors made by Maggie Mudd.

I had both, the vanilla and the cherry chocolate chip. They were both excellent and not terribly expensive (I think a junior cup with a scoop of each was $2.50 or so). Given that there aren't many other places in the South Bay to get Maggie Mudd ice cream, I'm happy that Cowabunga is around to provide it.

Culture Organic Frozen Yogurt in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 13 11

rating star

If you're vegan, the only reason to come to Culture Organic is for the donuts. Culture carries Pepples vegan donuts here and sells them for $2 a piece (which, amazingly, is $1 less than what Pepples itself charges at its kiosk in the San Francisco Ferry Building).

Otherwise, Culture has no vegan yogurts, no sorbet and nothing else of note. They do carry loose-leaf tea, to their credit.

If Culture had a vegan yogurt I'd be here all the time. If you are looking for vegan fro-yo, look no further than Fraiche in downtown Palo Alto, which features customizable soy yogurt. But no donuts.

Da Sichuan Bistro in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 24 11

rating star

This is a Chinese joint that's half strip-mall take-out and half authentic-because-you're-the-only-non-Chinese-person-in-it. You know, that type.

I went because it has an extensive selection of vegan mockmeat dishes, albeit dishes that are Americanized Chinese standards (General Tso's, Kung Pao, etc.).

I got a "vege chicken with pine nuts" ($11) and a "vege beef with broccoli" ($10). The chicken dish was just basically kung pao with pine nuts instead of peanuts. The "chicken" was more like really dense tofu, cubed and kind of spongy/chewy (not bad all though). This dish had no spice and was passable only once I doused it with red pepper flakes.

The beef dish was really basic and also not terribly flavorful. The beef they use looks more like chicken (it's one of those switch-hitter mockmeats) and is old-school and simple, but does the job (don't expect Gardein vegan strips).

Da Sichuan doesn't offer brown rice, which is a shame.

The service was friendly and fast, though. Portion sizes are good.

If you're vegan, Da Sichuan might be good for take-out, but don't expect anything spectacular. Garden Fresh in Palo Alto is better if you're looking for vegan Chinese food.

Fraiche Yogurt in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 4 11

rating star

This place has one vegan frozen soy yogurt and then you can modify it with a variety of toppings. I got a junior size cup (~$3) and added dark chocolate shavings and strawberries for another $1.50.

For the record, the junior size cup is perfect size. I can't imagine how people could possibly consume more frozen yogurt in a single sitting.

I thought it was pretty good, but not perfect. The yogurt might have been slightly too sweet, but the toppings were great and the cup came together on a whole.

Given the rarity of vegan soft-serve, I like that frozen yogurt offers an alternative. If Fraiche had some more vegan flavors (how about chocolate?) I'd give it another star.

Garden Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 26 11

rating star

I love this place. Garden Fresh in Palo Alto is my go-to spot for quick, delicious, fresh, hearty, inexpensive meals. While there are a few dozen vegan Asian restaurants in the Bay Area, Garden Fresh stands out for its creativity, variety and simpler, fresher presentations and preparations. This isn't just generic Chinese or Vietnamese stripmall food made with vegan mockmeats instead of real meat; Garden Fresh serves thoughtful, innovative and unusual fare.

I've tried much of their menu and would highlight the following as my favorites:

-Scallion pancakes with carrots ($5) is an awesome appetizer that is basically crispy, fried dough with some subtly sweet soy sauce; every single person I know who has tried this dish loves it, regardless of whether they're vegan or not

-Orange veggie beef ($11) is one of the most unusual mockmeat dishes I've had; instead of using soy or wheat to make fake beef, Garden Fresh uses pressed shiitake mushroom. The end result is a slightly crisp, "meaty" slice of beef in a delectable orange-soy marinade with red chili. Definitely get this dish; you won't be able to tell that the beef is made with mushrooms, so even mushroom-haters should try this dish

-Basil Tempura ($12) consists of batter-fried vegetables with basil and a spicy sauce. This dish sounds basic (tempura isn't all that exciting, quite frankly), but Garden Fresh's preparation is just different somehow (feels less oily) and blows away every other tempura dish I've ever had.

-Black pepper veggie chicken ($11) is a bold and addictive dish made with lightly fried chicken, mushrooms, carrots and onions. A choice that everyone will enjoy.

-Hunan veggie chicken ($10) is a solid mixed-vegetable stir-fry. It's one of few dishes on the menu that comes with more than one or two vegetables, which is nice.

The service is always super-friendly and they give you a free cup of soup to start off. The food arrives quickly.

My only issues: this place is tiny and it's usually full during peak times. Expect a wait if you have a group larger than 2 (and I recommend against groups larger than 4, given the limited seating). Also, I wasn't impressed with the desserts, which felt dry and had weird texture (go to Loving Hut around the corner for desserts instead).

In conclusion, Garden Fresh is easily the best Asian vegan restaurant in the Bay Area, and just generally a creative and fun place that non-vegans will greatly enjoy (and perhaps prefer) as well.

Good Karma Vegan House in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 31 11

rating star

I have mixed feelings about this place. On the one hand it's sort of hip and grungy and one of the only places to get vegan food in downtown San Jose. It's kind of cozy, too, especially in the back, where you can sit at the bar, get a drink, chat with the attractive staff, and eat a slice of chocolate pie. Then again, the food isn't great, the wait times are long, and it's so small that you can't guarantee getting a nice spot at the bar, which is the only nice part of the joint.

We shared a couple of their three-dish combo plates ($8.50 each, and comes with brown rice). The food sits up front in the cooler case, and you pick what one or two or three dishes you want; they then slap it onto a plate and presumably heat it up in a microwave or maybe on the stove in the back.

I was unimpressed by most of the food. The pra ram tofu fell flat and lacked spice. The teriyaki chicken and the basil tofu both were swimming in overly-thick sauces that had no flavor; also, they chop their tofu in large cubes and don't really fry them, so the end result is that the tofu has little flavor (they're too big to absorb any of the sauce). These dishes also just look generally unappealing: they're brown, gooey and look tired and grim.

The tofu scramble was atrocious. Absolutely the worst tofu scramble I've ever had; it wasn't even palatable, in my opinion, even with the addition of chipotle sauce and black beans, which added some level of moisture and flavor. For one thing, the scramble was dry and mealy; secondly, the spices just didn't come together.

The two dishes that were decent were the Chinese chicken salad (though this dish is cold) and the Dal (Indian lentil curry). Both of these were competently made. I suspect the chickpea curry would have been good, too, if I'd gotten it (but I normally don't order Indian dishes at non-Indian restaurants---something I'm beginning to understand is an illogical hangup on my part, as you don't have to be Indian to make good Indian food, and many Indian restaurants are just terrible by default).

The stuffed peppers ($3) were also great: bell peppers stuffed with spiced black beans, rice and some other stuff. These were a separate charge, though. They did taste great and I would order them again.

Lastly, the chocolate tofu pie ($4) and the homemade ice cream sandwich ($4) were both excellent. The tofu pie was nicely made, with a crumbly chocolate crust; that said, this is a dish I've had in other places. The ice cream sandwich was really remarkable, as the "bread" portion consisted of maple-walnut cookies which were just fabulous.

Beware long wait times. A group of four came in ahead of me and it took at least 15 minutes for the lone server to take all their orders (when it's just one person ladling three different curries onto a plate, things can get slow and messy and confusing, if there are multiple customers).

In conclusion, I might come back here for a beer or a stuffed pepper and an ice cream sandwich. You can skip most of their other dishes, however, especially the tofu ones. Good Karma has some winners, but also lots of room for improvement.

Great Bear Coffee in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 9 11

rating star

This is a nice, quaint coffee shop in downtown Los Gatos and it has some decent vegan baked goods as well (a cupcake, biscotti, and one other thing).

We shared a pot of Jasmine tea (~$3); while the tea was good, Great Bear's selection disappointed me on a whole. They lack loose-leaf varieties (they only have two that are loose-leaf) and the rest are standard bagged types that you can get at any old grocery store. Given the coolness of this coffee shop, you'd expect to see classier stuff.

We also had a vegan chocolate cupcake (~$3). It looked like a cupcake but, in actuality, the cake portion was as dense as a brownie and the frosting was as thick as fudge. As such, this was really a fudge-topped brownie in the shape of a cupcake. That said, it was really tasty: the chocolate was subdued and retained a solid cocoa-flavor and there wasn't a hint of dryness in either the cake or frosting. It was also nicely decorated (with a small pink flower swirl on top).

If Great Bear had a couple types of vegan cookies, they'd warrant another star.

All told, though, Great Bear is a solid spot and I'd be happy to return.

Great Vegi Land in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 27 11

rating star

This is an old-school Buddhist vegetarian (vegan, actually) restaurant. It's in a bleak, decaying 1970s stripmall and the location (across from a shady motel, next to a grimy South Asian grocery store) really depressed me. This is not a place to take a date, to be sure.

It's cash-only, so make sure to have plenty of money on you, as most dishes run in the $9-10 range. It seems pricey to be cash only.

I had an order of homemade pancake ($3), a side of brown rice ($1.68), a curry veggie shrimp ($10), a black pepper veggie beef ($9) and a hot and spicy veggie chicken ($10).

The pancake was great: a flaky, tender roti-paratha style bread. It makes a good accompaniment to the main dishes, so I'd order it alongside rice, actually.

The veggie shrimp was pretty tasty, though I probably wouldn't order the mock shrimp again---the texture and taste are a bit too close to the real thing for my likes. This dish was unusual in its use of potato and apple slices as well which, taken together, worked pretty nicely.

The black pepper beef looks like chicken---long, dense strips of soy protein. These old school restaurants have never been good at differentiating between their mockmeats. This dish was okay, but a bit too dry (some more sauce would have helped).

The hot and spicy veggie chicken was the best dish, in my opinion, and is truly a spicy one. The "chicken" consisted of chewy-springy curls of shaved wheat gluten which could have been firmer (they were just a tad too chewy for me), but the sauce on this dish was excellent. I wish the dish came with bell peppers instead of celery and carrots.

A couple pieces of advice:

-Expect a 15-20 minute wait for your food, as it seems understaffed.
-They use really cheap styrofoam containers that don't form seals so, if you're getting take-out, make sure that the stuff is secured properly. Sadly for me, all the containers tipped over, and liquid sauces quickly spilled out into the carrying bag, at the first stop sign on the road.

All told, this is a decent place, but not great. For my money, Garden Fresh in Palo Alto or Green Cafe in Milpitas offer better vegan/vegetarian Asian food.

Green Cafe Vegan Cuisine in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 24 11

rating star

Green Cafe is one of many vegan Asian (often times Supreme Master) restaurants in the South Bay, but it stands out for a two major reasons:

1. It's open later than most other vegan places in the South Bay.
2. The food preparation is higher grade, more adventurous and just fresher.

We started off with an order of golden rolls (basically egg rolls, $5) which were somewhat dry on their own, but considerably improved with a light tamarind sauce on the side. The owner told us that the tamarind sauce was an experiment (see what I mean by adventurous?) and wanted to know our opinion on it. It's a definite keeper and I'm not even a huge fan of tamarind.

For our main course we had a "Spicy Delicacy" (#57 on the menu) ($9), which was soy protein stir-fried with lemongrass, chili, bell peppers and onions. This dish was great: it packed a kick and the lemongrass added an interesting flavor element. And, unlike in other restaurants (such as the disappointing Merit Vegetarian in Sunnyvale), Green Cafe is careful to not overload its sauces with corn starch, so the sauce stays light, rather than gooey.

We also had an order of curry fried rice ($9) which was really tasty and made with coconut milk, carrots, peas and fried tofu bits.

The portion sizes were large on both dishes---expect leftovers. Green Cafe is definitely a good value.

Lastly, for dessert, we had a slice of homemade cheesecake ($4) which I thought was passable, but my non-vegan friend though was better than real cheesecake. I think the dish could have been improved with a fresh fruit marinade, and maybe a twig of mint.

The service was extremely friendly and attentive. The owner was really responsive and curious to not only hear our opinion on the food, but also how she might improve; I suggested that, in addition to some Indian dishes she plans on offering, she should add some vegan breakfast sandwiches, which are always hard to find. And it sounds like she will, so vegans can now rejoice in the morning!

Green Elephant Gourmet in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 16 11

rating star

Green Elephant is a solidly middling Burmese and Chinese restaurant. That is, it's in a stripmall, not particularly memorable, but not a disappointment either.

For vegans, there's only a few dishes on the Burmese side of things, though there are more options on the Chinese menu. That said, I somehow couldn't bring myself to order Chinese food in a Burmese restaurant.

We started off with the tea leaf salad ($10) a dish that has become famous across the Bay Area, arguably because it was featured on a Food Network show that visited Burma SuperStar, the center of Burmese food in San Francisco.

It was prepared in the exact same way at Green Elephant (tossed in front of you) with the same ingredients (tea leaves, lettuce, tomatoes, split peas, fried shallots, etc.). That said, I think Green Elephant might have gone light on the spices as the tea leaf salad at Burma SuperStar was much more flavorful; the one at Green Elephant was okay, but not bold.

Later we had the Kalahin Curry ($10) and the Poodi ($10) which are the only two vegetarian or vegan Burmese entrees available.

I liked the Poodi quite a bit; it's basically like the Indian "channa masala" dish and, similarly, is served with fried wheat bread (however, Poodi is made with potatoes, whereas channa masala is made with chickpeas). I thought this dish came together well and the bread in particular was well done (it was much fresher and lighter than the overly-dense and crunchy bread served of Burma SuperStar's Poodi). The dish could have benefited from a few small touches, such as fresh diced tomatoes as a garnish, but was otherwise solid and better than Burma SuperStar.

The Kalahin Curry, on the other hand, was not quite as interesting. Basically it was a tamarind sauce stir-fry with a bunch of vegetables (eggplant, cauliflower, carrot). It tasted okay, but nothing I cared to remember the next day.

Kudos to Green Elephant for the prompt and friendly service, as well as the option for brown rice.

Green Elephant offers a nice change of pace but, for vegans, only has a few dishes. If it offered more options it would be worth returning to; as it stands, I would not go out of my way for this place.

The Happy Bamboo in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 23 11

rating star

I liked this place, on a whole, but I think it doesn't stand out too much from the pack of vegan/vegetarian Asian restaurants in the South Bay.

We started off with a "matginder's spicy bbq drumsticks" ($5.75) which were the standard variety of vegan chicken wings you find in this area; they were covered in a pretty tasty tomato-bbq sauce and came together well. Apparently the owner named this dish by combining two of her regular customer's names.

For our main course dishes we had a "delightful green noodle" with tofu ($7.75) and a "lemon grass veggie chicken" ($8.95). The green noodle dish sounded great in theory, but ended up just being a regular Vietnamese stir-fry with a semi-sweet sauce. The noodles sounded great (made of some type of ancient Egyptian plant), but didn't taste all that different from any other rice-type noodle.

The lemon grass chicken was more impressive: just many pieces of firm vegan chicken covered in lemongrass. The lemongrass flavor on this dish really stood out and I'd recommend it. We got it with brown rice, with cost an extra $1.50 (I hate it when places charge for rice, but at least they offered brown rice and not just white).

For dessert we had a "caramel flan" ($2.50) which was basically silken tofu in a caramel sauce. It was really good. The low price was nice, too.

The service is friendly. The decor on the inside is pretty utilitarian, so it's not the best date spot, but Happy Bamboo is certainly good for a simple and tasty vegan or vegetarian meal.

Ike's Lair in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 9 11

rating star

Ike's has a huge variety of vegan sandwiches/subs, though most of them are fairly straight-forward (for example, vegan turkey with avocado and tomatoes). I came and tried their Meatless Mike's ($9), which won PETA's "best meatball sandwich" award.

Make sure to specify you're vegan, as they have a lacto-vegetarian version as well. Also, their wholewheat bread option is the only one that's not vegan, which is a shame, but I'm happy that they told me this immediately and were aware of the fact.

Expect long lines at peak lunch times, and expect to wait 5-10 minutes for your sandwich to be made. If you're in a rush, this is not the best place for you.

I got the sandwich on some bread they call "dutch" something. It was basically a white, flaky-crusty bread and, while it had good texture, I couldn't get it out of my mind that it's white flour (I hate white flour). They also have sourdough and gluten-free breads.

The sandwich was good overall and the portion size was substantial. It seems like they use Matt's brand meatballs (which you can get at Whole Foods and some mainstream grocery stores), which taste fine, but I'd prefer it if Ike's made their own. The marinara sauce was good, but I wasn't a fan of the vegan cheese (I think it was Teese); it didn't add anything to the sandwich.

Daiya vegan cheese would have been better but the best option would have been to do a cashew-tofu nut cheese with herbs.

Honestly, while this sandwich was good, it wasn't even close to as good as the Mock Sausage Parmigiana that you can get at Pizza Luce (a small chain in the Twin Cities). Luce makes their own "cheese" and it's more like a savory, addictive pate that complements tomato-based sauces perfectly, not least in part because of its use of fresh herbs.

In comparison, Ike's just gives you some straight-up marinara with straight-up Teese mozzarella. It's much less sophisticated and, sadly, less tasty as well.

All that said, I applaud Ike's for being so vegan friendly and I look forward to trying other sandwiches they offer.

Junnoon in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

This is an upscale, fusion-y Indian bar and restaurant. It's a good place to take a date and the service is excellent: friendly, knowledgeable (about vegan options) and attentive.

They have a separate prix-fixe vegan menu (which is basically just the vegetarian menu, minus the dairy) but we ordered a la carte to get more variety. Be warned: there aren't many vegan options here, and the ones they have aren't great.

We started off with an order of "tapioca fritters" ($7) which were fried tapioca balls seasoned with some herbs. The chutney that comes with the dish, unfortunately, contains yogurt, so I didn't eat that. I liked this dish as it reminded me of a classic meal served within some Indian homes called "sabudana khichdi" which is a savory tapioca dish. You almost never see this dish on menus at Indian restaurants, which is why I really appreciated it.

For my main course I had the "tandoori broccoli shaslik" ($15) made vegan by omitting the cream cheese. This dish was basically just broccoli, bell peppers and onions put on a skewer and barbecued with a tamarind sauce. I'm not a fan of the skewer-style preparation (it's too basic) and the tamarind sauce was unappealing (too sour). My waiter helpfully gave some cranberry chutney on the side, which was delicious and improved the dish.

The biggest problem with the dish was that it consisted of enormous pieces of broccoli (basically the size of my fist) which made it difficult to eat. It's not the type of dish you can readily consume with rice or bread (I tried eating it with tandoori roti with great trouble). Why not make this dish more like a curry, and with bite-size pieces?

In conclusion, the food quality is mixed here, and the options aren't great for vegans. The service is really good, though, and the ambiance makes it an appealing place. I'd come back for a drink, and maybe an appetizer, but Junnoon could definitely stand to up its game on its vegan options---why not offer some more traditional curries with a twist (instead of the potato-cauliflower combo, how about sweet potato and broccoli)?

Lang Chay / Dia Diem 1 in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 11 11

rating star

This is a clean, modern, friendly vegetarian (mostly vegan) Vietnamese cafe in a stripmall. There are about two dozen similar places in the San Jose area, but the openness and friendly vibe in Lang Chay stood out from the rest.

We started off with a veggie egg roll with salad ($6). This consisted of four fried egg rolls, filled with tofu, vegetables and maybe taro as well. I didn't really need the salad portion (which consisted of just lettuce) and I found it strange that you can't simply get a single or double serving of egg roll for cheaper (all the other "roll" dishes are spring rolls served without salad and are less expensive). I really liked the taste of the egg rolls, though.

For our main course we went overboard and got an eggplant with basil ($8), a lemongrass spicy chicken ($7) and a mushroom hotpot ($17).

The eggplant and lemongrass chicken dishes were both great. I thought they were both fresh, flavorful, and not overly oily or salty. The lemongrass chicken, in particular, was excellent: spicy; crispy and addictive.

The mushroom hotpot was a mixed affair for me. For one thing, I was amazed at how costly it was---$17 for a dish in a cash-only joint in a stripmall? They bring you a large bowl full of semi-cooked noodles, a large plate overflowing with a variety of vegetables (bok choy, various mushrooms, whole basil plants, huge stems and leaves of some kind of leafy green called "an dong", and more), as well as a pot full of fake meat and seafood, mushrooms and broth. You are supposed to mix everything together iteratively on the small burner that they also bring to your table. I guess you just keep letting things simmer for a long time.

This hotpot could have been the entire meal, quite frankly; we didn't need the other dishes. That said, I wasn't a huge fan of the fake seafood and meats in the pot, though I did enjoy the mushrooms and the savory broth. The sheer quantity of fresh vegetables was also great, but it was hard work, messy and frustrating to mix everything together over and over again.

In general I'm not a fan of "some assembly required" meals.

All of the customers at Lang Chay were Vietnamese and they all ordered hotpots, so that does seem to be the the thing this place is known for. I loved their stir-frys, though, and they were pretty cheap at $7-8 a piece.

Unfortunately Lang Chay doesn't offer brown rice. Always a bummer.

Lastly, the service was really friendly and helpful. In conclusion, I would definitely come back here for another meal and I was impressed with the general quality of the food.

Loving Hut in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 30 11

rating star

I wasn't very impressed with this particular Loving Hut.

The best dish on the menu, by far, is the Guru's Curry ($9). Don't waste your time with anything else; the curry is savory, spicy and filling. The soy "meat" has great texture. This is a hearty meal.

Their chocolate cake and mocha cake are also both fabulous and sure to impress vegans or non-vegans alike.

Here's a rundown of other dishes I tried: "fresh spring rolls" appetizer ($5.50); avocado BLT ($9); and shepherds pie ($9).

The spring rolls were okay, but nothing great: just raw veggies stuffed into a rice paper wrapper and served with a peanut sauce. They weren't worth $5.50, for sure.

The sheperds pie was okay, but dry. Again, for $9, it was a tiny portion size and felt more like a snack.

I wanted the pesto chicken sandwich, but they'd already sold out of it by 6 p.m., which is why I ended up with the BLT. I didn't like the BLT at all, though my sister-in-law liked it. I thought the veganaise didn't mix well with the tempeh; although this might have been a specific mixup on my sandwich, as they had run out of the maple-paprika tempeh they usually use, and instead gave me a tuna-fish style crushed tempeh with cilantro. Also, the sandwich on this bread was too thick and too hard.

The roasted side potatoes that came with the pie were okay, but would have been better hot (they're served cold). The barley soup that came with the BLT was passable.

My vegan cheesecake slice ($4.25) was above average. The chocolate chip almond cookie, however, was as hard as a hockey puck and not that good (even when I got home and softened it in the microwave).

They also serve bubble tea, which is pretty good, if you like that sort of thing.

While the Guru's Curry and the chocolate or mocha cakes are all great, the rest of the menu leaves much to be desired. If you're looking for good vegan food in Palo Alto, just walk a few blocks and go to Garden Fresh instead.

Loving Hut in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 29 11

rating star

I've been to a few Loving Huts now and they all have the same fundamental problems: the menu never takes risks and the portion sizes are small for the amount they charge. In other words, this place (and the Loving Hut franchise in general) is too safe and not a good value. Off the bat, if you're in Milpitas, there's a better vegan cafe only half a mile away (Green Cafe Vegan) which should be your first choice if you have to choose which one to try.

I had a "Queens" lunch special ($8) which is described as soy protein with onions and garlic, stir-fried with a special house sauce. The lunch special is a pretty small portion and was basically just ten pieces of soy chicken with some sauteed onions. There wasn't any "sauce" per se and the dish was just dry and boring. It wasn't spicy either.

The lunch special also comes with a large-ish lump of brown rice and a simple lettuce-tomato side salad, as well as a cup of soup.

For dessert I had a slice of their chocolate cake ($4.25) which was spectacular: succulent, moist, subdued and just perfect. The Loving Hut in Palo Alto also makes a chocolate cake of this quality.

Loving Hut is okay. But it's not great. I'd be willing to try a few more of their dishes but, given the prices and portion sizes here, I'd rather go half a mile away to Green Cafe Vegan, and get twice the food for the same price. Green Cafe also has an edgier menu and offers innovative and unusual fare.

Lyfe Kitchen in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Sep 11 12

rating star

Lyfe Kitchen was heralded as some kind of antidote to McDonald's and the US's fast food obsession (ironically, some ex-McDonald's executive started Lyfe). But I don't get the hype and I don't think the food is good enough to justify a recommendation.

Let's start off with the not-so-good. The menu is a nightmare of data and symbols (calorie counts, sodium levels, vegan, gluten-free, biodynamic, nut-free, etc.) and excessive amounts of text. It's hard to decipher and people can't easily figure out what to order. Then backups form at the two cash registers up front.

Next, and most important, the food just isn't that good. On my first visit I had the crispy Gardein chicken sandwich ($9), which sounded like it would be delicious (it comes with shishito relish!). In reality it was lukewarm, bland and felt about as boring as a McDonald's chicken sandwich. The sandwich was also small and neither filled me up nor hit the spot.

On my second visit, the vegan farmer's market salad with agave-lime tofu ($11) was drenched in vinegary sauce and had zero appeal. The spinach leaves literally fell flat under the weight of so much sauce. We gave up eating this after a few bites.

The corn chowder ($7 for a large bowl) came to us lukewarm and had little flavor. Worst of all, they hadn't thoroughly cooked the potatoes in the soup, so every bite would have raw potato in the mix. Great job, Lyfe.

Lastly, we had Tal's ancient grain bowl ($12). This dish consisted of quinoa and farro, buried underneath a bunch of vegetables and some vegan beef pieces, covered in a sweet-ish sauce. The dish was, once again, lukewarm in temperature and tasted more like a bunch of sauteed vegetables in watery ketchup. It had no zing, no life (lyfe?).

In short, all of the food here was sloppily prepared, lukewarm and hard to eat.

Lyfe has but three positive attributes, which sadly don't make up for the horrible food: the restaurant itself looks really nice with a cozy retro-mod look and feel. It's upscale without being pretentious. The service is fast and friendly. They have a ton of vegan options, including a separate vegan menu that's readily accessible next to the cash registers where you place your order.

All told, I will not be returning to Lyfe. The food is, at best, mediocre. And that's on a good day. It gets two stars for being vegan-friendly, but otherwise it would get one-star.

Madame Tam in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 3 11

rating star

This is a solidly average, fairly vegan-friendly, ambiguously Asian bistro in the heart of downtown Palo Alto.

We started off with on order of Buddha's Rolls ($5) which were spring rolls filled with tofu, rice noodles and some other stuff. While I prefer fried rolls, these were decent and tasted pretty good especially with the peanut sauce they give you on the side.

For our main course we had a Yellow Curry with Tofu ($10) and a Vegetarian Chicken with Black Pepper ($10). The curry, they assured me, doesn't contain fish sauce or shrimp paste, and is therefore fully vegan. It tasted pretty good, though I wish the chunks of tofu, potato and carrots could have been cut into smaller pieces.

The veggie black pepper chicken was also tasty and had a really satisfying firmness. The portion size was on the smaller side, though, and the dish didn't look all that great on the plate (despite being placed on a banana leaf); it just looked drab and dark and the bell peppers and onions in the dish were limp. Dishes like these need to be popping with color and I think Madame Tam overcooked and over-glazed the dish (the sauce is a somewhat sticky, thick one). Garden Fresh in Palo Alto does a similar black pepper vegan chicken dish that is much better and heartier.

Brown rice is available at a whopping $2.50 per person---this is highway robbery, but I've become accustomed to it, as it seems to be custom to charge for rice in the Bay Area (it's still really cheap and tacky on the part of restaurants, however).

The service was friendly and prompt. The atmosphere inside is nice and this wouldn't be a bad spot to take a date.

That said, if you're looking for vegan or vegetarian food of higher quality, I would recommend Garden Fresh just a few blocks down the road.

Madras Cafe in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 24 11

rating star

This place easily has the most flavorful, fresh, and home-cooked style South Indian food in the South Bay. In fact, it's some of the best South Indian restaurant food I've had in the US. It's also inexpensive.

I started off with a masala dosa ($5) which was just perfect: the crepe was crisp, but not overly so, and it was exactly as thin as it should be (too often are the crepes made thick and doughy).

The masala was also nicely done with a dash of onions and cilantro.

I also tried my brother's channa bhatura and both the bhatura (which is the fried bread) and the channa (chickpea curry) were excellent: light and simple.

Similarly, my sister-in-law's rava masala dosa was also superb with a great interplay of onions and green chili. Rava masala dosas are a bit more "rustic" and hearty than masala dosas, by the way.

The food was so good that I got an order of channa chapati as well ($5). The chapati was pristine, as if you own Indian mother made it. Flaky and soft, not oily, not dry, perfectly round.

I'd give Madras five stars but for four reasons:

1. The ordering system is inane. You wait in line to place your order at the counter and then wait for a table to open up. Turn-around is pretty quick, but all the waiting and standing is unnecessary. It's also hard to make additions after you've sat down (you have to go back in line, wait again, and then pay again).

2. This place is environmentally un-friendly. Many cheap Indian joints have a tendency to serve everything with disposable utensils and plates, and I found myself frustrated to see so much waste with styrofoam cups, plastic forks and paper plates. Worse yet, the owners of Madras Cafe come from a highly polluted country (India) and feel no remorse about polluting their much cleaner new home country. It's a real tragedy and embarrassing to the entire Indian community in the US.

3. This place has no ambiance whatsoever. It's literally four walls in a strip mall. There are no decorations on the walls, no music playing, nothing. When you go, it'll be packed full of Indian families (often with screaming children) and maybe a few adventurous or in-the-know Americans. It's not a place you want to hang around in.

4. They don't offer anything special or unusual on the menu. The menu here is virtually identical to the menus you'll find at pretty much every other South Indian restaurant in the US, or even the world. Why not branch out and offer some dishes with tofu? Broccoli? Vegetables other than just potatoes and chickpeas? How about offering soy milk for tea?

That said, the food here is excellent and I will return.

Merit Vegetarian Restaurant in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

Merit is one of many vegetarian/vegan Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants in the South Bay. Merit is totally vegan (which is good for a vegan like me), and I had heard good things about the place, but I was deeply disappointed by the food here (and I've been to probably 60 or more all-veg Chinese and Vietnamese joints, so I have a good base of comparison).

First, the ambiance is nice in here: it's a strip-mall joint, but clean, spacious and comfortable with well-kept booth seating.

We started off with an order of potstickers ($6) which were just your average potsticker, albeit with a somewhat more cream-cheesy filling. In general, when it comes to dumpling-type things filled with vegetables, I think the Nepalese and Tibetans have won the prize for the tastiest option with their momos.

Anyway, we continued with a "vietnamese crepe" ($8.50) and a "sauteed garlic beef" ($10.50). The crepe was terrible, in my opinion. It had a strange, unappealing sour-ish taste and was made only barely palatable by adding some mint leaves with each bite, as well as some of the lemongrass-soy dipping sauce that came with the potstickers (the crepe comes with its own special dipping sauce, but it had no flavor). The dish is also hard to eat, as it comes on two plates: one is the crepe, and another is just a dish with a huge mound of lettuce and mint. Mixing the two plates is not particularly easy.

The garlic beef tasted a little bit better, with the strong caveat that biting into the beef pieces was an unpleasant experience because of the amount of oil used to cook the dish. Indeed, this was quite possibly the most oily dish I've ever eaten. Each piece of the "beef" (which seemed like a low-grade TVP chunk) oozed oil and, with each bite, the oil would actually squirt out into your mouth. This was revolting.

I was pleased to see brown rice on the menu and displeased (as I always am with Bay Area Asian restaurants) that it costs extra. Even white rice costs extra. I'm from the Midwest, where rice is served for free, the way it should be.

Merit redeemed itself somewhat with dessert. We had a slice of almond-pumpkin cheesecake ($5) which was delectable: subtle pumpkin flavor, not too sweet, and a wonderful contrast of semi-firm cheesecake with crunchy almond slices.

In conclusion, I'd return to Merit for dessert, but that's about it.

Ming's Chinese Cuisine and Bar in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

This is an old-school, large Chinese restaurant that's been open since 1956. That may sound impressive, and I guess it is, but the food isn't that good.

I had a "spicy mixed vegetables" ($8.75) and a "cashew mock chicken soy gluten" ($9.00). I also got brown rice, and it was nice that it was on the menu, but they charge extra for it (I will never understand why Asian restaurants in the Bay Area all charge extra for rice, white or brown, when it's served free in other parts of the country).

The food was mediocre at best. The spicy mixed vegetables was not spicy and was basically just bok choy and some broccoli in a light white sauce. The dish had little flavor and not enough variety of vegetables (some carrots, baby corn and mushrooms would have been nice additions).

The cashew "chicken" was unimpressive. The chicken pieces were old-school re-hydrated TVP chunks, as opposed to more sophisticated mockmeats. The sauce was a brown, thick, corn-starchy abomination that got more gelatinous as time wore on.

Oh, and vegans and vegetarians should ask questions about ingredients, as many of the dishes in the "vegetarian" section state clearly that they contain either ham, fish, chicken, or oyster sauce.

While I kind of liked the vibe in the restaurant (there's a cozy bar up front, some living room-esque rooms to the side, and lots of space in general), it's not a place I would return to.

Patxi's Chicago Pizza in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

This is a nice bar-restaurant that serves Chicago-style deep dish with Daiya vegan cheese! It's one of few places in the country to get a deep dish pizza with Daiya, as far as I can see (and I'm from Chicago myself).

The first time I got their pan-style pizza, actually, as I heard it works better with Daiya. Be warned that there's a long-ish wait for deep-dish pizzas (35-40 minutes) and pan pizzas (25-30 minutes) as they take longer to make.

The pie was pretty good: I liked the sauce and the crust quite a bit. It wasn't reminiscent of Chicago in any way, but it was just a solid, all-together decent pizza. Definitely better than Amici's, too, which is the other Bay Area chain that offers Daiya vegan cheese.

I later got a 10" Chicago-style pie with mushrooms, green peppers and Daiya ($21 with tax). This pizza is easily enough for three people. The first thing I noticed was that it feels heavy in its take-out box. It was vaguely like a Chicago crust, but a bit too soft, and not crumbly on the edges. Daiya works well on this pizza and I'd recommend getting the Chicago crust over the pan or any other.

The service was friendly and the ambiance agreeably casual. I'll definitely be back.

Psycho Donuts in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 23 11

rating star

This is a strip mall donut shop that just so happens to have two vegan varieties daily. Oh, and the cashier will likely be wearing a sanitorium uniform.

I got their two vegan options, which were $2 a piece. Both of them were excellent (one had orange frosting, and the other was chocolate or something). Best yet, my non-vegan friend also enjoyed them.

They're cake-y donuts, not raised-type. I've had better vegan donuts elsewhere (namely, Little Monster Cakes in New Haven and Fritz Pastry in Chicago), but I'd put Psycho Donuts at the same level as Voodoo in Portland or Mighty-O in Seattle.

If Psycho Donuts had more vegan options, they'd deserve another star.

Psycho Donuts in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 15 11

rating star

This location of Psycho Donuts is larger and grungier than the Campbell one; unlike the Campbell location, it only carries one variety of vegan donut (Campbell usually has two types).

It's a weird spot. Kind of breezy and you get a view of the inside of a parking garage, as well as people walking back and forth for the attached movie theater.

The blue velvet donut we had was great: not too sweet and nicely cake-y.

This isn't exactly a cozy spot where you'd want to hang out with friends or a laptop, but if you're looking for a quick vegan donut and a cup of tea, it'll do.

Red Hot Chilli Pepper in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

Indo-Chinese food is immensely popular in India, and is becoming commonly offered in the US as well. You can find exclusively Indo-Chinese restaurants in many major metro areas. Indo-Chinese food was "born" in eastern India in the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) where a large group of Hakka Chinese immigrants settled in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To this day, Kolkata is the only city in India with an actual Chinatown (though it's fading away as its residents have been emigrating en masse to Toronto over the last three or four decades).

In any case, Indo-Chinese food is here to stay.

We started off with an order of "pepper-salt mushrooms" ($8) which was basically batter-fried mushrooms with onions and scallions. It was delicious: savory, crunchy and addictive. Definitely get this dish.

For our main dishes we had a "hunan mixed vegetable" ($12), a "vegetable coins in manchurian sauce" ($13) and a "shredded potato with eggplant in black bean sauce" ($12).

All the main dishes that the same basic problems: 1) they were overcooked, which made the vegetables too soft, rather than crisp and; 2) the sauces had way too much cornstarch and were gooey and unattractive. Indo-Chinese food general overdoes it on the corn starch.

I thought the vegetable coins dish was okay, but there was too much cilantro in the sauce, which overpowered the overall flavor of the plate. The "coins," too, should have been crispier. This dish---sometimes called "veg manchurian" is the staple dish of Indo-Chinese cuisine, by the way.

The hunan mixed vegetables was pretty bland: the sauce had little flavor and felt watered down (in addition to being gooey).

The shredded potato with eggplant was probably the best dish of the three. Other than the gooey sauce and the overcooking, this dish was fine.

Lastly, and sadly, they don't offer brown rice, which is always a shame (that said, it's rare to find brown rice served at Indian or Indo-Chinese restaurants in general).

The service was friendly and attentive. Kudos to that.

The ambiance here is great: it's spacious, upscale and they play lounge music. The bar looks nice and this would be a great place to take a date.

I'll definitely return to Red Hot Chilli Pepper, but they have room for improvement.

Royal Greens in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 13 11

rating star

There are so many vegetarian/vegan Chinese and Vietnamese joints in the South Bay that they've become replicas of one another, serving the exact same ingredients in nearly identical preparations. Variations on a theme, I guess (the sole exception would be Garden Fresh in Palo Alto, which is unusual, fresh and innovative).

Royal Greens, sadly, is middling.

We started off with an order of Royal Greens' Special Rolls ($7) which were deep-fried tofu skins wrapped around taro and some mock chicken. While this sounded good in theory, in reality it was really tough, chewy and dry. The addition of vegetables to the inside would have improved the dryness, as would have a side dipping sauce.

For our main course we had a Three Flavors Tofu hotpot ($10), a Salt and Pepper Veggie Chicken ($10) and a Basil Eggplant ($9).

The Three Flavors tofu was just a sizzling hotpot filled with soft tofu, some bell peppers and mushrooms, and carrots. The sauce they cooked the dish in was too thick and corn starch-laden for my likes and, in the end, the dish felt like a really simple stir-fry you could have made at home.

The Salt and Pepper Chicken consisted of fried fake chicken doused with black pepper. This dish tasted a lot like chicken mcnuggets, in my opinion. The biggest issue was that the chicken took on a spongy texture, rather than a firm one, which didn't create a pleasant mouthfeel. I would not order this dish again.

Lastly, the Basil Eggplant was decent and consisted of stir-fried eggplant with some vegetables, basil and wheat gluten. It was a competent stir-fry; nothing more, nothing less.

I've been to 16 different fake meat Chinese or Vietnamese joints in the Bay Area alone and I'm pretty sick of them. None of them serve interesting food, for the most part, though a few do better than others. Garden Fresh in Palo Alto is by far the best, and I also think Greens Vegan in Milpitas, and Lang Chay in San Jose stand out from the pack. In many ways, it's great that vegans and vegetarians have so much choice in the Bay Area, particularly for East Asian and South Asian food; on the other hand, there's very little quality, and Royal Greens is emblematic of that.

Saravanaa Bhavan in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 10 11

rating star

This is an inexpensive, loud, bustling, authentic South Indian eatery (that appears to fill what used to be an IHOP or Bakers Square-type place). Most of the clientele is South Indian, and they tend to come in groups of 3 to 6, usually with their energetic children and stoic senior-citizen parents. As such, don't take a date here. Come for the experience.

We started off with a "bonda" appetizer, which is basically just a lentil donut. It's fried but not particularly flavorful on its own---you're supposed to mix it with the chutneys they give you. I'm personally skeptical of anything that's inherently bland and has a "some assembly required" component that involves side sauces and chutneys; as such, for me, this dish wasn't great. But most people probably would like it.

I had the quintessential South Indian dish, the "masala dosa" as my main course. I've had this dish hundreds of times all over the world, including at least 200 times in India (by my own estimate). It was competently made here, but didn't stand out. Admittedly, it's a hard dish to hit out of the park, but the dosa portion (a lentil crepe) was a bit too thick and too soft (it should be crispy). The masala portion (basically just potatoes with onions) needed more chili and a touch of moistness.

My sister-in-law's "rava masala dosa" was a bit more rustic and appealing, albeit oily. This one might be a better option for people new to South Indian food.

My brother's chole/channa masala dish was pretty good, actually: it was more savory than oily, which is a rare feat. This dish is basically just curried chickepeas in a thick gravy, served with deep-fried wheat bread. It's not healthy at all, but this place pulled off a coup by not making it seem overly heavy.

The service was solid. The bathrooms, however, are a nightmare.

This is probably the most well-known and high-value South Indian joint in the South Bay. And I like that it's cheap. But the offerings, in my opinion, are too unadventurous for me to give it four stars; similarly, they are mixed on their execution of what is standard fare in South India. If they took some risks with their dishes (using atypical ingredients such as broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu), I'd rate them more highly.

Serendipity in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Dec 26 12

rating star

I really like Serendipity---for one thing, it's a high-class chocolate shop, and it's in the suburbs, no less! It helps to cement San Carlos's status, in my opinion, as the best suburb other than Palo Alto in the Bay Area, especially for food (eat that, Burlingame!)

Actually, given what Serendipity offers, you'd be hard-pressed to find something similar even in San Francisco itself.

So what's so good about the place?

-they have a good array of vegan chocolates (at least four or five different types), all of which are available for sampling, and all of which are delicious and unusual

-they offer vegan popsicles from San Francisco-based Pop Nation

-they have gourmet vegan hot chocolate, which can be made with either soy or almond milk; it's rich, thick and practically a meal unto itself

-they have a good selection of high-grade loose-leaf teas, in case you want something light to go with your sweets

In fact, I can't think of any other place in the Bay Area that offers vegan chocolates, high-grade tea and popsicles all in one setting.

My only gripe, and it's a major one, is that Serendipity has terrible hours. I mean, it's closed Sunday, Monday AND Tuesday, which is just excessive. And, of course, it seems like every time I want to stop by, it's on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

Regardless, it's worth a visit and unlike any other chocolate shop/tea shop in the Bay Area.

Siam Taste in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Aug 16 11

rating star

This Thai restaurant stands out from the rest for the simple fact that it has a large, separate vegetarian menu. Only a few other Thai joints in the Bay Area can claim the same (Blue Mango with 2 locations in San Jose, Basil Cha Cha in Foster City, and Green Papaya in Berkeley).

The food here is also just a shade above average, but it's not spectacular by any means.

I had a spicy baby corn with basil ($10), a red curry with soy protein ($10) and an order of brown rice ($2).

The baby corn dish was just your average soy sauce-based stir-fry, but they made it just perfectly spicy (to make you feel it, but not to regret it). The fried tofu in the dish looked limp, though, and there wasn't much of it. In general, the portion size on this dish was small.

The red curry had a hearty taste and was above average. I prefer the curries at Blue Mango (which use higher grade and thicker coconut milk), but this one was decent too. The soy protein in the dish, however, was weird: it was just long flat shreds of white stuff that was sort of firm and sort of soft. In the future, I would just get this dish with tofu, as I didn't care for the texture of the soy protein (it should have been firmer).

Like most Asian restaurants in the Bay, you get charged for rice. At least they had a nice variety of brown rice and they give you a substantial portion, too (not just one of those small cups that most places use).

I am vegan and while I appreciated the separate vegetarian menu, I didn't appreciate the sloppiness of the kitchen, which resulted in one piece of actual chicken in my curry, and one piece of pork in my stir-fry. I'm not super picky about this type of contamination, but it's a sign of laziness; for many vegans and vegetarians, it's simply unacceptable and Siam Taste would do well to clean up its act.

The service was friendly but the restaurant lacks any ambiance. A large tv is mounted up front and it plays random images and news from Thailand, in Thai.

In conclusion, Siam Taste is respectable, but nothing great. I'd rather go to Blue Mango, which is the best Thai food I've had in the Bay Area.

Spices Restaurant and Bar in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Dec 29 12

rating star

There are a bunch of Taiwanese restaurants in the San Mateo/Foster City area, but Spices stands out for having a nice interior and a full page of vegetarian (mostly vegan) options. In fact, the menu even uses the word vegan, which is a rarity in traditional Taiwanese restaurants.

We got the "numbing spicy cucumber" ($5.50), stir-fried watercress ($10), fire popped tofu skins ($10), and a "stinky fried tofu" ($6), the latter of which gives this restaurant some fame, as it's an unusual dish.

First, the stinky tofu is exactly what the name implies. The smell isn't unbearable, but it's not pleasant---it's hard to describe. The taste of the tofu, which is fried, is also bizarre and strange. I'm an adventurous eater, but I found this dish basically unpalatable after a couple of bites, and my Chinese friend (who grew up eating this type of dish) also admitted that she can only handle stinky tofu in miniscule quantities. That said, I could understand the appeal---it tastes weirdly sour and made my jaw twitch. Maybe if I ate it many more times it would grow on me. Or not.

The numbing spicy cucumber didn't have enough Szechuan peppercorn, so it didn't numb very much. The dish comes cold, so it's oddly unsatisfying and not particularly spicy either.

The fire popped tofu skins were not in fact tofu skins; they seemed to me more like thinly-sliced pieces of dense tofu. The sauce on this dish was okay, but again not spicy enough and the dish felt kind of drab; it basically was just strands of tofu with a few slivers of greens.

Oddly enough, the watercress ended up being the best dish. It was a simply saute of watercress with garlic and tasted great.

The portion sizes are good, so this place is a decent value. Unfortunately, they don't have brown rice, so I went without.

The service was friendly and prompt. They even removed the stinky tofu from our bill as neither of us liked it. I appreciated this mightily.

All in all, I'd probably return to Spices as the menu shows promise, if they could just jack up the spice a little.

Thaiphoon in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jun 11 11

rating star

The name of this place alone screams mediocrity and, indeed, it was mediocre (at best).

I came with some family and friends at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. The restaurant wasn't very busy, but after getting a table, a server didn't come back to check on us for a good ten minutes. In fact, we never even received menus; to speed things up, we grabbed some take-out menus on our own, because it was clear things were going to be slow.

It took another 30 minutes for any food to arrive. I was in a group of 6 and only half the group got any of their items; the other half had to wait another 15 minutes for their orders.

But forget the terrible service. How was the food?

I got a Thai basil stir-fry with tofu ($9) and brown rice. One thing Thaiphoon does right is to offer a nice variety of brown rice. Other than that, though, the food insipid: watered-down, bland, generic soy-sauce stir-fry with plasticky Sodexho vegetables. No options for mockmeats (or even seitan).

As with most Thai restaurants, many of the "vegetable" dishes contain fish sauce, so make sure to ask about that. Their curries, too, contain shrimp paste and cannot be modified, so if you're vegan or vegetarian, don't order the curries at all.

Thai food in the US generally is low-grade and watered-down, so I usually don't have high expectations. Thaiphoon fulfilled my low expectations food-wise, but dropped even further with its slow, erratic and inattentive service.

Zest Bakery in Peninsula and South Bay, California
Jul 24 12

rating star

A gluten-free bakery with vegan options in the suburbs? Awesome. Zest is unusual in its offerings and is also a cute place to get a dessert or maybe a sandwich.

The vegan brownies ($2.50) here are amazing---moist, rich, cocoa-y and just delectable. I could eat five of them at once. They're a bit pricey considering the small size, but their quality makes up for a lack of quantity.

The vegan oreo was okay, but not great: it didn't look or taste like an oreo at all. It was more like a crispy chocolate cookie with a creme filling, which sounds oreo-esque, but really isn't.

They also have vegan cupcakes and muffins on occasion, but their schedule for these is erratic, which is frustrating. I wish they offered them every day.

Lastly, they have a vegan sandwich (The Elm) for $7 which consists of roasted vegetables on a vegan hoagie roll. I didn't like the sandwich; the bread was oily to the touch, yet dry and flavorless to the taste. The "roasted vegetables" consisted of cold slabs of eggplant, carrots and some other stuff just packed between the bread; it wasn't spiced, seasoned or heated and had basically no flavor.

While you can't get loose-leaf tea here, you can go just a block down the road to Serendipity Chocolates for that, as well as some vegan truffles and popsicles.

Zest offers some delicious baked goods, but I just wish they had more vegan options and did a better job of labeling them (it's currently a mess). Why not some vegan cookies, or whoopie pies? Bakeries like Sweet Freedom (Philadelphia) and Babycakes (NYC and LA) do a spectacular job of making gluten-free vegan desserts which cater to everyone and taste delicious. I hope Zest can do the same.

Mandarin Dynasty in San Diego County, California
Aug 19 08

rating star

I think this was a slightly above-average Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. The service was extremely friendly (they give you a free can of pop) and the food was good, if not great. Their Kung Pao "Chicken" was respectable, though nothing to rave about.

I appreciate that they have a huge selection of vegetarian dishes (most of which are vegan), with a variety of mockmeats.

Sipz Cafe in San Diego County, California
Jan 5 08

rating star

Sipz has a large menu featuring hearty, simple Asian dishes (and some non-Asian dishes). All their entrees are under $8 and they come in portion sizes that are perfect for a single meal (though not big enough for me to have leftovers!). The food was tasty, but not superb by any means; sometimes it seemed a bit too greasy or sweet, but on a whole it was good. The service was a bit slow, especially when trying to get the check.

Stephanie's Bakery in San Diego County, California
Dec 11 08

rating star

This is a cute little place within walking distance of the beach. Extremely friendly service with a wide array of items, including multiple delicious fruit pastries, muffins and drinks (from coffee to Mexican hot chocolate to chai latte). I wasn't completely impressed with the chai I got, but the baked goods were great. The prices are reasonable and the location is great. Only wish they had some outdoor seating!

Burma SuperStar in San Francisco, California
Jul 21 11

rating star

Everyone raves about this restaurant, but I don't think it deserves all the praise it gets. I think it's become popular because: it fills an under-served ethnic niche (where else can you get Burmese food?); is sort of hole-in-the-wall but not entirely (so it feels authentic to foodies, but not so authentic as to scare off unadventurous suburbanites and people afraid of spicy food---you know the type); and it has at least one grand-slam dish in the Tea Leaf Salad.

We started off with a Tea Leaf Salad ($10). We made it vegan by omitting the shrimp. To be fair, this dish is excellent: it's a wonderful mix of crispy, soft, savory and subtle with a mixture of split peas, shallots, lettuce and the delicious, unusual nature of tea leaves. At $10 it's an expensive appetizer (but all the other appetizers are roughly the same price), but definitely worth getting.

We then had a "poodi" ($10) and a tofu vegetable kebat ($11) for our main dishes. Thankfully, Burma Superstar offers brown rice to go with the dishes (albeit at an extra cost).

The poodi is basically potatoes in an Indian-style garam masala/turmeric/onions/garlic/ginger sauce. It comes with four pieces of fried wheat bread (akin to Indian "puri"). This dish was eminently passable and bland. The bread was too hard and the curry itself lacked any depth; it felt watery, really. A coconut milk base might have given this dish more heft and interest.

The tofu kebat was also pretty bland. It was a simply curry/stew with tomatoes and soft tofu (not fried and only barely stir-fried) and some other vegetables. Easily forgettable.

This place is always packed, seemingly no matter the time of day; we came at nearly 3 p.m. on a Saturday and it was still bustling. Groups larger than two can expect long waits.

The service was friendly and prompt.

In the future I'll try B Star, the sister restaurant a block away, which seems to have some more unusual-sounding dishes. On a whole, Burma Superstar underwhelmed me, with the exception of the Tea Leaf Salad, which is legitimately awesome.

Cha-ya in San Francisco, California
Jun 26 11

rating star

I really don't get the appeal of Cha-ya (and I've been to the Berkeley location as well). Sure, it's a vegan Japanese place, and vegan Japanese food is hard to find. On the other hand, the food here is pretty bland and basic (it seemed like half the menu consisted of either simple sushi rolls or batter-fried vegetables)---this is probably a function of the fact that it's shojin-ryori Buddhist cuisine, which seems almost akin to macrobiotic food in my opinion.

There are no curries (and Japan does have curries, you just rarely see them), no spicy dishes; everything is either batter-fried, or broth-y type dishes. Seasonings are not allowed, it seems.

My friend and I shared an order of potstickers ($7) which were okay, but oily. We also had their spring rolls which were, go figure, batter-fried and had no inherent flavor on their own. We were given a sweet dipping sauce on the side, but I didn't like the flavor of it, and switched to the potsticker soy-based dipping sauce they gave instead.

In short, nothing here will "hit the spot"---all the vegetables are either raw, fried or steamed and seemingly never seasoned. They're also cash-only.

Golden Era in San Francisco, California
Jul 15 08

rating star

The service was friendly here, though the interior is a bit dreary and dark. I found the taste of my dish, the Ro Ti Chicken, to be nothing special---it seemed like your average vegan Chinese dish in a thick soy gravy---but the quality of the ingredients seemed a bit higher (the fake chicken was huge and had good texture). Next time I'll try some different dishes to get a better sense of their range of flavors.

Gracias Madre in San Francisco, California
Oct 1 11

rating star

After visiting Gracias Madre four different times, I must say that I am disappointed with the place. I had high hopes: a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant! Unfortunately, most of the food here is mushy, drab and bland. They insist on baking every damn dish and using a heavy cashew cream in practically everything they serve, which adds little to no flavor and makes every dish seem to be the same indistinguishable mash of cream and overbaked vegetables.

There's none of the color, freshness, simplicity, lightness, zing and pop that you'd expect to find in Mexican food. If you're looking for good vegan Mexican food, I recommend Flacos in Berkeley instead.

But I'll start off with what's done well at Gracias Madre here, though:

-the sweet potato quesadilla appetizer ($8), is made with sweet potato and caramelized onions and covered in a spicy cashew cream sauce. My Mexican, non-vegan friend and I both loved this dish---it was definitely spicy, but not overly so, in my opinion. It had a wonderful array of textures, from the firmness of the tortilla to the heft of the sweet potato and the creaminess of the sauce.

-the chocolate cake with cinnamon sauce and toasted coconut ice cream ($8). Holy crap this was a great dessert. The cake was perfectly moist and soft and the cinnamon sauce added some seriously good taste. When combined with the smooth and creamy coconut ice cream, it was a masterpiece.

Now the not so good:

-for my main course I had a nopales (cactus leaves) dish ($14). When you cook cactus leaves, they tend to get a little bit sour, as this dish showed. When you mixed the nopales with the black beans, brown rice and tortilla on the plate, the dish came together, but not perfectly so. I wasn't as impressed with the nopales as I was with the quesadilla.

-my friend had the enchilada with mole sauce ($13) which he thought was okay, but also not great. Based on the few bites I had of his dish, the flavors just didn't pop, though I thought the mole sauce was well-executed.

-the pozole is lame ($7). This stew initially was served to us lukewarm, but they graciously took it back and remade it for us, hot and fresh. But the tastes didn't feel quite right, and neither of us liked this dish.

-the verenjena con queso fundido ($8). Yet another heavy, baked dish with a mishmash of seasoning, excessive use of the cashew cream, with all the vegetables (eggplant, tomato, poblano chiles) turned into a mush with no color or textural appeal.

The restaurant itself is a spacious (but crowded) and the service and ambiance are good.

In short, I think Gracias Madre needs to cut back, simplify its menu, and focus on keeping its vegetables crisp (how about sauteing instead of baking?) and and bright. I think that would go a long way toward solving the food issues here.

I cannot, however, recommend Gracias Madre, other than for dessert and drinks. Go to Flacos instead.

Herbivore in San Francisco, California
Jul 15 08

rating star

I really liked Herbivore. The service was super-attentive and efficient. The ambience is nice. My "chicken" sandwich was delicious and filling, with unusual flavors of garlic-lemon sauce. I also loved the vegetable-protein taco appetizers. I hadn't had quality vegan Mexican food in a long time, so that was a treat. Finally, they had Maggie Mudd ice cream, which was a great dessert. On a whole, the food and service were great and the prices were reasonable, too.

Herbivore in San Francisco, California
Oct 1 11

rating star

Update 2011: I hadn't been to Herbivore in a few years but I find that not much has changed. The food here is competent, at best, and in some cases it really falls flat.

I liked my seitan breakfast sausage (~$6) with pastry (which was kind of like a breakfast sandwich), but the crispy tacos (~$7) fell flat because of stale shells. That's a serious quality control issue, Herbivore!

Similarly, the falafel wrap was way too dry and the falafel pieces themselves overly crumbly.

I wouldn't go out of my way for Herbivore but I'm glad it's around. That said, they have lots of room for improvement.

Original review, 2008: I had already tried the other Herbivore on Valencia, so I came to this one to see if there were any differences. The Divisadero location is nicer and trendier, and the interior space is slightly more upscale as well. However, the service wasn't nearly as good as at Valencia. At first our waitress was attentive, but gradually seemed to lose interest, prolonging our presence for longer than we thought.

Also, the food didn't seem as good as at the Valencia location. My zataar appetizer was overly-seasoned and the bread was too chewy and hard. My gnocchi was sparse (there were maybe a dozen pieces of gnocchi, floating in a sea of tomato sauce) and not filling and definitely overpriced at $13. However, my partner's "chicken" sandwich was good, just as good as at the Valencia location. Judging from these two visits, I would have to recommend the Valencia location over this one.

Hodo Soy in San Francisco, California
Jun 26 11

rating star

Hodo Soy makes some quality products, from their basic tofu, soy milk and yuba (tofu skins) to flavored versions of all of those. The Hodo Soy stand in the Ferry Building also has chocolate pudding (flavored with chocolate from a nearby chocolate maker) and some cold curry wraps and sandwiches.

I got the pudding ($4) which was really tasty, but felt expensive considering the small portion.

They also give you free samples of anything, so don't be shy about asking to try something out before you buy. Their spicy yuba dish is great, for example.

Hodo also sets up at the Berkeley Farmer's Market and the Palo Alto Farmer's Market. At the Ferry Building, they have a small stand inside, as well as outside.

House of Nanking in San Francisco, California
Oct 1 11

rating star

I took my parents here for a vegan meal as we'd heard the chef does special vegan dishes. In fact, the chef/owner came out and took our order personally; I felt like were were in capable hands even though he refused to tell us what he actually planned on making for us. "Leave it to me. Trust me," he said.

We started off with a scallion pancake which was huge and delicious. I love scallion pancakes in general, and this one was practically a meal in itself, covered in a heavy, but tasty, tamarind-based sauce. The sauce especially impressed my picky Indian parents.

For the main course we got a curry tofu dish with a variety of vegetables. My parents were also impressed with this dish. I liked the flavor of the sauce, but the dish was so oily without reason that I couldn't quite fall in love it. Mapo tofu is oily by default, but this dish, on the other hand, was just a curry stir-fry and didn't call for it to be oozing oil.

They don't offer brown rice here, which was both disappointing and surprising.

House of Nanking does offer an unusual experience for vegans and vegetarians looking for a good, non-mockmeat meal in Chinatown. Combined with the friendly service and the "in-the-know" feel that it imparts upon you, House of Nanking is recommended.

Judahlicious in San Francisco, California
May 21 09

rating star

I had a huge vegan chocolate chip cookie here that was pretty decent. However, there weren't many vegan food items available when I went, other than some baked goods and smoothies.

Kasa Indian Eatery in San Francisco, California
Jun 23 11

rating star

Finding light, fresh, flavorful and authentic North Indian food at a restaurant is almost impossible, not only in the US, but even in India itself (my parents are from India, and I lived there for over a year as an adult, so I know the food quite well). In India, people expect restaurant food to be heavy and fatty (the healthier stuff you can get at home, so why buy it from a restaurant, or so goes the reasoning), and I think most Indian restaurant owners in the US have that same mentality.

The end result is that 99% of North Indian food in the US is dull, oily and woefully generic (find me a North Indian joint that doesn't have tikka/butter chicken or aloo gobi/mutter paneer and I'll buy you dinner at said establishment).

As such, I had high hopes for Kasa, which sounded like it was aiming for something different. It looks almost like a Chipotle and you stand in line and pick your dishes. To be fair, the food here was pretty good, but my criticisms stem from a lack of variety and some unusual decisions in how they make standard Indian foods (such as dal and roti).

You can get either a kati roll ($4.50 a piece for this flaky tortilla-esque bread, filled with your choice of curry) or a thali plate ($10.50, and comes with rice, two curries and some side salads). Unfortunately, the kati rolls are not vegan (the dough is made with butter); similarly, the roti is not vegan (which is amazing to me, as roti is almost always vegan, whereas naan is usually not).

As such, I opted for the thali plate. Of the five vegetarian curries, only two of them were vegan, which was disappointing. This was sign number one that Kasa is not aiming to offer the simple, light, flavorful Indian food that I dream of.

The only two vegan dishes were the aloo gobi (sigh, how predictable) and an aloo jeera (potatoes and cumin).

To make matters worse, Kasa doesn't offer brown rice. As I hate white rice, and they couldn't give me roti (which is traditionally vegan and made of wholewheat), Kasa did offer to give me more of a curry, so I got an extra heaping of the aloo gobi. That was nice of them.

The food wasn't bad at all. I'd like more variety (two potato dishes is a bit much), and it would be great to have vegan options of dishes that are usually vegan anyway (such as dal), but the food here was about as light and simple as I've found in the US.

If they had more vegan options for curries, and offered vegan breads (they said they can make vegan bread with advance notice, but it takes them about 40 minutes or more to make the stuff), as well as homemade chai with almond or coconut milk, Kasa would get another star. For the price, too, it's not a bad deal, as you get a pretty filling meal. Kasa has much room for improvement, but if you're looking for decent Indian food in the Mission, this is your spot.

Lettus Cafe Organic in San Francisco, California
Jul 15 08

rating star

This is a trendy, modern diner/cafe with a very vegan-friendly menu and also wine and beer. Almost all of their food is organic and fresh, with an emphasis on local ingredients, too. My tempeh green curry was a bt bland, but the ingredients were of high quality. My partner's garden burger was delicious and filling, though, with a spicy chipotle sauce. They only had one vegan dessert, a raw cheesecake, which was creamy and wonderful.

The prices are a bit on the higher side, but the food is fresh and fairly tasty, the service is friendly, the place is clean and modern, and it's in a hip, vibrant area just off of Chestnut St.

Loving Hut in San Francisco, California
Aug 12 11

rating star

This Loving Hut is in a shopping mall food court and, as such, has a different model than other Loving Huts. At this one, the food is already prepared and sitting out in a buffet line, behind glass (much like a Panda Express). You can pick two dishes and get a combo deal for about $8.

Most of the dishes are simple stir-frys and didn't seem to feature any mockmeats, which was surprising (though tofu is in abundance).

You can also get some sandwiches/burgers, and desserts.

I had a slice of the pumpkin cheesecake ($4 with tax) and was favorably impressed. It was smooth, subtle and had just the perfect amount of pumpkin flavor (too much can get overwhelming, in my opinion).

While I'm not impressed with Loving Huts in general, I'm glad that this one is around to mainstream the concept of vegan food. After all, a shopping mall food court is about as mainstream as it gets.

Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant in San Francisco, California
Jul 5 08

rating star

This is a quaint, small restaurant run by a few women. The service was consistently friendly and the menu is large with a number of mockmeat and vegan Chinese dishes. They even have unusual mockmeats like mock-goose.

I loved my diced chicken curry, which was light, fresh and filling. Their mock chicken looks like tofu, but the taste and texture is actually quite close to real chicken, which might be a plus or minus point depending on your point of view. I was not so impressed with the vegetable deluxe stir fry, which was a variety of different mushrooms (including unusual white fungus), with a couple of vegetables, in a watery soy sauce. It lacked zing. On a whole, though, I think their food was excellent. Prices are extremely low (under $7-8 for most dishes), but you have to pay $0.70 for each small cup of rice, so it adds up to much more. I was disappointed that they didn't have brown rice. Still, this is a nice joint to get a simple, fresh, tasty vegan Chinese meal.

Om Shan Tea in San Francisco, California
Aug 16 11

rating star

Om Shan Tea does a good job of replicating the feel of an old world tea salon with lots of dark wood, teak and wall decorations. This is not a place to bring your laptop. It's also quiet and serves an entirely vegan menu. For these reasons, it blows away Samovar.

On the other hand, Om Shan Tea suffers from the same affliction as Samovar in that it turns tea-drinking into an expensive touristy affair, and accordingly charges absurd prices for its products. San Francisco should be ashamed of itself for producing this type of money-driven tea culture (the tea shops in Chinatown are even worse).

Om Shan Tea has many problems, aside from pricing. To start, the tea selection is highly limited; there's only one black tea available, for example. I almost thought it was a joke. How can a tea shop only offer one type of black tea? Granted, they have a couple oolongs, and a number of green teas. In any case, they were also out of stock of the black tea when I asked for it.

Onto an oolong. A pot cost $6, but an extra cup costs $3. As such, this place is pretty damn expensive, just like Samovar. Granted, you do get multiple steeps out of each pot.

This is a shame. I've been to far better tea shops elsewhere in the US (Minneapolis, Chicago and New York come to mind), which offer better variety and ambiance, but charge more reasonable rates (say $3-5 per pot, and don't charge for extra cups). Tea is a shared experience and Om Shan Tea apparently wants to capitalize on that, much to the detriment of its customers' wallets.

We wanted some sweets to go with the tea, but all of Om Shan Tea's raw chocolate desserts were out of stock. Instead we ended up with a small plate of dates for $2.

Om Shan Tea has other food options as well, but they're of the "steamed vegetable and quinoa" variety, which not only sound horribly bland, but also don't go that well with tea. Why not offer savory vegan dumplings, Middle Eastern snacks such as hummus and pita, or a wider array of vegan desserts?

The service was friendly, but not particularly attentive.

There's also a sense of decay and grubbiness about the place. It definitely needs a good scrubbing, and the grated tables need to be cleaned as well (lord knows how much tea has spilled through those grates).

If you like tea, or if you are vegan, you shouldn't go out of your way to try Om Shan Tea. It has a lot of room for improvement.

Papalote in San Francisco, California
Sep 10 08

I tried to go here on a Friday night in July 2008. It was 9 p.m. when I got to the door, and still an hour to closing time, but they wouldn't let me in. They actually had a busboy keeping his hand on the door to not let anyone inside.

There were a few people inside and two or three waiting in line to order at the counter. Given that they were still one hour to close, I was pretty angry to be turned away with no explanation, especially as that neighborhood isn't so inviting at night. I ended up at Herbivore about a 15-minute walk down the road.

Make sure to call ahead to see that this place will let you in.

Pepples Donuts in San Francisco, California
Aug 12 11

rating star

Located near the East entrance of the Ferry Building, Pepples offers solid vegan, organic donuts with a bunch of unusual flavors (kaffir lime, maple candy, chili pepper, etc.).

I got a kaffir lime donut ($3) and was pleased with it: it's not too sweet and it has a lime-esque tang that worked well on a whole.

My only gripes: they only have cakey donuts and, while the donuts are good, they're not as good as the Little Monster Cake spelt and teff donuts in New Haven, Connecticut (go figure that New Haven makes the best vegan donuts in the country).

In fact, Pepples would do well to offer some non-white flour donuts, just to mix things up and get some more robust flavors in their portfolio.

Samovar Tea Room in San Francisco, California
Jun 23 11

rating star

While Samovar has nice decor and can be called either a coffee/tea shop or a casual cafe (you'll find people working on their laptops, as well as others who look like they're on dates), I was unimpressed on a whole.

My biggest problem is with the prices. Their cheaper single pots of tea cost $8. Seriously? $8 for a pot of tea? I've never been charged that much for gourmet tea, and I'm a long-time tea drinker and amateur expert. While the selection they have is good, it's just an unjustifiably high price to pay.

I like that they offer some vegan food items, though the prices on food are also quite high ($12 for a sandwich, $20+ for more complicated dishes).

Given that this isn't an exclusively upscale joint, their prices are simply misaligned. If they rebranded as a posh teashop rather than trying to pretend to be a laptop-user hangout, maybe I could give them another star.

Shangri-La in San Francisco, California
Jul 15 08

rating star

I found the service here to be super-friendly and attentive. They give you free, subtle, tasty herbal tea which I got addicted to. The menu features unusual dishes (vegetarian kidney anyone?), which I have to try later. For this first visit, I tried their black bean "chicken." It was a decent, straight-forward stir fry with plenty of vegetables. However, what they gave me was actually mock duck from a can, which was okay, but hardly spectacular, given the array of mockmeats you can find in San Francisco. On a whole, there wasn't any special here, but it seemed pleasant and comforting and I look forward to trying their more unusual fare next time.

Sunny Vibrations in San Francisco, California
Jul 21 11

rating star

I love vegan food and vegan food trucks, but Sunny Vibrations didn't quite cut it for me.

While the service is friendly, it's really slow: I waited at least 15 minutes for my half-order quesadilla ($4). That said, they did give me a free sample of fresh carrot juice.

The quesadilla was barely edible. It was some vegetables stuffed inside a tortilla, along with vegan cheese. There were a few problems with this dish: at least one of the vegetables was super bitter and unpleasant which really killed the dish. The vegan cheese wasn't good, either (I'm not sure which brand it was, but it definitely wasn't the gold-standard Daiya).

The food offerings here, too, weren't that interesting. For instance, there was nothing with tofu or seitan or any heftier ingredients. I can get a vegetable sandwich or a quesadilla with bell peppers anywhere---why would I ever want to get them from a slow food truck if they won't be high-grade?

If you're in Dolores Park and extremely hungry, Sunny Vibrations is convenient. But I wouldn't go out of my way to come back here.

The Usual Suspects Cafe in San Francisco, California
Jul 10 08

I can't rate this place as I didn't eat here, but I can tell you what I learned about it and what I saw when I visited. It has undergone numerous changes since its recent opening. I've heard of issues relating to the ex-chef and the staff. Also, I'm not sure what the place is---it seems to be a 1950s diner, a lounge, a comedy club, a drama theater, and something else, all combined.

In any case, when I went there, the place looked almost abandoned, was cluttered, and had only two people working. It smelled of wet wood.

The menu has become "Russian vegan home-cooked" food, and it was hand-written on a sheet of lined notebook paper. Needless to say, it didn't sounded appealing. I would recommend letting this place settle down and figure itself out.

Vegan Plaza in San Francisco, California
Aug 12 11

rating star

Vegan Plaza is not, in fact, vegan; rather, it is mostly vegan but does offer real dairy cheese as well.

Be warned: this is not a restaurant. It's an incredibly tiny spot where you can get take-out; other than that, there's barely enough space for one person to eat at the tiny counter. Though it serves pizza by the slice, the slices aren't sitting there ready to buy; everything is made fresh to-order, which is good or bad, depending on whether or not you're in a rush.

Slices cost a whopping $5 a piece (for three toppings) and $4 for cheese-only. As such, this is place is not a great value.

I opted for a 10-inch pizza that was half mixed vegetables, and half vegan chicken, garlic and onions ($14). It took exactly 15 minutes to prepare.

The pizza was really tasty. The sauce was excellent and the crust was just spectacular: whole wheat, slightly soft, slightly crisp and totally delicious. I could have eaten this crust straight-up; it was that good.

In fact, I would recommend getting a pizza here without the normal Daiya vegan cheese they use. Just get a pie topped with sauce and vegetables.

So, while the pizza was good, it was also really small and was not a good bargain at $14. The lack of ambiance and space also dings it, in my book. If you happen to be on Market Street and want a quick bite, Vegan Plaza is a good option, but otherwise it's not a place worth going out of your way for.

Bliss Cafe in San Luis Obispo, California
Dec 9 12

rating star

This is a hippie-style cafe with lots of juices and smoothies and simple, fairly healthy main course options. You order at the counter and then pick a seat in the airy, open, loft-like space that the restaurant occupies (it's pretty much the main walkway of a small, indoor mall downtown).

I was going to get the curry of the day, but they amazingly don't have brown rice (which is weird for a health/yoga cafe), so instead I got the "Bhima Burger" ($10) which consisted of a homemade split pea patty in between a hamburger bun. I was not impressed with the burger; it was really bland and mushy, and the tomato and lettuce that came with it were both limp and depressing. The bun, too, was white flour (no whole wheat?) which didn't help matters. I had avocado added for $1 extra, and that really just meant three small strips of slightly brown avocado, which didn't add much by way of flavor.

The side salad that came with the burger wasn't bad, interestingly enough.

The portion size of the burger was good, but who cares if the food is bland and the ingredients are sub-par?

I'm giving Bliss three stars because the service was friendly and because San Luis Obispo otherwise doesn't have much by way of hearty vegan options.

Linnea's Cafe in San Luis Obispo, California
Dec 9 12

rating star

Linnea's is a quaint little coffee shop with an ample array of vegan baked goods, from muffins and cookies to cupcakes, brownies and cakes. It seemed like half of what they have is vegan and many of those are also gluten-free.

I had a gluten-free chocolate chip vegan cookie ($2) which was great: soft, moist and delicious. I also got a chocolate banana brownie ($3) which was also really tasty, if decadent.

They also have a large selection of loose-leaf tea flavors, which I really liked.

While there appears to be ample seating in the back, I came on a day with live poetry readings; so all those seats in the back were taken. Up front there's only a few spots to sit and it's pretty cramped, so keep that in mind if you plan on coming for a while.

The service was really friendly and welcoming. I'll be back!

Asian Rose/Malabar Cafe in Santa Cruz, California
Sep 7 11

rating star

Malabar makes the best vegan or vegetarian food in the Bay Area and was the highlight of my summer.

People assume the best vegetarian food in the Bay Area must be at a place like Millennium in San Francisco, Encuentro in Oakland, or Gather in Berkeley. That assumption is wrong. Malabar beats them all in terms of creativity, taste and sheer value (of course, one could debate whether Santa Cruz is still part of the "Bay Area" but I choose to include it).

The restaurant itself is simple and elegantly decorated. It's low-lit, romantic and zen. The service is friendly and prompt.

We started off with an eggplant dosa appetizer, as well as a vegetable roti (both ~$7 each). The vegetable roti was simple and tasty, but not overly memorable. The eggplant dosa, however, was spectacular: a sublime mixing of a perfect dosa crepe with silky eggplant and a variety of fresh chutneys (peanut, coconut and one other). This was truly one of the best and most unusual dosas I have ever eaten, and I have eaten hundreds of dosas around the world. Leave it to a Sri Lankan vegetarian restaurant to take things a notch above.

For our main courses we had an okra curry (~$12) and a khoti roti (~$12). Both are authentically Sri Lankan dishes. The okra curry was just great---a savory dish of fresh, whole okras in a coconut curry made with turmeric and other spices. It's a simple dish but a great one. The khoti roti is a Sri Lankan street food (basically thin pieces of wheat bread chopped and baked in a curry base with vegetables and spices) and, while this dish came out well on a whole, I've had a better version elsewhere. That said, it was still respectable and worth ordering, especially as only a handful of restaurants nationwide actually make it.

We also shared a mint lemongrass soda (~$4) which was refreshing, crisp and house-made. I really love how Malabar cuts no corners and does everything from scratch.

When we asked about dessert we were told that they'd run out for the day. But the owner of the restaurant later came to our table with a complimentary apple-raisin "tart" that he just whipped up on the spot. He graciously and generously gave it to a bunch of tables. The tart was excellent: flaky, sweet but not too sweet, and full of different textures.

We also got a home-made chocolate soy chai (~$4) which didn't blow me away, but had some appeal.

I quickly grew tired of the vegan options in the Bay Area as most of them are just Asian mockmeat joints, and the others (Millennium, Herbivore, Gracias Madre, etc.) try too hard and fall flat in terms of taste and quality.

With Malabar around, I can't totally write-off the Bay Area. Indeed, Malabar made my summer and I can't wait to return.

Bloodroot Vegetarian Restaurant and Feminist Bookstore in Bridgeport Area, Connecticut
Jan 28 11

rating star

This is a quaint, ramshackle feminist vegetarian cafe bookstore. So, it has a lot going on all at once. The main room is pretty dark and filled with old wood mismatched tables and chairs, some of which are wobbly and ill-suited for eating a meal.

Bloodroot is in a weird location, right on a residential street dead end. When you're following the directions here, don't be worried if you seem to be in the middle of a bunch of houses, and not in a commercial corridor.

I found it weird that a feminist store would sell dairy products, given that dairy is the ultimate exploitation of female animals. But this place is from the 1970s, when eco-feminist thought was not as developed. Still, Bloodroot would do well to get with the times and go fully vegan as that's more in line with modern feminism.

I had the tofu scramble ($8), a side of homemade vegan sausage ($4), a cup of tea ($2) and a slice of caramel coconut cake ($5).

The tofu scramble was okay, but not great. It need more spice (maybe some green chilis?) and a little more moisture (consider adding more onions, or some roasted red peppers). The sausage was also okay, but not great; I prefer chewier, more moist seitan, whereas this stuff was dry and crumbly. It mixed well with the tofu scramble, though. I think if they'd marinated the sausage in some kind of mushroom gravy it would have been stellar.

The tea was a pretty lame bagged brand. I was expecting loose-leaf, especially given the look and feel of Bloodroot, and the steep price ($2) for a cup. Also, you have to boil your own water (in an electric kettle); this was not only strange, but also dangerous, as their kettle is on a hutch where they keep the sugar/spoons/napkins, as well as a long surge protector. That must be violating some kind of safety code.

Lastly I had a slice of coconut caramel cake to go. This cake was awesome---light, airy, subtly sweet and perfectly moist; my roommate also loved it and he's not vegan.

All in all, Bloodroot is an unusual place. The food isn't awesome, but it's definitely edible. It's pricey considering the small portion sizes. Also, they could stand to up their quality in some areas, such as the tea. That said, I'll probably return to try some of their lunch offerings.

Health In A Hurry in Bridgeport Area, Connecticut
Jan 22 12

rating star

This is a tiny take-out or pick-up shop offering simple vegetarian and vegan dishes (soups, salads, healthy desserts). The service is really friendly and I like that you can sample many of their offerings (especially the soups), but none of the food really stood out to me. I didn't like the flavors of any of the soups offered for the day and the main dishes, which sit in plastic cases in a cooler, didn't look appealing.

I ended up getting a pretty tasty chocolate rice krispie thing as a snack.

While I like the concept of Health in a Hurry, I think this place would work better if it were a small cafe and served hot prepared foods.

Port Coffeehouse in Bridgeport Area, Connecticut
Jan 28 11

rating star

This is your standard coffee shop. The service is friendly and they go the extra step of offering rice milk, in addition to soy milk.

They also have a respectable chai offering (though no agave nectar as a sweetener).

Unfortunately they don't seem to carry any vegan baked goods.

Shandal's Vegetarian Cafe in Bridgeport Area, Connecticut
May 2 11

rating star

Shandal's is a small, run-down Jamaican vegan joint serving a variety of fresh, flavorful dishes. I came and got a 6-dish sampler for $8: some of the dishes I ordered included a mock-chicken stir-fry with bell peppers, mock beef barbecue, pasta with seitan, fava bean curry, a tofu minestrone-stew and a simple mixed vegetable stew.

Make sure to specify you want to eat-in (there are a few small tables), as I didn't mention this and ended up having everything packed into a styrofoam container.

All of the food is hearty and flavorful, especially the mockmeat dishes. I really liked the fava bean curry, too, as it was not only tasty, but something you almost never see on menus at other Jamaican vegan joints. The barbecue seitan had great zing to it, as well.

While there are a good number of interesting dishes to choose from, at least five or six of them are remarkably bland and simple: one dish is just white rice with peas and carrots, another dish is just frozen peas, carrots and green beans with cabbage, another dish is just pieces of corn, and another dish is just stewed brussel sprouts.

While those vegetable dishes add some balance, they're also so plain and simple as to not merit anyone's attention. It might be better to cook them with spices to make them more attractive and interesting.

Shandal's is a great value and you get some simple, flavorful dishes. I recommend it.

Back Stage Pizza Cafe in Hartford Area, Connecticut
Dec 25 11

rating star

This is a small, quaint pizza joint which offers Daiya vegan cheese. I got a small pizza which I found to have a nice, flaky crust and fresh vegetables.

They sparingly used the Daiya, which I think was a smart move, given that it would over overwhelmed the delicacy of the crust.

The service was friendly and prompt. I wouldn't come here with a group larger than 4, though they probably could put some tables together. There's also outdoor seating and live music.

Note that the restaurant is in the back of another building, and not on the main street, so you have to walk down an alley to get there.

China Pan in Hartford Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

China Pan’s takeout menu proclaims, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” However, I can say emphatically that it DOES get better at places other than China Pan.

I’ll give some kudos first: China Pan is one of few Chinese restaurants in the whole of Connecticut that serves mockmeats (and a large variety, at that---think “vegan lobster”). Its menu features three full pages of predominantly vegan dishes (a couple have egg). Also, the service is friendly, knowledgeable about veganism, and the ambience inside is that of a cozy, familiar stripmall joint where you go for reliable take-out or for a lazy dinner with friends. They serve brown rice at no extra cost. They also serve alcohol and have a sushi bar with half a dozen vegetarian options.

Now onto the not so great. First, none of the lunch specials offer mockmeats; they’re reserved for much higher-priced full dish entrees only. Most of the mockmeat dishes range in price from $11-17 which is steep for what they’re offering.

Second, the dishes aren’t particularly creative. I was hoping for something to catch my eye, but most of the entrees and appetizers here are run of the mill (stir-frys with mixed vegetables and fried egg rolls). The one dish that caught my eye, a braised “chicken” offering, is no longer available.

I opted for an order of egg rolls ($1.95) and a “vegan chicken with basil” ($12). The order took a long time to arrive which was strange given the lack of customers (I went around 2:30 p.m.). The egg rolls were pedestrian, overly breaded, and not filled with anything interesting.

The vegan chicken dish was a major disappointment. Basically it was the chicken, straw mushrooms, some bell peppers, lots of celery, and some basil in a thick, black, overly-salty and gooey soy-based sauce. The overpowering saltiness and greasy texture of the sauce subsumed the delicate flavor the basil and all but ruined what could have been a good dish. The “chicken” wasn’t great either. It was too chewy rather than firm. This is what mockmeats were like ten years ago. All in all, this dish did not inspire confidence in the chef.

I’d be willing to give China Pan another chance, if only because it offers so many different options, and maybe I just picked the wrong dish. Then again, no stir-fry should be so middling and unsophisticated. At the very least, it should emphasize the colors and flavors of the vegetables and seasonings, rather than drowning them out in a massive glop of awful sauce. China Pan, you’ve got lots of room to improve.

Divine Treasures Organic Belgium Chocolates in Hartford Area, Connecticut
Dec 20 11

rating star

Wow, this place is pretty awesome. It's a beautiful little chocolate shop serving a majority of the most creative, elegant and tasty chocolates I've ever seen. And most of them are vegan as well.

They also have homemade vegan softserve, which is not only incredible-tasting, but also incredibly rare to find.

I got a wide variety of filled and unfilled chocolates, made with fruit, nuts, tea infusions and more. Anything you get will be delicious, but ask the friendly owner for suggestions.

The vegan softserve was also amazing. The flavor of the day I went was dark chocolate and it was rich, creamy and smooth. It was also much better than any other vegan softserve I've had (easily beats the Chicago Soydairy softserve you can get at Lula's Sweet Apothecary in NYC).

My only gripes with the place: there's basically no seating (save for two or three small chairs in the corners) so you can't sit there and enjoy your chocolate delights. There's also no tea, as this place isn't a cafe. All of which leads me to suggest: this place should expand its seating (if at all possible) and serve tea with chocolates. It would be a massive improvement on Starbucks.

Fire-N-Spice in Hartford Area, Connecticut
Jan 15 12

rating star

This is a vegan Ital/Caribbean joint. Like many other of this type, they have pre-made dishes sitting in a hotbar and you can mix and match them in a combo meal for some set price. Expect to find a random assortment of simple foods, like tofu scramble, mac and cheese, curry whatnot, etc. They also have some menu items you can order (burgers, for example), but I will assume that these dishes take forever to be made, so don't bother.

I got the 5-choice meal (~$10) and picked some brown rice with beans, curry chickpeas, bbq tofu, tofu scramble and curried potatoes. I also got some samosas on the side ~$1.50 each).

The food was all competent, but nothing spectacular. It tasted fresh enough, though, and wasn't that expensive considering the respectable portion sizes. My date also tried the collard greens (which tasted great: crispy and seasoned well) and a fresh-made cucumber juice, which was refreshing.

The samosas were great: flaky and crisp and nicely seasoned on the inside.

The service, while friendly, is extremely slow. You wouldn't guess this, given that all that needs to be done is scooping food onto a plate, but somehow things take a while here.....we waited to get plates, to get forks, to pay the bill, etc.

The interior of the restaurant is not date-material. It looks kind of like a church basement with industrial grade carpet and tables that need to be cleaned. The countertops smell strongly of Lysol.

For some reason, they kept all the dining area lights off, so we ate in the dark, with only residual light from the counter to guide us. It's also drafty inside with major air leaks (during winter, it's cold in there).

If Fire-N-Spice had a more inviting dining area, faster service and a few more interesting dishes (how about something with seitan?) it would warrant another star.

India Kitchen in Hartford Area, Connecticut
Apr 14 12

rating star

India Kitchen, located inside an ex-Denny's on a shady side road, in front of a decrepit motel, didn't impress me at first glance.

On the inside it's a standard pan-Indian restaurant except for one thing: they offer a dish, the kothu parata (listed under the "India Kitchen specialties" section of the menu), which is rare and hard to find in the US. It's actually a Tamil Sri Lankan street food that has become fairly popular in India as well. It basically consists of diced roti or paratha (wheat bread) baked with spices, coconut milk and vegetables in a clay pot. At least, that's how it's normally made.

I came and got the kothu parata ($11) made vegan by omitting the eggs. The dish was tasty, filling and had just the right amount of spice. I think it could have been a bit more moist, maybe with the addition of more coconut milk, but it was still a well-prepared dish.

I also got the "ghar ki dhal" ($10) which was a basic yellow lentil "curry." The dish was competently prepared but didn't blow me away.

Unfortunately India Kitchen doesn't offer brown rice, but they at least have tandoori roti, which is whole wheat bread. This was made well.

The service was friendly and attentive. Portion sizes were large and the prices reasonable.

On a whole, India Kitchen stands out most for offering the kothu paratha and it'd be great to see them branch out and offer some more unusual dishes, preferably vegan ones, made with ingredients like tofu and broccoli, which are becoming more popular in India as well.

Anoho in Middletown Area, Connecticut
May 1 12

rating star

This is a mediocre pan-Asian joint with nothing that stands out in particular, other than maybe the friendly service and the large portions. While they do have ample vegan options, their mockmeat quality isn't great and the preparations aren't memorable.

I started off with the vegan boneless bbq ribs ($7.25). It consisted of chewy shards of a seitan-like product in a tangy sauce. I don't particularly like this brand of mockmeat; you see it frequently in low-grade Chinese restaurants in NYC, and also higher-grade pan-Asian joints like Wild Ginger, Zen Palate, Soy and Sake Village, and Gobo. In any case, I found the pieces to be excessively chewy and the sauce a bit too strong (it seemed like it was out of a plastic tube).

The pan-fried vegetable chive pockets ($4), however, were much tastier and made on-site (unlike the scallion pancake, which comes frozen from the distributor and is just reheated). I liked the soy-ginger dipping sauce and the freshness of the pockets.

For the main entrees I got a vegan chicken stir-fry made with the mango sauce ($11). The chicken they use was not good: it was way to soft and didn't have the firmness required to resemble meat. Tofu would have been better for this dish. The sauce was not tasty, either. I particularly disliked the large chunks of industrial-grade pink tomatoes dumped into the mix.

Next I had a chow fun noodle dish with vegan beef and the Singapore curry sauce (it's all mix and match; $9). This dish was far tastier with savory curry notes, green onions and a competent "beef" that seemed to be well-made seitan. I don't know why they don't use this product for the vegan ribs appetizer.

While Anoho does well to offer brown rice, they should go a step further and have a whole wheat or whole grain option for their noodle dishes; how about soba noodles or brown rice noodles?

The service was friendly and attentive and the ambiance is nice, with low lighting and comfortable chairs. This would be a good spot to take a date. Lastly, the portion sizes are large and you do feel like you get a good value for your money, even if the quality of the food is mixed.

On a whole, Anoho is not great or remarkable in any way. But for pan-Asian foods in Middletown, it does the trick.

It's Only Natural in Middletown Area, Connecticut
Apr 27 11

rating star

It's Only Natural is a quaint, friendly cafe in downtown Middletown. It attracts a crowd (even at lunch hours on a Wednesday it had a good number of tables occupied) and offers an all-vegan menu (though they do offer dairy cheese on some dishes if you want it).

My friend and I shared a few dishes. We skipped the appetizers as none of them seemed too interesting (think "nachos" and "hummus") and they were all pretty expensive (in the $9-10 range).

We had a cajun tempeh sandwich ($12) and a pierogi ($13) to start. I really liked the sandwich as it had some nice spices and felt fresh and filling. Both of us really loved the sweet potato fries that came with the dish as well. The pierogi dish was good, but not as good as the sandwich, in my opinion; for one thing, all you get is four pierogis, filled with tofu, along with a bed of spinach, an apple marinade, caramelized onions, brown rice, and some tofu sour cream. For $13 it felt like a small portion size and was just really basic.

For dessert we shared a slice of "teasecake" (vegan cheesecake; $7) and a slice of chocolate-hazelnut cake ($7). The chocolate cake was good, but not great. I wish it had been just slightly sweeter, and the hazelnut flavor had been more evident, but the texture was good. The cheesecake was excellent, however; it was smooth, creamy and had a wonderful interplay of vanilla, cinnamon and a little hint of fruit (maybe pear? apple?).

It's Only Natural also offers a pretty good selection of unusual beers and wines. The service was friendly and prompt.

On a whole, I was impressed with some of the food here and I look forward to trying other dishes in the future.

Tibetan Kitchen in Middletown Area, Connecticut
Mar 2 12

rating star

This is a small, quaint Tibetan place with decent food, albeit slow service. I started off with an order of "dali," a lentil soup appetizer ($3) that was basically just Indian dal (lentils with spices). The dali tasted good but it was too watery for my likes; I wish they'd boiled it longer to thicken the soup into something heartier.

For my main course I had the "shogo ngopa" ($8.50) which was potatoes cooked with garlic and turmeric in a yellow curry-esque sauce. It was served with an order of flaky roti, akin to the roti you get in Malaysian "roti canai" dishes. I thought this dish tasted fine, but the portion size was small (you could get three times as much food at a Chinese take-out joint) and the dish didn't really "pop" in any way.

Most of the vegetarian dishes are vegan, but some of them are made with milk or cheese, so make sure to ask questions. The staff didn't seem to know the word "vegan" (surprising, given that it's Middletown and full of students), but they did understand "no milk, butter, cheese or eggs."

It could be that I ordered the wrong dishes, but nothing seemed particularly distinct from Indian or Nepalese food. While I know that India, Nepal and Tibet all share borders, and similar foods, I was expecting some surprises at Tibetan Kitchen, which never showed up.

Tibetan Kitchen sadly has no vegan desserts, nor do they have healthier whole wheat options or brown rice, which is also a shame.

In general, Tibetan Kitchen makes decent food that isn't too heavy or oily. The portion sizes aren't great, but the prices are fairly low, so it all balances out for the most part. If they had more vegan options and more distinctly Tibetan dishes I'd definitely recommend them; as it stands, this place offers a slightly different take on traditional South Asian dishes, but doesn't really distinguish itself from your average Indian or Nepalese restaurant.

Udupi Bhavan in Middletown Area, Connecticut
Mar 13 12

rating star

What a terrible restaurant, with horrible food, service and ambiance. Slot Udupi Bhavan into the category of cheap Indian restaurants that serves low-grade, oily, sloppily-prepared food on styrofoam and paper (there are many of this type of Indian restaurant, heavily clustered in the Bay Area, northern Chicago and Jackson Heights in NYC, among other places). I grew up eating Indian food, particularly South Indian food, and I can honestly say this was some of the worst I've ever had anywhere in the United States.

We started off with the samosas ($3.50). These were over-fried, with a rock-hard exterior and then steaming hot interior which was all cumin and basically nothing else. What a nightmare. Served on a paper plate.

We next had the masala dosa, the quintessential South Indian staple ($7). The dosa was at best mediocre; the dosa itself was not crispy enough, and the potato stuffing that came with it was woefully under-seasoned and bland. A couple of bay leaves could have added some flavor. It was of course served on a paper plate, but this this dish represented at least a decent quantity of food for the price, even if it didn't taste great.

Next we had the onion and hot chilli uthappam ($7.50). Uthappam is a type of pancake, and usually it should have a sour-ish taste tempered with herbs, chili and onion. In this case, all we got was bread, essentially, with no other flavor or spiciness at all. And, at $7.50, this was a pretty damn expensive and crappy pancake. My friend and I didn't even bother finishing the dish. Served on a paper plate, again.

Lastly we had the aloo gobi (potato-cauliflower) curry ($8.50). This was an oily, flavorless mess dumped into a small styrofoam bowl (even worse than paper). It tasted awful. There was no spice, no attempt at subtlety with the use of oil, and the dish consisted of basically two pieces of potato and one piece of cauliflower. What an epic tragedy of a dish. And it was a tiny portion for a high price, at that. The dish is served with a paper plate of white rice, which also sucks (I've never seen Indian restaurants offer brown rice, but it should be an option). You eat with plastic forks.

So, the food sucked. The utensils and flatware are wasteful and unsound ecologically-speaking. The service was also curt and unhelpful (you place your order at the counter and then have to keep walking up, piece by piece, to get your order once it's ready). There is no ambiance: you sit at cheap plastic tables and drink water out of tiny clear plastic cups. Bleak is one way to describe the ambiance. This is what prison must be like. And, like any other Indian restaurant of this price range, you also get many families with screaming babies, which is the final nail in the coffin.

Udupi Bhavan should be ashamed of itself for offering such disgusting, terrible food, and for being so completely environmentally negligent. This is an atrocious restaurant and I would suggest that you go to Thali Too in New Haven if you're looking for South Indian food; if you want North Indian, Zaroka in New Haven is a good bet. I've also heard decent things about Bombay Olive, IndiGo and Priya, all in the Hartford area. In any case, do not come to this restaurant.

Baingan Restaurant in New Haven Area, Connecticut
May 12 12

rating star

I didn't have high hopes for Baingan Restaurant as, at the end of the day, most Indian restaurants stick to a tight script and don't try to innovate with the cuisine. Baingan is no different from the rest in this regard.

I started out with the "baby corn pepper" Indo-Chinese appetizer ($8). This was an expensive appetizer in absolute terms, as well as in relative terms when you consider the small portion size. The dish consisted of pieces of baby corn stir-fried with tomato, onion and other spices. While the dish tasted fine, I think the sauce was too thick, akin to a pasta sauce more than a light seasoning. I would suggest Baingan to batter-fry the baby corn (like pakora) and toss them in a wok with diced onions, pepper and salt. That would be tastier and more crave-inducing. And lower the price.

Next I had the aloo gobi ($12) and a mattar mushroom ($12). Both dishes were too oily, though I appreciated that the kitchen didn't overcook the vegetables, which is what normally happens in North Indian restaurants---you get a mush of indistinguishable vegetables in a tomato-ginger-garlic sauce. That's the base for pretty much 80% of North Indian dishes.

Aside from being too oily, both dishes also seemed to be missing something---at least a spice or two. The food just didn't do it for me, but it wasn't inedible by any means. The sauces on both dishes tasted identical, which is also a bad sign.

I ate the dishes with an order of tandoori roti ($3) as I wanted something made of whole grains, and Baingan, like 99.9% of Indian restaurants, does not offer brown rice.

The service was friendly. No complaints in that department. The ambiance is nice in the back room (which feels like someone's recently renovated lodge), but a little bleak in the front part (vinyl booths and industrial carpeting).

Tips for improvement: add brown rice; add some unusual dishes (maybe something with tofu, seitan or tempeh?); add vegan desserts (ever heard of soy milk?); cut back on the oil.

Lastly, Baingan is located pretty far off the main drag in Shelton, which makes it hard to find. You're in the right place if you're on a two-lane road with a bunch of houses on either side.

Bangkok Garden Restaurant in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Jan 21 12

rating star

Another day, another mediocre Thai restaurant. When did Thai food become so watery and lame? I used to live in Thailand and I am devastated at what's happened to the cuisine in the US.

I got the Bangkok Basil with tofu ($6.95 for the lunch special). It was a heap of overcooked onions, bell peppers and some pieces of basil with exactly four pieces of tofu. And a little dollop of white rice (they don't have brown rice, which is to be expected, but annoying and depressing every time nevertheless).

First, the dish was just unmemorable and flat. It had no spicy heft, no fresh vegetables and just bored the hell out of me. Second, though I ordered the lunch portion, the waitress neglected to ask me about whether I wanted a soup or salad or egg roll, so I missed out on that part of the meal.

I would have complained but the service was terrible---slow, inattentive and curt.

They crammed me into the glass-walled front part of the restaurant which is way too bright during the day; the sun will burn your skin if you're sensitive to light. They need to put some shades on that part of the building.

All told, Bangkok Garden sucks and serves unremarkable, bland food and has terrible service to boot. Don't waste you time here. There is no good Thai food in New Haven, but Thai Pan-Asian around the corner on Chapel Street is the best of a mediocre lot.

Bentara in New Haven Area, Connecticut
May 21 12

rating star

Bentara is a swanky restaurant with food that's decent, but not great. They don't have a ton of vegan options, but there are a few.

We started off with the crispy spring rolls ($5.50) and the tofu sumbat ($7) as appetizers. The spring rolls were nothing you couldn't find at any Chinese strip-mall joint, and were bland on their own. The tofu sumbat, however, was unusual: four large chunks of baked tofu stuffed with carrots and bean sprouts and served with a savory peanut sauce. I really liked the sauce and the dish came together well on a whole; my only gripe is that the tofu could have been crispier on the outside.

For our main course we had the "Kelantanese Kerutuk" ($18), a stir-fry in a thick coconut gravy made with numerous spices. The gravy on this dish was excellent and multifaceted. The dish came loaded with cubes of fried tofu, pieces of eggplant and carrot, and exactly four baby potatoes (which put the dish over the top for me). While I thought this dish was tasty, the portion size was small considering the high price tag.

Bentara has no brown rice, which is a shame. Lastly, the service was friendly and prompt.

I'd come to Bentara for lunch, but I don't think it's worth it for dinner. Vegan options are limited but what they do have is pretty tasty.

Blue State Coffee in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 25 11

rating star

Blue State is a centrally-located coffee shop that is almost always packed. Don't expect to just show up and find a seat; people tend to camp out with laptops and both this location as well as the Wall Street branch.

The York Street location is better than the Wall Street one, if only because it has more consistent vegan offerings, from baked goods to prepared foods.

Indeed, I applaud Blue State for greatly expanding its vegan offerings of late. Now you can get some cold vegan wraps with seitan or tofu, as well as a curried lentil salad and a couple other things.

I had the vegan wholewheat cranberry pancakes ($3 for one) which was pretty tasty, even though it had been sitting in a fridge and then was popped into the microwave for ten seconds.

Similarly, their vegan pumpkin tea cake slice ($3) was big and well-flavored, though it could have been slightly more moist. Still, it was more than acceptable.

Blue State also has a decent selection of loose-leaf teas.

A few suggestions for improvement:

-get a hold of your supply chain. You advertise vegan cupcakes, but in the dozen times I've stopped by, they're never available.

-put time limits on tables, because otherwise people will set up shop there for hours and hours.

-clean up the tables more frequently as, in the rare event a table is actually available, it's covered in scraps, sticky substances and liquids.

-standardize the menus. The menu on the wall is not the same as the printed take-out menus, which also differs from the menu encased on a placard on the counter. To make matters even more confusing, none of that even matters, as whatever's in the cooler is what's available.

-how about offering some tofu scramble or vegan breakfast sandwiches with veggie sausage?

-drop the "vegan" labels, as I'm sure it scares people away from trying some of the dishes, even though they're inherently delicious

All that said, I'm glad Blue State is around.

Book Trader Cafe in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Jul 9 10

rating star

This is a nice book shop/cafe in downtown New Haven. They don't have too many vegan options, but they do have a home-made vegan burger and a home-made vegan baked good.

I had their veggie burger ($8) which was pretty good. I liked the toasted ciabatta bread and the substantial heft to the dish. Everything felt fresh and well thought-out.

Why not offer a soy-marinated tofu sandwich, though? Or a juicy seitan burger? I think Book Trader is off to a good start but could definitely stand to up its offerings on the vegan side of things. They clearly have some talent in the kitchen to make this happen.

Cafe Romeo in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 20 10

rating star

UPDATE: This is one of few, vegan-friendly coffee shops with outdoor seating in New Haven. It's a good place to get a cup of tea and lounge around; food-wise, it's not that great, but it does have a couple unusual offerings.

They usually have at least two or three vegan baked goods. While my vegan walnut chocolate chip cookie ($2.50) was decent (it could have been a little softer and chewier), I have had nice small cupcakes (~$2 a piece); that said, most of the baked goods seem a little dried out, a little too crispy, or a little too gooey (for example, their chocolate brownie bars). For sheer quantity of vegan baked goods, Cafe Romeo is on par with Claire's Corner Copia, but falls short of Edge of the Woods. Romeo also usually has one or two vegan sorbet and gelato offerings, which is cool.

Food-wise things are mixed at best. My tofu scramble ($3 + $3 for added vegetables) was horribly bland and basic. It consisted of uncooked tofu, doused in some olive oil, with some spinach, mushrooms and roasted red peppers added by my request (for an extra charge). It was so bland that I couldn't even bring myself to finish it.

Cafe Romeo, you can't make tofu scramble like this. Proper tofu scramble will use garlic, turmeric (for coloring), chili and maybe even some garam masala. Or you could do a tamari soy sauce scramble. Look up some recipes (there are hundreds, if not thousands, on the web). Otherwise, it'll look like you put absolutely no effort into making your vegan dishes.

The tempeh foccacia ($7) shows some signs of creativity, such as using green apple slices along with other sandwich vegetables, but the bread was too heavy, the tempeh needed to be marinated in some kind of sauce, and the sandwich just felt overly dry. In general, it needed more sauce; a pesto mix with tomatoes could have added sufficient moisture, or even a portabella in a soy marinade could have helped.

Lastly, Cafe Romeo is, as of this writing, the only place in New Haven that makes pizzas with vegan cheese. I got a large with three toppings (only $10 for November's special rate) and it was pretty decent. The crust was overly thick at the outer edges, and overly crisped, though. In general, you don't find the same quality control at Cafe Romeo as you would at Frank Pepe's or even Brick Oven. Romeo uses Follow Your Heart (I think) and they would definitely improve by upgrading to Daiya.

Cafe Romeo could stand to benefit if it added vegan breakfast sandwiches. Maybe some seasoned tofu, fakin bacon or veggie sausage on a toasted bagel? How about Daiya vegan cheese or some nut cheeses? This would make for a great, unusual product, and would also comprise an entire meal, for around $5 (if you're pricing things properly).

The service is consistently unfriendly and borderline curt. I don't know what's up with that.

As it stands, I'd come to Cafe Romeo just to chill and drink some tea, and maybe get a vegan baked good. I'd be reluctant to order their food again, however.

Claire's Corner Copia in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Oct 30 10

rating star

This is a very tired, old-school vegetarian restaurant that has a menu hopelessly stuck in the 1970s. For the most part, it's hummus-heavy and boring and the food is woefully undercooked, under-spiced and overly basic.

I first had their "Huevos Javier" ($8) made with tofu. It was basically just spinach, blocks of tofu, beans, tortilla chips and some Pace Picante salsa mixed in a dish. Nothing was cooked, there was no spices, and little flavor.

The next day, wanting to give them another shot, I had their tofu scramble ($8). This dish was similarly bland: tofu lightly sauteed in olive oil, with some veggies on the side. No spice, no garlic, no garam masala, no turmeric to add that yellow color, nothing.

In short, this is vegetarian food at its American infancy in the 1970s.

Since my initial visits I've gone back to try other items. Their top gigio sandwich, modified with some chipotle soy chicken, is not bad: it's hefty, with some flaky bread, and lots of garlic and fragrant eggplant. It's pricey at nearly $10, though. The veggie burgers aren't great; they're dry and bland. Similarly, their burritos are lamentable. Their R&B burrito consists of huge amounts of refried beans with soggy brown rice stuffed into a burrito. Nothing else. No vegetables, no vegan cheese, no interesting sauces (their salsa on the side tasted like Pace Picante sauce).

The vegan baked goods here are decent, but only when fresh. Often times they get dry when sitting out. Try their lemon-almond-coconut loaves (they also make one with chocolate chips).

The menu is huge, and takes a long while to interpret (which causes confusion and backups at the counter area), but nothing really stands out, especially not for vegans.

Claire's needs to add more mockmeats to the menu (veggie sausage, fakin bacon, etc.) and some cheese analogs (Daiya or nut cheeses) and offer things like breakfast sandwiches on bagels with these ingredients. It also needs to learn how to use spices (particularly garlic and ginger, garam masala, cumin, cloves, curry leaves, etc.) and to properly cook its dishes, rather than lightly sauteeing everything.

While I appreciate Claire's staying power (it's been around since 1975), and its central location in New Haven, the food here just doesn't cut it.

Coromandel Indian Bistro in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Oct 1 10

rating star

Coromandel is a decent Indian restaurant that offers a mix of North and South Indian dishes. It's not particularly vegan-friendly, though, and prices are on the higher side ($14 per entree at dinner).

We started out with an order of vegetable samosas ($5.50). They were pretty good: crispy on the outside, nicely seasoned on the inside. The presentation was also well-done.

Next we had a chole peshwari ($14), a chickpea dish. The dish is "dry" (meaning, no curry sauce) but was tasty and made perfectly spicy. If you're use to channa masala, this is a less oily alternative.

The subji bhaji ($14) was a proper curry filled with peas, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and zucchini. I liked the flavor on this dish quite a bit. It was hearty, savory and left you craving more of it, especially with the gentle bursts of garlic, ginger and onions throughout each bite.

In both cases, the portion sizes were good, though at $14 a dish, I'd expect at least that amount of food.

Lastly, we had an order of tandoori roti ($3) which was competent but not the best I've ever had.

As stated earlier, Coromandel has limited vegan options. The only confirmed vegan dishes are the chole peshwari, subji bhaji, and cholam vendakka varattiyathu (okra and corn in a dry curry). Other than that, pretty much every other vegetarian dish contains butter, cream, yogurt or milk.

Our waiter was very good about checking on ingredients for us and even came back to our table when he found out one dish we had initially ordered did, in fact, have butter pre-mixed into it. I appreciated this attention to detail.

The decor and ambience are nice and this would make a decent date spot.

If Coromandel offered more vegan dishes (perhaps something with tofu, seitan or tempeh?) I would come back more often.

Edge of the Woods in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Feb 21 10

rating star

This is a cool, good-sized natural foods store with a large and affordable variety of vegan packaged products, as well as bulk goods. Some of the prices I saw were unusually low ($0.99 per pound for brown rice, for example).

It also has an all-vegetarian hot bar (with dishes like seitan stir-fry, mac and cheese, etc.). The foods in the hot bar didn't look all that appealing, to tell you the truth, but I liked the variety.

They also offer a sandwich station that can make you things like tempeh reubens.

Lastly, they have a decent bakery with a fair number of vegan options, including cookies, cakes and cheesecakes. I got a piece of spelt zucchini bread and a chocolate chip oat cookie.

The cookie was much too oaty and dry. No salvaging that one, without upping the sugar content or reducing the oat quantity by 25%.

However, the spelt bread was excellent: moist, fluffy and delicious.

Edge of the Woods is a good 20+ minute walk from the Yale campus, but it's worth a visit.

Elaine's Healthy Choice in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Feb 22 10

rating star

This is a small, mostly take-out joint that is attached to what appears to have formerly been a Jiffy Lube. There's seating for about 6-8 people at most.

It was hard to choose just one thing from the menu so it was fortunate that I could get a mix-and-match platter for $13.80. You get to choose four items and I picked the veggie curried chicken, Elaine's veggie balls, stew beans with TVP and lastly the baked ziti. It was a plate full of food that was hearty and tasty, for the most part.

The curried chicken was great and would go well over brown rice (which, of course, is available if you want it). The stew beans with TVP was probably my favorite dish and reminded me of Brazilian feijoada, a meaty stew traditionally made with pork. The veggie ball was good and was basically a meatball in mushroom gravy, though it was quite small (you only get one); that said, it's hand-made and difficult to prepare. Lastly, the baked ziti wasn't that great. The pasta was overcooked and the sauce was a really basic and bland marinara.

The service was really friendly and Elaine herself is a pleasure to chat with. I'm glad Elaine's Healthy Choice is around to promote healthy vegan options on a street full of car washes and fried chicken shacks.

My main suggestions for improvement would be to increase the portion sizes (or reduce the prices) by about 10-15%, and to add some spice to each dish. I was given a weird spicy sauce on the side but it totally changed the flavor of the food; I would have preferred simple red pepper or chili oil. Otherwise, Elaine's is a good, quick, affordable vegan option in New Haven.

Formosa Asian Fusion in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 25 10

rating star

This is above average Chinese food and better than most other places in the New Haven area. Don't be mistaken, though: it's not great by any means.

We started off with some pan-fried vegetable dumplings ($6) which were well-made and nicely presented on the plate. Next we shared a "spicy bean curd szechuan style" ($10) from the Chinese menu (ask for this menu specifically). Ask for it without meat; it comes with meat by default, which isn't stated on the menu. It was basically just mapo tofu, and decently made, though it could have been spicier, with the addition of some black pepper and Szechuan peppercorns.

Next we had a "broccoli in formosa black bean sauce" ($10) which was exactly as the name suggests: broccoli in a soy-black bean sauce. Again, it was tasty, but nothing mind-blowing.

Kudos to Formosa for offering brown rice (though it costs an extra $1 per small bowl).

The service was friendly, though not particularly attentive or fast. The decor here is pretty nice, and this isn't a bad place to take a date, though the lights are kept way too bright.

Formosa also serves unusual sushi items and a bunch of random Japanese and pasta dishes. It's like they're trying to cater to anyone and everyone.

If you're sick of the subpar Chinese offerings in New Haven, Formosa might be worth the drive for you.

Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

This place is legendary and does offer a decent pizza for vegans. Pepe's base "tomato pie" is cheese-free by default, though they do sprinkle parmesan unless you tell them not to.

I stick with the base tomato pie and make it vegan without the parmesan. Adding toppings gets kind of pricey, but a medium pizza is large enough to feed three people prettily easily.

People rave about the crust at Pepe's and, while it's good (kind of chewy, kind of crispy), I guess my Chicago origins leave me preferring something a bit heftier.

What makes Pepe's great, for me, is the sauce: it's simple and just full of flavor. Beautiful bright red roma tomatoes, garlic, olive oil.....just wonderful.

My only gripes with Pepe's is the consistent waiting time. If you get there early (before 6 p.m.) or late (after 8:30 p.m.) you probably won't have to wait, or at least not wait that long.

One suggestion for improvement would be to add some specialty vegan options, such as Daiya cheese, as well as some mockmeat toppings. They're easy to source and would attract a much larger audience. That said, a simple, no-frills Pepe pie is still a great meal.

Fuel Coffee Shop in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Aug 14 10

rating star

Fuel's a nice coffee shop in the Wooster Square area of New Haven. Their food menu is limited and not particularly inspired for vegans, but they do have some excellent vegan cupcakes made by an outside vendor, Little Monster Cakes. My chocolate cupcake was moist and not overly sweet or buttery. They also now have vegan donuts which were spectacular. Best of all, they're made by Little Monster Cakes, which uses spelt flour for most of their products, adding a rich and different taste to things.

I had their tempeh BLT ($8) which was quite tasty and fresh, with excellent bread and nicely cooked tempeh. That said, it felt pricey considering the size of it.

I think Fuel should consider offering vegan breakfast sandwiches. It's easy enough to toast a bagel and then put some fried tofu, seitan, mock sausage or fakin' bacon on the thing, maybe with some Daiya vegan cheese, or some nut cheeses, if you want to be interesting.

It's also cash-only, which is always annoying, but oh well.

Fuel's a long walk from downtown New Haven, so be prepared for that. If it had a more convenient location I'd go more often.

Geronimo in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

Geronimo is a hip date spot serving unusual Tex-Mex style foods. I came because their menu offers dishes made with quinoa and other staples in vegan cooking; unfortunately, none of their vegetarian dishes are vegan or can be made vegan (with the exception of some lame salad). Our server was helpful and apologetic about this.

What gives, Geronimo? You have all the fixings for what could be great vegan offerings, but you instead go the unsophisticated route and douse everything in cheese or other dairy products.

There are some vegan sides, which weren’t inspiring, but it was better than nothing. We shared some cassava fries which were a nice change of pace from your ordinary French fry. That said, the dipping sauce they give isn’t vegan (contains egg) and the portion size is too much for two people (and it costs a whopping $7).

I wanted to try their tableside guacamole, but Geronimo cleverly makes this a gimmick product with high margins. It’s $15 (for an appetizer!) which is far too much for two people. Can’t you scale your prices, Geronimo? You’re losing customers who don’t come in groups of 4+.

The beer selection isn’t particularly inspired either---mainstream Mexican and American beers. No microbrews.

While the service and ambience at Geronimo are great, there just isn’t enough vegan food variety and beer options to justify coming to this place.

Giant View Cafe in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Dec 19 11

rating star

This is a quaint little cafe right near Sleeping Giant Park. I came because they have two different types of vegan cookies, both of which are home-made and inexpensive. They also have a vegan chili made with tvp.

The tollhouse-style chocolate chip walnut cookie was really tasty and a perfect replica of the real deal. The molasses-cranberry cookie, on the other hand, was interesting, but a little less tasty. It was too dry for my likes, and quite crumbly.

The cafe could improve if it offered loose-leaf tea instead of generic bagged varieties that you could find at any grocery store. I also think they should replace the stiff wooden chairs with more comfortable and cozy ones (and maybe put a cloth cushion on them).

But I'm still glad Giant View is around and offers great vegan cookies.

Green Well Organic Tea and Coffee in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Apr 18 12

rating star

Green Well is a quaint, cozy and quiet place that fills a niche for a quality, well-kept, uncrowded tea/coffee shop in New Haven. Its main competitors---Blue State, Koffee, Woodland, Willoughby's---aren't nearly as clean, friendly and comfortable. They also don't offer as high quality products.

I really like that Green Well offers high grade loose-leaf tea. My only gripe is that they rotate the available types by the day, so you have to pick from what's offered. From a behavioral economics perspective, this might actually work, as consumers don't feel overwhelmed by a range of options. From the perspective of a tea expert, having only three options can feel limiting.

I especially enjoy the baked goods here. Their vegan carbon cookies ($1.25) are wonderful---subtly sweet, doughy, moist marvels. Their scones and muffins are also tasty, but I'd prefer ones with more of an emphasis on fruits (blueberries, raspberries, etc.) or straight-up chocolate and vanilla. Carrot-ginger and whatnot aren't as appealing.

It would be great if Green Well also had more vegan options, such as a coconut creme cookie sandwich or something of that type. Cupcakes, even!

I'd also love to see vegan breakfast sandwiches. How about a marinated turmeric and garam masala tofu patty, some soy sausage, and a whole wheat bagel or English muffin? That would be superb and no one else in town offers it.

On a whole, this is a lovely space and a great place to get a cup of tea or coffee. It's not crowded, it's clean and well-lit and has really friendly staff.

Himalayan Restaurant in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Apr 10 11

rating star

Nepalese restaurants are sprouting up all over the country. This is great news for anyone looking for Indian-style flavors, albeit with less oil, and more of an emphasis on freshness.

That said, Himalayan Restaurant isn't anything special. Its menu is literally identical (down to the font) to menus I've seen in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and Seattle. Not only are the menu choices the same, but the cooking style is also identical.

As such, I'd like to see something new. Why can't these restaurants use different ingredients (say, some Chinese vegetables, or even just use broccoli instead of cauliflower, or use yams instead of potato, etc.)?

We started out with an order of vegetarian momos ($5) which were pretty good: nicely steamed wheat flour dumpling and lightly spiced vegetables on the inside.

For our main course we had a ram-toria-aloo (okra with potatoes) and an aloo dam. Both dishes cost $10. As with every other Nepalese restaurant I've been to, the problem with the dishes is that there's no difference between them; every single dish will have the exact same mix of spices, along with potatoes. The only differentiating factor will be the "extra" vegetable, be it cauliflower, asparagus, okra, eggplant or chickpeas. As such, you can order two dishes, but you won't find much variance between them.

(We wanted to order the tofu dish, but apparently tofu didn't sell well, so it's no longer available).

Both of our dishes were competent, but nothing to rave about.

Lastly, our tandoori roti was pretty good. Sadly, there's no option for brown rice.

The service here was friendly. Most of the vegetarian dishes are vegan, with the exception of the kofta and the paneer dishes.

The ambiance is kind of bleak: it's a vast, sparsely decorated space and was kind of chilly when we went.

All in all, if you're looking for a change of pace from generic North Indian food, I'd recommend Himalayan, especially for their momos and kothe dumplings. On a whole, though, Himalayan doesn't do anything differently from every other Nepalese restaurant I've been to, which is a shame, but not unexpected.

House of Chao in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Apr 26 12

rating star

I really love House of Chao and wish I'd discovered it earlier. It's a gem of a Chinese restaurant tucked away in Westville (it reminds me of the Chinese restaurant hilariously featured in A Christmas Story).

The food here, while Americanized, is prepared with a delicacy that you rarely ever find in most Chinese joints. You also will find a couple of unusual options (such as seitan and multiple preparation styles for tofu).

My favorite dishes are actually not even technically on the menu, but they'll make them if you ask: General Tso's bean cake and Kung Pao bean cake. The former consists of fried tofu cubes in a subtly sweet-spicy sauce with bell peppers and broccoli; the sauce is flavorful, but not sticky, gooey and sickly sweet as you normally find with General Tso's dishes. The Kung Pao consists of diced, sauteed tofu cubes with a fiery pepper sauce, along with diced water chestnuts and bell peppers. It is spicy, tasty and has a wide array of textures, which I love.

I'd also recommend the curry tofu, which is not listed on the take-out menu (but is on the in-house menu); this dish consists of slabs of thick tofu with carrots, broccoli, peapods and a couple other vegetables in a colorful, savory mix. You don't see Chinese curry dishes often, but when you do, they're awesome.

The seitan dishes (called "sergun" on the take-out menu and "sugun" on the in-house menu) are okay, but not great; I find that the seitan they use is a bit too chewy. However, they are willing to substitute this, or tofu, in a number of dishes.

Lastly, and thankfully, they have brown rice. I hate white rice.

The service is always friendly and prompt. The portion sizes are large and represent a great value; a single dish for $8 or $9 will last you at least three meals, if not more.

House of Chao is the only Chinese restaurant in New Haven that I consider worth eating at. I only wish it were downtown, instead of Westville, but I'm glad it's around regardless.

Hunan Cafe in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Oct 2 10

rating star

Hunan is a grimy, sticky Chinese joint that, despite its outward appearance, does have some value.

I am impressed by the Szechuan spicy tofu ($6.55 for a large portion) which, while not really spicy, is still flavorful. The portion size is good and for the price, it's a great deal.

The Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce ($6.55 for a large) is also excellent: roasted eggplant in a savory sauce made of garlic, perhaps some cooking wine, and soy sauce. It's fragrant and melts in your mouth.

Hunan doesn't overload its dishes with cornstarch so you never end up with gooey sauces that congeal and look gross.

The portion sizes are great: ordering two large dishes totals under $14 with tax, but lasts me three meals. In other words, eating here comes out to about $4.70 a meal.

They also have scallion pancakes, which is something you don't see often, but is delicious nonetheless (think deep fried dough with green onions and a soy dipping sauce on the side).

I also love that they offer brown rice as an option. You rarely see that at most Chinese restaurants.

I'd get delivery or take-out from here, but would avoid dining-in, given the grim interior. That said, I've always had friendly service there.

Indian & Asian Groceries / Chaat House in New Haven Area, Connecticut
May 20 12

rating star

This is a hole-in-the-wall Indian/Gujarati grocery store where you can get all of your staples (rice, spices, imported instant noodles from India), as well as some inexpensive vegetarian snack foods such as samosas, chaat and vada pav (pronounced "wuh-duh pow").

Almost all of the snack bar items here are vegan, except for the dahi puri, the pav bhaji and the lassis. To be on the safe side, you can ask about the use of butter or ghee, though most of the dishes here won't use them.

I wanted the vada pav ($3), which is a street food from central-western Indian and basically consists of a potato dumpling in a bread roll. Unfortunately they were out of these the day I came.

Instead I wanted to get a single samosa, but the staff there was confused and were unwilling to give me just one. I noticed that you could get a "samosa pav" (samosa with a bread roll) for $3, so I basically pulled a Five Easy Pieces and asked for a samosa pav, hold the pav.

The samosa was really tasty---it was crispy and well-seasoned with fresh peas and potatoes on the inside. I definitely think the samosas here were better than what you could get at pretty much any nearby Indian restaurant.

All told, I'll be back for some tasty Indian snacks. Be warned that the staff here isn't particularly friendly, and their English seems to be limited as well. The grocery portion of the store accepts credit cards, but the deli/snack bar is cash-only for some reason, so keep that in mind (that said, all of the items hover in the $3 range, so it's not going to require a ton of cash to eat here).

Kasbah Garden in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 18 10

rating star

I love the laid-back, lazy vibe at Kasbah. The outdoor patio is a great place to hang out with a hookah or a pot of mint tea. The night we went there a solo singer-songwriter and a belly dancer provided some live entertainment as well.

My roommate and I both had falafel sandwiches ($5.75 a piece). At first they told us they'd run out of falafel, but when we got up to leave, they offered to make us some falafel fresh on the spot. It took 20 minutes or so.

As such, we had the falafel at its peak. I liked the flavor on a whole, though I think the falafel pieces could have used some salt. The pieces had an interesting texture---kind of crispy, but with something closer to a french fry-style crunch, rather than the harder crunch you get at Mamoun's a block down the street.

The wholewheat pita was a nice touch. I hate white flour pita so kudos to Kasbah for not stooping to the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers in the falafel were terrible. They were those cafeteria-grade vegetables that have a sickly color and taste more like watery cardboard. The low-grade veggies made what could have been a great sandwich, a decent one instead.

We also had a pot of mint tea ($5.35) which seemed overpriced. That said, they'll refill your pot with water so you can get a second steep. Each pot gives about 5 small cups.

In conclusion I think the falafel here is competent but has room for improvement (namely, salt and better vegetables); at $5.75 it's nearly twice the price of Mamoun's or Aladdin Crowne, but you're getting some ambience with your food.

Note to my fellow vegans: none of the desserts here are vegan. For shame, but not unexpected.

Katalina's Kupcakes in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 6 11

rating star

Katalina's Kupcakes makes an excellent addition to New Haven. For one thing, it fills a void for a solid and varied bakery, offering everything from cupcakes to cookies, bars and more.

They always have three or four vegan items, usually two of which are cupcakes. Best of all, Katalina's doesn't shy away from unusual flavors, such as coconut lime or banana split (complete with sprinkles and fudge frosting).

Their cupcakes ($2.75 each) are moist and the frosting isn't overly sweet or buttery. I was also impressed with their oat-fruit bars and look forward to trying their cookies soon.

If Katalina's had more space to sit and get a cup of tea, I'd be here all the time. They only have three large tables, which is a shame, because there's a lot of space in the joint (but most of it goes wasted behind the counter; if they put in some more tables, they could siphon off customers from Koffee and also jack up their revenues from non-baked items such as tea and coffee).

Also, their tea selection is woeful (all bagged varieties you can get at any grocery store); they ought to add some loose-leaf options.

All that said, I'm really happy that Katalina's is around to innovate and create tasty vegan cupcakes and more.

Koffee in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Jan 28 11

rating star

This is a quaint, cozy coffee shop on Audubon Street. I like the back enclosed patio area though the up-front area is chill, too.

They don't have loose-leaf teas, which is a shame, but they do offer one homemade vegan baked good: an oatmeal apricot bar ($2).

While I'm not usually a fan of those types of "healthy" desserts (I prefer vegan cookies and cupcakes, not oats and fruit), I must say that their take is really good: it's soft, not too sweet, and just tastes fresh and great.

If Koffee had some vegan sandwiches (how about a bagel sandwich with fake sausage?) and some more traditional vegan desserts, I'd be back often.

La Granja in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

This is a daytime-only Mexican joint that mostly serves a variety of unusual burritos. For example, they have a blackbean and mango burrito, a veggie burger burrito and many others.

The question is: does it compete with Moe’s Southwest Grill up the road?

The first time I went I wanted a veggie burger burrito but they were out of the veggie burger (I think this is a recurring problem, and I hate it when restaurants tout some product, but then never have it in stock). Instead I ended up with a mixed veggie burrito that had a good variety of fillings (bell peppers, onions, beans, etc.); make sure to ask for brown rice and a whole wheat wrap, otherwise they just give you the white flour and white rice default, which sucks and doesn’t taste very good. Also make sure to tell them to leave off the cheese.

For $7 plus tax, La Granja offers a decent burrito. That said, they don’t offer tofu as a filling (Moe’s does), their burrito is slightly smaller, and they don’t offer as many, or as good, side sauces (pico de gallo, spicy green or red salsa). Also, La Granja doesn’t offer a student discount, nor do they have a frequent buyer program, unlike Moe’s. Creating brand loyalty is important.

As such, I think Moe’s is a better value and offers a more interesting product. That said, I’ll probably stop by La Granja on occasion, just to mix things up, but it’ll be stuck in second place if it doesn’t make some revamps (why not offer some mockmeats, like Gardein chicken, or seitan?).

Lalibela in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

Lalibela serves excellent Ethiopian food. All of their dishes are fresh, flavorful and well-executed. I love their spicy potatoes dish, their mild green lentils, and their split peas. Pretty much every vegetarian dish is vegan here.

I was also impressed with one of their appetizers, a giant mild pepper stuffed with sautéed onions and tomatoes ($5). It was a simple, but delicious, dish.

I have two gripes, though: 1) the veggie sampler combo (which allows you to mix and match 4 dishes) is $14, which is $3 more than the price of just one dish. While pretty much every Ethiopian restaurant I’ve ever been to does this (charging a premium for the sampler), it annoys me, especially because the quantities of each sample tend to be small.

In general the portion sizes here were a tad on the small side. You don’t leave Lalibela with leftovers, which is unusual given my multiple previous experiences with Ethiopian restaurants.

The service and ambience here are both good (this is a good spot to take a date) but the food took quite a while to arrive (20+ minutes).

In conclusion, Lalibela offers great food; I just wish they either lowered their prices by 10-15% or increased their portion sizes.

Lao Sze Chuan in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 5 11

rating star

I really love Lao Sze Chuan. It's some of the finest Chinese food I've ever eaten and a godsend for anyone in the greater New Haven area.

First and foremost, make sure to order the "bamboo in wild pepper sauce" appetizer ($7). This by far is my favorite dish on the menu. The dish consists of tender bamboo stalks covered in sesame seeds and a special Szechuan peppercorn and chili sauce available only in this dish. It's savory and spicy, but in an unusual, refreshing way: it numbs your tongue a bit and actually cleanses your palate. If you've never had Szechuan peppercorn, this is a lovely introduction to a taste you won't find anywhere else.

The vegetable dumplings ($6) are also excellent, with homemade dough wrapped around an array of diced and spiced vegetables.

For entrees, the vegetarian mapo tofu ($10) is always a solid choice of hearty, savory food (it's Chinese soulfood); the shredded potato with green pepper is also excellent and down-home, cooked in a delicious garlic sauce ($10). Similarly, the mixed vegetables ($10) can be made with a fermented black bean sauce and the results are wonderful.

However, I'd skip the Chinese eggplant ($10) and some of the more basic-sounding vegetable dishes (stir-fried cabbage, stir-fried spinach) because, while they might be tasty, they're overly basic; you'll get a plate of leaves and a few red chilis in the mix, but nothing else.

Amazingly, Lao Sze Chuan offers brown rice which is an awesome touch and makes coming here all the more enjoyable (I hate getting served white rice with food as complex and delectable as this).

The service is always friendly and helpful. Be warned that the restaurant gets really crowded particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. If you're coming with a group of more than four, definitely make a reservation.

Lao Sze Chuan is definitely a winner and I'd come back for the bamboo in wild pepper dish if nothing else. If they had a few more interesting tofu dishes or more interesting vegetable options, I'd give them five stars.

Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Dec 12 11

rating star

Mamoun's is popular only because it stays open late, not because it serves good food. Anyone who likes falafel or baba ganoush or hummus would look elsewhere (namely, One Stop Mart and Sahara Med in New Haven, or Olive Tree in Milford) for higher quality, better-tasting food.

All of the food here is mushy and watery and it's hard to distinguish between dishes, because they all blend together into an undifferentiated mass of chickpeas and eggplant.

The falafel here is laughable in taste (too dense, underspiced).

All that said, here's why Mamoun's warrants two starts instead of one: it's always open when you need it, and it's cheap (albeit cash-only, which always messes things up). Also, all the desserts are vegan (that means no butter, no eggs, no milk and no honey).

If you want good-tasting food, go elsewhere. If you are in a bind and it's late at night, Mamoun's will do the trick. Just don't expect much.

Mediterranea in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 23 10

rating star

Mediterranea serves the best falafel in New Haven. Of this I have no doubt. For one thing, I watched them prepare my falafel pita ($3.50); the guy did it with such care and precision that I felt almost guilty---he was working way too hard for an item that costs less than $4.

The ingredients are high quality. They use a wholewheat pita wrap (a massive improvement over white flour anything) which adds a robust taste to the consumed whole; the falafel pieces themselves were crisp, full of herbs and just plain delicious. The tahini sauce is thick and rich and actually tastes like sesames, not like watery sesame residue (which is the case at places like Mamoun's and Kasbah). Tomatoes and a variety of lettuce (maybe even some spinach) added to the taste.

This is the type of place that would do well to cater more to vegans, like me. If they had some mock chicken wraps, or maybe Daiya vegan cheese to go with their pizzas, I'd be back every day.

Similarly, if Mediterranea were open later (it's only open till midnight Monday-Thursday, and it's closed on Sundays) I'd be there all the time. As it stands, I am excited to have found decent falafel in New Haven; Mamoun's, Kasbah and Aladdin are all decent, but mediocre compared to the taste, value and quality offered by Mediterranea.

Miya's Sushi in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 23 11

rating star

I really love Miya's. It's a go-to spot for quick, delicious, unusual meals. It's also a cozy, welcoming spot for a date or for a larger group of people. While sushi for vegans normally consists of avocado or cucumber rolls, at Miya's, you get dozens of more interesting options (which I'll detail below---indeed, the owner proudly proclaims that he offers the largest vegetarian sushi menu in the world, and he's right). Miya's takes risks and should be applauded for doing so. Moreover, there's no other place on the planet like Miya's and I'll miss it when I leave New Haven.

Given the myriad choices, what's good to order? Well, I'd start off with the "simple" rolls:

-artichoke cumin,
-the curried cauliflower
-the spicy eggplant, all of which are $3.50, and you get 8 pieces with each
-The "killer squid" (which is made with fried udon noodles; $8.75) is also excellent
-Charlie Chan Ching Chong (broccoli, roasted garlic, and black beans, $6.75)

Where Miya's goes wrong is its sweet rolls. There's a lot of them on the menu, and most are made with sweet potato, coconut and other fruits. They sound tasty in theory, but in reality they end up being too sweet. Sugary, really. The "Kiss the smiling piggy" is an example of the sweetness gone wrong.

I also was not a fan of any of their sake cocktails. I tried a couple: one made with chili peppers (the "immigrant cocktail"), and another sweet one, the "kama sutra." Again, both are risky drinks (chili peppers in a cocktail!) but both are difficult to take more than a few sips of. The immigrant cocktail is just too spicy (even for this reviewer, who grew up eating spicy Indian food), and the kama sutra is just too sweet.

The service here is always friendly and knowledgeable about what's vegan or can be made vegan.

Expect long waits for a table during peak times (Thursday-Saturday after 6 p.m.), and sometimes expect long waits for your food as well---we once waited nearly 90 minutes for our order to arrive. Our server graciously gave us a free larger appetizer to hold us over, but that was still a ridiculously long wait.

Miya's doesn't have any vegan desserts per se (unless you count their sweet sushi rolls as dessert), so it would be nice to see some coconut green tea ice cream, for example, or some kind of concoction with tea and fruit. For a creative restaurant like this, it seems a shame that they don't have any creative vegan desserts.

All that said, I still love Miya's and recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Moe's Mexican Grill in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Aug 26 10

rating star

This place is basically Chipotle, but a little less polished. On the plus side, they offer tofu for their burritos, tacos and even a stir-fry bowl. Chipotle could learn a lesson or two. Now, if only Moe's offered seitan and tempeh, then we'd be in vegan heaven.

I had a burrito custom made with black beans, tofu, guacamole, green chilis, rice, lettuce and onions ($7.40 with tax). It came with white corn chips and a variety of free salsas.

The burrito was fairly large and I loved that they offered a wholegrain wrap, rather than just crappy white flour tortillas. I think the burrito itself didn't come together spectacularly, but it was more than edible and tasted much better once I poured some green and red salsas on it.

The chips were great: perfectly thin and crisp and they didn't feel heavy or oily at all.

All in all, Moe's is a decent spot for a biggish, inexpensive meal. As I stated earlier, if they had seitan, tempeh and maybe some interesting vegan desserts, I'd probably come back more often.

Pot-Au-Pho in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 25 10

rating star

I've eaten a lot of Vietnamese food around the US, especially in the major Vietnamese hub of the Twin Cities. As such, I know what I'm talking about.

Pot-Au-Pho surprised me with some unusual dishes. The first time I went I had a "roti" dish with curried tofu. It seemed more like a Malaysian-Indian hybrid dish but was excellently prepared: a flaky, crispy piece of roti with well-spiced, flavorful tofu in a curry-vegetable base. Really impressive, unusual stuff.

The second time I went I got some bun chay (noodle stir-fry) with vegetables and tofu. A friend of mine had ordered this dish the first time around and it looked spectacular; when I got it weeks later, it was limp and bland. I'm not sure what changed (maybe it was a different cook?).

The service is decent. While the top floor is cramped and messy, I think you're expected to eat in their dimly-lit (but sort of romantic) lower level, which is far cleaner and nicer.

I had the same waiter both times and didn't bat an eye when I asked if my dishes were vegan.

I look forward to checking out Pot-Au-Pho to see if they can keep up their quality. Maybe the second time I went was an off-day.

The Red Lentil in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 5 11

rating star

Red Lentil fills a much needed niche in New Haven for a respectable, friendly, creative vegetarian restaurant. This place easily takes the crown for the best vegetarian food in the city, handily beating Thali Too and uber-bland Claire's. Moreover, Red Lentil offers unusually smart and sophisticated dishes that you won't find anywhere else; this is a true rarity and cannot be overlooked. All that said, there are a number of duds on the menu, all listed below.

The gobi manchurian appetizer ($8) is the best appetizer on the menu. Basically it's crispy, fried cauliflower covered in a spicy and savory sauce with green onions. A standard of "Indo-Chinese" cuisine, I'm glad that Red Lentil chooses to offer it, because they do it well here. The sesame seitan appetizer ($8) is tasty, but far too expensive considering the small portion size. Avoid the samosas and vegetable dumplings, which were passable, at best. Lastly, I'd also avoid the soy chicken strips with bbq sauce ($6.50); this dish just felt dry and chalky in flavor.

On the dinner menu, I'd first and foremost recommend the pistachio-encrusted tofu ($14.50) which is a beautifully presented dish consisting of tofu slices and a wonderful pistachio coating. How often do you see pistachios on restaurant menus? Not often. And this dish works like a charm.

The near east seitan with teff ($14.50) is also a brilliant pairing which I'd never seen before and the fenugreek sauce mixes nicely with both the seitan and the unusual teff.

The shepherd's pie ($16) is also solid and a nice recreation of a traditionally meaty meal.

Avoid the butternut squash polenta, and pizzas and burritos. These dishes come across and pedestrian and bland. It's almost as if Red Lentil stumbles on simple dishes, and executes only on sophisticated and daring plates, such as the seitan with teff and the pistachio tofu.

For brunch, the tofu scramble is excellent, as are the waffles. Be warned that the waffles are really rich and dessert-esque and will fill you up quickly.

For lunch, the veggie burger is unimpressive with a crumbly texture and awful white flour bun. The red lentil soup is respectable, though, and more reminiscent of an Indian dal than anything else.

Avoid the desserts, as well. The first time around I got a slice of chocolate blueberry cake, which sounded interesting as a flavor combination, but in reality was executed poorly. The cake was crumbly and horribly dry. It was inedible, to be frank.

This is a great place to take a date or a mixed group, which is also a nice feature. The service is always friendly, though you should expect a wait at peak times (Friday and Saturday nights and holidays). I think the restaurant needs a better staffing plan for certain times of the week.

On a whole, Red Lentil is a winner. Just remember this rule of thumb: if it's an unusual dish or has ingredients you've never seen paired before, get it. If it's a more traditional offering, avoid it.

The Shoreline Diner And Vegetarian Enclave in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 6 11

rating star

For an American diner in the middle of Connecticut, Shoreline has an unusual array of vegan options, including desserts. That said, the food here is pricey and not particularly memorable.

I got the stuffed bell peppers ($14) which were two hollowed-out bell peppers filled with wild rice, tomatoes and some other diced vegetables. The dish suffered for lack of seasoning and salt; I think it could have marinated or sauteed the vegetable and wild rice stuffing with some kind of a soy base, or maybe some Indian spices (cumin, turmeric, garlic, onions, curry leaves, etc.).

For dessert I had a slice of vegan Napoleon cake ($7) which was a huge slice of layered cream and thin pastry slices. I wish the pastry had been flakier (it had gone slightly soft and chewy), but that might have been a function of how long the cake had been sitting out. All that said, it still tasted good and it's rare to see such a complicated vegan dessert pretty much anywhere, let alone a retro diner again, in the middle of Connecticut.

While the food here is competent on a whole, it didn't feel like a great value, as I paid nearly $30 for a meal for one, including tax and tip. While Shoreline (and its sister restaurant Georgie's) is to be lauded for offering vegan dishes and desserts, it could stand to improve the quality of its food.

Swagat in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 19 11

rating star

I had high hopes for Swagat being that simple, home-cooked style Indian restaurant I've been searching for. Unfortunately, this place not only serves generic food, but the food is heavy, low on flavor, and the restaurant itself is depressing. Vegans also beware: they put cream in every dish, so ask them to leave it out. Avoid the rice, as well, which is made with ghee.

The restaurant consists of one small, dark room with rickety tables and chairs. There's little decoration to speak of, other than some photos of India. The space is low-lit, but not in a romantic, hip way; here it just feels sad and tired.

The kitchen door was open so the few of us diners could see the disorganized and shady space where all the food is made. There seemed to be a lot of confusion going on.

I had the channa masala (chickpea curry) ($10) and the aloo gobi mattar (potatoes, cauliflower and peas) ($10). Amazingly, they were out of the baigan (eggplant) so I couldn't order that.

As noted before, they put cream in every dish, which is both depressing and also surprising (the dishes I ordered traditionally are not made with cream, so they must be trying to cater to fattier American tastes).

I hated both dishes. The channa masala was an oily mess that I could barely take a few bites of before feeling revolted. The aloo gobi mattar was passable, at best, and was missing one of the main ingredients: mattar (peas).

As can be expected with Indian restaurants, they didn't have an option for brown rice, and the rice they do serve is laced with dairy.

In summary, Swagat makes terrible food and has bleak atmosphere. If you're looking for good North Indian food, try Zaroka in New Haven; if you want good South Indian food, try Thali Too, also in New Haven.

Sweet Claude's Ice Cream in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Apr 17 11

rating star

This is a quaint ice cream shop located inside a turn-of-the-century house on a hill. It seems to be super-popular so expect long lines, especially on nice days when families come out in droves for ice cream.

Sweet Claude's stands out for making all of their ice cream on-site, and for offering four home-made vegan flavors as well.

I got a a regular-sized cup with half "tofutti" chocolate and half "tofutti" toasted almond ($4.75). I think their use of the word "tofutti" is probably copyright infringement, but oh well. The portion size was pretty large; I could have ordered a small cup and been satisfied.

The ice cream was pretty good. I think the chocolate was slightly too sweet, but the toasted almond was great. I'd love to see a hazelnut option in the future, or maybe something with maple syrup or mint. I'd also love to see them try out ice creams made of coconut, rice or almond milk as well.

Tandoor in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 25 10

rating star

Tandoor is open later than the other Indian restaurants in town which gives it an edge, in my book. When I say "Indian" I mean "North Indian" which is a completely different type of cuisine than South Indian. North Indian food comprises probably 90% of the market in the US and is typically heavier and oilier than South Indian food (for example, tandoori dishes and tikka dishes are North Indian, whereas dosas and uttapam are South Indian).

Immediate notes: if you order online from, you can get a 10% discount on take-out orders. Similarly, if you dine-in, you can get a discount if you're a student. But, when I went there directly and placed a take-out order, they refused to give me the discount; had I ordered online, they said, I would have qualified. I think that's ridiculous.

Secondly, many of the dishes here contain cream or other milk products. If you are vegan like me, make sure to ask questions. For example, the baigan bhartha is made with cream (this is not disclosed) and the free white rice they give you is made with skim milk. Tandoor really needs to do a better job labeling what dishes are vegan versus lacto-vegetarian. There's a big difference.

The first time around I had an alu chole ($12) and roti ($3). Both were competently made and, in the case of the alu chole, not excessively oily. The portion size was sufficient, but wasn't enough for me to have leftovers. Tandoor doesn't have brown rice, which is a shame, as white rice sucks and has no redeeming taste or health value.

About half of the vegetarian dishes at Tandoor are vegan or can be made vegan. That said, none of the dishes stand out as unique or unusual.

The second time I went I had the baigan bhartha ($12) which, unfortunately, was super-oily. To make matters worse, it didn't really have any flavor; the eggplant was missing that sublime roasted flavor.

The atmosphere in Tandoor is unusual for Indian restaurants. I mean, it's a 1950s trailer with neon lights. That's kind of fun and crazy. I just wish the food were better and I wish they had better furniture (the chairs and tables look like they belong in a church basement).

How about offering some dishes that don't use the same old ingredients (chickpeas, potatoes, eggplant, spinach), and experiment with some Chinese vegetables, or some American vegan ingredients such as tofu, seitan, tempeh and TVP?

On a whole, though, Tandoor is probably the best value North Indian joint in New Haven. That said, it's not a great place and the food is simply the best of a mediocre lot. Thali Too is an excellent South Indian vegetarian restaurant, though I consider that an entirely different cuisine.

Thai Taste in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 6 10

rating star

This is a mediocre Thai joint, not unlike most of the other Thai places in New Haven. The menu here is nearly identical to that of Rice Pot on State Street (they must have the same owners), though I found the service and ambience at Rice Pot to be better than that of Thai Taste.

The place looks like it might be swanky but it is, in fact, something akin to your best friend's wood-paneled 1970s rec-room. There was duct tape on the wall near where I sat. As such, I don't think this is a great date spot.

The service wasn't terribly friendly but at least it was prompt.

I had a "hot basil" stir-fry with tofu ($7) and brown rice ($1). I asked them to leave out the fish sauce, which isn't disclosed on the menu (see the paragraph below for more info). It was a small portion of stir-fry with exactly two small cubes of tofu. Rice Pot was similarly stingy when it came to tofu quantity; what's the deal with that? While I appreciated the brown rice option, I found the stir-fry itself to be bland and overly simple. Thai food is known for robust flavors but the food here felt watered-down and bastardized.

As with pretty much every other Thai restaurant in the US, make sure to ask about fish sauce, oyster sauce and shrimp paste if you're vegan or vegetarian. Most of the dishes at Thai Taste, including those labeled "vegetarian" contain either fish or oyster sauce by default, but can typically be modified; conversely, all of the curries contain shrimp paste pre-mixed, and cannot be modified to be fully vegan or vegetarian.

I'd skip Thai Taste, if I were you. The place across the street, Thai Pan Asian, has better service and better food; go there instead.

Thali in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Jan 21 12

rating star

Thali serves competent North Indian food in a nice environment. I really like the bar area of the restaurant, in particular. The servers are also friendly and helpful about what dishes are vegan and which are not.

That said, the food is inconsistent. The first time I went I had the gobi manchurian appetizer and it was excellent: crispy, savory and addictive in an onion and tomato spiced sauce. The second time I went the dish was served lukewarm and looked like cauliflower doused in sticky, sugary ketchup.

Similarly, the first time I got their chole (chickpeas) dish I was impressed; the second time, the flavors fell flat.

The portion sizes are small, too, considering the prices of the dishes. This place definitely isn't a good value, and the food isn't interesting enough (or unique from any other generic North Indian restaurant) to warrant a stronger recommendation. How come they don't have any dishes with tofu or seitan? How about a soy yogurt lassi made with pomegranate? How about a homemade chai with rice milk? Thali takes no risks and therefore fails.

If Thali were more consistent, had rare dishes (or dishes I couldn't get at any other Indian restaurant in town) and lower prices, I'd give it another star. As it stands, it falls short. If you want respectable North Indian food, go to Zaroka in New Haven instead.

Thali Too in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Jan 29 11

rating star

Thali Too is a romantic, somewhat upscale bar-restaurant. This is a good place to take a date or a group of friends and it has an unusual brunch on the weekends. It's in a minority of Indian restaurants that labels its vegan dishes. It's located BEHIND the Yale Bookstore/Barnes and Noble, so it's not visible from the street.

I got stuck sitting at a platform that gave me a direct view of the kitchen, with a piece of plexiglass between me and the action. The view was not very interesting, though it should have tipped me off that this restaurant, with an entirely male and Indian kitchen staff is probably only its element when making Indian food (i.e. one should avoid any dish that is Indian-fusion or uses non-Indian ingredients).

To start I got an onion bhajia appetizer (think Indian tempura) ($5.50) which was too salty and the portion size was tiny for the price.

For my main course I had the tofu jalfrezie ($10) which is a dish I shouldn't have ordered. As I wrote earlier, the cooks here are all Indian and, I hate to say it, they don't know how to cook tofu. The dish consisted of lightly-sauteed silken tofu with carrots, some bell peppers and peas. It was extremely simple and basic; while it was spicy, it lacked any real savory flavor---it was all green chili but not enough (or any) garam masala, garlic, onions and curry leaves. And, of course, Thali Too does not offer brown rice, so I had to shove down the dish with insipid white rice.

However, Thali Too redeemed itself somewhat with its aloo paratha ($3.50), which was thin, flaky and delicious. It's not often that you see vegan paratha. This also suggested to me that I should order a straight-up Indian curry or dosa the next time I'm at Thali Too.

Thali also offers an all-you-can-eat brunch on the weekends for $15. It's not a buffet; you place your orders with a waiter who keeps coming back when you want more dishes; beware that there's a long lag time, on the order of 15-20 minutes, between placing an order and getting food. You get an unlimited supply of small plates, so it's a great way to share dishes and sample with friends. I'm not impressed with most of the food they offer, though the mirchi bhajia isn't bad, and the masala dosas and poori bhaji are decent. For $15, though, it's an expensive meal and doesn't yield any leftovers. They also give out lassis (which are made with yogurt) with the brunch, but they don't offer a vegan option, and they're unwilling to make even a simple substitute (I asked for black tea and was denied).

Another major oversight at this restaurant: there are no vegan desserts. Indian desserts are generally crappy, especially if you're used to Western-style cakes and cookies, but it's even more frustrating that vegan Indian desserts are almost unheard of. A place like Thali Too needs to take the lead and start learning how to veganize a few standard Indian offerings, using soy milk and Earth Balance instead of the dairy stuff.

The service is consistently mediocre and sometimes curt; I was not only seated in a crappy location, but a server didn't come to take my order for quite a while, until I finally flagged someone down. As the night wore on, the service improved, though, and someone would come around to refill my water.

On a whole, Thali Too shows some signs of competence and skill, but definitely has room for improvement.

Willoughby's in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Sep 6 10

rating star

I like Willoughby's for a few reasons: 1) they carry vegan baked goods; 2) they have loose-leaf tea (make sure to ask specifically for loose-leaf, because they also have some bagged varieties); 3) they have a central location in New Haven, but manage to still exude a semblance of calmness.

The vegan cupcake they normally carry oftentimes sell out early in the week. They're pretty high quality double chocolate cupcakes made by a baker elsewhere in Connecticut. I wish they carried a few more flavors, and maybe cookies as well (yes, I know they have prepackaged ABC vegan cookies, but I'd rather have something fresh and local).

They have a respectable loose-leaf tea selection. No complaints here.

Lastly, the location is great and a quick walk to the center of the Yale campus and to major attractions such as the British Art Museum, the Yale Gallery and the New Haven Green.

York Street Noodle House in New Haven Area, Connecticut
Nov 21 10

rating star

This is a slightly grimy, cheap but cool, Asian café with some unusual vegan offerings.

First, they don’t label their vegan dishes, so make sure to ask questions (note, in particular, that their wonton noodle is made with egg, so stick with rice noodles if you’re vegan).

I’ve tried a number of their dishes and it’s hit or miss. Their veg. appetizers are all pretty boring, with the exception of the excellent kimchi dumplings---these are flavorful, spicy and unusual. I don’t even like kimchi that much.

The lad na and spicy mee yok (both $7 with tofu) are middling. The lad na is bland and the spicy mee yok is overpowering and oily.

On the other hand, the mild mee hange is excellent: Chinese broccoli, noodles, sesame oil and tofu. Add chili oil as per your taste. It’s an elegantly simple and tasty dish.

One consistent issue: they don’t fry their tofu here. They just serve it in big, barely cooked white cubes that don’t add appeal to any dish and don’t taste that great, either. Make sure to have them cook their tofu longer, or even fry it.

Portion sizes are large here. Except to take home leftovers, even though each dish costs only $7 or so. The service is fast and attentive.

Come to York Street Noodle for the kimchi dumplings and maybe a noodle dish. Skip the rest.

Zaroka in New Haven Area, Connecticut
May 9 11

rating star

Zaroka appears to be a standard North Indian restaurant but it's actually a notch above, and has great service and excellent dishes.

My roommate and I had a Groupon and shared a few dishes. We started off with a mirch pakora ($4) which were jalapenos fried in lentil batter. These were spicy, savory little marvels with a perfect level of crispness.

For our main dishes we had a chana pindi ($11) and an aloo palak ($11). The chana dish was a curry of chickpeas whereas the aloo palak consisted of potatoes and spinach. Both dishes were cooked just the right amount (enough for the spices to settle in, but not so much where the vegetables become mushy) and also weren't overly oily, which is a common problem at many North Indian restaurants. Both dishes just felt fresh and savory, but not excessively salty or heavy. Zaroka has a talented cook to make the flavors of the herbs and spices actually complement the vegetables, rather than overpower them. It's not an easy task.

We also had tandoori roti, which was competently made.

The service was friendly and attentive. They were good to keep our water glasses constantly filled.

Zaroka, for taste and value, beats out pretty much every other Indian restaurant in New Haven (excepting Thali, but Thali is 30-40% more expensive per dish) and I look forward to returning.

MangeTout Organic Cafe in New London, Connecticut
Apr 3 11

rating star

What a quaint, lovely little cafe. It feels like you're in someone's nicely-decorated living room. Best of all, this living room is filled with a variety of vegan baked goods, from cupcakes to cookies to puddings.

I came around 4 p.m. for some afternoon snacks and tea. I had a pot of loose-leaf black tea ($3.50) and a dessert special, the coconut rice pudding with mango sauce ($6.95). First, I liked that they have proper loose-leaf tea, and didn't decay to the level of just tossing a Lipton bag in a pot and charging me a 500% markup on it.

The coconut rice pudding was really tasty. I wish the mango had been ripe (it was still tart and hard), but the fresh red strawberry added a goodly amount of sweetness. The portion size was pretty small considering the price, but it was still a nice afternoon indulgence.

I got a German chocolate cookie ($2) to go. The cookie ended up being great, too, with a great interplay of coconut and cocoa.

I can't wait to return to MangeTout to try some of their main dishes.

The Stand Cafe and Juice Bar in Norwalk, Connecticut
Jan 28 11

rating star

The Stand is a small healthy-foods cafe featuring mostly raw sandwiches and juice/smoothie/wheatgrass type of things.

While some of the menu does feature cooked items, the bulk of them are raw, which is not the type of food that hits the spot for me. I came by and got at unchicken sandwich ($8) which was a chickpea mash with vegan mayo served on wholewheat bread.

The sandwich was okay but, being of the raw persuasion, it wasn't a satisfying full meal. It would have been so much better if it had been a hot sandwich; this one, like all of them on the menu are pre-made and sit in a chilled display case next to the cash register. The bread could have been toasted, the chickpea mash might have been lightly stir-fried, etc.

That's not to say raw food can't be tasty. In this case, though, the food was bland and under-spiced (and lord knows that raw spices would have been a nightmare).

However, their desserts were great. I had a chocolate chip cookie and a muffin, both of which were moist and delicious.

The service is friendly. Prices are high consider the portion sizes and the generally unappealing presentation and execution of the food; some of the probably tastier items on the menu, such as their smoothies, cost a whopping $8 a piece.

I'd probably stop by The Stand again if I happened to be in Norwalk. But I'd go just for tea and desserts and not any entrees (unless they decide to add some fake sausage breakfast sandwiches, or tofu tacos or things of that kind).

Kong Foo Vegetarian Restaurant in Norwich, Connecticut
Apr 3 11

rating star

This is a solid vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I'm not sure why it's located in tiny Norwich, and not in a place like New Haven, but oh well. I'm also impressed that they have some mockmeats I've never heard of---mock belly fat, anyone?

The service is extremely friendly and prompt. I appreciated all the advice on dishes that my server offered.

I had a Taro's Nest ($13.95) with brown rice. It was basically a fried shell (made of taro) filled with all sorts of mockmeats---mock beef, fish, squid and crab. I thought the sauce in the dish was good, but I didn't like the taste of some of the mockmeats, namely the mock fish and the mock crab. That said, the taro nest was excellent and offered a nice departure in flavor and texture from boring noodles or rice.

The portion size of the dish was enough for one meal, but that means that it was an expensive meal for $17 (with tax and tip).

All in all, Kong Foo is solid. If they had lower prices I'd give them another star.

Food for Thought in London, England
Jan 8 09

rating star

This place had solid English desserts and a decent stir-fry type of dish. The prices were reasonable, though the place is crowded and hard to move around in. Also, they accept only cash, which was a bit of a problem. I'd recommend it for a light snack, but definitely not during peak hours.

The location and decor and service are all Dickensian---you tell them what you want, they slop it into a bowl or dish, and then you grovel over to a table. I felt like Oliver Twist, asking for gruel after a long-day at the smokestack.

Manna in London, England
Jan 5 08

rating star

The food here was quite tasty, if a bit heavy. Prices are extremely high, but the quality of the food and its presentation justify the prices. I highly recommend trying their desserts, especially the vegan cheesecake, which is one of the best I've tried in the world.

Tushita Teehaus in Munich, Germany
Jun 14 10

rating star

This place is a marvel. For one thing, it's beautifully decorated and intimate, yet casual as well. It's extremely affordable and everything here is vegan and home-made. It's also one of the only vegan places that's open in Munich before 11 a.m. As I had a seven hour, morning layover in the city, I was lucky that Tushita was open to give me a great meal and cup of tea before I headed back to the US.

I ordered a number of delicious items. Given that it was about 9 a.m. when I went, the breakfast options were limited to a variety of baked goods, tea and one phyllo-pocket. I had the phyllo-pocket (€2.50) which was a wonderfully soft, buttery thing filled with seitan, herbs, carrots and more. It was savory and filling. I would eat one of these a day, if I could (for lunch and dinner, the menus change regularly, but you'll usually be able to get some kind of rice plate with tofu).

I also had a piece of German bread (I forget the name, but it started with "brez" or something) (€1.50) and was shaped liked a croissant and covered in sesame seeds. It was a traditional German product, but home-made with spelt flour. I love it when you can get otherwise off-limited "traditional" food, modified to be vegan (in this case, it was even better, as it was made with a healthy and unusual type of flour as well). The bread was soft and surprisingly hefty---it could have been a meal in itself.

Next I had a piece of chocolate rosemary cake (€2.50) and the cafe owner threw in a free piece of carrot-ginger cake as well. Both were delicious and I appreciated that they weren't overly sweet. They were perfectly moist and dense and the limited use of sugar allowed for the main flavors (namely chocolate-rosemary, and ginger-carrot) to manifest themselves fully.

Lastly I had a cup of home-made chai with soy milk (€1.50). I love any place that creates their own recipe for chai, so props to Tushita for that. I think the brew could have been slightly stronger (perhaps more ginger), but this was otherwise a smooth and refreshing drink, available hot or cold.

Tushita also offers at least a couple dozen more loose-leaf, gourmet tea options from around the world. They have a refined selection of Japanese greens and Indian blacks in particular.

The service was extremely friendly and gracious. I hope that every city in Europe will have a place like Tushita, because it's a gem in the vegan world.

Bambu Restaurant in San Pedro Sula, Honduras
May 9 08

rating star

Bambu is one of few restaurants in San Pedro Sula that offers unabashedly vegetarian options. Their daily breakfast buffet is loaded with all types of fruits and juices and salads. I highly enjoyed their pasta dishes, which are drenched in olive oil, covered in herbs and spices, and feature delicious, fresh vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes. The biggest problem is price---Bambu is expensive ($15 for the breakfast buffet, $10 a dish for the pasta); these are American-style prices in a place where ordinary meals on the street cost less than $2. But good luck trying to find vegan or vegetarian options outside of fancy places; Honduran restaurants are not veg-friendly at all, and even seemingly-vegetarian or vegan dishes are probably cooked in animal fat or god knows what.

Bonsai Japanese Restaurant in San Pedro Sula, Honduras
May 9 08

rating star

Bonsai has edamame, which is a great snack and quite filling and cheap. It also has a vegetarian sushi roll, which can be made vegan if you ask them to leave out the mayo. While nothing spectacular, it's more than passable and at par with vegan sushi in the US. The chef can also prepare something special if you can speak Spanish and explain your needs; but don't expect anything great, as it will most probably be noodles with some vegetables covered in ketchup.

A Taste of Thai in Twin Falls, Idaho
Jul 14 08

rating star

This place has simple, hearty Thai food. I liked their green curry and their basil stir-fry. Our waitress was extremely helpful and friendly and made sure that all of our dishes were vegan (but make sure to specify no fish sauce/oyster sauce/shrimp paste, just in case). Normally I would give a place like this three stars, as it is good, but not great. However, I'm giving them an extra star simply for EXISTING---there aren't many veg-friendly options in random Idaho, so I was on my knees and grateful that the owner had the guts to open up in such a non-traditional, possibly hostile location.

The Red Herring in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Jan 5 08

rating star

The ambience here is somewhat lacking, but the menu features eclectic options and eco-conscious choices. The food was tasty, but sat a bit heavy for me. Large portions and decent prices make this a worthwhile place, but with room for improvement.

Alice & Friends' Vegan Kitchen in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 28 09

rating star

Loving Hut is an all-purpose, affordable, friendly vegan cafe with some standard, and some unusual, pan-Asian offerings.

(Note: I never got a chance to try this place when it was still Alice and Friends, so I can't compare it to its past incarnation.)

I had a "run away potato" ($8.25) which was spicy and filling. I liked the use of baby potatoes and the hearty flavor of the tomato-stew/sauce. However, the dish seriously skimped on the soy protein (which I think was actually wheat gluten)---there were maybe five or six small shards in the whole dish. Thankfully Loving Hut gives you the option of brown or white rice, which was divine (I always choose brown). The portion size is large, but not big enough for extensive leftovers.

I also had a slice of home-made green tea cheesecake ($2.99) which was excellent: fresh; light; subtly-sweet; and delicate. Just as anything made with green tea should be, as green tea is a delicate product. For the record, all of Loving Hut's desserts are home-made.

I also tried my friend's fried potstickers ($4.99), though I wasn't as impressed with the taste of these. They were a bit too oily and had a weird flavor, in my opinion. However, I like that they too were home-made.

And yes there are tvs playing propaganda videos about climate change, vegetarianism and compassion. If you're into those things, it's probably not propaganda, and it's more than a bit humorous (my favorite part was the parrot with the Australian accent talking about the power of organic onions).

In conclusion, Loving Hut is an affordable, tasty cafe and I look forward to trying more of their menu in the future.

Annapurna in Chicago, Illinois
Nov 26 09

rating star

This is a dirt-cheap, bare-bones Indian cafe with decent food. Fluorescent lights, plastic booths and heat lamps are staples here so don't expect much by way of ambience.

I had a masala dosa ($2.99) and a samosa ($0.75). I couldn't believe the prices. I have never in my life seen a dosa that cheap before. It took a while to prepare but it was done pretty well and made a great meal for a disgustingly low price. How does Annapurna make money on razor thin margins like that? The normal going rate for a dosa is around $6, which is TWICE as much as Annapurna charges.

While the dosa was pretty well done and came with sambar and chutney, the samosa wasn't that great. It had a weird taste, the texture was too soft, and the shape was too flat. Samosas should be pyramidal, crispy on the outside, and starchy-dry on the inside. That said, for $0.75 I guess it wasn't that bad.

Annapurna also sells some Indian desserts, such as cashew rolls and almond triangle-things which appear to be vegan, based on the ingredients label. Best to ask questions, though, as one of the "natural flavors" was not elaborated upon; while I doubt it would be a milk or animal product, you never know.

I wouldn't go out of my way to come here, as the Devon corridor is isolated and difficult to get to without a car, but if you happen to be on Devon and are looking for cheap food, this is a good spot.

Artfully Delicious in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

I tried some of Artfully Delicious' catering at a vegan event in Chicago. Their pad thai had a nice flavor, but I wasn't a fan of the Upton mockmeats they used, which were just slightly too chewy. I liked how they cooked the dish in front of you, on a wok. Nice display.

The cinnabons were fantastic. Those were the real deal and took me back to my pre-vegan days.

On a whole, I'd be curious to see what else Artfully Delicious could make.

Asado Coffee Co. in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 11 10

rating star

Asado is a small coffee-roasting shop that offers one vegan food option: a crepe on the weekends. It might offer other stuff during the rest of the week, but I am not sure. They serve the crepe from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends.

I came and had the pre-configured vegan crepe on the menu ($6) (tofurkey and cheddar). It was pretty tasty on a whole, though the crepe itself was slightly sweet, which didn't gel with the savory taste of the tofurkey and Daiya cheddar.

At $6 it was pretty expensive, considering that it was basically the size of a small falafel sandwich. Granted, the ingredients are unusual and high-grade vegan, but for $6 I expect more than a small snack. Maybe they could include a cup of coffee or tea with the crepe, to make it into a combo meal? That said, it's still cool to be able to get a vegan crepe, which is a rare treat.

Tea options are limited (granted, this is a coffee shop) and seating is also limited (there's space for about six people at the small tables and then another six or so at the counter.

They didn't have any vegan baked goods on the Saturday that I went, though I've heard that they sometimes carry stuff from the wonderful Fritz Pastry (1408 W. Diversey). While I'm glad I got to try the crepe, I probably won't go back often, considering their overall lack of vegan options.

Baba's Village in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 30 09

rating star

Baba's Village is one of only five or six Indian restaurants nation-wide to offer vegan mockmeats. Thanks to Mercy For Animals for making this restaurant so vegan-friendly and unusual.

I had a vegan chicken jalfrezi ($9.70 with tax). There were six other specifically vegan dishes in a separate section on the menu (Baba's also has a traditional Indian vegetarian section on the menu).

It was basically a standard North Indian curry with mixed vegetables. Baba's doesn't offer brown rice so I settled for white. The food tasted okay and was more than edible, but didn't really stand out. Also, I'm not sure what type of vegan chicken they're using, but it wasn't that great---it was weirdly fluffy and chewy. It definitely wasn't Gardein or Morningstar, which have great textures. I would have preferred fried tofu over this "chicken." Next time I'll try their vegan beef option to see if that's better.

The portion size of the food is really small considering the price. This meal won't be enough for left-overs and is only a single-serving.

This restaurant caters to office workers, so it's more of a take-out joint or a quick-service place. It's not exactly atmospheric and I wouldn't come here with a date.

At least the food is presented well, though. While they give you your order on a plastic cafeteria tray, the food is at least on proper ceramic plates, as opposed to styrofoam. This is a nice touch.

All in all, Baba's Village is an above-average vegan-friendly option for downtown Chicago. That said, I think there's better Indian food to be had elsewhere in Chicago (Hema's Kitchen comes to mind).

Bleeding Heart Bakery in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 29 09

rating star

Bleeding Heart is a nice little cafe with cool decor and a cozy atmosphere. They have more than a few vegan options by way of baked goods.

I had a triple chocolate cupcake, a "Ginger Rogers" cupcake, and a scone which is supposedly their best-selling item in the whole shop. The cupcakes were 2 for 1, which is a great deal, though I'm not sure when that promotion is valid.

The triple chocolate cupcake was good, though it had a buttery flavor that I didn't like. The Ginger Rogers was much better and had a soft, moist cake bottom and creamy chocolate frosting.

The scone was tasty, though it seemed more like a crumbly pastry filled with nuts and other goodies. It's definitely large enough for two people to share over a few cups of tea.

I like the variety of vegan options here and the atmosphere. The quality is also pretty high.

Chicago Diner in Chicago, Illinois
Jan 5 08

rating star

This is a landmark restaurant for vegetarians in Chicago. While the food (for me) has been hit or miss, its wide array of choices, great staff and cool atmosphere make it a great place to visit. The cheesecake here is probably the best I've ever had, vegan or otherwise. Also try the hot chocolate! Anything that sounds bland probably IS bland on their menu; on the other hand, anything that sounds exotic or and tasty is probably exotic and spicy and tasty. Portion sizes are huge, so expect to take home plenty of leftovers. Prices are high, but the portion sizes more than make up for that.

Chickpea in Chicago, Illinois
Nov 25 09

rating star

Chickpea is a highly vegan- and vegetarian-friendly Palestinian cafe that offers some old standards (hummus, falafel) as well as some unusual dishes. I love that all their dishes are labeled vegan or vegetarian which makes ordering really easy.

I came here with a few people and got a chance to sample a variety of dishes. First we had a "Mama's Lentil Soup" ($3) which was excellent: hearty, simple and well-seasoned with herbs and acidic lemon. The portion size was also good considering the price.

We also had a "Koosa" (zucchini, tomato and onion stew) ($7) which was tasty but not terribly cutting-edge or unexpected. This dish could have been from anywhere in the Middle East or Mediterranean.

Next we had the Tuesday dinner special, "Malfoof" (cabbage leaf rolled with herbed rice and topped with garlic) ($9) which I enjoyed quite a bit. The cabbage provided a soft wrapping for the fluffy rice and the flavors all came together well.

Finally I got a falafel sandwich ($4). Unfortunately, Chickpea does not currently offer a vegan variety of pita (their current offering has milk powder), so I only ended up with the components of a falafel sandwich. I'm glad that Chickpea was thorough enough to check the ingredients of its bread and accordingly label the dish "vegetarian"; many other places probably wouldn't be so comprehensive.

The hummus, falafel pieces and Jerusalem salad topping (tahini, cucumbers and tomato) came together well. I think the individual falafel pieces were a bit too grainy, heavy and densely-packed, and the flavor was too smoky, but I'm sure it would all come together in a decent pita. The owner told us he'll be getting a vegan pita fairly soon (wholewheat seems less likely).

On a whole this is a nice little hip cafe with fairly cheap food, though the dinner specials can be pricier. This is an issue only because Chickpea is cash-only, so make sure to bring at least $20-$30 if you plan to try a few dishes.

Chutney Joe's in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

As many others have mentioned, Chutney Joe's is basically an Indian copy of Chipotle (practically plagiarized). It's in many ways a hip, slicker version of Indian whole-in-the-walls that serve full meals for very little money. Funnily enough, Chutney Joe's has the balls to make this claim on its website: "Chutney Joe's aims to correct the errors of typical Indian restaurants in America."

The food here is okay. I had a two-curry combo meal with a fountain soda and a baked samosa ($12 with tax and a student discount). They also had a tofu tikka special which sounded good, but I didn't try. The samosa was pretty decent, though the curries were both bland and seemed to be missing some crucial ingredients. The chana masala was watery and lacked zing; the aloo gobi was made with fresh, tasty potatoes and cauliflower, but the sauce had no flavor other than that of vegetable oil.

I like that they label all their vegan options, which is extremely helpful and progressive. However, they don't offer vegan bread such as whole-wheat tandoori roti (they only have naan, which is made with dairy), and they don't offer brown rice, which is always a travesty. It seems strange that they don't offer these things, considering the restaurant emphasizes its "healthy" aspects (no butter, no cream, no trans-fats, etc.).

The portion size is large and definitely a good value though, again, the food isn't spectacular.

Also like other Indian whole-in-the-walls, Chutney Joe's serves its food on paper plates and styrofoam/plastic and everything here is disposable. That was pretty disappointing and I felt extremely wasteful eating there (not that Chipotle is much better).

On a whole, Chutney Joe's is decent. I'm giving them three stars because they do try to do new stuff (such as the tofu tikka) and because they're one of few places in the Loop that offers labeled vegan food. That said, this is definitely not stellar Indian food and has much room for improvement.

Cousin's Incredible Vitality in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 12 09

rating star

I don't understand why Cousin's Incredible Vitality has such a high rating. The food here is not the best raw food I've ever had, nor were the main courses even edible (in my opinion).

We started off with a "live pizza" ($6) which was, in fact, excellent. I've never tasted a raw pizza that good before. It was not only delicious and well-presented, but it actually tasted like real, cooked pizza.

The meal went downhill from there, though. We also had a falafel dish ($11) and a burger ($11). I hated the burger and couldn't stand the strong, displeasing taste that it had. The falafel was okay, but the falafel pieces themselves were not prepared properly and the spices were literally raw, which meant they were basically inedible. You can't put falafel spices in a dish and then not cook them; you'll end up with something awful. The only thing that made the dish palatable was the lettuce wrap around it and the vegetables inside.

Dessert somewhat made up for the terrible main courses. We had a piece of mango cheesecake ($7) which was well-done, though the fermented citric taste of it was dangerously close to being overpowering.

I'd return to Cousin's to give them another chance and try something else on the menu. Their live pizza was excellent, so make sure to try it. But I was extremely disappointed with the rest of my meal.

The service was friendly, if a little bit inattentive. Cousin's location is also a bit out of the way and the nearest CTA stop is about a mile away, which makes this a difficult place to get to.

Delicious Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 29 11

rating star

Update: I have to downgrade Delicious Cafe. While I still think it's a cool coffee shop with a nice vibe, I find the food here to be extremely overpriced. Their vegan breakfast sandwiches are, without question, the best I've had (it should be noted that vegan breakfast sandwiches are generally hard to find, as well), but they cost nearly $5 for basically six or seven bites of english muffin, mock sausage and some nut cheese. The sandwiches are so tiny as to not comprise any type of value. These things shouldn't be more than $3.

Original review (September 2009): What a wonderful, cozy little cafe. I came here for breakfast and didn't realize that it was an all vegetarian (99% vegan) joint. I had a breakfast sandwich ($4.25) which consisted of sausage, tofu "egg" and colby nut cheese between two English muffins. It was definitely tasty, though just a tad too salty. Also, the sandwich was extremely small and seemed expensive for that price.

The cafe also has a variety of different sandwich options (including a build-your-own) and four or five nut-based cheeses with different flavors (colby, pepperjack, etc.).

Lastly, Delicious Cafe has a good selection of loose-leaf teas. On a whole, this place is a winner for its atmosphere, charm, and unusual, fresh ingredients and flavors.

Dragonlady Lounge in Chicago, Illinois
Jun 21 09

rating star

Dragonlady Lounge is a heady mix of dive-bar, Korean food, long-time old folks, newbie hipsters and indie rock. It's a strange place, but one that merits at least one visit, if just for the vegan buffet on Thursdays.

I came on a Saturday around 9 p.m. and was the only person in the joint at least initially. It's a long, narrow bar with sparse walls and lots of red and black vinyl. It's about as divey as it gets. As the night wore on, a group of 20-somethings showed up and then two old guys (probably hold-overs from the sports-bar previous incarnation of the place) came and played video blackjack while sipping PBRs.

The place is run entirely by one friendly Korean woman who shuffles around and is part bartender, part cook, and part social counselor.

I had a dish of fried tofu covered in scallions which was pretty tasty and came with three different sides of pickled Korean vegetables. There's no menu, just pictures of different dishes on the wall. I wish I'd come for the buffet on Thursdays which is supposed to be popular. The menu also offers vegetarian (vegan?) pancakes, dumplings and a couple other dishes that looked to be vegan.

I'm not sure how much the dish cost, though I think it was in the $7-9 range; I also had two Coronas and the total bill was $14.25. The beer selection is limited to mainstream bottles, though the place seems to also do its own mixed drinks.

Street parking is readily available in the area, which is a plus. One major drawback: Dragonlady is cash-only which is always a hassle.

Come to Dragonlady to start out your night or to end your night. This isn't a place to be the main course, but it's worth a visit and does pretty decent vegan Korean food. There are not many joints that like that around.

Earwax Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Apr 5 09

rating star

I was tempted to give this place two stars instead of one, but I decided that, given its hipster location, and given the multitude of great vegan-friendly joints serving American food in Chicago, Earwax really fails vegans and makes food that is mediocre, at best. There is no reason to come here.

A friend and I shared a tofu scramble ($9) as well as a seitan chorizo burrito ($8). The tofu scramble was bland. It was basically onions, green bell peppers and un-cooked tofu doused in turmeric to make it look yellow. The dish had almost no flavor. The seitan chorizo burrito was also bland; it was predominantly refried beans, strangely fluffy soyrizo that had no flavor, and un-melted Teese mozzarella, which didn't enhance the taste at all.

The service was friendly and prompt. The decor is hip and crazy and the clientele is 100% Wicker Park, meaning no diversity and everyone's under 25.

But the food here was barely passable. I didn't have the willpower to eat even half my meal and my friend also was greatly disappointed with the food. Finally, to add insult to injury, Earwax is cash-only. Go to The Chicago Diner, Vella Cafe, Pick Me Up Cafe, Handlebar, Lakeside Cafe or Karyn's Cooked instead.

El Faro in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 11 10

rating star

Wow. El Faro has to be one of only 15 or so Mexican restaurants nation-wide that serves mockmeats and also unusual vegan dishes. We're not talking a tofu burrito or anything like that; the food here is far more sophisticated, and authentic, than that.

You wouldn't guess it from the outside. El Faro is in the middle of nowhere, far from the city center; it's a predominantly Hispanic area with auto repair shops, warehouses and then, suddenly, one Mexican grocery store, bakery, and El Faro itself.

El Faro is a diner (think Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks"), so there's a ton of counter space and friendly service. The clientele was almost entirely Hispanic, and most families with young children, at that.

The first two pages of the menu are entirely vegetarian and vegan with helpful descriptions of each dish. They even have tofu scramble with soy chorizo!

I had one "carne asada" taco ($1.75), one "pollo con nopales" ($2.25), and one nopales platter ($7) which comes with rice, black beans and tortillas. "Nopales" are dried cactus leaves, which is something I have never encountered at any other Mexican restaurant in the US. El Faro is extremely smart and clever to market nopales as a vegan item; they have crunch and the texture of bell peppers, with a slightly tart taste.

The tacos were both wonderful and cheap. The carne asada was served exactly the way you'd find it at a street vendor in Mexico: open-faced, with just the soy beef, cilantro and onions. No cheese, no cream, no beans. They give you some green salsa on the side. This was an extremely rare treat for me; there is no other Mexican restaurant in Chicago where you can get something like this. The soy beef was high-grade and had great texture and flavor.

The pollo taco was also excellent and the soy chicken looked and tasted completely different from the soy beef (which is nice, as at many restaurants, they blend together). The nopales added a nice tart crunch to the tender soy chicken.

The nopales platter was good on a whole, but I got bored of making taco after taco with the tortillas they provide. I got extra avocado with it ($0.95) which added a fatty, mild element to counteract the acidity of the nopales.

El Faro is a gem. It's also an in-the-know place which can make you feel like a smart local. While it's a long trek from the center of Chicago or the hip North Side of the city, it's worth the trip, and you'll be hard-pressed to find anything else like it in the US.

Friendship Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 29 10

rating star

Friendship Restaurant is an upscale-looking Chinese joint with a couple of vegan dishes. While its ambience and service are good, the food here is woefully mediocre.

My friend and I shared a "Temple's Feast" ($11) and a Kung Pao Eggplant and Mushroom ($11) along with an order of veggie spring rolls ($6). The spring rolls were passable, being overly breaded and stuffed with mostly cabbage and cellophane noodles (boring!). The Temple's Feast and the Kung Pao dishes had indistinguishable sauces, neither of which rose above the level of gooey, corn starch-laden stripmall food. While both dishes were edible, they weren't worth $11, especially not at those small portion sizes.

The service and atmosphere were great, though. This is one of few Chinese restaurants in the city that is both relatively vegan-friendly as well as upscale in terms of appearance. Our waiter was courteous, fast and efficient.

If Friendship offered more unusual vegan dishes (perhaps something with mockmeat or seitan?), and a lighter, spicier touch to their sauce preparation, I might consider returning.

Fritz Pastry in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 8 10

rating star

UPDATE: I'm upping my review of Fritz Pastry after discovering their vegan donuts ($2 a piece). This is the finest vegan donut I've ever had and easily blows away the stuff made by Mighty-O in Seattle. Fritz's donut is exquisite (they have two or three different flavors daily, but they sell out frequently, so try to get them early in the day): it looks like a gourmet pastry with a golden-brown color, and then achieves perfection in its texture by being not too soft and not too hard and not too chewy. To make things even better, the glazed one I had was covered in a gorgeous, razor-thin coating that cracked like newly formed ice sheets on a sidewalk.

The service is always friendly and they also carry equally wonderful vegan muffins, cupcakes and other random things. Also, all of their items cost about $2 which is amazingly cheap considering the quality and sophistication of their products.

Fritz handily beats any other baker in Chicago. I would also say that Fritz makes some of the finest vegan baked goods I've ever had, period, be it donuts or cupcakes or whatever. I can't wait to see them try their hand at a cheesecake or pies.

Original review: Fritz Pastry makes the finest vegan cupcake in Chicago and one of the best I've ever had.

I had their chocolate cupcake ($2) which was delectable. First and foremost, the cupcake is balanced. It's not overly sweet, buttery or dense, unlike its competition at other Chicago cupcake vendors (Bleeding Heart, Molly's, Swirlz and Sweet Cakes). The cupcake at Fritz is soft, perfectly moist, and the frosting is smooth and rich, without tasting too buttery or sugary.

Exquisite balance is the best summation. Fritz offers two different flavors (chocolate and vanilla). If they were to offer more flavors, I would consider giving them my coveted and rare five-star rating.

I also had a piece of coffee streusel cake ($2) which was quite good, though not as crumbly as I would have liked for a coffee cake. That said, it was tasty and went well with a small pot of looseleaf Intelligentsia oolong tea ($2.50).

Lastly, I had a cup of Fritz hot chocolate with soy milk ($2.85) which was smooth and rich. No complaints, though vegan whipped cream would have been a nice addition.

The atmosphere is charming and serene with lots of dark wood and a huge set of tall windows overlooking the street. This is good people-watching if you're into that sort of thing.

The staff is also friendly, attentive and helpful.

Kudos to Fritz for offering superb and cutting-edge vegan baked goods (not all of their stuff is vegan, but they do have at least a few items that fit the bill) and classy loose-leaf organic teas. If they offered a few more vegan options such as a torte, a pie, and some cookies, I would put Fritz on my must-visit list whenever I'm in Chicago. As it stands, this is an excellent spot to get a cup of tea, eat some delicious baked goods, and enjoy the view.

Great Taste Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Nov 24 09

rating star

I never got a chance to try The Balanced Kitchen so I'm glad that the owners have opened this mini-sequel to that restaurant. Great Taste Cafe fills the vegan void in the Loop/Gold Coast area of Chicago.

First this place is in a gym and serves as a sort of juice-bar for the gym, though it's also a cafe open to the public. It looks like a juice bar and the food options are fairly basic and limited (menu items include five different types of wraps, five different rice or quinoa bowls, five salads, three pizzas, and a whole bunch of smoothie-tea-juice-coconut water type of stuff). Watch out for the smoothies which cost a whopping $8.50-$9.50.

I was disappointed by the type of food offerings. I was expecting a substantial meal and instead found only mini-meals of wraps and bowls none of which sounded too interesting.

I had a 7-inch tomato-basil pizza ($9.50) as my main course. It took a long time to arrive and while it tasted good (the potato starch crust was especially amazing in texture) it was also really small and simple considering the high price. Also, it didn't come with any vegan nut cheese which was disappointing (apparently I ordered the single pizza that DOESN'T have nut cheese).

I also had a gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie from Bot Bakery ($1) which was pretty tasty and had a hard, but not too hard, texture.

Finally I had a slice of fresh chocolate strawberry cake ($4.50) which was good, but not great. I definitely prefer the cakes you get at Chicago Diner.

The service was friendly but also slow (which was strange given that I was the only person at the cafe). Great Taste has a modern look and feel but the ambience is killed by the constant stream of gym employees and gym users strolling around and also by the deafening hum of a centrally-located cooler (stocked with random fruits, coconut water and other sundries).

While Great Taste fills a niche I just wish it had more interesting food options (how about a veggie burger? tacos? curries and stir-frys?) and lower prices.

Green Zebra in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 28 08

rating star

Green Zebra is the closest thing to Candle 79, Horizons or Millennium that Chicago has to offer. GZ is modern, romantic, expensive (though not nearly as expensive as the three aforementioned places), fusion-y, and full of artfully-presented meals on square plates. The menu uses words like "reduction" and "emulsion."

That said, I'm not sure why they insist on always offering one fish or chicken dish, and I'm not sure why the menu is so heavy on eggs. The vegan food here almost seems like a hasty afterthought.

About a third of the menu can be made vegan. Strangely, these dishes are marked with a (V), but ARE NOT vegan by default. The "V" just means that the dish can be made vegan. Make sure to tell your server if you're vegan, otherwise you'll end up getting a dish you thought was vegan, but in fact contains dairy or eggs. The menu is confusing in this regard.

To start I had a green papaya/hearts of palm salad ($10) which was decent, but didn't stand out in any way. The distinct flavors of the green papaya and hearts of palm seemed to jumble together into a mish-mash of tartness.

For main courses I had the "slow-roasted shittake mushrooms in crispy potato with cabbage" ($12) and the "sweet potato dumpling with pecans and mandarin oranges" ($13). The shittake dish was tasty at first but seemed to become saltier and saltier the more I ate. When I looked closely, I could see salt crystals still sitting atop the sushi-shaped rolls. I thought the cabbage was a nice touch and the shittake mushrooms were prepared well and made to melt in your mouth; but the salt became overwhelming by the end.

My sweet potato dumpling dish was, however, excellent and the highlight of the meal for me. The dumpling shells were somehow simultaneously crispy and soft, filled with a creamy sweet potato puree, which mixed perfectly with the tiny, soft orange slices, all of which created an intriguing mix of savory and sweet flavors, done subtly.

For dessert I had their only vegan option, a mini slice of chocolate cake with banana sorbet and caramel sauce ($8). The chocolate was too subdued for my taste (but nicely moist). But sandwiched between the chocolate were nicely-salted layers of peanut butter/cream that crunched in your mouth like tiny, delicious crystals. I've never experienced a texture like that and was amazed by it, actually. The dessert wasn't perfect, but it came together on a whole and was worth it for the novelty value of the peanut cream alone.

I found the service here to be mixed. My water was always kept filled by busboys, but my waiter was sullen and not very helpful. Toward the end of the meal, another server randomly took my dessert order, and she was far friendlier, so maybe I just had bad luck with my original server.

This is a great place to take a date. Most of the people there seemed to be celebrating an anniversary or a birthday or something special. All the men wore blazers and all the women looked like they just came off a catwalk in Milan.

I think the biggest draw of Green Zebra, aside from its upscale atmosphere and unusual food, is the prices. The dishes here are innovative (if not always made perfectly) and edgy. At $12-15 a piece, they're actually quite cheap for what they offer and the portion sizes are pretty good. Dishes like these in New York or San Francisco would easily cost 50% more and don't necessarily taste better. I'm impressed that Green Zebra is able to be so affordable, actually.

If the restaurant were more vegan-friendly, and the dishes were more consistent in their quality, I'd give this place one more star. As it stands, this is the the most upscale vegetarian food that a city of meat and potatoes can produce. (If you're looking for an all-vegetarian place in Chicago that's sort of posh, Karyn's Cooked is your other best bet).

Handlebar in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

UPDATE: I had brunch at Handlebar and was extremely impressed with the options. Aside from vegan waffles and pancakes and tofu scrambles, they also had a "vegan diablo rancheros" ($8.75) which were excellent---spicy, colorful, crispy corn cakes with seitan, beans and more. The food was fresh and unusually sophisticated.

I'm still disappointed that I tend to be the only non-white person in Handlebar whenever I go, but maybe that's part of the game if you're vegan and in Wicker Park. Or Chicago, in general.

ORIGINAL REVIEW: I came here with two non-veg friends thinking it would be a good place for them and it was. Handlebar has a nice selection of unusual beers, though at $5+ a pint, it was kind of expensive.

My friend enjoyed his buffalo "chicken" vegan wrap. I took a bite of it and thought it was nicely spiced and came in a good-sized portion with fries on the side for a total of $8.25.

My seitan tortellini dish, however, was way too expensive for the small portion ($12.75), which added up to about 15 bites or so. It tasted good, but was not filling and could have used a side dish of its own.

I also had a vegan chocolate raspberry torte which was pretty solid (not too sweet, not too rich) and well-presented with raspberry sauce and blueberries. They also had a vegan fried apple-cranberry pie, which sounded wonderful.

Most of the menu is vegan and most everything else can be made vegan.

The presentation of the food in general was well-done and not what you'd expect from a place that doesn't look like much above a bar-grill tavern joint. This is a good place to take a date, assuming he/she is veg*n and not hung up about decor.

The service was friendly and prompt and we received our food quickly. It can get a little bit cramped in there, and Handlebar is not good for groups of more than four people, and even then you might have to wait a few minutes for a table.

I think Handlebar is just slightly over-priced and I was also a little bit off-put by the lack of diversity in there. Karyn's Cooked is able to attract all kinds of people so I'm not sure why Handlebar seems so centered around a certain breed of 20-somethings (the place does serve alcohol and some meat, after all). It could be the restaurant's fault or it could be the clientele's fault, but something seemed "off" about the homogeneity in there.

All in all, though, Handlebar is a good joint to get a drink and eat a vegan meal.

Hema's Kitchen in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 12 09

rating star

I have yet to find the perfect, gourmet, subtle and smart North Indian restaurant I've always been looking for. Indian food in the US tends to be greasy, oily, heavy and full of non-vegan dairy products such as ghee, yogurt, cream and butter. It's aimed at the all-you-can-eat-buffet crowd.

All that said, Hema's Kitchen is the first Indian restaurant I've been to which I actually think I'd return to. The food here was light, simple and freshly prepared. The service was friendly. There's no buffet. The decor and ambience are a little bit lacking, but oh well, you can't win them all.

We had an aloo palak ($10) and a dal ($10), both of which were vibrant and tasty. They weren't bogged down in oil and the portion size was big enough to get a second meal out of each.

I do have a few gripes, though. Hema's doesn't offer brown rice, and they actually have the gall to charge $2.99 for a plate of white rice. White rice is dirt cheap and should be given out for free, as it is at most East Asian restaurants; that rice cost Hema's at most a few pennies, but they have no issues in charging an exponential markup on an inferior product.

Second, Hema's is seriously lacking in the bread department. Their naan is not vegan, but they do have vegan-izble phulka ($1.25) and paratha ($2.95). Neither of those two options are particularly great, though the paratha is slightly better than the phulka (but is also more expensive). Hema's, why don't you offer tandoori wholemeal roti? You have a tandoor and could make tandoori roti if you skipped the white flour and went old-school, as is right and proper in the subcontinent.

Third, the menu doesn't list what is and isn't vegan. Our waiter at least understood the "non-dairy" concept and it seemed like most of the vegetarian section of the menu could be made vegan, but make sure to ask questions anyway. But it's always nice to have that confirmed with a green "v" and maybe some extra-special tofu or soy-meat options, which are all too rare in Indian restaurants.

Also, the restaurant supposedly opens at noon, but when we got there at 12:20, it was still closed. No one came to the door to explain to us what was wrong, but another waiting customer had found out they'd be open at 12:45. Call ahead to confirm they're open, otherwise you might end up waiting like we did.

In conclusion, Hema's is good North Indian food, which is a rarity in the US. It has some room to improve, but I'm glad it's around. Hema, why not open a vegetarian restaurant, too?

I Dream of Falafel in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

Like Chipotle, or fellow Chicago restaurant Chutney Joe's, I Dream of Falafel is a quick-serve, build-your-own lunch spot with falafel and hummus and whatnot.

I like that they label all their vegan options, which are standard Middle Eastern things made of chickpeas or eggplant. You can't find labeled vegan food in the Loop very easily.

I had a falafel sandwich ($5.99) (made with whole wheat pita!) and added some tomato and onions and tahini. They also had the option for a spicy tomato sauce or a garlic tomato sauce.

The sandwich was decent on a whole, but not great. The falafel itself was not terribly flavorful and I'm not a fan of mixing and matching loads of condiments and sauces to enhance a dish. The best falafel I've ever had can always stand on its own, without the need for extras, but I Dream of Falafel's doesn't.

That said, this place is not bad by any means and I'm always in favor of more vegan-friendly joints in the Loop. For that, I give this place three stars and would probably return if I ever worked downtown.

iCream in Chicago, Illinois
Apr 5 09

rating star

This is a pretty cool, futuristic ice cream shop. It looks and feels very much like Stogo in New York City, and even has the same pod-style bar stools.

However, unlike Stogo, and unlike any other ice cream shop I've been to, iCream doesn't have any tubs full of flavors to choose from.

Instead, you choose what flavor(s) you want and the staff then makes the ice cream on the spot, with fancy machines (which you can watch through glass) and sophisticated computer touch-screens. It was like something out of Star Trek.

They have vegan soy varieties of every flavor (except for white chocolate). I asked them to produce a mixture of chocolate and hazelnut which came out tasting pretty good, though not great (iCream is definitely not of the quality of Lula's or Stogo, both in NYC): the texture was a little bit icy, and the flavors didn't gel quite properly. This was especially true of my friend's combination of "burnt sugar" flavor and hazelnut, which had an overpowering after-taste of the hazelnut.

That said, I like the concept of the place. Single scoops cost $4 (there's an extra charge for soy), and we waited at least 10 or 15 minutes for our order (it was sort of busy, but not packed by any means).

Like most things veg-related in Chicago, iCream is a compromise: it still serves dairy ice cream and isn't 100% vegan. Similarly, the "upscale" (mostly) veg. place in Chicago (Green Zebra) is heavily lacto-ovo and even serves fish; and the flagship veg. restaurant, The Chicago Diner, is still happy to serve dairy and eggs. I guess I can't expect more out of a city built on slaughterhouses, but it always disappoints me that my hometown can't do anything properly when it comes to vegan dining.

Karyn's Cooked in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 11 09

rating star

UPDATE: I've been to Karyn's Cooked at least a dozen times over the last few years and a two trends have emerged: the service is always slow and on occasion curt and unhelpful; and the food is good on a whole, but there are more than a few clunkers on the menu.

This is also the only suitably upscale-esque vegetarian restaurant in the city (no, Green Zebra doesn't count) where you can take a date. Dishes are priced to be affordable (everything is in the $9-12 range) which is a great point in Karyn's favor.

Once you've gotten over the slow service, here are a few dishes that I enjoy: the lasagna; the taco salad bowl; and the green enchiladas. Their sandwiches (with seitan or tofu) are okay, and sometimes better than okay, but I'm not sure I can recommend any of them off-hand. The cheesecake here is excellent, so long as it's fresh (make sure to look at it in the cooler before ordering); I once ordered a mango cheesecake slice and what came out was an awful, two-week old, flat thing that I could only manage to take two bites of, before giving up. Note: their "tiramisu" is not, in fact, tiramisu, and looks and tastes like a piece of generic cake.

I think Karyn's has lots of room to improve, mostly in the service area, and also with quality-control of the freshness of their desserts. They also need a few fresher, edgier, spicier dishes. That said, I'm glad it's around and I will be returning. Below is my original review:

I've been to Karyn's Cooked three times and had superb food every single visit. Try the lasagne or the green enchiladas or the cheesecake. However, the service has been mediocre at best. Waiters are slow and inattentive and occasionally rude or curt. One time I waited over 45 minutes for my food without anyone telling me that the oven was malfunctioning. And the restaurant had only two customers in it! They did compensate me with a free dessert, but the service should be much better, considering the higher prices and food quality of the place.

Karyn's on Green in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 8 10

rating star

Chicago is undergoing a vegan renaissance and Karyn's on Green is the centerpiece of this transformation. As recently as a year ago, I was embarrassed by Chicago's lack of quality vegan restaurants---Chicago is the third largest city in the country and the best it could do was The Chicago Diner (which is overrated and decaying steadily) and Green Zebra (which isn't even fully vegetarian).

But Karyn's on Green fixes all of that. It also corrects all of the errors and issues at its sister restaurant, Karyn's Cooked, and emerges as a sophisticated, smart and posh (yet affordable) bar-restaurant that competes with Millennium in San Francisco, Horizons in Philadelphia and Candle 79 in New York.

First, Karyn's on Green is upscale, romantic, and cool. This is a great place to take a date or to impress out of town guests who are a) skeptical of vegan food and b) skeptical of Chicago's foodie credentials.

Second, the food is awesome. I started off with an order of chorizo sliders ($8). This small plate consisted of two spicy, meaty mini-burgers that left me savoring and loving every bite.

For my main plate I had a crispy chicken legs ($14). This dish consisted of three large chicken drumsticks, covered in a fried coating, served atop some swiss chard, sweet potato hash with bits of seitan, and barbecue sauce. It was filling and elegant, yet also down-home and all-American. The "chicken" was pretty realistic and the dish came together beautifully. I'm not a huge fan of barbecue sauce, but it worked in this dish; that said, I'd love to see what it would have been like with a different sauce as well.

The menu is large and there's a lot of variety; it's one of those menus where you want to try everything.

The service was friendly, helpful and welcoming, in stark contrast to the infamously poor service at sister joint Karyn's Cooked.

I can't stress one other thing enough: Karyn's on Green is 40-50% cheaper than places like Millennium or Candle 79 or Horizons. The small plates here all are $6-8 a piece and could be full meals in themselves; similarly, the large plates are $12-15 and come in huge portion sizes. So Karyn's on Green is not only upscale and gourmet, but it's also a remarkably good value, which makes me appreciate the place even more. It's accessible and it's the type of place that will win over non-veg people in droves.

Karyn's on Green is a masterpiece and catapults Chicago into the big league when it comes to vegan food. I can't wait to go back.

Kramer's Health Foods in Chicago, Illinois
Aug 23 10

rating star

This place sucks. I debated giving it two stars, if only because it's the only vegetarian restaurant downtown, but I don't want this place on the front lines of what vegan and vegetarian food represents.

For one thing, the cafe portion looks like a church basement, and a dirty one at that. Floors are scuffed, there are boxes everywhere, the tables aren't wiped, and the kitchen area looks miserable.

They offer different pre-made daily specials (the day I went they had a fried rice dish, along with some kind of panini), none of which can be modified.

We ordered off of the regular menu (which is confusing and doesn't label what's vegan). We had a veggie burger ($5) and also a vegetable burrito ($5). Both were awful. The veggie burger was a Boca patty that they literally microwaved in front of me and then slapped on a bun. The "burrito" was a cold, clammy piece of tortilla with soggy, steamed vegetables. No salt, no spices, no seasoning of any kind.

The service was terrible: unfriendly; disorganized; and slow.

I recommend staying away from Kramer's if you enjoy the taste of food, or if you're looking for a good vegetarian/vegan experience. This one would turn you off immediately. Go to Karyn's on Green in Greektown instead.

Lake Side Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 14 09

rating star

It's a shame Lake Side Cafe is closing, because the place is pretty cool: modern; friendly; and all-purpose (it could be a coffee shop or a restaurant or even a bakery).

I had a vegan gyro ($10.50) which was tasty with Upton's Naturals seitan and a fresh cucumber sauce. My only issue is that the portion size was quite small---it was just a half wholewheat pita pocket stuffed with seitan and some lettuce, tomatoes and onions---considering the high price tag. For the same price, you could get twice as much food at The Chicago Diner. That said, I don't think the quality of the ingredients would be as high at The Diner as it was at Lake Side.

I also had a piece of chocolate cake ($4.50) and a chocolate-almond cookie ($2.50). All of their desserts are vegan which was pretty cool to see. The cake had a great, rich flavor, though it was dry. The cookie was also dry and rock-hard; it didn't soften too much even after I microwaved it. It wasn't very good, in my opinion, and had a salty taste that overwhelmed the almonds and chocolate chips.

Most of the menu is vegan and I appreciate that this place served a niche in far northern Chicago. It's unfortunate that it is shutting down but, on the other hand, at least a few new vegan places are opening up elsewhere in Chicago, so the net balance is still positive for the city's vegan community.

Life on Mars in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 11 10

rating star

This is a take-out joint offering vegan comfort foods. They fill Chinese take-out containers with whatever dishes you want and charge you by the pound. They also have tempeh/seitan/tofu sandwiches made to order, as well as soy shakes.

I tried their Mediterranean tofu scramble, sweet and sour seitan, and mac & cheese. The tofu scramble was actually pretty good (it's rare to find a good tofu scramble at restaurants) and filled with spices, artichokes, olives and more. It has a robust flavor. The sweet and sour seitan was pretty much what you'd imagine it to be, augmented with some broccoli. Lastly, the mac & cheese was creamy and rich, though I would have preferred it with some bell peppers and wholewheat pasta. Those three, packed into a small take-out container, cost $4.50 or so.

For dessert I had a rice krispie treat ($2) which was really good---it tasted just as I remember them to taste, though this one was a bit less chewy.

They're going to add some seating in the coming weeks (currently there's space for only a few people up front). This is a take-out joint, at the end of the day.

I will probably come back here as the food was good and relatively cheap. The offerings themselves looked kind of basic (I could probably make many of these dishes myself, quite easily), but I appreciate that Life on Mars adds some diversity to the Chicago vegan world.

LooseLeaf Lounge in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

LooseLeaf Lounge has a small, but respectable variety of loose leaf teas. I do find it strange that a place with such a name could have so few varieties of tea, but oh well.

They don't have any vegan baked goods, but they do have one vegan sandwich made with artichokes and pesto that sounded pretty good.

The vibe is cool and casual with nice retro furniture. It fills a niche on Broadway, though it could go further to appeal to vegans and tea lovers alike.

Molly's Cupcakes in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

Molly's a cool, cozy little coffee shop in a nice neighborhood. The interior is bright and it even has a counter area (with swings!) to sit with some cupcakes and the newspaper.

They only offer two varieties of vegan cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla, but they're good ones. The chocolate one ($2.20 with tax) decadent, moist and delicious; that said, they're also very dense and I had one non-vegan friend say he thought they were too thick and heavy to really compete with a "real" cupcake.

If Molly's had a few more vegan flavors this place would be an absolute gem. As it stands, it's pretty rocking and a good place to check out.

Opera in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 13 08

rating star

We got to Opera pretty late (10:45 p.m.), so I was happy that they're open late. They recommend making reservations, as it's a popular place in the theater district. The decor is pretty cool and artsy-unusual, and the service was friendly and prompt.

I also love that they have a separate vegan menu, however small it may be, and however confusing (it's not separated into traditional groupings of appetizer-entree-dessert, so make sure to ask what's what).

Now onto the food. The morel mushroom wontons were pretty good but nothing spectacular. Morels are delicate, so I wasn't sure that deep frying them in batter was the best cooking treatment. The portion size was kind of small considering the price ($9).

My Mapo tofu was also decent, but nothing special. The portion size was much larger, even though the price was only $8, so I'm not sure how they set prices. The flavors were a strange mix of sweet and spicy, but I found the dish became boring after ten or fifteen bites.

There were two other vegans in my group and one of them was greatly disappointed by her "vegetable rice noodle stir fry" which she found to be overly sweet with low quality noodles. I tried her dish and concurred---it was almost sugary, rather than savory. Finally, the last vegan in the group enjoyed her "spring vegetable muushu."

So while I must give the restaurant kudos for having a vegan menu, and having hip decor and nice service, I was not impressed by the food. Quite honestly, I probably won't go back here unless I'm desperate. It just doesn't merit a second visit.

Pho's Thai Cuisine in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 13 09

rating star

I probably would have passed Pho's Thai by were it not for the "vegetarians welcome" subtitle below their sign. This is a small, quaint restaurant with simple dishes that feel home-cooked and authentic. The "garlic oyster sauce" they use is, in fact, vegan and they also have vegan curry stocks, which is rare in American Thai restaurants (they usually have either shrimp paste or fish sauce pre-mixed in the curry sauces).

I had a pad prik lunch special ($7.20 with tax) and chose "imitation meat" over tofu. The dish also came with a light vegetable soup and a fried spring roll. All in all it was a great value and the dish itself was tasty and basic, like a home-cooked stir-fry. I only wish they had brown rice as an option.

(For the record, the imitation meat is denser and chewier than tofu though it looks similar.)

The service was friendly and welcoming. I would definitely come here again to try their curries and other stir-frys. It's rare to find a Thai restaurant so accommodating to vegans and I think this is the one for Chicago.

Pick Me Up Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

Pick Me Up is an American diner with edgy clientele (especially compared to the residents of Wrigleyville). I like that they're open late and offer a variety of vegan options, though nothing here really stands out, and the options are pretty basic.

They have lots of tofu scrambles and pancakes and the like, but don't offer mockmeat sandwiches or stir-frys/pastas. I had the moo-free pizza ($9) which consisted of a flaky crust loaded with bell peppers, onions, eggplant and mushrooms, topped with a whipped tofu "cheese." The crust was the best part, as it was crispy and well-done, though it quickly got soft and soggy once the oil from the over-cooked vegetables got to it. The tofu "cheese" was decent, but needed more herbs and less salt.

I also had a chocolate rice krispie bar ($4) which was too dense and heavy for my likes. Also, it wasn't crispy at all and ws more chewy than anything else.

The service was friendly but slow. I'd come to Pick Me Up if I were in a bind late at night and if the nearby Chicago Diner had already closed. Otherwise, take a pass on Pick Me Up.

Quesadilla La Reina del Sur in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 29 11

rating star

Chicago has an unusually high number of extremely innovative and vegan-friendly Mexican businesses (Quesadilla, Azucar Bakery, La Cocina Logan Square, El Nuevo, and El Faro), beating out pretty much any other city. Quesadilla is the best of the bunch. This is a wonderful, mostly vegan Mexican joint run by a family from Mexico. As such, no complaints about the food being "inauthentic"---the food here is prepared with care and freshness.

Their "tinga" taco was fabulous and really cheap at less than $3 a piece---wonderfully spiced soy chicken and a simple garnish of cilantro and onions. This is exactly how a taco is served in Mexico, meaning open-face, and just meat and garnish. No beans, lettuce, cheese or whatever else.

Most of their tacos were good, but I think the tinga was the best, and the beef ones were a bit less flavorful.

The guacamole, however, wasn't quite as good as the tacos. It felt flat in terms of taste (maybe not enough cilantro and tomato?) and it was also much more expensive than anything else on the menu, despite being an appetizer.

Lastly, the chocolate cupcake (made by Azucar Bakery, a vegan Mexican bakery) was solid: moist, not too sweet, and nicely rich in chocolate flavor.

I can't wait to return to Quesadilla.

Ra Sushi in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

Ra Sushi has very little for vegans except the most basic kind of avocado or cucumber sushi rolls (or, as I like to say, the Japanese equivalent of iceberg lettuce salads at steakhouses). The bar area is pretty nice, though, and I like the decor. Be warned that their mixed drinks are pretty strong and not particularly well-mixed, in my opinion. The service was friendly.

If you happen to be in the area, this might be a good place for a late-night drink, as all the other bars in the neighborhood seem to be wood-paneled Irish pubs.

Rajun Cajun in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 12 09

rating star

Rajun Cajun is decent for a quick, cheap meal. All the dishes are sitting there in a buffet counter and you tell them what you want (individual dishes, combo platters, etc.) and they slop it onto a plate for you. This isn't an ecological place by any means; everything is served on styrofoam plates and you use plastic utensils.

Make sure to ask questions about ingredients, as none of the staff seemed to be familiar with the word "vegan," though they understood the concept of no dairy and no eggs. Maybe the staff has changed since previous reviews? In general, as long as the dish doesn't have paneer, it's probably good to go in Rajun Cajun (they don't seem to use cream, yogurt or butter/ghee in their curries).

I had a vegetarian combo platter (two curries, rice, one samosa and one roti) for $8.99. Neither of my dishes stood out in any way and tasted like oily, all-purpose Americanized North Indian food. The chana (chickpea) was bland, in my opinion, and the gobi-mattar (cauliflower and peas) was watery. How come they don't have any dishes with tofu or seitan or some other cool vegan ingredients, such as the ones you find at Soul Veg or Yah's Cuisine?

The samosa was soft, rather than crispy, though the roti was well-made and felt authentic, like straight out of a kitchen in India.

The interior of the cafe is a bit bleak: plastic booths; weird neon light that somehow managed to be dark and moody rather than bright and vivacious; and loud Bollywood music.

This is eminently avoidable Indian food. The only plus points are that it's cheap and that it's one of only a few decent vegan-friendly options in Hyde Park.

RAW in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 31 09

rating star

The French Market in Ogilvie Transportation Center is pretty cool and has some vegan-friendly options, especially at RAW, a raw food vendor.

They offer a variety of salads, sandwiches, smoothies, entrees, and desserts.

I had a lemon bar ($7.81 with tax) and it was delicious and refreshing. It didn't taste particularly "raw" which is a good thing, in my opinion.

My only gripe with RAW, and it's a major one, is the prices. The desserts are all small and extremely expensive. $7 for a lemon bar is a full meal at another vendor 10 feet away. When I was there, most of the desserts were $7+, such as the chocolate mousse ($8) which consisted of only a tiny cup. The cheapest option was a small 2-inch cookie for $4, which is absurdly expensive.

Similarly, almost all of the sandwiches and salads are over $9, with some as high as $12 and $14.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that the average Ogilvie train commuter isn't interested in paying $12 for a tiny raw salad, packaged in shiny black plastic containers, for the ride home.

I understand that raw food is generally expensive, but food at these prices will scare off customers, especially those at Ogilvie, who are average-joes happy with the Dunkin' Donuts and Taco Bell upstairs.

Reza's Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois
Apr 5 09

rating star

Reza's is one of the few vegan-friendly places in the extended downtown area of Chicago. That said, the food here is not that great.

I split a few appetizers with my friend. The falafel appetizer ($5.95) consisted of big falafel balls with a lemony tahini sauce with dill. But it was served luke-warm and lost much of its appeal that way. Also, the flavor just wasn't that great; it tasted bland and got boring after a few bites. We also had a vegetarian shamshiri ($5.95), which was basically just falafel covered in an unusual, and tasty, sweet-sour pomegranate sauce. Finally, the vegetarian kabob (made without butter for us- $5.95) was pretty bland and comprised one piece each of carrot, zucchini, mushroom and tomato.

That said, the decor and atmosphere here was great. The place is huge and has a nice lounge area upfront. It looks like a fancy bar/restaurant from the 1920s. It's classy with high ceilings, dark wood everywhere, exposed brick, and a big, elegant bar. This is the type of place Al Capone would have dined at and I was pleased that places like this still exist in Chicago.

Soul Vegetarian East in Chicago, Illinois
Jan 5 08

rating star

I loved Soul Vegetarian. The service was friendly and fast, the atmosphere was charming and worldly, and the food was delicious and perfectly priced and portioned. I haven't had soul food in a long time and found their cream of broccoli soup, cornbread, mashed potatoes, collard greens and country mock steak to all be wonderfully filling and tasty. My only gripe is with the location, which is hard to get to via public transportation. Otherwise, it's highly recommended.

Star of Siam in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

There's not too much vegan food in the Loop, but my friend and I gave Star of Siam a shot one evening. The atmosphere is kind of nice and cozy and the service was fairly prompt and friendly.

That said, the food was terrible. The fried tofu appetizer was chewy; clearly the tofu had been fried hours ago and had been left around to sit under a heat lamp for a while. The egg rolls were okay, but a bit greasy for my likes.

The main dishes were the worst offenders. My pad prik (chili stir fry) looked nice, especially the way they cut the bamboo shoots to look like noodles, but the dish had no flavor. There was lots of oil, but no taste and I had to douse the dish with soy sauce to make it barely worth eating.

Similarly, the pad kraw pao (basil stir fry) was watery and flavorless. They put way too much tomato in the dish (why did they put tomato at all? it's not commonly used in Thai cooking), which sucked out the flavor, and the tofu was barely cooked.

The only plus point: they offer brown rice for an additional $1 or so.

Go try some other Thai restaurant in the Loop, as this place has nothing going for it.

Sultan's Market in Chicago, Illinois
Aug 18 09

rating star

I'd heard Sultan's has the best falafel in Chicago, and I can't categorically deny that (because I haven't had too much falafel in Chicago), but I can definitely say that the falafel here was okay, but not great. It's definitely not the best falafel I'VE ever had (that title belongs to Mim's Cafe in St. Paul), and there were serious issues with the preparation here that give me pause.

Food aside, the Clark Street branch of Sultan's is extremely small and has space for maybe eight people, all crammed near the entrance. This is a place where you get take-out.

Conveniently, all vegan items are clearly marked on the wall menu. I had a falafel sandwich ($4.14 with tax) which is hastily slapped together from already-prepared ingredients, much like a Subway sandwich or a Chipotle burrito. My biggest gripe was with the temperature of the food---the falafel pieces were lukewarm, the pita was room temperature and the tahini-cucumber sauce was cold, creating a passable, but inelegant whole. At the very least, the falafel needs to be hot, and the rest can be at room temperature, but if you have any cold items in the mix, the sandwich gets all messed up.

I did like the portion size, which was big enough for a meal, but also quick and cheap. This is the ideal snack or light dinner food. I also liked the hot peppers tossed in, which added a significant level of spice (albeit one that wasn't evenly distributed, because everything was slapped together, rather than mixed properly).

Next time I'll try the original Sultan's to see if there's any difference in quality. On a whole, I give this place three stars because it's quick and cheap, but the food has room for improvement, and I have to believe there's better falafel somewhere else in Chicago. If not, then it's pretty pathetic if Sultan's is the best Chicago can do.

Sweet Cakes Bakery in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

This is a wonderful, quaint coffee shop/bakery with numerous vegan items to choose from. From the sidewalk you walk through their lovely, large, outdoor patio which is practically forested---it's amazingly lush and cool and makes you forget you're in a city. The inside of the shop is roomy and modern.

They have three or four vegan cupcakes, three cookies, and also a scone option (the vegan options aren't labeled, so ask questions). I had two mini cupcakes with interesting flavors: chai latte and mint chocolate ($1.50 a piece). I also got a chocolate chip cookie (~$1.50).

All of them were good, though the textures could have been a bit softer. Generally, the outer edge of the cupcakes and the cookie were just a tad crisp, but the insides were soft and moist.

Sweet Cakes also has a decent selection of loose leaf teas. The prices on the baked goods are excellent, though you might end up overindulging given the low costs. Come to Sweet Cakes for a cup of tea, a cupcake or two, and a pleasant afternoon on a beautiful garden patio.

Swirlz Cupcakes in Chicago, Illinois
Dec 29 09

rating star

Swirlz is an upscale cupcake shop that offers one vegan option daily. They're not terribly innovative flavors, though I'm amazed that the vegan cupcakes are also gluten-free.

I had a vanilla cupcake (~$3) which was super soft and moist. I couldn't tell it was vegan and I definitely couldn't tell it was gluten-free.

The frosting was okay, but had the slightest salty taste which detracted from its appeal.

If Swirlz had more vegan flavors and loose-leaf teas, I'd be here often. As it stands, it's a good place to grab a high-grade cupcake and slightly edges out Bleeding Heart Bakery in terms of quality and taste. That said, Fritz Pastry has the best vegan cupcake in the city.

Tea Gschwendner in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 12 09

rating star

This is an upscale, modern tea shop with a nice range of tea-brewing instruments and an unusual and large selection of teas from around the world. I was impressed with the number of African, Vietnamese and Indonesian teas they offered, which is something of a rarity---most tea shops only offer a few tokens from these regions/countries.

The service is friendly and extremely helpful in selecting teas and even offering suggestions of where you might find a vegan baked good in the area (a Whole Foods is seven blocks away).

Three major gripes, though: 1. there are no vegan baked goods here; 2. there's no seating in the shop, so you can only get cups of tea to-go and; 3. because everything is to-go, you get served in paper cups with plastic lids. Fine tea is not meant to be had from cheap paper cups. I think Tea Schwendner does its product a disservice by serving it in this manner.

However, it might be nice to get a cup and walk a few blocks to the beach, if you're looking for a simple activity in the area.

Udupi Palace in Chicago, Illinois
Aug 1 08

rating star

This place is a solid vegetarian South Indian restaurant and a bit of an institution on Devon Avenue. You can't go wrong with anything you order. Service is friendly. That said, I wish they indicated which dishes are vegan on their menu; it's no big deal to ask the waiter, but I think South Indian restaurants should get the message that more and more vegans would eat there if they better knew the ingredients of some dishes. Still, Udupi is a classic.

Uncommon Ground in Chicago, Illinois
Nov 25 08

rating star

I agree with the previous reviewer. The ambience of the place is good and it's definitely a trendy, well-done joint. But it doesn't offer much for vegans. When I went, I got a modified pasta dish which was passable, but nothing great.

I take issue with restaurants that claim to be socially and environmentally conscious, but then offer few to no vegan dishes. These are the type of places that offer a grass-fed burger and then automatically call themselves sustainable or local or ethical. It takes a little bit more than that, folks.

Urban Vegan in Chicago, Illinois
Oct 29 11

rating star

I've been to a a couple dozen or more vegan or vegetarian Thai joints around the world, including in Thailand itself. As such, I had high expectations for Urban Vegan, and the restaurant mostly met those expectations.

My two non-vegetarian friends went straight for main courses, getting a red curry with mock chicken, a spicy basil leaves with mock chicken and a spicy noodles dish. All of the dishes cost around $10.

The red curry and the basil leaves were both excellent: spicy, savory and hearty. I am almost always unimpressed with curries and stir-frys I find in average Thai restaurants, but Urban Vegan manages to produce the robust flavors one hopes to encounter in Thai food.

It should be noted that my non-vegetarian friends loved the food as well and, like me, would call it the best Thai food they'd had in Chicago.

The spicy noodles was the only dish that didn't get a passing grade. This one was spicy, but not particularly flavorful otherwise and just fell flat.

For dessert we got the coconut ice cream, which is a wonderful dish to share. It's coconut ice cream packed into an actual coconut, complete with coconut flesh still sticking to the sides of the shell. This dessert was so tasty, in fact, that we ordered an extra one.

Urban Vegan is easily the best Thai food in Chicago, in my opinion, and a fine place in general. Keep in mind that it's a small cafe with only a few tables capable of seating four people; don't come with a large group. The service is friendly and prompt, and the restaurant also has reasonable prices and good portion sizes.

I will be returning to Urban Vegan whenever I'm in Chicago.

Veggie Bite in Chicago, Illinois
Nov 16 08

rating star

I came here expecting more, honestly. I'd had Veggie Bite food at green conferences in Chicago and was amazed (they set up shop at at least a few of these events) by their nuggets and sandwiches.

But when I went to their second outlet in Chicago I found the service to be slow and a little bit bumbling. The place wasn't super-clean either, with many tables and the especially the floor, needing a good wipe-down.

My meat-eating cousin who was with me loved everything here, from the chicken burger to the chili cheese fries to the nuggets. I, however, found all of the food to not be as impressive as at those conferences; this time it felt flat and greasy, like the ingredients had been sitting around for a while. I also thought they loaded the chicken burger with way too many liquid condiments, making the bread horribly soggy, and making the "meat" patty lose all of its crispy-fried goodness.

That said, I'll definitely come back here to see if I just ended up there on an off-day. At least my cousin loved it and he used to be skeptical of vegan food.

Vella Cafe in Chicago, Illinois
Jul 12 09

rating star

Vella is a decent place with a few well-made vegan options. Located right underneath the Western Blue Line stop, it's also fairly conveniently located.

I had the tofu scramble wrap ($8) and a tempeh sandwich ($7.50). The tofu scramble wrap had all the right ingredients, but was way too oily for my likes; the oil ended up making the dish fairly bland as none of the spices and ingredients could express themselves. The tempeh sandwich, however, was quite good with fresh bread and nice seasoning.

For dessert I had a vegan double chocolate cookie ($2.20 with tax) which was a little bit stiff, but had a good flavor and was definitely worth ordering, especially for the price.

I wouldn't go out of my way to stop at Vella, nor would I come here for brunch, but if you're on the Blue Line and looking for a quick vegan snack, Vella offers some decent options.

Yah's Cuisine in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 5 10

rating star

Yah's is a welcome addition to the south side of Chicago. While I don't think it matches its main competitor, Soul Vegetarian East, it's still good and worth visiting if you are in town.

The space itself is really simple, with about five or six tables that seat four a piece. There's a counter up front and a hotbar showing off the day's food options.

I started with an order of onion rings ($5) which were made fresh. They took a while to arrive (at least 15 minutes) but they were really tasty with a wonderful batter coating. I can't say that they're superior to Soul Veg's onion rings, but these were good in their own right.

I then had the dinner meal of the day ($10) which consists of a large plate with five of the day's options. Yah's also allows you to substitute out certain items for others. In my case, I dropped the grilled broccoli and instead got some mac and cheese (Yah's initially made their fame selling this mac and cheese at a south side farmer's market).

To go dish by dish: the lentil stew was good, but a bit oily. I wasn't a fan of the celery they added to the stew, however. The eggplant lasagna was really good with a creamy, cheesy-topping. The mac and cheese was okay, but not great, in my opinion (my friend thinks this was because it was old and had lost much of its freshness). Next, the stewed sweet potatoes were good but really basic; I would have preferred the BBQ nuggets that the menu suggested they'd give me (but they must have been out of). Lastly, the mushroom patty was excellent: a doughy pastry filled with mushrooms in a sweet wine reduction.

The service was really friendly and helpful but not particularly fast.

I think the main issue I have with Yah's is that the food is not made fresh on the spot. If you get there early in the day, everything probably will taste great; if you come later, and it's been sitting around for a while, it loses much of its appeal. This is why Soul Veg, in my opinion, edges out Yah's (at least for now).

That said, the price for the dinner plate is more than reasonable considering the quantity of food they give you. Sides are $5 a piece, which seems disproportionately expensive, but that's a minor quibble.

Yummy Yummy Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois
Sep 16 09

rating star

UPDATE: Since my last visit was on Christmas, I thought I'd come back on a less hectic day. I had a lunch special here when it was practically empty. The "empress soy protein" was decent, but a bit gooey. However the lunch special is an excellent value at only $6 and gives you a plate of food, a cup of miso soup and also an egg roll. (I also got some brown rice, which cost an extra $1.50; that's a steep price considering the whole meal was only $6.)

I'm amazed that a city as large as Chicago has no really good vegan Chinese options. Yummy Yummy is one of the only Asian places in the city that offers mockmeats, and they're not really mockmeats---just TVP or wheat gluten, which is like mockmeat from the 1980s.

I wouldn't go out of my way to try Yummy Yummy, but I'd probably stop by here if nothing else were available.

ORIGINAL REVIEW: I came here on Christmas with a vegan friend. Note to others who can't cook on Christmas: don't go to Yummy Yummy. We definitely didn't have a quaint "A Christmas Story"-esque situation with singing waiters. Other customers waited over an hour or more for their take-out orders and we waited 45 minutes for someone to take our order (given that it was Xmas, this was the only vegan-friendly restaurant open in Chicago, as we found out after calling many others). Then we waited another 40 minutes for our food to arrive. I'm not going to dock them any points for their harrowed Christmas service, as I'm sure it doesn't represent them under normal circumstances, but it does suggest they don't handle busy times well.

Yummy Yummy is tiny, with space for only 16 people. I like that they're open late (10:30 p.m.). They also have nice, simple decor. There was only one server for the whole room which can cause problems, though.

They were out of the Szechuan wontons appetizer, but we ended up with a Soy Protein in garlic sauce, and a Twice-Cooked Wheat Gluten. My friend didn't like the taste of the garlic sauce dish, nor did she like the soy protein, but I liked the dish completely. It had the perfect spice level, was full of vegetables (which she did like, too), and I thought the soy protein had a nice texture.

The twice-cooked wheat gluten fell slightly flat for me. It was passable, but nothing special. I thought the gluten was a bit too chewy and the sauce didn't have a bold flavor. Also, the only vegetables were onions and celery, neither of which I'm particularly fond of.

Yummy Yummy does have many vegan choices and I'd be curious to try some of their other dishes (they also have Thai and Korean options) and maybe one of their smoothies. The restaurant is not vegetarian, though, and the place can get packed easily, so make sure to call ahead for a table or stick to take-out. That said, this seems to be the only Chinese restaurant in Chicago that offers any type of mockmeat, so it's worth it for the novelty value alone. And, on top of it, their food is pretty good on a whole.

Eduardo's in DeKalb, Illinois
Jul 9 10

rating star

Eduardo's is located in the center of downtown DeKalb and has a nice patio for eating/drinking outside. The bar area is good for catching a game and the dining room accommodates large groups easily.

I am just impressed that they offer a mockmeat option for their tacos/burritos/etc. It's a rare treat to get veganized Mexican food.

I had their vegetarian taco plate (ask for it without cheese, and without the rice, which is cooked in chicken broth) ($8.50). My server was extremely friendly and once I ordered the tacos, immediately informed me about the chicken broth in the rice, without me even asking. That's great service.

The dish consisted of three tacos (I got them with hard corn shells) filled with lettuce, tomatoes and the veggie chicken, which was more like a firmer, chewier type of tofu. It didn't have too much flavor on its own, but worked well in concert with the other ingredients of the taco. The dish also came with a side of refried beans (lard-free by default).

It was a good, standard Mexican meal. It would have been great if Eduardo's also had tofu sour cream and Daiya vegan cheese, but the veggie chicken is a good start.

If Eduardo's added seitan and fried tofu to the menu I'd come back more often.

Lastly, the free chips and salsa they give you were quite good. The chips were perfectly fresh and crispy and the salsa was fresh and spicy; too often do table salsas seem either flat, old or just imbalanced in taste (too spicy, too tart, too salty, etc.).

Blind Faith Cafe in Evanston, Illinois
Aug 26 10

rating star

I wasn't super-impressed with Blind Faith.

We shared a Blind Faith burger ($10.50) which was pretty bland and boring. We also had a vanilla cupcake and a cappuccino brownie, both of which were dry and not terribly flavorful.

There didn't seem to be a whole ton of unusual or interesting vegan options in general.

While I like the vibe here (it's a coffee shop up front, and an upscale diner in the back), I found the service to be mixed; the people at the counter were really friendly and helpful whereas our waiter was surly, curt and difficult to track down (to place our order and to get our bill).

I'd come back to Blind Faith if I were in Evanston, but it's otherwise not worth a special trip.

Bangkok Restaurant in Kane County, Illinois
May 28 08

rating star

Bangkok Restaurant is a gem of a place in the far west suburbs of Chicago. I eat there every time I'm visiting home. The restaurant itself is small and BYOB but is always bustling. The food is simply first-class; best of all, it's home-cooked, and feels fresh and hearty, unlike some other Thai restaurants. Honestly, this is the best Thai food I have ever had outside of Thailand itself. Portion sizes are large and I always have leftovers. Make sure to try their green curry or their pad ped ma muang (cashew stir fry) or pad graw paw (basil stir fry) which are well-spiced, delicious and fresh. They also use high quality ingredients from their vegetables to their tofu. This place is really special and stands out as one of the best Thai restaurants in Chicagoland.

China Taste in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

I usually don't add strip-mall Chinese restaurants to VegGuide unless they're special or different in some way. China Taste, as generic as its name may imply, is actually quite good and worth a stop if you're ever in the far western suburbs of Chicago (it's a good 50-60 minute drive from downtown Chicago).

For one thing, the service as China Taste is always friendly and welcoming. They have a nicely decorated dining section, too, in case you don't want take-out.

Their menu looks like your average Chinese take-out menu, but actually uses the word "vegetarian" in a category heading (instead of "vegetables," which sounds like it'd be vegetarian, but it's often not). Indeed, all of the dishes in this section actually are vegetarian---no oyster sauce, no chicken broth, etc.

The dishes themselves are spicy and taste fresh, and not bogged down in oil and corn starch. I recommend one of their tofu dishes with garlic sauce---definitely a winner.

El Taco Grande in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

El Taco Grande doesn't offer any mockmeats or soy cheese options, but their vegetarian tacos and burritos are quite tasty and filling. The food here is prepared freshly and feels home-cooked and labored-over, rather than just "assembled" at cheaper Mexican joints.

The portion sizes are huge and prices are fairly low. They use a ton of vegetables (broccoli, zuchinni, bell peppers and more) as the fillings for their dishes. Avocado is optional. Make sure to ask about their beans and rice, as I'm not sure they're vegetarian (lard and chicken broth, as usual).

Prasino in Kane County, Illinois
Jan 28 11

rating star

Prasino is an unusually elegant, modern, innovative and vegan-friendly joint in the suburbs (they have two locations as of early 2011; one in La Grange and another in St. Charles). This might be one of few places outside of Chicago proper that offers labeled vegan items that are both unusual and tasty.

I tried a number of their vegan items. First, their tofu scramble ($3.50 for a side portion) was pretty tasty, but basic: it was tiny diced cubes of tofu sauteed with some olive oil and some unusual spices. The dish could have used some vegetables, such as bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, to give it some extra heft and flavor, but this was still a tasty dish on its own.

The vegan orange-almond stuffed french toast ($9) was excellent: soft, fluffy pieces of bread with a delicate orange creme "cheese" filling, covered in fresh berries. The portion size was huge, too, considering the low price. They also give you home-made vanilla syrup on the side which was excellent. The waitstaff and kitchen are both really savvy on vegan issues; they left off powdered sugar because they knew it was filtered through bone char. While I personally am not super-strict about the refined sugar issue (though I am about honey), I was glad that Prasino is really up to snuff when it comes to vegan sensitivities.

I also had their vegan "eggs benedict" which was chipotle tofu with mashed black beans, an english muffin, and green tomatillo sauce. I think this dish was borderline "drab" in that the tomatillo sauce had no zing, and the black bean mash was heavy, dry and woefully bland. I would suggest adding more diced tomatoes to the mix, some green chilis, and using a seitan or veggie sausage patty to liven the dish, forgoing the tofu all together.

The diced red potatoes, by the way, make an amazing side dish. These were little marvels sauteed in olive oil and fresh herbs and just tasted spectacular.

Another time I came for lunch and had their veggie burger with soy cheese. The burger was filling, but bland (it was made from a black bean mash, which is always a risk, if not flavored with enough spices). I would prefer a seitan patty, so that the burger is meatier and absorbs marinades and flavors better.

For lunch and dinner, Prasino offers far fewer vegan options, which is strange as breakfast usually is where restaurants struggle to meet vegan demand. I wish Prasino had some edgier, smarter vegan lunch and dinner options; maybe some vegan pastas with cream sauces and gardein chicken?

Prasino also lacks any vegan desserts of note (they'll give you sorbet or a fruit platter), which is again surprising, given that they have such innovative vegan brunch options. The ingredients of the vegan french toast, for example, could be rearranged and modified to be a dessert pretty easily, I imagine.

The service here was consistently friendly and attentive. I like their Prasino Rewards Card, which is free, and earns you points with each purchase; while the points don't add up to much, it's a good thought and encourages loyalty to the restaurant.

The space is modern, large, bright and lovely with comfortable seats and booths, as well as a cool bar area. You'd expect to find a place like this in an upscale hotel in downtown Chicago, not in the suburbs.

While Prasino has room to improve in the vegan department, this place still represents a gigantic leap forward for plant-based diets in the suburbs. I'm glad it's around and I look forward to returning.

Siriwan Bistro in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

Siriwan is in a plaza with a gigantic supermarket and is easy to miss. The food here is not particularly good or memorable in any way---it's pretty much generic, watered-down Thai food---but the prices are reasonable and the portion sizes are large, if that's your thing.

I do like that they have Chinese dishes as well, which adds to the variety of the menu.

If you're all the way out here, go to Bangkok Restaurant instead.

Soup to Nuts in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 29 08

rating star

This place doesn't offer anything you can't find at major supermarkets or Trader Joe's. They have a few pre-packaged vegan cookies and some Asian foods and vitamins and stuff like that. I thought the prices were way too high, on the order of 20-50% more than what you'd pay at chain stores. Given that Soups to Nuts doesn't really offer anything special or unusual, I'm not sure how they can justify their prices.

Taste of Himalayas in Kane County, Illinois
Nov 25 09

rating star

Nepalese restaurants are sprouting up all over the Chicagoland area; not two years ago there was only one but now, at the end of 2009, there are probably five or six. Taste of Himalayas takes the gutsy move of opening up in the far western suburbs where pub-bistro food is more the norm.

I came here and was pleased to see clearly labeled Nepalese dishes (too often do Nepalese restaurants shirk on their native offerings and instead just make generic North Indian food which is similar, but not the same). That said, they don't label their vegan dishes, so make sure to ask questions, and some of the dishes contain yogurt.

I had a "palungo ko saag" (spinach and tomatoes with spices) ($10), an "aloo tama bodi" (potatoes, blackeyed peas and bamboo shoots)($10) and a tandoori roti ($2).

The aloo tama was extremely spicy (more than I was looking for) but fell flat in terms of taste. The tomato base of the sauce and the starchy textures of the beans and potatoes gave this dish a mushy feel, and over-spiced at that.

The palungo dish was wonderful, though. The spinach comes lightly cooked and shredded, giving it an unusual look. The tomatoes were also only lightly cooked and diced, retaining a fresh look and feel. And something about the spices gave this dish a wonderful flavor that was akin to a really great, light curry, but without the heaviness.

Lastly the tandoori roti was okay, but was white flour, which is a shame, as roti should usually be wholewheat.

They don't serve brown rice, which is also a shame.

The service was friendly and prompt and the decor is decent. Prices and portion sizes are reasonable.

I will definitely come back to try their other Nepalese dishes. I'm surprised they don't offer jackfruit curry, which is a Nepalese specialty. That said, the food here holds promise based on the spinach dish, if not the potato dish.

Thai Village in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

I like the atmosphere and friendly service here. Thai Village is in a 100-year-old building in downtown Batavia and makes good use of the space. It's intimate, well-decorated and inviting.

I've had mixed experience with the service. Sometimes it's excellent, whereas other times it's slow and rude.

The food here is a notch above average, though not spectacular. Prices are reasonable and portion sizes are large.

Personally, if you're this far west from Chicago, I would recommend going one town over to Geneva and eating at Bangkok Restaurant, which is arguably one of the best Thai restaurants in the whole of sprawling Chicagoland.

Thai Zie in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

There's been a spate of Thai restaurants opening in the "Tri-Cities" of Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles in the far western suburbs of Chicago. Thai Zie is one of the newest and while it does a good job with decor, I found the food and service lacking.

The restaurant was nearly empty when I came but it still took the waiter five minutes to give me water and another five minutes for him to take my order.

I had one of their stir-frys which are bland and watery and just flat somehow.

If you're all the way out here and are looking for good Thai, go one town over to Geneva and check out Bangkok Restaurant.

Tusk in Kane County, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

This new Thai restaurant opened up in what used to be a greasy spoon diner. They definitely cleaned the place up as it now looks quaint and well-decorated.

The service is friendly but I wasn't impressed with the food. My green curry was way too salty, and my basil stir-fry dish was oily and just tasted weird.

Prices are reasonable and the portion sizes are huge (one dish could easily last two or three meals).

For my money, Bangkok Restaurant in Geneva is still the best Thai around.

Wok N Fire in Kane County, Illinois
Jun 1 11

rating star

This place is pretty bad. For one thing, it's like a not-as-good imitation of PF Changs. It attracts 20-30 somethings (which is interesting, because I didn't realize there are single, professional 20-30 somethings in the far western suburbs of Chicago).

Anyway, it seems like a good date spot. But the food options for vegans and vegetarians stink.

For one thing, they don't have any vegan or vegetarian sushi rolls (though I think they could make some).

Secondly, of their stir-fry and noodle dishes, only a few are actually vegetarian (the Szechuan, Chinese brown and teriyaki); all the rest contain oyster sauce. So make sure to ask questions if you're a strict vegetarian.

My mom and I shared a Szechuan vegetable and a Chinese brown with tofu (both $12 a piece). The dishes tasted exactly alike: corn-starchy sauce without any flavor, covering a variety of vegetables. While I liked the vegetable mix, and the option for brown rice, the sauce was just terrible. Worse yet, they put in a ton of chili, which just ended up in a spicy sauce that had no inherent flavor on its own. All burn, no delight.

The service was not very good either. Our server wasn't particularly friendly and took a good 10 minutes to bring us water and a ginger soda we ordered.

The weird thing is that I've been to two other Wok N Fire branches and didn't have nearly as bad an experience. Then again, I was less discerning in the past.

I would not come back here unless I were desperate. If you're vegan or vegetarian, go two doors down to Prasino, which has much better food in a much better environment.

Happy Buddha in Northwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
May 30 11

rating star

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.

Borrowed Earth Cafe in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 27 08

rating star

Borrowed Earth does a wonderful job with the presentation of their delicious raw food, as well as with the large selection, from comfort foods to more unusual fare. This is gourmet food with an edge; best of all, it's in the suburbs, rather than in downtown Chicago. Conveniently located in front of the Downers Grove train station, it makes it easy for city-dwellers to visit, as well as outgoing suburbanites.

The decor is modern and well-done with ample seating and a cool bar area where you can watch the food be prepared.

I am extremely impressed by all of their desserts, from their cheesecakes to their German chocolate cake to their peanut butter balls.

The tacos were also quite zesty and tasty. For me, you can't go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu.

One critique is that they serve a huge portion of side salads with each main course. With my lasagna dish, 75% of the plate was salad, and only 25% was the lasagna. While I like the fact that they give you three different types of salads with different ingredients and dressings, I'd rather have more of the main course than anything else. I wasn't a fan of the salads, which had too unusual a taste and smell for my likes.

Borrowed Earth also serves unusual drinks such as yerba mate latte with nut milk. This is definitely not Starbucks, but it's certainly healthier and more innovative.

The service is super-friendly. Prices are on the higher side ($11-15 for main dishes). Overall, I recommend this restaurant for its quality and novelty value. It's a gutsy, cool idea for them to open up in the suburbs and I laud them for it.

Flat Top Grill in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Apr 6 09

rating star

Flat Top Grill is yet another chain that that disproves the axiom that chain-restaurants must be bland and vegan-unfriendly.

While the Mongolian grill set-up is fairly familiar, FTG spices things up by having unusual ingredients (such as seitan, BBQ tempeh, "Veat" chicken, and curry pakora) and well-balanced, thoughtful sauces (such as Vietnamese soy, which has a spicy kick, and Indian "vindahoo"). These features alone put FTG a cut above the competition but, to make things even better, FTG has cheap cocktails and a good bar area.

The ambience is classy-modern, with a lot of red and black tones everywhere. This is a good place to take a date or to bring the family.

The prices are reasonable for lunch, though maybe a bit on the high side for dinner ($10 for an unlimited lunch, $15 for dinner); however, if you're any kind of student, you get a $1 discount at lunch and $2 discount at dinner.

Pretty much all of the sauces (except for one or two) are vegan, and all of the mockmeats are vegan, except for the Quorn. Everything that is vegan is labeled, which is extremely helpful, and this also puts the word "vegan" more into the mainstream, as FTG is a bustling, popular chain in the Chicagoland area; "vegetarian" is not used anywhere, as far as I could tell.

I liked that no matter what combination of ingredients or sauces I used, I always came out with something really tasty. The cooking time seems a bit long (roughly 7-9 minutes per bowl), especially since I was the only person in the restaurant when I went in the late afternoon. I think it might be a calculated effort to slow down your eating, thereby making you consume less food; but that's a savvy business decision which leads to smaller waistlines, so I'm okay with it.

Inchin's Bamboo Garden in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Aug 18 09

rating star

I am surprised that an Indo-Chinese restaurant can support itself on its own without also having standard Indian food on the menu. In India itself, Indo-Chinese food is wildly popular, but relegated to roadside stalls or one or two menu pages at standard restaurants; but Inchin's Bamboo Garden seems to be solidly grounded in this peculiar, but engaging, new-age cuisine, which isn't Chinese, and isn't Indian, but something wholly new altogether (note: this food was created and developed entirely in India).

I came here with a friend and was impressed by the decor and spacious layout. The service was a bit curt and erratic but acceptable on a whole. The main draw for lunch seems to be the buffet, which my friend seemed to enjoy, whereas I ordered off the menu, getting a "veg. coins manchurian" ($9), which is the bedrock dish of Indo-Chinese food (in India, it's usually just called "veg. manchurian").

The dish was a very close approximation to what you'd find in India and was definitely tasty. I think the sauce could have been spicier (why not offer chili oil on the side?), and the "veg. coins" could have been softer and larger (in India, they're served as spheres, with a similar look and texture to meatballs), but on a whole, this was a good dish that I can't easily find elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Inchin doesn't offer brown rice, which is not unusual, given that I have almost never seen brown rice offered at an Indian restaurant. But it still disappoints me.

The clientele consisted predominantly of Indians, both young and old, though the place did seem to attract some white Americans, as well as some East Asians, which means the food might have broad appeal.

Inchin probably isn't worth a 45-minute drive into the suburbs from Chicago proper, but if you happen to be in the 'burbs (there are two locations, one in Aurora, and one in Hoffman Estates), it might be worth a visit.

Lao Sze Chuan in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 11 11

rating star

I regularly go to the delectable Lao Sze Chuan outpost in Milford, Connecticut, based near where I go to grad school. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found another Lao Sze Chuan, with the same owner, based just a short drive from my parents' house!

As such, I came with high hopes. Ultimately, while this restaurant does offer some tasty vegan dishes, it doesn't quite reach the transcendence of its Connecticut branch, nor does it match the quality and variety of a nearby Szechuan restaurant, Mapo in Naperville.

I got the "spicy bamboo shoots" ($6) and "vegetarian chicken shanghai style" ($6) as appetizers. The bamboo shoots, while looking nearly identical to the same dish served in Connecticut, didn't taste quite as good. Whereas in Connecticut you get a light, tingly feeling on your tongue from the Szechuan peppercorns, here in Illinois you get a more basic, generic red chili flavor. The vegetarian chicken is, in fact, tofu skins wrapped around black mushrooms. This dish tasted fine but, again, the equivalent dish in Connecticut (tofu crepe with black mushrooms) comes prepared in a more sophisticated manner (layered and stacked) with bamboo shoots and higher quality mushrooms.

For main courses I got a "bean curd home style" ($9) and a "potherb with spicy szechuan style" ($10). The bean curd was an oily mess of sauteed tofu blocks, some water chestnuts, carrots and peapods. It tasted all right, but not great. This seemed more like generic Chinese take-out which is not what I expected from such a critically-acclaimed place, and from their special menu. The potherb basically consisted of diced mustard greens sauteed in a light sauce and had absolutely no spice to it whatsoever, despite the "spicy" label. I think they accidentally left out the chili.

Lastly, the restaurant doesn't offer brown rice, which broke my heart. I hate white rice.

While Lao Sze Chuan provides some decent food, it doesn't match up to its Connecticut branch. Given that most of you can't go to Connecticut on short notice, I would suggest going to Mapo in Naperville instead, which offers a similar menu, but has better quality preparations and a slightly cozier interior atmosphere as well.

Mapo in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Mar 7 10

rating star

The far suburbs of Chicago are starting to get some restaurants actually worth a damn and Mapo is one of them. I have a tradition of getting a Chinese lunch on Christmas and Mapo ended up being a fantastic present to myself. Mapo is located in a non-descript 1970s strip-mall and you could easily pass by this place and not realize what a gem it is.

For one thing, the food is authentic and edgy. Mapo is not your average take-out joint for General Tso's or fried rice. You come here for fresh, substantial, unusual dishes that challenge your palate and that you can't find elsewhere.

Naturally, I had to order a mapo tofu ($9.95). The portion size is huge and the dish was wonderfully prepared---spicy, filling and briny. The tofu was smooth and silky. The waitstaff was very accommodating and knowledgeable about what dishes are vegan and this dish was one of them.

I also had a basil eggplant ($9.95). This dish was similarly fragrant and delicious. The eggplant was beautifully bright purple and melted in your mouth. Chunks of baked garlic added tons of flavor to the dish as well.

A couple days later I came back with my parents and had a scallion pancake appetizer ($5.95) which is basically fried dough filled with scallions. It was pretty amazing and remarkably simple and addictive.

I also had a hunan vegetable ($7.95) because my parents don't like tofu but do like mixed vegetable dishes. This one was okay, but Mapo clearly doesn't put as much effort into their mainstream Chinese dishes as they do with their authentic stuff.

Lastly I had a tofu skins with mustard greens ($10.95) which was tasty, but not spicy at all. I thought the sauce was a little too watery, but you don't see tofu skins on menus very often, so this was a nice offering. My parents even liked the dish, probably because the tofu skins look like and have the texture of noodles or pasta.

The next time I went I got a yu shan broccoli ($7.95) and a dry chili tofu ($10.95). The yu shan broccoli was tasty enough (it consisted of broccoli, bamboo shoots and black fungus in a sweet sauce) but pretty simple and similar to what I've seen in stripmall Chinese joints. The dry chili tofu was unusual and extremely tasty (golden fried tofu cubes and tons of red chilis) but the tofu lost its crispness very quickly, and didn't re-heat well at all.

My only gripes with Mapo: no brown rice and no mockmeats. Also, the vegan dishes are not labeled so you do have to ask questions (but again, the staff is very friendly and helpful about this).

Mapo is worth the long drive from Chicago proper as this is some of the best Chinese food in the metro area.

Naf Naf Grill in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 26 10

rating star

This place has a Chipotle-style setup and look (and is also situated in a stripmall) but sells hummus and falafel instead of salsa and burritos.

I had a falafel sandwich ($4.99) and a cup of lentil soup ($2.99). All of this came with a large fountain soda and the total price came out to a little over $8 with tax.

First, the good: the lentil soup was excellent. It wasn't overly watery, nor was it a thick porridge. The spices and herbs created a soothing savory flavor, perfect for a cold winter afternoon.

The falafel, on the other hand, was only passable. To start, they don't offer wholewheat pita, which is a shame, because their white pita is akin to Wonder Bread: a preternaturally soft and spongy thing that could only have been created in a laboratory.

The falafel pieces themselves were too soft for my likes (I like my falafel crispy) and woefully under-spiced.

In comparison, you could get much heartier and more flavorful falafel at Pita Pit, a national chain that is to Subway the way Naf Naf is to Chipotle. Pita Pit gives you more for your money and you can customize your pita with different vegetables, spicy condiments, and wholewheat or normal pita.

While I'm happy Naf Naf is not just another Chipotle, they have a lot of room for improvement.

Pita Pit in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Oct 9 09

rating star

Pita Pit is basically Subway/Chipotle but with falafel and hummus.

I had a falafel sandwich ($6.50 with tax) and it was surprisingly tasty---for one thing, they give you the option of whole wheat pita or white pita, and they also grill a bunch of vegetables (green peppers, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes) on the spot for you. They also have some super-spicy pepper sauces that they add to the grilled items which add a ton of flavor. Lastly, you get to choose other vegetables you might want, including cucumbers, lettuce, sprouts and a few other things.

The falafel pieces themselves are a bit soft (I prefer them crispier) but they are full of herbs and have a great taste. I could eat them on their own, which is the best gauge of falafel quality, in my opinion.

Their falafel sandwich is filling and easily constitutes a full meal all for about $6.

Pitaville in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
May 10 11

rating star

Pitaville offers standard Middle Eastern fare, including falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, etc. This place fits perfectly in the stripmall culture of the sprawled out suburbs and offers quick, cheap meals.

I had a falafel pita ($4.70 with tax). It took about ten minutes to get made, but at least they made it fresh. It was a decent falafel to be sure, though I wish they had a wholewheat pita option. I wasn't a fan of their hot sauce or tahini, as neither of them had any flavor.

Still, if you're looking for a relatively quick and cheap meal in the suburbs that isn't Taco Bell, Pitaville is a good option.

Pizza Fusion in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Apr 4 09

rating star

In a word: wow. I did not expect an innovative, cool place like Pizza Fusion to open in the sprawling, pedestrian-unfriendly, faceless suburbs of Chicago.

Pizza Fusion is expanding rapidly and seems to be opening a new franchise somewhere in the country every day. That's a huge win for veg*ns and eco-minded people, as 75% of the food here is organic, they use LEED design principles, and deliver all their pizzas in Priuses and Smart Cars.

Ironically, this Pizza Fusion is located in a brand new strip mall on what used to be verdant farmland not even a year ago. Next to it is a place called "MeatHeads" that is decidedly eco-unfriendly. That said, Pizza Fusion is at least leading the way with better practices.

I came here with my father and we had a large "Very Vegan" pizza ($17) which was delicious: thin and flaky crust, rich tomato sauce, delectable crimini mushrooms, and soy cheese that looked, tasted and melted like real cheese. It was golden brown, didn't look like plastic and melted thoroughly. For a moment I thought they'd gotten the order wrong, because I've never seen soy cheese this perfect before. While I'm not anti-soy cheese like some people, I'm also not a huge fan of it; that said, this stuff tasted excellent and even impressed my father, who a) had never tasted soy cheese before and b) doesn't even like pizza very much. Even he had to comment, "This is very good pizza," and he doesn't say that often about anything. And no, there's no casein in the cheese; Pizza Fusion is completely casein-free and even says so on the menu. They have some kind of proprietary soy cheese that is amazing; their gluten-free crusts, also, are made of an interesting mixture of chickpeas, fava bean and rice flour. Amazing stuff.

I also had a Boylan's bottled cola, which is made with cane sugar, and has a refreshing taste ($2.50).

We finished the meal with a vegan brownie ($4.50), which was moist, fluffy and rich, but not overly sweet, as it's made with carob. It came with powdered sugar, powdered chocolate and ripe strawberries and was delicious, again impressing my father, who doesn't like desserts or anything chocolate-y.

The service was impeccable and super-friendly. Our waiter went out of his way to discuss the principles of Pizza Fusion, pointing out the bamboo flooring, the bamboo menu, the recycled aluminum tiles on the wall, and the tables, which are made from reclaimed waste wood. He was caring, genuinely interested in our questions and was knowledgeable about all aspects of the business.

The atmosphere here is comfortably modern and classy; you could bring a date here, or bring your parents, or young children. I would give this place five stars, but they need more vegan items (maybe some fake meat toppings? one more vegan dessert? a few vegan appetizers?) for me to justify that. That said, this place is otherwise wonderful and is hopefully a sign of things to come in the suburbs of all major cities.

Veg Harvest Cafe in Southwestern Chicagoland, Illinois
Apr 4 09

rating star

Veg Harvest is a bright and friendly vegetarian Indian restaurant. Their sign still says "Indian Harvest" but there's also a non-vegetarian Indian Harvest across the street in a more modern brick strip mall. Veg Harvest is in a two-story 1970s strip mall next to a convenience store.

Their Avial ($9) was great, and you don't see Keralite dishes often; the execution was smooth and spicy, without being overpowering. Basically it's a cashew-coconut curry with a variety of vegetables. I also thought their masala dosa ($8) was fresh and crispy, and therefore competently done, establishing their credentials with South Indian classics.

The menu has some unusual dishes, such as Indo-Chinese options, though I wasn't so impressed with the "Chinatown Tofu" ($9) which was basically tofu and onions in a thick, spicy, ketchup-based sauce. I didn't like the sweetish tones of the ketchup (I don't like ketchup in general), which I felt confused what was supposed to have been a savory dish.

I wish they served brown rice and I also wish they labeled their vegan options, but this is otherwise a pretty decent vegetarian place in the suburbs, which there aren't enough of. The service was also friendly, attentive and accommodating of my questions about the vegan-ness of various dishes.

Ashoka Restaurant in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

Ashoka is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in the west suburbs of Chicago, which have become havens for Indian immigrants over the last 15 years. I always remember my parents taking me here to pick up small dishes or especially their samosas, which are huge and well-cooked.

The decor inside is quite drab, old and decayed. There are holes in the vinyl booths and the place is just generally grubby.

Make sure to ask about ingredients, as this is a North Indian restaurant, and many dishes will contain some kind of dairy product (milk/cream/yogurt/ghee/butter).

Also confirm that the samosas (their best dish) are vegan. Often times the samosa pastry shell is made with yogurt, so it's definitely worth checking every time.

Brain Freeze in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Jul 11 10

rating star

A suburban ice cream shop that offers four flavors of vegan ice cream daily, as well as sorbet? I'm impressed. Elmhurst, in general, is a good place for vegans (check out the vegan cupcakes at Heavenly Cupcake Shop, 162 N. York Street), which is highly unusual in the homogeneous, philistine suburbs of Chicago.

I had a large single scoop of mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ($4.75). It was Chicago Soy Dairy ice cream, which personally isn't my favorite (I like Soy/Almond/Rice Dream better, or So Delicious brand), but it's definitely creamy and sugary.

I didn't ask about the vegan status of their cones, but next time I will. All in all, Brain Freeze is a positive sign for vegans in the Chicago suburbs.

CK Pad Thai in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

This place opened up about a mile from my high school and man do I wish it had been around when I was a student there. The quality of the food here is quite high---portion sizes are large (expect to take left-overs), and the dishes just taste fresh and light and inspired. Their curries are thick and hearty and they use a high-grade variety of tofu. I also liked their stir-fry dishes which were fragrant and full of basil and chilis.

The decor is also well-done; very clean and homey, but nice enough that you could probably take a date here. You wouldn't expect something of this quality considering CK Pad Thai is in a grungy 1970s strip mall with a Jiffy Lube and a dentist.

They're very accommodating to vegans so just tell them no fish sauce/oyster sauce/shrimp paste and they can do it.

Honey Cafe in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 28 08

rating star

Honey Cafe is exactly the type of restaurant more suburbs of major cities need. It serves fresh, home-made American foods like veggie burgers and tofu scrambles, in a modern, clean and well-decorated environment.

I went with a friend and was impressed by the prompt and friendly service as well as the ambience. There's a lot of natural light and lots of space to move around. They also have cool Eames-era retro-mod wood chairs.

My chai latte with soy ($4) was well-spiced and subtly sweet. It was quite well done and freshly prepared with their own recipe (no terrible Oregon Chai mix).

I enjoyed my tofu scramble which had a good array of flavors, from the tart marinated bell peppers to the starchy red potatoes to the light, punchy pico de gallo with green chilis. I wish there had been more tofu and I also wish it had been stir-fried or cooked a little bit longer, but the dish still came off well. The portion size on a whole could be increased slightly to justify the $9.95 price (or the price could be reduced to maybe $8.95, which seems more fitting for the portion).

My friend enjoyed her veggie burger, which is also made on-site with a number of different vegetables. The patty was huge and was served on home-baked multi-grain bread. The veggie burger can be made vegan, I think, if you leave off the mayo.

The only issues I have with this place are: dishes aren't labeled vegan or veganizable; there are no vegan baked goods or desserts; the prices are just a tad high. Otherwise, this is a great addition to the west suburbs of Chicago.

India Palace in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Jun 11 10

rating star

Update: This is an unremarkable North Indian restaurant with friendly service. I came with my parents and we had a number of dishes of varying quality. The aloo mattar was too liquid for my likes, which drowned out the spices and seasoning. The veg. manchurian was too soft (it needs to be crispier on the outside) and overly salty but it's a rare dish to find in the US, so I was pleased they offered it at all. The mustard leaves dish we had was quite good in terms of flavor, though I would have preferred it lightly sauteed (India Palace pureed the dish, making it more like a pudding). The yellow dahl was passable. The tandoori roti was okay and worked well enough.

Many dishes can be modified to be vegan; I specified that no dairy (cream/butter/ghee/yogurt) be used in any dishes and they were more than willing to accommodate me.

Like 99.9% of Indian restaurants, brown rice was not available. Worse yet, white rice was an extra charge of $3. This is price-gouging (that rice probably cost the restaurant a few cents at most), and also just cheap and insulting on the part of the restaurant management. Rice is a basic staple with an Indian meal and to charge your customers that much, for such a critical (and inherently inexpensive) ingredient, is shameful.

On a whole, I wouldn't go out of my way to try India Palace. If you happen to be in the far western suburbs of Chicago, this place is acceptable, but not any better (or worse) than any other Indian restaurant in the area.

Original review: This is an above-average Indian joint in the west suburbs. There's no reason to go out of your way (it's probably a 45 minute drive from downtown Chicago under good conditions), but if you're in the area, it's worth a stop. Their food comes in generous portions and they were more than happy to veganize dishes for me (just tell them no milk, butter, ghee, cream or yogurt).

Note: their naan, like most naan, is not vegan and cannot be made vegan (it's made with yogurt). Stick to roti instead.

The only reason I found out about this place is because they partner with Mileage Plus Dining (for United or Delta) and you can get airline miles for every dollar you spend there. India Palace doesn't have a website but does show its menu on the Mileage Plus site (link above).

Mai Thai Cafe in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

Mai Thai is quaint and has a good location in downtown Wheaton, but their food is mediocre. I only go there to get air miles, as they're part of the Mileage Plus Dining program.

Portion sizes are huge, but their curries are watery and have all sort of weird ingredients, like corn and jalapenos, neither of which are Thai, and completely change the flavor of the dish into something unrecognizable.

There isn't much else in downtown Wheaton, though, so this is your best bet.

Nathan's Noodle & Rice in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

I used to love Nathan's, as the food was light, fresh and felt home-cooked. Their basil stir-fry dish with tofu was my favorite.

Unfortunately Nathan's now has a new cook (new ownership as well?) and the quality of the food dropped considerably. The food became saltier, more fried and potentially less vegan. In the early days my waiter would always know what contained fish sauce/shrimp paste and the kitchen could always modify dishes.

These days, the waitstaff is never quite sure what "vegan" even means. So my trust in this place is blown and the food isn't good anymore anyway.

Nutrition Network in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
May 18 11

rating star

This place has been around since 1987 and I'm amazed at its staying power. I mean, it's a health food store in a run-down strip mall in the far suburbs of Chicago. And, to top it off, it's next to a trailer park.

Nutrition Network has a good array of staple vegan items (including tofu, some mockmeats, and so forth) at good prices. Almost everything I saw here is at the same price you'd pay in a traditional supermarket.

I bought some brown rice crackers and some spelt bread. While the crackers are available at grocery stores, spelt bread certainly isn't, so I was happy to be able to find it at all.

If this place had more vegan goods (how about fresh seitan or Daiya cheese?) and maybe some vegan baked goods from local vendors, I'd give it another star. As it stands, this place is pretty solid.

Vegetarian Fast Food in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 26 10

rating star

This is a Gujarati cafe/grocery store with a large selection of inexpensive vegan Indian offerings, including two vegan (by default) desserts. The owner, D.K., is a really friendly guy and knowledgeable about what is and isn't vegan on his menu (most of the foods are vegan, whereas most of the desserts are not).

I got a vada pav ($3) which is a potato dumpling placed between a bread roll. This is typical Indian street food in Bombay and I think Vegetarian Fast Food did a good job with it. The dumpling (vada) could have been crispier, but it was nicely flavored.

I also got some dishes for take-out: alu baigan (potato-eggplant) and a cabbage-potato dish. Both of these cost about $3 for a medium-sized portion.

The cabbage-potato dish was excellent: fresh, simple and well-spiced. This is typical Indian home-cooking at its finest.

The potato-eggplant dish wasn't as good. For one thing, the eggplant didn't absorb the curry's flavors enough. Also, the eggplant was kept intact in pieces, rather than being broken apart into a mushier texture; in the case of this dish, a mushier texture would have aided flavor uptake and would have created good contrast with the firmness of the potato pieces. Lastly, I didn't like the spices on this dish. I think there was too much tomato in the mix and not enough garlic and onions.

There were two vegan desserts when I came: one type of "ladoo" (a fried sugar ball made of flour and spices) and also some other greyish bar-thing. I wasn't impressed with either, but it's rare that you find vegan desserts in Indian cuisine, so I'm glad that they're available, nevertheless.

One final thought: that area of Glendale Heights/Bloomingdale has very few cool cafes and coffee shops. Vegetarian Fast Food could really capitalize on this if it spruced up its interior and offered some nice drinks, such as home-made Indian chai, made with soy, rice or almond milk. If it had more vegan desserts, too, it would be a great hang-out spot.

As it stands, it has a few good vegan dishes at really low prices. If you're in the area, it's worth a stop.

Wok N Fire in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

There aren't too many food options in downtown Elmhurst for vegans. But Wok N Fire is actually pretty good. It's basically a smaller version of P.F. Changs (dark lighting, waiters dressed in black, cloth napkins, etc.), but there are only two locations in the west suburbs of Chicago.

Some of their dishes contain fish/oyster sauce, so make sure to ask. They're very accommodating about making dishes vegan here and the servers tend to know what's what.

Wok N Fire in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Dec 24 08

rating star

Solid Asian food in a classy environment, akin to PF Changs. This is a popular date spot and also attracts large groups for parties and birthdays. They have alcoholic drinks, too.

Their location is right across from the Marcus Cinemas, so come here after seeing a movie. It's a nice option to have in an area that otherwise consists of chains and big box stores.

Zenwich in Western Chicagoland, Illinois
Oct 29 11

rating star

A restaurant like this would have been unimaginable in the Chicago suburbs as recently as three or four years ago, and I applaud Zenwich for bucking Chicago proper and heading into new terrain.

As an unusual sandwich shop serving Asian standards put to buns and rolls, I also appreciate that they serve unusual food.

A few sandwiches on the menu can be made vegan (the staff is knowledgeable about what's what) and so I ordered a "tofu satay" sandwich ($8) which came with a side of home-made kettle chips.

The sandwich was fairly tasty, but a tad on the sweet side (satay is tricky to do well). I also wish they'd had a vegan wholewheat bread option, as their white flour bread was both un-tasty and unhealthy.

The kettle chips sounded good in theory, but they were way too soft and almost chewy. I don't know if they'd gotten soft after sitting out too long, or if they just needed to be fried longer, but a chewy, soft potato chip is not appealing in any way.

All in all, Zenwich is an interesting concept sandwich shop in the west suburbs; if it had more vegan options (how about something with seitan or tempeh?) and wholewheat bread (or even spelt or teff or any wholegrain) I'd be back often.

Vaishali in Pune, India
Jul 24 08

rating star

Vaishali is legendary and known to all the people of Pune and many people outside of it, as well. It's an institution. It's a simple cafe with indoor and open-air seating and classic South Indian dishes like masala dosa, idli sambar and uttapam. Their dosas are without a doubt the best I've ever had, and I've lived and traveled all over India and had many dosas in the US as well. My parents are South Indian and I can honestly say that Vaishali cannot be beat, not even in the deep south of India. Also make sure to try some of their appetizers like veg. cutlet and vada. Their juices are also fresh and tasty.

The bulk of the menu is naturally vegan, especially staples like masala dosa and uttapam. Non-vegan items will typically be labeled with the words "butter" or "ghee." If you're still unsure, ask the waiter or someone nearby if a dish is traditionally prepared with dairy products (either milk, cream, butter, ghee, yogurt or milk curds).

Vaishali is almost always full, and you'll always have to wait for a table. That said, turnaround is fast and you never have to wait long. The service is brisk and efficient, though not necessarily super-friendly. Vaishali attracts a mixed crowd, from old men who sit, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee, to college students, to in-the-know foreigners, to families.

Java Joe's Coffeehouse in Des Moines, Iowa
Mar 20 10

rating star

Java Joe's is a large coffee shop in downtown Des Moines. It's atmospheric in a turn-of-the-century building with high ceilings and lots of old woodwork.

They have a large menu of vegetarian options though vegan options are not labeled.

The service was really weird. I wasn't sure whether the guy behind the counter (who took my order and also cooked my food) was really gruff and angry, or just trying to be casual in a way that came across as in-your-face.

When I asked him what items on the vegetarian menu were vegan he said, with a wave of his hand, "All of them!"

And so, trusting him, I ordered a veggie canadian bacon hoagie ($6). Ten minutes later, the dish came to me with a huge hunk of cheese melted in it. Fortunately I was able to pick it off easily, thereby not having to deal with the cook/cashier again. Lesson learned: when at Java Joe's, ask detailed questions and tell them what vegan actually means.

The hoagie was okay, but not great. I was unimpressed with the spongy white flour bun, and the excessively oily vegetables. The "canadian bacon" wasn't bad, but I noticed that the cook microwaved it and then slapped it on the sandwich. The dish also came with a single-size packet of Fritos, if that's your thing.

I didn't see any vegan desserts here and I wouldn't be surprised if they don't have any.

On a whole, Java Joe's is worthwhile, if only because Des Moines needs every veg-friendly place it can get. And Java Joe's does have a large menu of thoughtful vegetarian options; but if you're vegan, make sure to specify that when you place your order.

Ritual Cafe in Des Moines, Iowa
Mar 19 10

rating star

This is a decent coffee shop located in a cozy part of Des Moines, not far from the center of downtown. I like that it's near the library. Note that the entrance is on 13th Street, not Locust.

The food options here are unspectacular (think hummus sandwiches with cucumbers), though they do have one tempeh sandwich. If they added some cajun tofu steaks or seitan burgers, there might be more to write home about.

I like that they have loose leaf teas and a wide selection at that.

They only had two vegan desserts, though, and so I picked the last peanut butter cookie. It was tasty, but crumbled into bits and pieces and was difficult to eat.

On a whole, this is not a bad place, and a good enough spot for tea, a small snack and a conversation with a friend. It's not worth going out of your way to come here, though.

Tenth Street Vegetarian Bistro in Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

This is a two-story, inexpensive cafe with mostly Asian-style food with mockmeats. They also have a couple of Italian and American offerings.

The service was friendly and helpful, though the food wasn't revelatory. I had the dinner special that night, a curried mock chicken with brown rice ($9), which was a basic, competent stir-fry. The mock chicken was a little bit sweet, almost sugary, which messed up the flavor of the dish a little. This is the type of food that, while acceptable, was very much something you could make at home yourself.

On a whole, though, Lawrence is lucky to have two vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and I'm glad Tenth Street Bistro is around.

Bluestem Bistro in Manhattan, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

This is a quaint, friendly, spacious coffee shop that doesn't offer much for vegans, but does have a pretty good chai. Actually, they have crappy Oregon chai, but then they also have an actual Indian black tea mix, which can be made with soy. Obviously go for the latter.

Who knows, perhaps in the future they'll offer some simple vegan treats, or maybe even a tofu sandwich.

The Pita Pit in Manhattan, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

For Manhattan, Kansas, Pita Pit is a godsend. While it might be a chain, it's actually quite a good one and offers really tasty falafel made to order for only $6 or so. You can choose between white or wholewheat pita, and they choose your veggies and sauces. It's like the Subway or Chipotle of falafel.

And the falafel here is good. It's fragrant, nicely full of herbs and makes for a quick, cheap, healthy and tasty meal.

Yi's Oriental Market in Manhattan, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

Yi's Oriental Market is probably the only place in Manhattan where you can find tamari soy sauce, bok choy, a couple mockmeats, and other non-mainstream Asian ingredients.

This is a small store but it has some good produce (such as the aforementioned bok choy, as well as sprouts and beautiful fresh ginger) at extremely low prices. You can't beat the quality and prices here.

They also carry some mockmeats in a can, like seitan, and maybe mock chicken as well.

Blackbird in Topeka, Kansas
Mar 20 10

rating star

Blackbird is a cozy, friendly cafe in a stripmall outside of downtown Topeka. I came because I heard about vegan baked goods.

They had only one vegan option, a banana bread slice ($2.50), though it was really good, being both moist and subtly sweet. It was also labeled with a "v" which was nice. Sometimes they also have vegan biscotti.

The food menu doesn't offer too much for vegans. There are some lacto-ovo vegetarian sandwiches/wraps which can be modified to exclude cheese, but those are pretty boring options. I'd like to see some tofu/seitan/tempeh sandwiches, or maybe a juicy seitan burger.

Both of the owners of the cafe are vegetarian and are knowledgeable about ingredients, by the way.

Lastly, I wish Blackbird had loose-leaf teas. While they do serve a respectable brand of teabags, loose-leaf tea just tastes better, offers superior variety, and is more ecologically-friendly.

In conclusion, Blackbird is a nice cafe/coffeeshop and worth a stop if you're in Topeka.

The Donut Whole in Wichita, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

The Donut Whole is a really hip, funky coffee shop with great decor and ambience. While they don't serve any food other than donuts, they do have supposedly some of the best coffee in Wichita (or so some advertisement claims).

I came looking for vegan donuts. Vegan donuts in Wichita! Who would have guessed?

Unfortunately for me, I came on a Tuesday, and they only sell vegan ones on Wednesdays. So I didn't get to try any, but I did get a cup of tea and enjoy the local artwork.

The Donut Whole would be a real gem if they offered the vegan donuts daily (or at least a few times a week), and if they had a selection of loose-leaf teas. Right now they just serve you Stash brand teabags, which are mediocre, and not worth paying $2 for, when you can get a BOX of them at the grocery store for the same price.

Zen Vegetarian Cuisine in Wichita, Kansas
Mar 19 10

rating star

I've been to many Asian vegetarian restaurants, but Zen Vegetarian stands out from the pack. For one thing, it's in Wichita, which is not where you'd expect a restaurant of this class to be located. Secondly, the quality of the food, and the ingredients and presentation, were all excellent.

I started off with an order of steamed dumplings ($6) which are made with hand-made dough. This is something you don't see often. The dumplings were great and the dough was markedly fresher and softer than the refrigerated stuff you see at most places.

My main course, soy tenders with broccoli ($10) was a brown sauce stir-fry. However, it showed signs of real elegance and sophistication. The soy tenders weren't just chunks of tvp or seitan or whatever; they were battered, lightly-fried, thin pieces of mock beef. The sauce was light and not too salty. Also, I loved the fancy brown rice they served ($1 extra) which is a rarity---it's the type that has many red and black kernels and looks almost purple-ish when fully cooked.

My dining companion had a portobello sandwich which tasted great and had unusually high quality bread that had been toasted to perfection.

The service was friendly and helpful. The restaurant features classy decor and this could easily be a nice date spot.

In conclusion, Zen is a gem. It stands out for using high quality ingredients, having unusual offerings, and just putting those extra little touches which make a place go from mediocre to good. If Zen had unusual vegan desserts, and slightly more daring menu items in general, I would have give it five stars.

Liquid Earth in Baltimore, Maryland
Apr 20 08

rating star

I loved the atmosphere and location of this restaurant. It fits perfectly with the old part of town in Fells Point. Our service was friendly, but slow on a whole (it seemed like they had only two people working five or six tables). The food, which falls on the sandwich side, was wonderful; my BLT was crispy, fresh and light and my friend's tofu reuben was also good. Our drinks were tasty, especially my apple-lemonade. Prices are low, with most of the menu under $10. My only gripes would be lack of parking in the area and that they're cash-only.

Great Sage in Clarksville, Maryland
Apr 20 08

rating star

I liked the atmosphere, concept and location of this restaurant. Service was friendly and prompt. But the food didn't stand out in my mind. My tomato tofu curry was a poor approximation of an Asian dish (though it was called a "fusion" dish) and makes me wonder if I shouldn't have ordered the meatloaf instead. My friend's penne-basil dish was much tastier, which gives me a hint that this place does European/American food better than any other genre on its menu. Our Earth Day-special "dirt cake" was minty, moist and delicious; our carrot cake, however, was mediocre and its frosting was overpowering. On a whole, I think Great Sage can improve, but they seem to be on the right track and I appreciate that they opened up in a difficult, remote, suburban area.

The Vegetable Garden in Rockville, Maryland
Jan 5 08

rating star

The food here is excellent. It's light, freshly prepared and full of vegetables and well-spiced sauces. The mockmeats are light and tasty and have excellent texture---not too firm, not too soft. Prices are extremely reasonable and portions are large enough for leftovers. I liked the orange beef, hunan beef and chicken kung pao.

Yuan Fu in Rockville, Maryland
Jan 5 08

rating star

Yuan Fu is a nice little place with extensive vegan dishes and options. Their service is super-friendly and their food is tasty, light and healthy. I found their orange beef to be a tad dry, but their chicken with mixed vegetables was robust and diverse in its flavors. Their prices are good and portion sizes are large. I'd say Yuan Fu and its down-the-road competitor, The Vegetable Garden, are on equal footing.

Bagel Rising in Boston, Massachusetts
Jan 2 12

rating star

This is a quick-serve bagel shop with a couple interesting vegan options. I had the vegan "tequila sunrise" ($6) which is loaded with tofu, baked eggplant, cream cheese and other seasonings; it's really tasty but boy is it messy.

I wish Bagel Rising had more traditional vegan options, such as a bagel breakfast sandwich made with vegan sausage, marinated tofu and some pepperjack Daiya cheese or maybe some seasoned cashew cheese.

All that said, Bagel Rising offers a tasty vegan option (and a make-your-own option) and it's a nice thing to have when you're hungry in the morning.

Karma Yoga Studio in Boston, Massachusetts
Mar 2 12

rating star

This is a lovely little space to get a cup of tea, sit and chat. The chairs are large and comfy and there's great big windows for people-watching outside.

They also have vegan muffins from Veggie Planet, as well as prepackaged ABC cookies. I wish they had a few more interesting vegan baked good options, but I'm glad they at least have a couple things.

The tea selection is solid and loose-leaf and everything is presented in nice pots and on nice trays. It's elegant.

All told, I prefer Karma to a more traditional coffee shop. Better vibe, quieter and better products, by and large.

Tamarind Bay in Boston, Massachusetts
Mar 2 12

rating star

This is a decent North Indian restaurant, though it doesn't go out of its way to cater to vegans, sadly (I had heard they used to have a vegan buffet, though that might be at their other branch).

I normally hate Indian buffets, but they had some decent vegan dishes in their lunch lineup (~$13). I enjoyed the rajmah (red beans) which is a traditional dish that you don't see often. The aloo channa was also solid, as was the mixed peas with corn and carrots. All of the dishes were hearty and unabashedly spicy, which I respected.

They gave me naan instead of roti, which is a shame, as naan is not vegan, and it's also made with pathetic white flour. You can order roti separately, but they charge you extra for it, which is ridiculous in my opinion. They should allow customers to choose between roti and naan.

They also don't offer brown rice, which is also a shame, though the odds of finding an Indian restaurant with brown rice is slim to begin with.

Lastly, there are no vegan desserts, which is also not surprising, given that this is an Indian restaurant. But couldn't they experiment and come up with some newer, interesting dishes to cater to the smarter, edgier demographics of Cambridge?

Bela Vegetarian Restaurant in Northhampton, Massachusetts
Apr 27 11

rating star

This is a friendly little cafe with simple vegetarian dishes. Nothing on the menu really stood out to me, but I settled on a special of the day----whole wheat pasta with seitan in a fennel tomato sauce ($8 for the lunch portion).

The dish was really basic and, while it was tasty, this is definitely a dish I could have made at home (and I'm a novice cook, at best).

For dessert I had a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie ($2) and a slice of maple cake ($5). The cookie was pretty good (it was made of almond flour), but the cake was excellent: moist; subtly sweet; airy.

Bela's is cash-only, which is always annoying. Also, dinner prices are 50% higher than at lunch. While the food at Bela's isn't spectacular or unusual, it's tasty enough and not too expensive. I like the vibe and the friendly service. All in a all, it's a nice place to get lunch with a friend but don't expect to find a gourmet meal here.

Cafe Evolution in Northhampton, Massachusetts
May 18 11

rating star

This is a solid vegan cafe with a respectable brunch. It's a cozy spot and I appreciate that it's removed from the hustle of Northampton proper; this is a great place to get a cup of tea and hang around with friends on a lazy Sunday, in short.

I had their mixed breakfast plate (~$10) which consisted of tofu scramble, veggie sausage, potatoes, and two small pancakes. All of the food was decent, but didn't stand out in any way. I do think the pancakes could have used more chocolate chips, and the tofu scramble could have benefited with the addition of more garam masala.

The brunch plates come with a cup of coffee or tea included, which makes the meal an even better value.

I also tried a bunch of their desserts, but wasn't so impressed with any of them. I think the chocolate peanut butter bar was probably the best thing I tasted, but the cupcakes and the cinnabon were either too dry or too sweet for my likes.

Haymarket Café in Northhampton, Massachusetts
Apr 27 11

rating star

This is a pretty cool coffee shop and cafe with interesting vegan sandwiches. I came for tea and desserts, though.

First, they have about six or seven vegan offerings. I tried a "buckeye" ($2) which was a peanut butter chocolate bon bon, and also had a double chocolate cookie. The buckeye was great: rich peanut butter flavor with smooth chocolate. The cookie, on the other hand, was dry and had a weird soy aftertaste (something I haven't encountered in a long time, despite having been vegan for over six years).

I also tried my friend's chocolate mocha cake which looked amazing, but had a sharp soy aftertaste as well. I think Haymarket needs to work on its vegan offerings that have chocolate.

I also had a pot of kikucha tea (twig tea) which was nice to see, as you rarely find that on menus at coffee shops.

The top floor of Haymarket is much more welcoming and hip, but the seats get taken quickly. While there's ample seating downstairs, I found this portion to be dark and depressing and definitely not the type of place I'd want to hang out with a friend.

BagelTime in Worcester, Massachusetts
May 25 12

rating star

BagelTime is your standard stripmall bagel shop, but it does offer tofutti cream cheese, which makes it stand apart. Also, its bagels are pretty good---I had a toasted whole wheat and was mightily impressed with its taste and texture.

BagelTime also has some vegan soups, but no vegan desserts, sadly. Their tea selection also suffers from a lack of loose-leaf options.

All that said, this is a good spot to get a bagel.

Great Grains Market & Cafe in Albert Lea, Minnesota
Mar 19 10

rating star

This place is awesome. Who would have thought that Albert Lea could produce a vegan cafe faster (and better) than the Twin Cities? For one thing, it's non-profit and has an admirable mission of promoting healthy vegan foods. Everything here is prepared from-scratch without preservatives. It's also remarkably cheap.

I had a cajun chicken sandwich ($5.50) which came with baked fries. The sandwich was delicious. The multigrain bun was fresh and wholesome, while the mock chicken was spicy. The sandwich also had a nice set of greens on it, along with tomato. The fries were great and the ketchup was home-made (I normally don't like ketchup, but this was more like a great marinara sauce instead of a gooey, sugary concoction). And, for less than six bucks, it amounted to an amazing value considering the lack of shortcuts in the preparation, and the fresh, substantial tastes that were produced.

For dessert I had a cup of "teechino" (a coffee substitute) ($1) and a slice of banana bread ($1.50). The teechino had a great smoky flavor without the bitterness of coffee. The banana bread was moist and not too sweet.

The menu also offers different soups daily, taco salads, a veggie burger, and a variety of other sandwiches.

The service was super friendly. Norah, the director of the cafe, seems to take great pride in getting to know her customers. The chef also came out to chat with me. You could just tell that these people really care about what they do, and how they do it.

The front part of the store has bulk vegan staples (soy flour, bulk goods, gluten-free stuff, etc.), while the spacious, nicely-decorated cafe has two floors of seating and great atmosphere.

Great Grains will soon feature an expanded coffee and tea list (they will be installing a coffee bar area), and will also be open for brunch on Sundays. I can't wait to visit them again.

Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe in Duluth, Minnesota
Jul 19 09

rating star

This quaint cafe is located in the basement of an old building in the Canal Park/Lakewalk area, which means you'll probably stumble upon it while roaming the lakefront of Duluth. It's a good place to get a cup of coffee or a hummus-sandwich type of thing, though the vegan options are extremely basic.

However, they do offer a vegan rice crispie bar ($3) which was excellent. It was covered in a thick layer of chocolate and, unlike other choco-rice bars I've had, this one also contained berries, which put it way above the rest and gave it a fresh flavor. Come here for this rice crispie bar if nothing else.

At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe in Duluth, Minnesota
Jul 19 09

rating star

Chester Creek is located in a somewhat remote area of Duluth, but it's probably worth a visit, as it offers a few labeled vegan items (a rarity in Duluth).

The service was extremely friendly, both from our waiter (who gave us great tips about things to do in Duluth) and from another worker there who happened to be vegan (and gave us tips about where to eat).

We had a tempeh ciabatta ($8) which was tasty and fresh, made with avocado and veganaise. It's only on the lunch menu, not the dinner menu, but the kitchen was gracious enough to make us the sandwich anyway. The ciabatta could have been toasted slightly, but it was an otherwise good sandwich.

We also had a Thai red curry bowl with tofu and brown rice ($9.50) which was spicy and tasty. The portion size was large and I found the dish filling, though I think it could have had more tofu. I'm really glad they served it with brown rice, instead of white, which is a nice touch. I normally don't eat "ethnic" dishes at American-food diners, but this was the only other vegan option on the menu, so we didn't have much of a choice.

My friend also had a macaroon ($3?) which was not totally vegan (it contains honey, which the vegan staff member helpfully told us) and she enjoyed that.

If Chester Creek had a few more vegan options (how about a seitan burger? or tofu tacos?) it would be worthy of much more praise. As it stands, it offers at least a couple good vegan options and is worth a visit.

Olcott House in Duluth, Minnesota
Jul 19 09

rating star

I stayed here for a night and found the house and the service both above average. Be warned that the bed-and-breakfast experience in Duluth, while a good cultural activity, is extremely expensive. One night in the Olcott House set us back $194 (with tax, and the mid-week discount) and while the experience was quaint and unusual, I'm not sure it's worth the price. I would have rather taken a Holiday Inn downtown for $80, but maybe I'm too utilitarian.

The master suite we had was large and comfortable, though I thought the tv in the room was extremely small (a 13-inch LCD) and the bed was a little too springy. The decorations and furniture do a good job of replicating what this 1904 mansion might have felt like in its heyday.

The owners seem to have changed since the last reviewer stayed here, so we had to start from scratch in getting a vegan meal. Fortunately, a co-owner/chef was extremely accommodating and went out of his way to studiously check pancake ingredients in some pre-made mixes, before ultimately deciding to use some online recipes to make us some from scratch. For a first-attempt, I must say the pancakes were excellent: soft, fluffy and delicious.

If you're coming to Duluth for a special occasion, Olcott House or some other bed-and-breakfast might be worth the money, if just for the experience (most will run you $150-$250 a night, without tax). The majority of them are located in the North Shore area, fairly close to Lake Superior, though a bit too far from downtown for my likes. Otherwise, get a cheap hotel downtown or on the shore and do your own vegan-catering.

Pizza Luce in Duluth, Minnesota
Jul 19 09

rating star

And so I finally made it to the mythic Duluth branch of Pizza Luce. I'd heard about it from so many different people though, truth be told, it didn't seem all the special or mythic when I got there.

The downtown location is nice, there's lots of space, and the service is just as friendly as at any of the Twin Cities' branches.

Contrary to previous reviews, there is no Mexican food served here, at least not anymore. The menu here is now all but identical to the Twin Cities' locations.

We split a mock sausage parmagiana which was just as good as the other locations. Along with Chester Creek Cafe and the Whole Foods Co-op, Pizza Luce is one of only a few places in Duluth to get a decent vegan meal, so I'm glad it's around, though I don't think it stands apart from the other Pizza Luces.

Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth, Minnesota
Jul 20 09

rating star

This is a pretty comprehensive co-op with a wide range of bulk foods, vegan packaged goods (including hemp ice cream), and best of all, a hot bar and deli area with some vegan options. Duluth doesn't have too many places where you can get labeled vegan food, but this is one of them.

I had a falafel wrap ($8) from the deli, which can be made vegan by substituting the garlic aioli instead of the yogurt sauce. It was decent, but not great. The whole thing was lacking salt, and the falafel was a bit too soft (I like it crunchy). Also, using a tortilla wrap instead of pita made the thing basically a glorified veggie wrap, more than anything else.

My friend got some stuff from the hot bar, such as the pilaf, tempeh and a citrus bbq tofu ($7.99 per pound). There weren't too many vegan offerings other than those. From what I tasted, it was all pretty bland again, and needed salt and pepper, at the very least.

We finished things off with a slice of chocolate raspberry cake ($2.99), which was decent, but a bit dry.

All in all this is a solid co-op and fills a great niche in Duluth. The hot bar/deli foods need a bit more variety by way of vegan options, and also needs a flavor boost, but I'm still glad it's around.

Tea Creations in Northfield, Minnesota
Jul 28 10

rating star

This is a generically modern coffeeshop in downtown Northfield. I didn't like the ambience too much, but I appreciated their large loose-leaf tea selection (be warned, however, that a single cup will cost you $2.62 with tax, and you have to pay an extra $0.50 for a hot water refill, so it's pretty damn expensive, and a little bit chinzy as well---how cheap do you have to be to charge for a cup of hot water?).

They also have two vegetarian (probably vegan) noodle salad dishes with tofu. Given the dearth of vegan food options in Northfield, I am giving Tea Creations three stars.

They'd do well, though, to reduce their prices on loose-leaf cups and to start making their own recipes for chai (rather than the prepackaged stuff they currently use).

The Backroom Deli in Rochester, Minnesota
Mar 4 10

rating star

UPDATE: The Backroom Deli serves great, cheap, simple vegan food. I had a cajun tofu sandwich ($6) which was fresh and well-seasoned. My friend had a wonderful, delectable buckwheat pancake (short-stack for $6) which was arguably the best-tasting pancake I've ever had. It was thin, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and just had a wonderful texture and flavor. Backroom is a great little spot to try in Rochester, I just wish they were open later in the evening (they close at 7 p.m.).

I also highly recommend the spicy spelt burger ($5.99) which was not only spicy, but had a great, firm texture on a wonderful bun.

However, I heard rumors that this place will start serving meat. I hope this isn't true, as The Backroom Deli is one of only a few places in Rochester to get smart, tasty vegan food. If they're concerned about increasing customer turn-out, adding meat won't necessarily help; if they want a real market base, they should move to Minneapolis, which desperately needs a non-raw vegan cafe.

ORIGINAL review: This is definitely a solid co-op given the lack of other options in the Rochester area. The prices are reasonable and there's a good selection of mockmeats, soy products and packaged goods. The bulk section has an unusually large variety of beans, pastas, rice and other staples.

My only gripe is that the deli/cafe portion closes too early at 7 p.m. I arrived at 7:15, after a long drive from Chicago, but the deli was unwilling to help me out (so I loaded up on packaged junk food instead).

Nupa in Rochester, Minnesota
Nov 27 09

rating star

As usual, The Backroom Deli was closed, but fortunately Nupa was open and just a block away. Nupa serves standard Mediterranean/Middle Eastern foods such as hummus and falafel. By way of vegan options, hummus and falafel is all they have.

I had a falafel sandwich ($6.50 with tax). The sandwich comes with yogurt sauce so make sure to ask them to leave it off if you're vegan.

It was a decent falafel sandwich. For the price it was acceptable and had unusual, coin-shaped falafel discs. The pieces themselves were a bit too salty but they worked well in concert with the lettuce, tomatoes and hummus inside the wrap. They only offer white flour pita but I guess you can't ask for much else in Rochester.

I wouldn't make a trip to Nupa for its own sake but if The Backroom Deli is closed, it's nice to have an acceptable alternative just a block away.

Luna Rossa Wine Bar in Stillwater, Minnesota
Aug 4 08

rating star

This is a medium to upscale Italian restaurant on the main drag in Stillwater. The town doesn't have many vegan-friendly options, but Luna Rossa at least has a large pasta menu, and a "pasta bar" option at lunch, where one can select a type of pasta and the sauces and vegetables you want to go with it.

NOTE: if you're vegan, make sure to tell them NOT to put any parmesan cheese on the dish (otherwise they do this automatically).

The food is reasonably tasty and the place has nice atmosphere and good prices (the pasta bar option was only $8 for a decent-sized portion). If not for Luna Rossa, we might have ended up eating salads at a steak and potatoes tavern or pub. That's a sure way to spoil your day trip to quaint Stillwater.

501 Club in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 18 09

rating star

UPDATE: I have since found out that a couple of the bigger dishes on the menu at 501 Club, namely the "soy pattie" and the "rice and black bean burger" are not vegan. This is disappointing as it means the only vegan options available are the chili, guacamole, hummus and fries. These are good snacks, especially for Happy Hour, when they're half-price (3-6 p.m.), but they don't constitute a meal. 501 Club, if you're listening, add some hearty, fresh vegan dishes (how about a seitan burger? or a fried tofu taco?) and you'll offer something no one else does in downtown Minneapolis.

Also, how about adding some local, vegan-friendly beers such as Lift Bridge or Rush River? MGD and Bud are okay, but they're not cool enough for a live music joint in cutting-edge Minneapolis.

ORIGINAL review: 501 Club gets some props from me for being a bar in downtown that serves vegan food. They don't serve much vegan food, but it's still more than pretty much any place outside of Seward, Cedar-Riverside or Uptown-Nicollet.

The space is large and standard as far as bars go (lots of open space, pool table, some booths, etc.). 501 Club has ten free parking spots in the lot surrounding their building, otherwise you'll have to pay around $5 to park for an evening.

I had a soy pattie burger (which I later found out was not vegan) ($6.75), and it was plain, but edible. The fries were decent. The menu also offers chili, soup and hummus. The regular prices are very low for the quantity of food offered (my burger and fries would have cost closer to $10 anywhere else), and the happy hour prices are even better (half price on appetizers, $1 off on entrees).

I haven't been here for a show, but it's always good to have another live music joint in Minneapolis. All in all, 501 Club is a decent place that I'll be returning to.

ABC Store in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 5 09

rating star

I'm not sure how to rate this place. I was expecting a small grocery store; instead I stumbled upon a bookstore with all Christian materials, along with a small section of frozen and canned mockmeats.

If you're out in the northwest suburbs, the ABC Store has an unusual selection of mockmeat deli slices, mock tuna, and Morningstar meal starters. It also has a wide array of canned mockmeats (including canned veggie burgers, which is something I've never seen before). Not all of the stuff here is vegan, but much of it is; make sure to read labels.

They also have a small assortment of spices, and dry bulk grains/beans.

You can't find 75% of the stuff here at your average grocery store, or even at some of the co-ops. That said, the selection isn't huge, and I'm not certain of the quality either.

Lastly, the ABC Store is in a strange location in an office park off of I-94/694, which is the last place you'd expect to find a Christian bookstore or a vegetarian grocery. But at least it's accessible to people in the suburbs, if not necessarily Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.

Abu Nader Deli & Grocery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 14 09

rating star

The falafel here is unusual and deserves recognition. It's not deep-fried and crunchy like at Holy Land Deli, but it's not cheap either (the falafel sandwich at Abu Nader is $7.98 with tax). Indeed, this was the most expensive falafel I've seen in the Twin Cities so far.

That said, I liked how it had a differentiated taste, with more of an emphasis on herbs. The interior was almost creamy, rather than dry and crumbly, and it seemed to be filled with unusual spices/herbs, though I'm not expert enough to identify what the actual ingredients were.

I wasn't a big fan of the way it was served pita-pocket style (I prefer pita wraps), but that's a minor quibble. A bigger issue was that Abu Nader also includes pickles, which is unusual and doesn't, in my opinion, go well with tahini sauce and fried chickpeas. The other ingredients, which included tomato, lettuce and onion, were a much better fit.

The location is convenient, though the store/dining area is kind of bleak and stuffy.

Acadia Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 09

rating star

Acadia is a fairly cool bar/cafe with a cozy, lived-in feel. It seems like a smaller, slightly softer version of Triple Rock.

I came here and had one of their few vegan items, a house-made blackbean burger ($8 with tax). They also have a hummus sandwich and some boring items of that type. The blackbean burger normally has non-vegan cheese and chipotle mayo, so make sure to specify you're vegan.

The burger was okay. I felt the patty was too beany and dry and the streak of guacamole they added didn't really help to moisten things up. Other than that, you get your standard fixings such as a pickle, onion slices, a piece of tomato and a piece of lettuce. The bun, a dry white flour bun, disappointed me. Is it too much to ask for a fresh, simple, wholewheat option?

The fries that came with it were also decent but not great.

I'd come to Acadia for a drink with friends (they have a large and diverse selection of beers both bottled and on tap) but their food is mediocre for vegans.

Akshay-paatram in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 1 09

rating star

I wish I had known about Akshay-paatram earlier, so I could have supported them on my Saturday farmers' market bike rides. But I'm glad I found them now.

They don't have too many options, but they do seem to have at least one vegan dish and one vegan dessert available. I had the quinoa curry ($4) and a strawberry churro ($1.50). The quinoa curry was tasty and unusual (you don't see Indian flavors, mixed with non-Indian ingredients like quinoa, too often), though it could have used a bit more spice (how about some red chili powder?) and maybe an extra protein, like tofu or TVP, to give it some varied texture.

The strawberry churro was also tasty, and quite unusual (why does the Mexican food stall ten feet away not offer a vegan churro?). My churro was a bit old, though I imagine this crispy, fried dough covered in sugar and filled with strawberry jam would be heavenly right out of the oven/fryer. Instead of jam, I would prefer fresh strawberry compote, and maybe a side of vegan whipped cream, and then you got a masterpiece.

Akshay also has chai (sometimes offered with soy milk) and fresh mango juice. On a whole, I'm glad Akshay is around and I hope they expand their vegan options.

Amazing Thailand in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 21 10

rating star

UPDATE: I came back to Amazing Thailand to try their vegan menu. You have to ask for it and they don't seem to have a ton of copies floating around (it's basically a take-out menu, and not laminated or anything). As others have mentioned, the menu isn't entirely vegan (though it is vegetarian). One server was knowledgeable about fish sauce and shrimp paste, but the other server we had to confirm that we wanted our dishes without egg and without egg noodles. Clearly she did not understand what "vegan" meant (but she was friendly and helpful, nevertheless). The dishes on the vegan menu aren't special or new---they're on the main menu as well, but it's nice to have everything consolidated in one space. Relabeling their main menu with a "v" next to dishes could help as well in determining what's vegan.

We started off with spring rolls ($5.95) which were pretty bland and just your average rice paper wrapped clear noodle-carrot-bean sprout concoction. Not very appealing and fairly pricey at six bucks.

I had a "lad nah" with tofu ($10.95) for my main dish which is one of my favorites when done right. It consists of flat, wide rice noodles that are pan fried and form a half crispy, half soft texture that is just wonderful. The dish is covered in a brown gravy, and with Chinese broccoli and tofu. Amazing Thailand did an adequate job, though they used way too much gravy which made the noodles lose their precarious, fleeting crispiness too quickly. The gravy could have been slightly saltier and thicker as well.

My friend had a pad thai with mock duck ($10.95) which she thought was okay, but nothing great.

If I were in the mood for Thai food, and not looking to drive, Amazing Thailand isn't a bad standby to have around. If you're looking for spicier, more authentic Thai food, I recommend Sen Yai Sen Lek (in Minneapolis) or Bangkok Thai Deli (in St. Paul).

Original review: I came here on a Friday night and easily found a spot at the bar, but groups of two or more should make reservations or be prepared to wait for a table. Amazing Thailand seems to be a popular date spot and the crowd consists almost entirely of people aged 22-32.

The decor is nice and the service was prompt and efficient at the bar.

I had a Pahd Ped (chili stir fry) with tofu ($12) which was pretty decent. I wouldn't go out of my way to have it, but it was certainly acceptable and well-presented---it was symmetrical and had a good array of colors and textures. The menu also has a number of other veganizable stir frys with different ingredients. But be warned that only one of the curries is vegetarian/vegan (the "Amazing Thai," which is a thick peanut sauce curry), as the rest all have fish sauce or shrimp paste pre-mixed. Pre-mixed stocks are a classic sign of sinful shortcuts in Thai cooking and something which is looked down upon in Thailand, but is somehow acceptable in the US.

Two major gripes: they don't offer brown rice and they charge $1 for extra white rice. The brown rice issue was expected; but I detest restaurants that charge extra for rice, especially if it's crappy white rice. It's something you won't see in Asia (or even on Nicollet Avenue), but it's common in hip, upper-middle class areas where the customers don't know any better and probably wouldn't complain regardless. But it's a rip-off, as the restaurant's cost for a small cup of white rice is probably 5 cents or less, but they charge you a full dollar, jacking up their margins; and they practically force you to buy more rice as the free amount they provide with the dish is paltry.

Amazing Thailand probably does have the best Thai food in Uptown as it's better than Tum Rup or Chiang Mai, but the quality of the food still pales in comparison to pretty much any restaurant on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis or University Avenue in St. Paul.

Amu's Madras Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 29 10

rating star

While I'm glad there's a new vegetarian Indian joint in town, I'm not sure that Amu's is that much better or different than any other Indian place in the Twin Cities. That said, it's an improvement over its old Nala Pak incarnation and I'm glad that most of the menu is vegan (and labeled properly).

We started out with an order of vegetable manchurian ($9.50), fried vegetable-ball concoctions in a tomato-soy base. It's one of my favorite "Indo-Chinese" dishes and one that's hard to come by in the US. It was probably the best part of the meal: spicy; crunchy; addictive. They serve it here "dry" meaning it doesn't come with any sauce that you can eat over rice. You eat these suckers straight off of the plate.

We next had a masala dosa ($10) which is the archetypal South Indian dish. It's a crispy lentil crepe with some potato filling. I thought this dosa was good, but nothing spectacular. The potato filling had some carrots in the mix which, in my opinion, is a mistake: masala dosa filling should limit itself to potatoes, onions and green chili.

Lastly we had a vegetable vindaloo ($9). The waiter recommended it to us on account of its variety of vegetables (which, in this case, was the same as what we'd been having: potatoes, carrots, etc.). We asked for the dish to be spicy but it came out with almost no kick at all. It wasn't a memorable or tasty dish in the least.

There's no brown rice here, which is always a disappointment, but an expected one. There are also no vegan desserts, which is once again expected, but still disappointing.

The service was friendly and prompt.

While I will likely return to Amu's to try some other dishes, I wasn't overly impressed by the food here. Where are the dishes with tofu or seitan? How come they can't make a pudding out of soy milk? How about some unusual ingredients (say, using broccoli instead of cauliflower or jackfruit instead of potato)? Amu's makes the exact same dishes as every other Indian restaurant in the US which makes for a predictable experience. If it wants to distinguish itself it needs to get creative.

Anodyne in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 2 09

rating star

UPDATE: Anodyne has significantly improved from the last time I went nearly a year ago. For one thing, they now have at least one vegan baked good that they make themselves, they have some new interesting drinks and also a few vegan meal options (clearly elaborated upon on a separate vegan menu next to the cash register).

I had a maple soy steamer ($4) which is a coffee-based drink that had a great flavor mostly due to the maple syrup. That said, it was awfully expensive for just a small mug of it.

I also had their only house-made vegan baked item, a peanut butter cookie ($2.25). The flavor was good and peanut-buttery, but the texture was a notch below rock-hard and crunchy, which wasn't great (that said, it's nothing 10 seconds in the microwave couldn't fix, assuming Anodyne has a microwave).

Lastly I had an ultimate veggie burger modified to be vegan ($6.95). The burger was house-made, thankfully (I hate places that just grill up a Gardenburger from a box), but I found it to be bland and overly starchy. To improve the burger, Anodyne might consider switching to a marinated seitan base, topping it off with avocado and a fresh pico de gallo. A wholewheat bun would also add complexity and nutrition to the dish.

The other vegan food options didn't sound that interesting. They're of the wrap-chili-soup variety that use basic vegetables, but drop key components such as tofu, tempeh, seitan and mockmeats.

The atmosphere is bleak at Anodyne. I used to think it was cozy. But now I see that it's serenely quiet and there are only a dozen or so single tables, all of which were taken by grim-looking laptop users (and I went at about 2 p.m. on a Wednesday). There's a long communal table in the center of the room which had some open spots, though.

All in all, this is a decent spot for the Kingfield area. I wouldn't go out of my way to come here, though, unless they up their game on their vegan food.

Original review (Oct. 5, 2008): I like the neighborhood feel of Anodyne and its cozy atmosphere. But I wasn't impressed with any of their offerings---when I went, they didn't have anything vegan, not even pre-packaged cookies. Their drinks were standard and could be gotten at any of the multiple independent cafes in Minneapolis; these days, it seems most cafes aren't willing to freshly make their own drinks. Instead they rely on powders and concentrates and syrups, to which they just add soy milk and heat. Anodyne is no different. Then again, I don't think most people go to cafes for the drinks. They go for the free wi-fi and a nice place to study/hang out. In that regard, Anodyne knows its clientele well, but it doesn't stand out in any way.

Asian D'Lite in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 31 08

rating star

Asian D'Lite is a solid, simple, cozy Thai restaurant just off the main drag in Dinkytown. The service is friendly and the restaurant seems to be popular for take-out; the owner seemed to be on a first-name basis with all of the clients who came in ready to pick up their order.

My green curry was light and delicious. It wasn't "authentic" per se, as it was a bit watery, too green in color, and full of non-standard vegetables, but the taste was fresh and unusual. I loved the way they made it colorful with green and red bell peppers, yellow zucchini and bright green scallions.

Portion sizes are large. Prices are reasonable, mostly under $10 a dish. I didn't like that I had to specify "no fish sauce" as it always makes me suspicious that a restaurant doesn't advertise controversial ingredients like that, but the restaurant was happy enough to modify my dish and actually UNDERSTOOD what truly constitutes vegetarianism. I'll definitely go back.

Babani's in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 23 09

rating star

Babani's is a quaint, friendly place with simple, light Middle Eastern food. I came for lunch twice and was impressed with the prices (the lunch specials come with a salad and all cost $7-9) and have reasonable portion sizes.

The first time I had a mushroom-zucchini saute (called "bakla"; $8) over white rice which was tasty, though not that unusual or distinctly "Kurdish"---my dish could have been from anywhere between Greece and Iran. I wish they had an option for brown rice, too. However, my friend had a garbanzo stew ($7) with a side of tabouli and both were excellent and far more flavorful than my dish.

The second time I went to Babani's I tried their "niskena" soup ($5 for a bowl) and a side of Kurdish bread ($1.75) which other reviewers had mentioned. The niskena is basically a lentil soup that was fairly tasty, but needed black pepper, as well as some red chili flakes, to really give it some flavor. Otherwise, it's basically a watery, spice-less Indian dal. The Kurdish bread is fluffy, just slightly oily, and goes well with the soup, though be warned it's filling.

On both occasions, the service was prompt, attentive, friendly and knowledgeable about what dishes were vegan (most of the vegetarian dishes are vegan by default, or can be made vegan if you omit the cheese, but none of the appetizers are vegan).

Babani's is definitely a winner.

The Bad Waitress in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 5 08

rating star

This place definitely has room to improve as far as vegan selections are concerned. While I appreciate that they serve vegan items at all (many other greasy-spoon brunch places aren't vegan-friendly), I felt they were underserving the community, especially in a diverse and punker place like Nicollet, near MCAD. They offer tofu scrambles, tempeh scrambles, vegan sausage, and a mushroom burger or a veggie burger (which I'm not sure is vegan). However, they don't have soy cheese, or vegan analogs of egg sandwiches, though other places like Hard Times and Seward Cafe, do. Also, they don't even have a vegan pancake option, though just a few streets down, you can get an awesome one at French Meadow Cafe. I had their tempeh scramble, which was decent, but over-priced considering the taste and portions. It's a super-busy place on Saturday and Sundays, so make reservations or come early if you have a big group. All in all, the Bad Waitress has room to improve in terms of its vegan offerings and in terms of its prices. That said, it's still better than most diners and greasy-spoon joints in the area in terms of vegan options. Their website is sophisticated, fun and cool, too.

Bali Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 12 09

rating star

Bali is the latest trendy arrival to an area of Nicollet that is thankfully undergoing a revitalization. This is great because it's a connecting area between downtown and uptown and an neighborhood sorely in need of more vegan-friendly restaurants.

The current menu (which will soon be revamped and expanded) features two labeled vegan dishes, though their fried rice can be veganized, as can their soup. They also have one vegan dessert.

We tried all of the vegan food they had to offer, except for the soup. I found their "Tumis Kecang Panjang (bean sprouts with tofu)" ($6.00) had an unusual sweet, peanut flavor. While the sauce was good, I think it's a dish that could have used more vegetables and more color to be a more filling, substantial meal. Also, the tofu didn't seem marinated in the sauce so it came across as a bit bland. The "Tumis Buncis Wortel (long green beans)" ($7.00) was a tasty dish of stir-fried green beans with shallots in a soy-based sauce; while it was good, I think the simplicity of the dish makes it better fitted to being an appetizer or a snack to go with beer or cocktails. The specially-made vegan fried rice ($7.00) was my favorite dish of the night---it was spicy, but in a way that didn't linger heavily on your tongue. It felt hearty and had a good savory flavor, balanced by neutral pieces of tofu. Finally our lychee-mangosteen-coconut milk-chili dessert ($5.00) was wonderful. The fruits were fresh and the delicate sweetness of the coconut milk mixed well with the hint of spicy chili. It sounds unusual, and it was, which is why I liked it even more---you don't see desserts of this creative, challenging style often. It's more of a liquid than anything else, so I wouldn't mind seeing it in a vegan custard form, just to make it easier to dig into.

The service was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. The chef also came to speak with us to let us know what else he could make.

The decor and ambience of Bali are upscale, but not pretentious (the interior is similar to Jasmine 26), and the prices for the vegan dishes are unusually low given their quality. This is a good place to take a date or to just have a drink at the bar. I'll definitely be coming back to see their updated menu which promises to have even more vegan options.

Ban Thai Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 22 08

rating star

Ban Thai has some of the best Thai food I've had in the Twin Cities area. The dishes here have the taste and look of home-cooked Thai food with fresh, colorful ingredients and simple preparation. Prices are reasonable and portion sizes are good. I appreciate that they have mock duck and mock chicken as options, which is rare outside of Vietnamese or Chinese restaurants. Be careful of the spice level---anything more than "2 peppers" on their scale will scald your mouth. The service is super-friendly and attentive; the cook even went out of her way to make a new, vegan batch of green curry paste especially for my dish, because the existing batch had fish sauce already mixed into it. NOTE: you have to request for them to leave out the fish/oyster/shrimp sauce, but they're very accommodating about this. All in all, it's a great restaurant, but I wish they were in Minneapolis or St. Paul, rather than remote White Bear Lake.

Bangkok Thai Deli in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 26 08

rating star

This is a tough place to rate. It looks like a slightly-grimy food counter in Bangkok, but one that holds promise of great food. The food certainly looks, tastes and feels authentic which is both a revelation and also a potential nightmare, as it means perhaps the cook didn't honor my request to leave out the fish/oyster sauce and/or shrimp paste. Unfortunately I don't speak Thai and I'm not sure my fears can be assuaged until I get definitive proof that I was eating vegan food. I do know how to say the equivalent of "vegan" in Thai, but somehow I always harbor suspicions when I say it to the nodding waiters. Maybe I'm overly paranoid.

In any case, the food here is super-spicy. It's almost painfully spicy, to be honest, so don't try to be ballsy when asked about how spicy you want a dish. I grew up with Indian food and I found Bangkok Thai Deli's "3" rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the spiciest) to be scalding and difficult to eat after five or six bites. I eventually made the dishes edible by spending many minutes carefully removing all the chilis and chili seeds from the dish. My sister-in-law, who's actually FROM India, couldn't handle the spice here.

The green curry was strange as the oil from the coconut milk completed separated in the dish, making the curry look yellow instead of greenish-white. I was told that Thais just spoon out the oil from the coconut milk, which I tried, but found very difficult to do. As a result, the vegetables and tofu seemed to be completely overwhelmed by taste of oil and I was not pleased.

The menu doesn't list the specifically vegetarian/vegan dishes on the menu (tofu isn't even listed as an option to meat), which was a bit of a hassle. Someone has since told me that the "Pad Pak Ruam Mit" with tofu is an ideal dish for vegans and can be trusted to be vegan.

The wait for my food was extremely long at over forty minutes. The place was packed, though, with large families and lots of young children. I was the only non-Thai in the joint, which is a good sign for authenticity. Prices are really cheap with most dishes under $7-8.

Bangkok Thai Deli is hard to find as it's inside an unmarked Asian grocery store. It's easiest to find by its address, so keep on the lookout when you're on the 300 block of University Avenue.

I will give this place another chance because I think it may be a hidden gem. I also think the food quality is usually higher (based on reviews I've read elsewhere) but decreases when the place gets too busy. On a whole the food here is for Thais by Thais.

Bar Abilene in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 3 09

rating star

Bar Abilene offers a few vegan or vegan-izable options, such as black bean hummus, guacamole (make sure to request no worcestershire sauce), portobella fajitas and an option for tofu fajitas or tacos if you request them (tofu is not listed on the menu). Most of these are standard things, and most of them also require you to say, "no cheese," but that's more than what most bars in the Uptown/Calhoun Square area offer.

The drinks and food items are extremely expensive during non-happy hours, but extremely affordable if you're going for happy hour (of which they have two each day, I believe, one in the early evening and one late). I wouldn't come here for anything other than happy hour, given the steep prices otherwise.

In the end, Bar Abilene is about as vegan-friendly as an Uptown bar can be, though I wish they'd go just a bit further.

Barbette in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 28 10

rating star

I like the vibe at Barbette, and the urban-cool look and location of the joint. It's near a lake, it's in a relatively quiet area (except for the weekends) with lots of old homes and trees and just generally feels like a sidewalk cafe in some foreign country you're supposed to backpack through when you're in your 20s.

I came late on a Tuesday to try their french fries, as I'd heard good things about them. The fries ($5) were okay, but not great by any means; some were crisp and some were soft and limp/soggy. Don't they have any quality control on one of their most famous items?

The service was extremely friendly, smart and hip (I believe our server's name was "Ted"---thank you, Ted!).

Supposedly Barbette can also make rudimentary vegan dishes if you call in advance; otherwise, the menu is sadly animal product-heavy, which negates any faith I might have in the place having a creative chef.

Come to Barbette for the atmosphere and drinks, maybe. Probably not for the food.

Beirut Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 6 10

rating star

This place has unusually good falafel and baba ganoush. I would have never guessed that a random joint way out in the suburbs would be this good.

I came with a friend and we shared a falafel appetizer ($5.75), baba ganoush ($5.75) and tabouli ($5.75). The portion sizes are small, but made for a good snack to be shared between two people.

The falafel was excellent: nicely flavored, not too crispy or soft, with a firm filling. It achieved a delicately balanced taste, which was not too savory, oily, or herb-y. The tahini was also fresh.

The baba ganoush was similarly great: smoky and tart with a sufficient amount of olive oil and a touch of freshness with a few pieces of diced tomatoes.

The tabouli was decent, but not as great as the other two. It could have been a bit more acidic and lemony, in my opinion.

Lastly, the pita was acceptable, but not great. I wish it would have been softer and a little less dry. Also, I wish Beirut Restaurant offered a wholewheat option.

In conclusion, this place is actually worth the drive. Come here and try their falafel, if nothing else.

Best of India in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 9 08

rating star

I went to Best of India with high hopes, as the place is near my office and, according to their website, has a chef who has worked under the legendary chef Satish Arora in India, and was also the personal chef to the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi.

Clearly someone was exaggerating or lying outright, because the food at Best of India was woefully generic and mediocre, at best. What could one expect from a place in a 1970s strip mall on Minnetonka Blvd.? I've had better Indian food at unlicensed roadside stalls in Bombay. My alu gobi ($9.50), a standard North Indian dish, was missing at least one or two spices and was dry. The dish seemed bogged down in heavy oil and overcooked. This restaurant doesn't use fresh herbs and spices and the two key vegetables in the dish---cauliflower and potato---tasted like they were bought in bulk at the supermarket down the road. As such, the vegetables were mass-scale-industrial bland and the preparation was edible, but nothing more. The tandoori chapati bread was good, however.

The service was decent. My waiter was a bit curt, but at least this restaurant allows you to order off the menu, rather than being forced to make-do at the buffet (I hate Indian buffets with a passion because they usually only have one or two vegan dishes at most and the food isn't fresh).

The ambience inside is passable. It falls into the category of "tacky-upscale", with drab and dark colors, and paper napkins instead of cloth. It felt kind of musty inside as I don't think they get much business. The music playing was far too loud for my likes and was also too frenetic in style; low-key, quiet Indian instrumentals would have been better than whatever Bollywood blockbuster soundtrack they were playing.

All in all, I am greatly disappointed. Low quality ingredients and compromised preparation make for a poor meal. Other than Nalapak and The Vegetarian, I haven't had good Indian food in the Twin Cities. I'd also recommend Namaste Cafe or The Himalayan, which are Nepalese, but have similar flavors and use fresh ingredients and have a light touch to their preparation.

Bhakti Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 2 08

rating star

This is a hip, friendly little place in downtown Hopkins. It's a nice place to get a cup of tea, but it doesn't really have any vegan options, and all the food is heavy on cheese and eggs. Given that the place it now has an Indian name (it used to be called Munkabeans and Sunshine Cafe) and is attached to a yoga center, I'm surprised they don't have an ALL vegetarian menu, with many vegan options.

Birchwood Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 28 08

rating star

Birchwood fits in the mold of Common Roots, another eco-friendly, local, sustainable cafe. This means rotating menus based on what's available from some farm in Wisconsin, composting all its waste, and offering various sorts of grass-fed animals on the menu, sadly (feeding livestock grass, while better than other alternatives, is still not sustainable).

Anyway, I found the food here to be mixed, on a whole. The black lentil soup was too watery and plain for my tastes, and its accompanying side bread was also too chewy (and, at $3.50, it was extremely expensive for the portion size). But the vegan burrito with tofu and local vegetables was delicious and extremely colorful (however, slightly pricey at $10). The thing that made it stand out was the sweet potato puree with chili, which acted like a cheesy-spicy salsa to add zing to the vegetables. Finally, the Mexican hot chocolate with soy was decent, but not properly mixed and not sweet enough for my tastes ($3.50).

Like Common Roots, there was only one vegan entree available, which is a shame, considering the place has an emphasis on local and sustainable food; unlike Common Roots, there were NO vegan desserts or baked goods, which was a major downer.

Prices are on the higher side. The service was friendly, but mostly do-it-yourself, which entails carrying hot liquids and soups to your own table in a crowded environment. Servers only bring out the main courses.

The place seems to get extremely packed on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., mostly by the brunch crowd of hung-over college students and uber-sober senior citizens. Strange bedfellows a brunch does attract. Get there early if you want an indoor table; I was able to eat outside only because it was fairly warm, if overcast and gloomy.

On a whole, if this place had more vegan food options, and slightly lower prices, it would be a wonderful, quaint, cozy neighborhood cafe. As it stands, it falls short of its full vegan potential.

Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 6 09

rating star

This coffee shop has a nice vibe and it provides somewhere to go in Lowertown, which is otherwise devoid of business.

That said, it's a pretty generic independent coffee shop: mysterious, potentially un-vegan soup; a few bland sandwiches with potentially un-vegan bread; and mediocre chai. They also offer hummus and tabouli for a whopping $7.25.

The chai comes in a small cup and costs a pricey $3.27 with tax (you could get twice the chai, and much higher quality taste, at Namaste Cafe, or even Caribou). It's a pre-made mix from a plastic jug, with is pretty lame, as I think independent coffee shops should earn their chops by making, say, their own chai recipe or their own proprietary drink/food (of whatever kind). Just because you're independent doesn't mean you should stoop to the lowest level and just serve packaged goods (at a steep mark-up from wholesale rates) that your food distributor happens to offer (which is the case with most places).

Why not have some mockmeat sandwiches? How about baking your own bread or vegan cookies? Anything? Black Dog doesn't do anything to stand out, other than happening to be the only coffee shop in an otherwise empty area. Go the extra inch, Black Dog, and make some food that requires more skill than unscrewing a cap or tearing open a plastic bag.

Black Sea Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 30 09

rating star

This is a tiny, cash-only hole-in-the-wall that almost makes you feel like you're somewhere in Turkey with the elaborate, and perhaps excessive, decorations and bead-curtains all over the place.

I came here around 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday and it was packed, though people steadily started clearing out. Be warned about this if you're looking to get a lunch table (there are only a few) at peak time.

I had a falafel sandwich ($4.65 without tax) combo which comes with fries. It was okay at best. Basically it was a white flour pita pocket stuffed with four or five falafel pieces, a few shreds of lettuce, and exactly one small slice of tomato. I felt kind of jipped on the ingredients. The lettuce and tomato were really low-grade, too, and completely flavorless.

The falafel pieces themselves were passable. My main gripes are that they were too soft and that the filling was not flavorful enough.

I don't like white flour pita so I wish they offered a whole wheat option. This particular pita wasn't very good either---too paper-y and chewy.

I give this place three stars instead of two because I liked the service and the low prices. The owner was a super-friendly guy who promptly greeted me upon entrance even though the place was bustling. I also like the Turkish coffee and tea which they serve in tiny glass cups.

On a whole, if you're looking for good falafel, my three top spots remain: Mim's (St. Paul); Abu Nader (St. Paul); and Loon Deli (Minneapolis).

Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 22 09

rating star

Black Sheep is a cool little place with a cheese-free pizza that fits the bill for vegans (the #2 "tomato and oregano"). The 6-inch base pizza is $6 and then it's $2 for each additional topping. I got the base pizza with roasted red peppers which came out to about $8.50 with tax.

Compared to a place like Punch Pizza (which is decent, don't get me wrong), Black Sheep offers something truly unique: a cracker-thin crust made to perfection. The crust is precariously thin, measuring only 4 millimeters. Amazingly, it was: a) not crunchy; b) not charcoal-burnt in spots and; c) not chewy or doughy at all.

Each bite required the perfect amount of mandibular force, if I dare to pull out my imaginary MD degree. There's something deeply satisfying about that level of perfection and attention to detail which is something you don't see often at 99% of restaurants.

The sauce and roasted red peppers were also fresh and flavorful.

Be warned that the 6-inch pizza is more like a snack than a meal in terms of portion size. I wish Black Sheep offered a more veggie-loaded version of their pizza for around $7-8; otherwise, it becomes an expensive proposition to keep adding individual toppings.

Also, they don't offer any cool vegan toppings like tofu-cashew cheese (Pizza Luce), phony pepperoni and mock fennel sausage (Galactic Pizza or Pizza Luce). Nor do they offer Daiya vegan cassava cheese (Z Pizza in Roseville).

The service is friendly and prompt. Space is highly limited so make reservations or expect to wait during peak times on peak days.

Come here for the novelty of a superb, crispy-perfect crust and high quality ingredients.

Blue Nile in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 1 09

rating star

UPDATE: I've upgraded Blue Nile's rating as it's one of only a few places in Minneapolis that: a) is open late; b) has tons of space; and c) has a variety of good vegan foods and draft beers.

The restaurant area is nice enough with Ethiopian dishes (watch out for buttermilk in their berbere sauce) but the bar area is what really grabs me: low-key, large, unpretentious, casual, and generally quiet (except for when the late night DJs come, and it gets super-loud).

The draft beer selection is diverse and spans at least three continents with excellent, highly representative selections. I was especially impressed that they have Lion lager on draft, a Sri Lankan beer. There are two happy hours each day when it's two for one.

Food-wise, there are a number of great options at the bar (which offers Middle Eastern food). I thought their baba ganouje (~$6) was one of the best I've had in the Twin Cities: fresh; citrus; smoky; and served with soft, warm pita pieces. Every one of us loved it.

Their hummus (~$6) was not as good and too salty for my likes. The lentil sambusas (~$6) were good, and definitely a winner in terms of bar food, but not as good as a larger, more substantial samosa or momo at an Indian or Nepalese restaurant. The french fries ($4) are crisp and tasty.

Lastly, the falafel sandwich ($5.75) is just slightly above average and generally hits the spot, though is a bit messily-constructed and could use some tahini (the sauce they normally use is made with yogurt, so make sure they leave it off).

My only gripe is that the wait time for your food to arrive is generally long (15-20 minutes) even if it's not busy. In the end, though, Blue Nile is a winner and a great all-purpose late night spot for beer lovers and vegans alike.

December 2008 review: I found myself craving Ethiopian food and so I ended up at the ominous, mysterious Blue Nile restaurant. I'm not sure why all the Ethiopian places in Minneapolis are also live music-lounge joints, but Blue Nile does a good job of demarcating the dining area and the bar/lounge area.

I was one of only a couple of customers and was seated promptly. The ambience is passable (maybe a bit too bright to be romantic) though the dining area shows signs of decay.

My server was knowledgeable about ingredients and told me which dishes were vegan; of the ten or so on the menu, six or seven of them are vegan. Their dishes with berbere sauce are NOT VEGAN, as the sauce is made with buttermilk.

My food took 15 or 20 minutes to arrive which was long considering there were only a few customers. Even though I had specified no yogurt and no berbere sauce, my dish was served with a dollop of both. Fortunately, they were on the side and I could just eat around them.

My dark lentils with garlic/jalepeno main course was decent but didn't blow me away. Each of the veg. dishes comes with another side dish of your choosing, so I picked a fava bean dish that also was decent, but nothing special. It tasted and looked like refried beans. I did, however, like their injera bread which was soft and fluffy, but not too thick.

If you're looking to make your dish spicier, ask for the vegan "hot sauce" which will end up being a plate of freshly minced jalapeno. It certainly adds a kick and mixes well with any dish.

It took a while to finally pay the bill. The service was friendly but could have been faster. Prices were decent in the $9-12 range.

Bombay 2 Deli in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

This is a great little joint with simple, honest Indian snacks (samosas, vada pav, masala tea, chaat) and comfort food dishes like lentil curry, chickpea curry and Indian breads. The tastes are good and the prices are extremely low (mostly under $5) and the service is friendly and fast. Seating is limited and it can get crowded easily.

Bordertown Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 29 09

rating star

Bordertown is an easy-to-miss little coffee shop located inside a beautiful old frat house on a quiet side street. I stopped by for a cup of tea and a vegan cookie and was quite pleased.

For one thing, the place offers a variety of loose leaf teas, which is always a huge point in their favor (I loathe independent coffee shops that pawn off "Stash" or "Republic of Tea" prepackaged bags, which is a cheap and mediocre way to do things). They also have extensive coffee/latte offerings.

I also had a vegan chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) which was excellent: this was definitely one of the best vegan cookies I've had in the Twin Cities, beating out anything you'd find at The Wedge, Hard Times, or Seward Co-op (however, Common Roots and Seward Cafe do make excellent cookies, albeit with different styles).

Bordertown's cookie (which was also their only vegan offering) is moist, sweet and substantial in texture and heaviness.

I went back a few days later and had a double chocolate chip cookie with fresh almonds ($2) that was also amazing: rich, soft and fresh.

However, the place's hours are troublesome and the main room was a bit too bleak for my likes. The chairs and tables weren't very comfortable or cozy and the noise level is too quiet (mostly because the acoustics of the room amplify even whispers). This might be a good place to study, but not to chit-chat or hang-out.

Bravo! Cafe and Bakery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 7 09

rating star

Bravo is a cute little bakery/cafe with an assortment of vegan and vegetarian Chinese dishes and baked products (none of which are vegan anymore, but there are some egg-free options). It's a shame, because their vegan spongecake was super-moist and subtly sweet and one of the best I've had (however, they recently stopped offering it).

The food here is super simple and consists primarily of mockmeat Chinese stir-frys. They offer brown rice (topped with sesame seeds) as an option, which is awesome. Each dish costs only $6.44 with tax, and you get a good, solid meal for that price. The food quality isn't the highest---I think the sauces tend to be way too gooey, sticky and sweet, and I'm bothered by having to use plastic utensils and styrofoam cups, but every town needs a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, and I'm glad Bravo is around to fill that niche.

This cafe only holds about a dozen people, so space might be an issue for larger parties. The service is always friendly. This is a good place to get a quick, cheap meal, or to get a cup of tea (they also have bubble teas) and read the newspaper.

Breadsmith in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 12 09

rating star

I wish I'd known about Breadsmith earlier as there's a definite shortage of vegan baked good options in St. Paul. Breadsmith somewhat improves the situation by offering a few vegan options: a caramel pecan bun (Saturdays only); and either a chocolate bobka roll or loaf.

I had a chocolate bobka roll ($2.10 with tax) and it was delicious: not too much chocolate, not gooey, and fresh, soft pastry. The bobka was also really large which made it a great value at only $2.10.

If Breadsmith had a few more vegan dessert options I'd probably come back more often. That said, I'm looking forward to their caramel pecan bun on Saturday.

Bryant Lake Bowl in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 19 09

rating star

I haven't been terribly impressed by Bryant Lake Bowl's food and service, though I do think the place is fairly cool and has an unusual concept that keeps the neighborhood edgy and smart (unlike, say, Tiger Sushi around the corner).

First, on the few occasions I've been to BLB, I've noticed the service is slow and not overly warm.

Second, I'm not impressed with the food. There are only two or three vegan options on the whole menu and none of them were particularly good, in my opinion. The tofu scramble was slight and bland. The mock duck spring rolls were decent, but only worth getting for the happy hour price of $4.50 (normally they cost a whopping $8). I've also had a black bean burger, which is only vegan if they serve it to you on a baguette, instead of a bun. Well, baguettes and burgers are not meant to go-together, so that was a mistake on my part; also, the burger itself is clearly just a Gardenburger patty you could get at a grocery store. The pad thai ($12 with tofu or mock duck) is mediocre at best, overcooked with too much soy sauce and not enough peanuts and tofu/mock duck. I also tried one of their specials, a tofu cashew curry ($15), which was tasty, but way too expensive. You could get a better curry for 30% less money at Jasmine 26 or Sen Yai Sen Lek.

Third, the beer selection isn't great, and what you get is over-priced. $7 for a can of Sapporo? That's highway robbery.

BLB, you got a nice concept, but you need some new dishes (how about a seitan burger? or a faux chicken burrito?) to get my business.

Butter Bakery Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 08

rating star

I had high hopes for Butter Bakery. In retrospect, I'm not sure why, as the "Butter" in its name automatically suggests a place that won't be great for vegans.

First the good: this is a cute, quaint, cozy little neighborhood cafe on a quiet street. There's outdoor seating and it's never so packed that you can't find a seat (even at brunch time on Saturdays and Sundays, when places like Common Roots and French Meadow are standing-room only). The staff is friendly and this looks like the type of place to make some cool, smart friends.

Now onto the food: the tofu scramble, in my opinion, was bland and too slight. At $6.98 with tax, it also seems overpriced. For that price, you could get tastier food, and three times the portion size, at Seward Cafe or Hard Times Cafe. There was no option for soy bacon or vegan sausage. I tried their tempeh sandwich which also fell flat for my tastes. It didn't feel fresh or light; the tempeh was too crispy and the cafe doesn't offer any vegan spreads to enhance the flavors. Compare this to the MULTIPLE tempeh sandwiches at French Meadow and there's no comparison: FM wins outright.

The food menu is available only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., so keep that in mind if you want to try their food. Their chai latte was decent, but they were out of rice milk every time I visited, so I settled for soy.

One final drawback: they have NO vegan desserts or baked goods at all. I found this surprising, as they do have some vegan food items, at least. Then again, as I mentioned earlier, "Butter" is the name of the place. What could I expect?

Cafe Agri in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 12 09

rating star

UPDATE: Cafe Agri has a new chef so I stopped by to see if anything had changed (see below for my original review). It's still a quaint, cozy little neighborhood bistro that gives Minneapolis more "foodie creds." I also appreciate that so much of their menu is vegan or vegan-friendly (though why do they continue to insist on that one fish dish?).

That said, the food isn't as good as I remember it. I had a tofu scramble ($9), which was pretty plain and boring and seemed to be just tofu cooked in olive oil, along with some onions and red bell peppers. The sweet potato fries that came with the dish were cubed (why not cut them in long-strips, like normal fries?) and were okay, but not great.

The chocolate almond cake ($7) was the only vegan dessert. I thought the texture and sweetness of the cake were well-done, though the edges seemed overly-hard, whereas the interior portion of the cake was soft. The cake supposedly had an orange glaze sauce, but all I tasted was vanilla. I did, however, like the generous quantity of raw almonds they provided.

The theme at Cafe Agri is "farm to fork" but given how infrequently their menu changes, I kind of doubt that they're actually using many local, seasonal ingredients, and they're clearly not as committed or transparent as the hyper-local Common Roots Cafe.

As such, discounting the supposed "local-organic angle" (I have a hunch they're just green-washing), you can get three times the tofu scramble, with a more sophisticated flavor and seasoning, along with vegan home-made nacho cheese and skillet potatoes, at Triple Rock Social Club for the same price as the bland stuff Cafe Agri serves.

If a punk-rock bar can out-cook a chef-driven bistro, something is seriously wrong with the bistro. Similarly, you can get a larger, more moist, more delicious vegan turtle cake at French Meadow for only $4, or basically at half the price of what Cafe Agri charges for its vegan cake.

I think Cafe Agri has a cool concept and is a nice joint, but their food and implementation falls dramatically short of the competition, whether it's a vegan-friendly bar (Triple Rock), an organic European bistro (French Meadow), or a truly local/organic cafe (Common Roots). In any case, Cafe Agri doesn't seem to have a sense of itself, or its market, to really compete at this point.

ORIGINAL REVIEW: Cafe Agri is a trendy, modern, little joint in a nice residential area of Minneapolis. Seating is limited, but the service is friendly and fairly prompt.

The food is on the pricier side, but the quality of the ingredients (fresh, local, seasonal, organic) justifies this. Our beet ribbon salad was wonderful---subtly sweet and savory, with juicy beets, fresh strawberries and nutty, perfect figs (I normally don't like figs, but these were special). My main course, vegetables in a light BBQ sauce with heirloom rice, was simple and popped with the flavors of local, sustainable peas, bell peppers and onions. My friend's pasta dish was light and tasty, featuring avocado, hand-picked tomatoes and delicious brown-rice penne. Finally, our dessert, a mango pudding with Brazil nuts and dark chocolate shavings, was complex, and had a perfect balance between semi-sweet chocolate and semi-ripe mango.

Cafe Brenda in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

Brenda's offers some interesting, tasty food, but nothing spectacular. Prices are a bit high at $12-16 per dish. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is classy; this is a good place to take a date. Vegan options are limited, but they do have some dishes and also vegan desserts.

Caffetto in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 5 08

rating star

I like the atmosphere and clientele in this cafe, but lately their vegan desserts have been lacking. They usually have the same three vegan baked goods from Hard Times Cafe (an espresso muffin, a chocolate-covered shortbread cookie, and a peanut butter cookie), and I'm a bit tired of them now. They're also not very good---they tend to be too sweet or dry. I like however, that they've started accepting credit cards finally. If they could just start offering a better array of vegan desserts (maybe some vegan pies or cakes from The Wedge Co-op across the street?), I'd give them a higher rating.

Caffrey's Deli and Subs in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 17 10

rating star

Caffrey's is stocking vegan chicken again and so I had their 7-inch "Three Pepper Chicken" sub ($6.75 with tax).

I was impressed. It's a simple sub served on soft, fluffy wholewheat bread and comes loaded with crispy vegan chicken (I don't know what brand they use, but it's damn good), tomatoes and lettuce, a spicy red pepper hummus and banana peppers. It packs a kick and is a good value given its price and quality.

I'd give Caffrey's a higher rating, but they have only one other sub that can be made vegan. They also had a vegan soup available. Why not offer some seitan for a vegan philly (they do have regular phillys, after all)? These days you can easily get vegan turkey or ham or whatever which could greatly increase Caffrey's veg. offerings.

That said, Caffrey's is a nice go-to joint late at night in the Lyn-Lake area. I will return.

Cake Eater Bakery and Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 10 10

rating star

UPDATE: I've never seen a place peak, and begin to decay, so rapidly. I came to Cake Eater probably four days in a row right after they opened in April 2010. I was amazed by every single cupcake of theirs that I tried.

But after three visits in late April and early May, I noticed a sudden and dramatic decrease in quality. For one thing, the cupcakes became dry, the frosting was overly sweet, and the flavors didn't stand out. This happened three times in a row. A few other vegans I know were also disappointed by the cupcakes here, and one of them said his faux hostess cupcake was "vile."

The non-cupcake baked goods are consistently mediocre, at best. Their gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie is a crispy, unsatisfying piece of slate, with almost burnt edges. The muffins were also overly browned, dry and looked amateurish.

I came back again on May 8th and the cupcakes this time around were decent, but still not as good as they used to be. The strawberry shortcake cupcake had great taste and interior texture, but was almost chewy on the top and outside. The chocolate cream cheese cupcake had good texture, but the cream cheese didn't taste like anything other than a whipped topping.

What went wrong, Cake Eater? I suspect you're making too many flavors for your own good and need to start focusing (offer only four or five flavors daily, not more than that). Also, figure out what you're doing wrong with your muffins, which look nearly burnt and are mealy and dry. Better yet, drop the muffins, scones, cookies and bars. Concentrate your energies. You don't do a good job with non-cupcakes, anyway.

Also, speed up your service at the counter. Each transaction seems to take many minutes, especially if someone orders an espresso-type drink. One person should be in charge of making drinks, while another should handle the money and take orders. Let the line move and, when a drink's ready, the person who ordered it can pick it up at the counter.

Original review: Holy mother Mary, this place is awesome. It easily takes the prize for having the best vegan baked goods in the Twin Cities. The first time I stopped by I had a vegan key lime cupcake ($3) and a cup of loose-leaf tea (~$2). The cupcake was sublime: soft and moist on the inside with just a faint hint of crispiness on the outside. Now that was perfection in baking. The frosting was also wonderfully subdued and not too sugary or buttery.

I was so impressed that I went back the next day and had a vegan gluten-free strawberry cupcake ($3) and a day-old vegan lemon-blueberry muffin ($1). The cupcake was once again superb and this struck me as even more remarkable, because on top of being vegan, it was also gluten-free this time around. Texture issues and consistency can be a problem with gluten-free flours, but Cake Eater has somehow managed to make them non-issues; I was hard-pressed to spot any difference. And it's also vegan, for chrissake! Not to gloat, but gluten-free bakeries like Cooqi couldn't even come close to making something like this.

The lemon-blueberry muffin was also tasty, despite being a day old. It could have been spongier, but maybe it had gone dry since it was over the hill already. That said, it was a great value at only $1.

Cake Eater offers a variety of other vegan options daily. They seem to have two vegan cupcakes (one of which will be gluten-free as well), one or two vegan muffins, some kind of vegan scone, and probably one other random vegan offering (like a raspberry chocolate bar).

My only gripes: seating is limited and kind of cramped up front; and they have an overly-small selection of loose-leaf teas. Kudos to them for having loose-leaf options, but they'd need to add at least another four or five teas to be respectable (one or two more black teas, one or two oolongs, and maybe another green).

On a whole, though, this Cake Eater is a massive net positive for Minneapolis and I can't wait to try more of their inventive, delicious offerings.

Camdi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 12 08

rating star

I really like that Camdi has an all-vegan menu with numerous (and unusual) soups, appetizers and pan-Asian entrees. They also cook all the vegan dishes in separate woks and fryers, which is much appreciated. The service was friendly and prompt. That said, I wasn't amazed by the food. It's much better than your average strip-mall Chinese joint, but not as light, fresh or tasty as Evergreen on Nicollet or Jasmine Deli, also on Nicollet (two of the best Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities). Their tofu vegetable curry was solid, but nothing special and reminded me heavily of Lotus To-Go restaurants and also E Noodle Cafe in Roseville. Their mushroom stir-fry with mock pork was a bit too salty, oily and sticky for my likes; the mock pork, too, had a horrible texture, like fried tofu that has gone soggy and chewy after soaking in water. The vegan cream cheese wontons were definitely good, though, with just the right balance of savory flavor and crispiness. If the quality of the food here improves, I would definitely give it another star. At present, it's a distant third when it comes to Asian food in the Twin Cities.

Caspian Bistro in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 31 09

rating star

Caspian Bistro has a really well-done, semi-swanky interior and is, to my knowledge, the only Iranian/Persian cafe in the Twin Cities.

I had a falafel sandwich ($6.95 without tax). They served it wrapped in what appeared to be a flour tortilla; do Persians not like pita? I did not like the tortilla too much. Also, the tahini sauce they use apparently has dairy in it, so they left that off for me, though it compromised the dish's overall taste. Who makes tahini with dairy? It's just sesame usually.

The falafel pieces themselves were unusual: at Caspian, they make them soft and fluffy. They tasted pretty good though they could have used more herbs.

This was decent falafel, but without the tahini, the final whole definitely felt lacking. My waitress thoughtfully brought out some olive oil as she figured the falafel might be dry; the olive oil helped the dish though not by much.

The dish also came with a light salad of lettuce and an olive covered in Italian dressing.

For dessert I had Iranian tea ($1.95) that came in a glass cup and also got a free refill. This was excellent tea: black, plain and light. Brewed to perfection with no bitterness.

I also had dates stuffed with walnuts ($1.95) which proved to be a wonderful, light, delectable dessert. Who would have guessed that dates and walnuts would go so well together? The dessert also went perfectly with the tea.

Caspian has great ambience and friendly, attentive service. While they could stand to improve their vegan offerings and find a non-dairy tahini, the place stands out from most Middle Eastern joints and therefore merits attention, especially in Stadium Village.

Cat Man Do Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 12 09

rating star

Cat-Man-Do is the fourth, and newest, Nepalese restaurant in the Twin Cities. It's a nicely decorated space with an outdoor patio as well.

I tested out some standard dishes here so I could compare Cat-Man-Do to the other Nepalese restaurants in town. I started out with an order of samosas ($4.50) which were flavorful and well-done, though not the best I've had in the Twin Cities (the best are at Delights of India in Minneapolis). Next I had a jackfruit curry ($8.95) which was also well-prepared; jackfruit is a delicacy in South Asia and looks like a cross between tofu and chicken and serves as a good "meat" for any dish. The portion size was large, and the price for the dish was two dollars less than what Everest on Grand or The Himalayan charge for their jackfruit dishes. It also had some nice distinguishing touches, such as roasted onion and red chilis.

My biggest issue with Cat-Man-Do was the slow service. I was the only customer in the restaurant initially, but the server didn't seem to care to take my order and so I waited at least ten minutes to actually place it. More customers started piling in and the place got half-full and now the solitary server was bogged down; my food took another ten minutes to arrive and I waited at least twenty minutes to get my bill, get my card swiped, and receive a to-go box for my leftovers. The service was friendly, just extremely slow and inattentive.

Also, I was given only a 10% discount for being an Minnesota Public Radio member, though the site says I should receive 15%. Given how slow the service was, I didn't want to stay to ask questions, but it's frustrating nevertheless. It's also not the first time I've been jipped on my MPR member discount by a Nepalese restaurant in St. Paul (see my review of Everest on Grand for more info).

Ultimately, Cat-Man-Do is a decent place with good food at cheaper prices than The Himalayan, Everest on Grand, or Namaste Cafe. Its food is nearly identical to the food you get at The Himalayan or Everest on Grand, but Cat-Man-Do is the better value for your money. Namaste Cafe is the odd-man-out; most of its food is not as good as the other restaurants, but it serves killer chai and some delectable appetizers and desserts, which the other three don't.

Cause Spirits & Soundbar in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 28 09

rating star

I like the vibe and cozy feel of Sauce though the food was underwhelming. I came here for brunch and had a build-your-own tofu scramble with tomatoes, onions and green peppers ($7).

The scramble was pretty bland as I feared it would be. It's rare to find a good tofu scramble (for the record, the best tofu scramble in the Twin Cities is at the downtown Minneapolis Pizza Luce). To do a good tofu scramble, you need a strong base of herbs (such as basil) mixed with onions, garam masala and/or similar Indian spices, along with turmeric for coloring. Using that a base to stir-fry with the tofu, you could then add tomatoes and other vegetables to get a killer scramble.

Unfortunately, Sauce leaves out all the spices and instead simply stir-frys the tofu with turmeric and then adds three vegetables of your choice. The result lacks flavor and punch.

The portion size is fairly small and you get much more hashbrowns on the plate than tofu scramble. The hashbrowns were far too salty and oily for my likes. I only took a few bites before I couldn't take any more salt.

I also had a cup of tea ($2) and was disappointed that Sauce only offers generic bagged varieties rather than having loose-leaf options.

In the end, though, I'd probably come back because Sauce has nice ambience and friendly-service, as well as a decent happy hour. If they upped their game on their food, added more complex vegan options (why not have soy chorizo for breakfast or pastas with fake meat for lunch? how about a seitan burger?) I'd be back often.

Chef Shack in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 1 09

rating star

Chef Shack is a buzzing food mobile located at the stylish Mill City Farmers' Market. The food is basic and American, but fairly well-prepared with high quality ingredients.

I had a vegan beer brat ($5) which was, other than the fries, the only vegan thing available. The brat was pretty good: nicely flavored (hickory smoke?), filling and simple. None of the condiments looked too interesting to me, though all of them are vegan (except for the bacon ketchup).

If Chef Shack had more vegan options, I'd give them a higher rating and probably come back for more. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, they also offer a cheese-filled veggie burger, as well as Indian-spiced donuts and a fancy nacho dish.

The prices are pretty high considering the style and quantity of food, but the quality is high, so maybe it's worth it.

ChinDian Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 26 09

rating star

Chindian sounds like it would be cool, bringing together Chinese and Indian foods into a fusion whole. Sadly, this place is not cool. It's basically a glorified Chinese take-out joint with little to no Indian influence, but lots of influence from Chinese restaurants that serve chow mein and fried rice.

I had a fried tofu with shiitake mushroom stir-fry ($8.25) that was basically just tofu, carrots, onions, scallions and some shiitake in a garlic-brown sauce. It was really simple and not particularly interesting, especially not with flavorless, unhealthy white rice.

Vegans beware to ask questions about ingredients, as some of the dishes contain fish/oyster sauce or egg. The only dishes that the waitress could recommend for vegans were the mock duck with broccoli, the fried tofu with shiitake, and a chown fun with vegetables.

There were two Malaysian dishes that sounded unusual and interesting, but they could not be modified.

Why not offer some Indo-Chinese dishes such as veg. manchurian? Granted, Indo-Chinese food was wholly developed in India, so it's not a true "fusion," but it tastes good and is hard to come by in Minnesota. I can get chow fun and garlic stir-frys anywhere. Chindian, live up to your concept and offer something that would make the drive to Northeast worthwhile.

Chino Latino in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 10 09

rating star

I'd somehow never been to Chino Latino until now, and now that I've been, I doubt I'll be back. If you're in a skirt with high heels, and will be going to the Warehouse District after eating, Chino Latino is for you. If you're vegan, vegetarian, or more interested in the quality of your food than the quality of the decor around you, Chino Latino is eminently avoidable.

I came here with a group on a Saturday night; the place is packed, so don't expect to be seated promptly if you don't have reservations. Even the bar area had limited standing room. Everyone there is in a group of twelve (myself included), so if you go by yourself or with only just one other person, be prepared to feel awkward and unloved.

The place is loud, so conversation is not easy, and there's always so much movement and noise that it's hard to relax in Chino Latino.

There were some good points: the waitstaff is friendly, attentive and helpful. The atmosphere is upscale and modern, though it treads facile (the crazy and confusing bathroom, however, puts the place back in edgy territory).

Now the not-so-good: there's not much cultural diversity at Chino Latino and, amazingly, it seems even more homogeneous than other places in Uptown proper.

The drinks are all extremely expensive at around $10 a piece. Yes, the drinks are strong, so you get your money's worth I guess, but it is still excessive. Also, none of the drinks I tried were particularly tasty or memorable (unlike the $10 strong drinks at Red Dragon, which are delicious and have funny names). My caipirinha (Brazil's national cocktail) was totally off and not very appealing; I don't know what it was, but it wasn't a caipirinha (and I've lived in Brazil, so I know what it should taste like). My friend's margarita (~$10) was awful; five of us tried a sip and all of us recoiled in disgust. My friend actually sent the drink back and got a Budweiser instead (kudos to the waitstaff, who didn't argue or question anything, and promptly took the drink away and got him the beer).

Now onto the food. Make sure to ask lots of questions about ingredients, because even dishes that seem to be vegan/vegetarian are not, in fact, vegan or vegetarian. The stir-fried veggies ($7; side order) are cooked in oyster sauce. The vegetable potstickers ($9) have egg and oyster sauce. The spicy edamame ($9) has oyster sauce.

My vegan friend ended up with chips and guacamole ($9) which was tasty, but super-expensive (you could get superior chips and salsa/guacamole for FREE at most Mexican restaurants). I had a weedeater sushi plate ($14; modified to be vegan) that was okay, but not worth $14, and was akin to the quality of sushi you get at Whole Foods: edible, but nothing special.

In conclusion, Chino Latino is loud, expensive, homogeneous, and doesn't make good food or drinks. But the atmosphere is kind of fun (if you're in a group of twelve, which you will be) and the service is solid, which is why I give it two stars, rather than one. That said, I wouldn't come here again on my own accord.

Christos in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 15 09

rating star

This is one of those places I've walked by a hundred times but never bothered to check out until recently. I like that they have the guts to be a Greek restaurant on a street full of predominantly Asian (and increasing Mexican) restaurants; they fill a niche and create variety.

I had a falafel and soup combo meal ($6.55 without tax), which also comes with french fries. Unfortunately, neither of the soups were vegan, so I substituted a tabouli salad. I thought it would be free, but they charged me $2.30 for it which I guess is okay, considering the size of the salad.

Christo's has a number of vegetarian items, but very few vegan options (I think the hummus, tabouli and falafel are the only ones), which is disappointing, but probably better-than-average for Greek restaurants. The tabouli was good: fresh, light and simple. That said, I got tired of the taste after about ten bites or so---how much parsley can a man take? My server also tossed in some free warm, soft pita slices on the side; this pita was great.

The falafel sandwich was a mixed experience. I think the falafel pieces were good and competent, but the pita pocket they used was mediocre at best: dry; chewy; and white flour (why no wholewheat option?). Also, why was this pita pocket so markedly different in quality from the delicious, fresh pita slices they'd served me earlier?

They made another crucial error in loading the pocket with yet more tabouli. I'm sorry, but tabouli and falafel don't mix that well and Christo's should just stick to lettuce, tomatoes and red onions. The tahini sauce was good and the french fries were tasty though I felt like it was too much food.

The service was friendly and prompt. The decor on the inside is really warm, pleasant and elegant; this is a good business-lunch spot or a place to take your grandparents. Indeed, the clientele is also much older than you normally see on Nicollet Avenue (the average age in there must have been around 50).

By the way, lunch prices are significantly lower than dinner prices here, so while I think this is a great lunch spot, it would be a bit too expensive for dinner.

Common Roots in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 28 10

rating star

Update IV: Common Roots is still a decent place to get a cup of tea and lounge around. They usually have vegan scones and biscotti, but neither are particularly good. If you're lucky, they might have a vegan cupcake available. From what I've heard, Common Roots is not interested in its vegan customers, and their steady decline in vegan offerings is a testament to that.

The bagels are made with honey. Just FYI.

Over the last year or so, they've decreased their vegan offerings, not only in the baked goods area, but also in terms of regular menu entrees and breakfast items. They used to have great cookies and tarts, but those are long gone. I always found their entrees to be passable, but nothing great; it is definitely expensive considering the small portion sizes you receive (granted, it's local/organic/etc.).

I still visit Common Roots on occasion, but if you're looking for a more reliable vegan-friendly business, go next door to French Meadow, where you can always be guaranteed to have an unusual and innovative variety of vegan treats and dishes.

Update III: The quality of the service here is mixed. It takes forever to order as people stare at the menu and lines frequently build up at the cash register. The food also usually takes close to 15 minutes to arrive. The people behind the counter are either really friendly or slightly aloof.

Common Roots creates problems as it's not quite a restaurant, and not quite a coffee shop. As such, I've found myself in situations where I order a meal, and then don't have anywhere to sit, because all the tables are colonized by no-good faux beatniks with Macbooks, who order a cup of coffee then plant their flags on tables for hours and hours, even during peak times, when some people just want to enjoy their cup of tea.

I am still impressed with their social dedication---they compost everything, use recycled products and biodegradable utensils and plastics. They also host various social events and speakers, as well as "meet your farmer" sessions. Finally, they have a few local beers on tap, with an outside garden area open during the summer; their happy hour is a pleasant respite after a long day at the office.

I also like that they have a private room open to groups wanting to hold discussions or events.

It's all a question of expectations. As a cafe/coffeeshop, Common Roots is pretty good and offers more than it needs to for vegans. But, as a local, organic, environmentally- and socially-committed cafe (which one would think would offer more sustainable vegan food) Common Roots falls short.

Cooqi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 7 09

rating star

The Twin Cities seems to have at least two or three gluten-free bakeries and this is one of them. I suppose I'm a bit jealous because there are ZERO vegan bakeries in the Twin Cities. Why should gluten-free get all the fun?

In any case, I'm glad that Cooqi had at least one vegan item, a pumpkin chocolate bar ($3.50). It was very moist and had great texture. I think the pumpkin flavor was too subdued and the bar tasted more like soft sugar bread with some chocolate on top, but it was still pretty tasty.

The interior is very small and it's probably not ideal for setting up your laptop and hanging out. This seems more like a grab-and-go joint.

I was irked by the fact that the two people ahead of me were asked to join the Cooqi Club (buy ten Cooqis, get one free), whereas I was not asked to join. It seemed like gluten-free discrimination against vegans. We should all be in this together, not breaking into petty factions; most vegans are vegans by choice, whereas the gluten-free folks are usually forced into it, but that doesn't mean we can't work together. There's plenty of overlap in our worlds and mainstream restaurants usually lump vegan and gluten-free together anyway.

Next time I will insist on joining the Cooqi Club.

Cosmos in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 7 09

rating star

The more expensive and ritzy the restaurant, the better the likelihood that its chef is incompetent at cooking vegetables and using his/her imagination to make a creative, tasty dish without meat and butter. Indeed, if you're vegan, you'll often end up with boiled vegetables and sorbet. For $50.

That said, Cosmos is slightly better than your average expensive restaurant. I came here with a number of colleagues and Cosmos was super-friendly and easy-going with our frequent reservation corrections; the service at the restaurant was impeccable, too. My table's server was charismatic, smooth and efficient, and somehow managed to make my vegan dishes seem more interesting and appealing than my colleagues' ordinary meat and seafood entrees. Indeed, his descriptions of the off-menu vegan dishes made my colleagues think twice about their orders.

The starter salad was okay, but nothing special. My main course showed some signs of competence and imagination in the kitchen: it was a mushroom-rice risotto stuffed inside skinned tomatoes, served atop mustard greens with a side of artichokes. It was artfully presented (looked like a bouquet of flowers) and tasted good, though it could have used more flavoring or some kind of curry sauce. For dessert, I got a sorbet (why can't a restaurant like this make a tofu cheesecake? sorbet is boringly enough the default vegan dessert), but it was lemongrass flavored, which was unusual and got my attention. They served it with fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, which stood out as an excellent, personalized touch. One of my colleagues said my dessert should have been on the menu, as it was so lovely.

But, for $25, I was not blown away by my meal. It was certainly better than I've had at other expensive places, but it wasn't good enough for me to justify returning, especially not at that price.

Also, while the bar looks great and the service is awesome, I was shocked by their pathetic, sports-bar beer menu which was overpriced and had no microbrews (a bottle of Miller Lite for $6? seriously? at a place that charges $25 a plate?). Their cocktails looked appealing, but were hard to justify at $14 a piece.

The ambience at Cosmos is decidedly lounge-modern, the type of place where you'd expect to meet runway models at after-parties. I like that it's quiet and spacious. The service is excellent but the food for vegans is nothing to rave about.

Cupcake in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 30 09

rating star

On Mondays Cupcake offers two varieties of vegan cupcakes. I had a Luscious Lemon cupcake ($2.95) and it was quite good: moist; soft; subdued flavor. They also had a chocolate cupcake.

While I think $2.95 is extremely pricey for a cupcake, especially considering the size of the thing, the quality was good. But why do they only have vegan offerings on Mondays? How about every day? Cupcake could fill a niche in an area that doesn't have much by way of vegan baked goods.

The cafe is cozy and well-decorated. Kudos to Cupcake for creating a quaint, quirky environment, with comfortable indoor seating and a good amount of outdoor seating. I must also give praise to them for having high-grade loose-leaf tea from TeaSource.

That said, their only vegan food option, aside from the cupcakes on Mondays, seems to be a hummus sandwich which is so mundane and commonplace that I can't applaud them for it.

The location of Cupcake is also not ideal as it's at a particularly vast stretch of busy four-lane University Avenue and is up a huge hill for anyone coming from campus.

Curry 'N' Noodles in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 23 10

rating star

I was excited that a place like this exists in Hopkins, as it's a suburban area of the Twin Cities in dire need of vegan-friendly dining establishments. And, best of all, they have veg. manchurian (falafel-esque veg. balls in a soy gravy), one of my favorite Indo-Chinese dishes, and one that's hard to come by.

Unfortunately, the food here isn't very good, on a whole. I'll start off with the one good dish we had, the aloo gobi ($10). I liked that this restaurant uses whole baby potatoes; in general, the dish came together and was well-seasoned and not oily.

It went downhill from there. The veg. manchurian ($10) had a strange, sharp taste to it. My guess is that the spices and seasonings weren't cooked long enough. It certainly was not the way veg. manchurian is supposed to taste.

We also had dhal ($10) which similarly tasted under-cooked and was palatable, but not much better than that.

The roti was decent.

While the chef is friendly (he came to chat with us) and totally familiar with veganism, I was surprised that he doesn't endeavor to have more creative vegan dishes (how about dishes with seitan, tempeh, or more dishes with tofu? how about lassi made with soy or rice/almond/hemp milk? how about just offering soy milk for chai?). It seems like a gross oversight and unfortunately, this restaurant can't get by on its default vegan options, which aren't very good.

The outdoor patio is pleasant and the service was prompt and friendly. I'd give Curry 'N' Noodles another shot, but was unimpressed with my first visit.

Curry Up in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 5 09

rating star

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants of my youth are either gone or on the verge of extinction. This is a new era and Indian food isn't so exotic anymore and visiting Curry Up reaffirmed this notion. It's a clean, bright, modern cafe with plenty of space and a savvy, average-priced menu that won't scare off the natives.

Indeed, I was the only person of Indian origins in the restaurant, which is a first for me. The friendly woman at the register was Caucasian and the lone cook was Hispanic. Another customer, who spoke only Spanish, had a hard time ordering, though he seemed pleased by the bits of Spanish in the Slumdog Millionaire song "Jai Ho" which played over the speaker. A globalized world.

I had batata vada ($3.99) which came out a bit too soft and bland for my likes. Similarly, the masala dosa ($7.49) wasn't crispy enough and the potato stuffing lacked zing and was too starchy. All of the food looked perfectly authentic, but the flavors were off, or maybe dumbed-down for suburban tastes. A globalized world, again.

Kudos to them for labeling all their vegan dishes, though. That's a nice touch.

Curry Up also has an Indian grocery section with some staple spices and bulk products.

If I were in the area, Curry Up would edge out Qdoba or Chipotle (the only other vegan-friendly places in that sprawled strip-mall area), but it's otherwise not worth the long drive from Minneapolis or St. Paul proper.

Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 31 10

rating star

Dakota Jazz Club has an awesome vibe and focus. I just love that Minneapolis has a smart, cozy, sophisticated jazz club, bar and restaurant right in the heart of downtown.

I came here for a night of Cuban jazz and enjoyed it immensely. Be warned that you might have to pay a cover charge (which will be added to your dining bill). In my case I paid $15 which wasn't bad considering the intimate venue, the one-of-a-kind music and the roughly two hours of actual performance.

The staff and kitchen is also exceedingly agreeable and knowledgeable about vegan food. I just wish Dakota would add a set vegan option to the menu and label it clearly (the current menu has NO vegan or vegetarian options, as far as I could see); I suspect if they did so, they'd get a lot more vegans and vegetarians stopping by, as the food here has definite signs of imagination.

I let the chef surprise me and got a rice noodle stir-fry in a chili oil broth with chicken of the woods mushrooms, bok choy, baby cilantro and a bit of radish ($18). The dish not only tasted good but easily outdid the boring pastas or risotto-type dishes that most upscale joints make, and never deviate from, when crazy vegans show up.

I also shared a basket of fries ($5) which were good but could have been crispier.

My friend and I also had a few drinks. Our initial drinks were good, but not great at about $10 a piece (a cuba libre and a "Johnny Come Lately" which consists of apples and vodka, I think). The final drink, a Minnesota Martini ($10) was barely tolerable. The alcohol burned the throat and I felt like I should be treating wounds with the drink rather than imbibing it.

The service was friendly if not super attentive.

I'd definitely come back to Dakota Jazz Club for special occasions or performances. In the meantime, they should improve their cocktail quality and add a vegan item or two to the menu, and then I might stop by even more often.

Dancing Ganesha in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 4 09

rating star

Since my first visit to Dancing Ganesha in August 2008 I've been back a few times. I'd hoped it would improve over time but I think it has somehow managed to actually decline in quality on a number of fronts.

The food is not as interesting or as tasty as it was initially. During my first visit the menu took some risks by offering unusual "fusion" concepts such as rougail d'aubergine (smoked eggplant) and water-chesnut and swiss chard pakoras. I thought DG pulled these off well and I applauded them for breaking out from the standard chickpea-lentil-spinach trifecta that normally dominates North Indian cuisine.

Lately though the menu appears to have been dumbed down and these types of dishes are no longer available.

Instead I had a chana masala ($10.99) which was, to sum it up in a single word, imprecise. That is, the dish was not prepared properly and what should have been a curry instead was a red sauce with chickpeas. Chana masala, for all its seeming simplicity, is extremely easy to mess up; if you're not careful about proportions and add too much tomato or tomato paste, you'll end up with a glorified pasta sauce. As such, Dancing Ganesha probably should have served me this dish with penne instead of roti and rice (and they only have white rice, by the way).

I later had a dal tadka ($10.99) which lacked salt and seasoning and was also imprecise: it had not been cooked long enough, so the dish was watery (like a soup) and the lentils didn't become creamy.

I also had an aloo gobi ($10.99) which was acceptable but not worth the price considering the small portion size. All of the entrees come in small portions and don't represent a great value.

Vegans should make sure to ask questions about ingredients, as many of the vegetarian dishes contain dairy, though some dishes can be modified.

I was shocked to discover, for example, that the masala dosa here is made with cream---never in my life have I ever encountered a masala dosa made with cream (and I've been eating dosas since I was a child as my parents are both South Indian). As such, Dancing Ganesha loses points for not only being imprecise, but also "inaccurate" (that is, "inauthentic") in its ingredients.

Lastly, their gobi manchurian appetizer (~$8 for dinner, $5 during happy hour) was actually pretty good: spicy and crunchy. I just wish they had the other Indo-Chinese classic dish, "veg. manchurian" and preferably made in a soy sauce, rather than a tomato-based sauce.

The atmosphere at Dancing Ganesha needs some work. They keep the lights way too low and, what lights they do keep on are blue in color, which is not easy on the eyes. Also, the music is too loud and features an all-Bollywood soundtrack that grows old quickly.

Lastly, the service is consistently slow (though friendly). During each of the four or five times I've been to DG, whether it's crowded or not, I've waited at least 20 minutes for my food, and one time I waited closer to 40 minutes. Given that this place seems to cater to many downtown office workers you'd think they'd have faster service.

On a whole, Dancing Ganesha isn't a great place, though I suppose it's more vegan-friendly that 95% of other downtown restaurants. That said the food and overall experience here are not good enough to warrant a recommendation.

Delicious Cafe and Brazilian Grill in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 11 08

rating star

As an avid Brazilianist, I was pleased to find this cafe in suburban Minneapolis. More importantly, I was pleased to see they had vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, which is unheard of in Brazil.

They have a specific vegetarian section on the menu which features some cheese and dairy dishes, as well as some pastas. Their fettucine dish with veggie meat is simple but tasty. You can also have them modify some other standard Brazilian dishes to get a vegan meal of beans, grilled vegetables and a starch side dish. Also, make sure to try guarana, the classic Brazilian soft drink.

Service is friendly and helpful. Unfortunately they don't have any vegan desserts, but they do have soy milk for their cafe drinks.

Delights of India in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 28 09

rating star

Delights of India is a delight indeed. If you're looking for light, authentic, home-cooked Indian food, come here (they also have a lunch buffet). In the Twin Cities, this is the only place that accurately replicates the complex, sophisticated tastes of North Indian cuisine and, best of all, uses fresh (non-frozen) ingredients and limited amounts of oil.

You can't really go wrong with any dish here, though I would recommend dishes with potatoes, spinach or eggplant; their lentil and chickpea dishes are good, but don't quite match the tastes of their vegetable dishes. Their samosas are also excellent.

The service is extremely friendly and gracious, though not the fastest in the world. Don't expect to schlep some buffet items on a dish, eat like mad, and then run out; in Delights of India, you'll actually want to savor your meal.

All vegan items are labeled on the menu and they even offer soy chai (though the tea base they use needs to be stronger---the current tea they use is a light black tea which gets drowned out by the milk).

My only gripes would be that they don't offer brown rice (not unusual for Indian restaurants) and that the prices are a bit on the higher side ($11-13 per dish).

Nevertheless, this is the highest quality Indian food you'll find in the Twin Cities, and the most authentic. At Delights of India there are no concessions to Americanized tastes; this may sound scary at first, but it really just means that you'll get healthier, fresher food that can express itself properly, without relying on buckets of oil and raw quantities (like at most Indian buffets).

Dosa King in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 27 10

rating star

The world of quality Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities is in flux. Nala Pak, further south on Central Avenue, is now closed (the website says temporarily, until they find a new location); as such I'm glad that Dosa King has arrived to fill the void.

Granted, it's out in the middle of nowhere, but at least it's only a 20 minute drive from Minneapolis proper.

We shared a masala dosa ($7.49) which was good, and definitely one of the better dosas I've had in the Twin Cities. For those of you that don't know, dosas are crispy lentil crepes filled with potatoes, onions and spices. It's the quintessential South Indian dish. There aren't many places in the TC that serve it, as it takes some skill and equipment to produce with any quality, so do visit Dosa King for this dish, if nothing else. I think they could have made the dosa crispier, but that's a minor quibble.

Like any good South Indian restaurant, Dosa King also has about ten different variations on the dosa, using different crepe ingredients and fillings. They also have rare dishes such as uppma, pongol and avial, which are extremely difficult to find almost anywhere in the US (even a place like Chicago, with a huge Indian population). Props to Dosa King for taking risks with its offerings.

We next had an aloo gobi masala ($8.99) which is a standard North Indian curry with potatoes and cauliflower. I thought this dish was okay, but not great. It could have used some peas and fresh, diced tomatoes to give it a bit more life.

Their chapati ($2.99) was well-made: soft and warm and it didn't dry-out. Also, they gave us two large individual pieces, which made it easy to share.

While they don't have brown rice, they do have a high grade white rice which was excellently prepared: bone-dry, with no kernels sticking together.

The service was extremely friendly and helpful. Our waiter inferred we were vegan, without our having to say it, when we asked for dishes without ghee/butter/yogurt/cream (commonplace ingredients in North Indian dishes, and not as common in South Indian).

I wanted to try their gobi manchurian appetizer but, at $8, it was way too expensive, and it was also significantly pricier than any other appetizer on the menu (all of which were in the $4-5 range). If Dosa King added some Indo-Chinese dishes, such as veg. manchurian (not just gobi manchurian), I'd be back in a heartbeat.

As it stands, Dosa King is a welcome addition to the Twin Cities. I do wonder, though, why Indian vegetarian restaurants seem to be in a competition to see who could open up in the northernmost location; I mean, Spring Lake Park? Dosa King's biggest problem is that it's far from the large vegan/vegetarian population in the Twin Cities. You can tell it will either be a vehicle for cultural shift in that sprawled-out, bleak area, or it will suffer for not catering to the Harley Davidson dealership customers across the street.

E Noodle Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 15 08

rating star

E Noodle has a large selection of vegetarian (all vegan) items, from the standard mock duck stiry frys to more unusual dishes such as curry tofu and also Korean and Japanese dishes. This is not your average strip-mall Chinese take-out joint.

I was particularly impressed with their pearl tofu tender, which is a high grade tofu baked and served with colorful vegetables. I chose black pepper garlic sauce to go with it and what a dish it was. The service is prompt and friendly and the owner went out of her way to emphasize that all the vegetarian dishes are vegan at E Noodle. Prices are low ($6 for a lunch plate, $10 for a take-out quart) and portion sizes are large. I would definitely go back. My only gripe is that they're far away in an isolated area of the Twin Cities and that they still serve meat. Otherwise, E Noodle stands out for its taste, quality and unusual dishes.

East Village Grill in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 1 09

rating star

East Village Grill is a great anthropology lesson. The place serves Middle Eastern food, such as hummus and falafel, but is run and patronized by Somali immigrants. It seems like a bustling community gathering spot in a nice area of town. I've been there a few times and the main room is full of young and old Somali men, usually in pairs, chatting, eating and watching whatever sports game is on the tv.

There's a separate, curtained-off area for women to dine alone, which is something I've never seen anywhere else in the US, but is fairly common in Islamic countries.

I like their falafel sandwich ($5.50 with tax) which is fresh, light and delicately prepared. You can tell their cook takes pride in his workmanship. The pita is soft and wrapped perfectly around the well-seasoned, crunchy-on-the-outside, but soft-on-the-inside falafel, lettuce, tomatoes and tahini. I was not expecting that quality of falafel and I must say it's one of my favorites in the Twin Cities.

Go to East Village Grill for a snack and experience a quaint little entry into a vibrant immigrant community.

Ecopolitan in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 5 08

rating star

UPDATE: Ecopolitan has really grown on me. At first I thought many of its dishes tasted similar, but I think my taste buds have evolved a bit since then and taken to raw flavors. Their spicy Thai noodle dish really is quite spicy and has an unusual taste---it has familiar hints of Asian flavors, but somehow also manages a distinctive, bold, new taste. The flax jacks provide a simple, light, tasty breakfast. The pizzas are okay, but seem more like glorified salads on top of hard flaxseed crackers (their red avocado pizza was so salty that I couldn't eat even half of it---but they didn't charge me for the dish as a result). The lasagna is tasty.

I love their desserts. I've never been disappointed by any of their desserts, from the kiwi lime "pies" to cookies and more.

Ecopolitan certainly takes pride in the presentation of its foods. All of its dishes come across as artful works with a broad range of colors and contrasts and near-perfect symmetry. This perfectionist tendency is appreciated and adds a level of classiness to the place.

Decor and ambience are pleasant. Ecopolitan is in an old house and certainly makes you feel like you're in a quaint, well-maintained home. It's a nice plate to take a date and they also have a wine menu.

The service is consistently friendly and helpful but generally tends to be slow and inattentive also. I would suggest budgeting an hour if you plan to eat here; expect twenty minutes or more for the food to arrive and don't expect frequent check-ins or water fill-ups from your waiter. There's only one waiter at any given time so it can get really slow an inattentive if the restaurant is busy.

Prices are on the slightly higher side for many dishes ($12-14) but Ecopolitan is the only pure vegan (and raw) restaurant in the metro area, so it's worth it for the novelty value of the food and its unique status in the Twin Cities.

Eden Pizza in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 26 10

rating star

Eden Pizza has a vegan pizza, though it's just basically a cheeseless piece of dough with some olive oil and vegetables and sauce. It's fairly tasty, and the crust was nicely doughy and felt fresh, but until they start offering some kind of vegan cheese (preferably Daiya or their own home-made nut cheese, like Pizza Luce's "rinotta"), I won't go out of my way to come here.

The service was friendly and they also have a mock duck pizza for vegans. My friend was happy that they had a gluten-free crust available (although it's small and expensive).

This isn't a good date spot as the interior is small, lit by fluorescent tubes, and is just generally bleak. It doesn't help that Eden Pizza is strangely located on a side street amongst some warehouses.

El Mariachi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 20 08

rating star

El Mariachi caters to Mexicans (most of the signage is in Spanish, as are the printed receipts) and accordingly has no labeled vegetarian food on the menu. You can have them construct a taco or tostada but it won't be anything you couldn't have done at home with lettuce, tomatoes and a tortilla. Avoid the beans and rice, as the former is cooked with lard and the latter with chicken broth.

Given their location on Nicollet, I'm surprised they don't even attempt to attract a more diverse crowd with vegetarian options or even a token "vegetarian" section on the menu with cheese enchiladas and avocado.

While they do serve free chips and salsa, I found the chips to be overly salty and the salsa was more like a thick marinara sauce, rather than a fresh and light pico de gallo with tomatoes, onions and herbs.

Come here for the bar and the music (which can get pretty loud, by the way). Their mixed drinks are tasty but quite expensive at $7-9 a piece. Better stick with a Corona next time.

Espresso Royale in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 7 09

rating star

I like the location of this joint and the fact that it has a labeled vegan hummus and vegetable wrap. I also like that it's in an old building with a lot of charm and character, as opposed to some strip-mall place or event a loft-style coffee shop in a new downtown building.

I think their chai was a bit too sweet, but I did appreciate that they have their own recipe, and don't rely on crappy Oregon chai or some other pre-made mixture.

They also seem to promote veganism. Today their specials board advertised free soy milk in an attempt to get people to try soy instead of dairy. I like that.

Everest on Grand in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 7 09

rating star

Everest on Grand is, on a whole, the best Nepalese restaurant in the Twin Cities. The decor is nice and cozy and the service is friendly (though fairly slow, so don't expect a quick lunch here).

First, I started out with a samosa ($2.50). It was flaky, hot and nicely seasoned; it was definitely one of the better samosas I've had in the Twin Cities.

Next I had a kathar curry (jackfruit curry) ($10.95), which was great; the portion size was easily 75% larger than the jackfruit curry at The Himalayan, but the same price. And they didn't skimp on the jackfruit, either. The flavors were good, but it could have used a bit more seasoning or spice. I enjoyed the extra finishes they added, such as fresh chopped cilantro and tomato.

Finally, you can get a good sense of the sophistication and quality control of an Indian or Nepalese restaurant by their rice and bread. Accordingly, this is where I realized that Everest was the best Nepalese joint in town. I had a side of white rice ($1) and a piece of tandoori roti ($2.50), which is a vegan alternative to naan (naan is usually made with milk/yogurt). I didn't like that they charged me for the rice, which seems really cheap and tacky, especially if it's not even brown rice. That said, it was some of the best white rice I've had in the US: it was bone-dry, long-grain basmati rice, nicely fluffed. It takes skill to make rice that well, with the grains not sticking to each other. You don't see it often. The roti was also excellent: light, soft, fluffy and huge. From the rice and roti alone, I could tell that Everest has a serious, diligent cook.

A few drawbacks, though: because they have a buffet, it's not exactly a quiet place. There's constant chatter and over-fed people are continually shuffling around. Don't expect to have a quiet, laid-back lunch here.

Second, while I like that they have a 15% discount for MPR members, they didn't give me a discount, claiming it is valid only on weekdays. Something didn't sound right about that to me, and once I got home and checked, I saw that THEY were in the wrong; there is a 15% discount at all times of the day, every day. I didn't appreciate them not knowing their own policy.

Third, the menu is very busy and not laid-out in a clear manner. I had to ask questions about confirm what's vegan vs. vegetarian.

Lastly, Everest doesn't have an extensive, innovative chai menu like Namaste Cafe; nor does it offer soy milk for its regular chai, which seems like a major oversight. Other than these drawbacks, I definitely liked Everest and will be back to try other dishes.

Evergreen Chinese Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 8 08

rating star

I eat Evergreen (take-out or dine-in) at least twice a week, if not more. Evergreen offers excellent vegetarian and vegan dishes, from the spicy, colorful mixed vegetables with fried tofu, to the tender mock beef with broccoli or the mock chicken with blackbean sauce. My favorite dishes (and I've basically tried the entire menu) are most definitely: three-cup tofu (herbal and aromatic!); house-style eggplant with basil (deliciously smooth, fragrant and subtle); five-spice dried tofu with bell peppers (unusual and savory); and mock beef or mock pork with garlic sauce (great array of textures and flavors).

The owners and servers are always friendly and the menu is diverse for meat and non-meat eaters alike. It's rarely ever crowded and they have good hours. The quality, variety and reasonable prices of the dishes make this the best Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant in Minneapolis, and one of my favorites of all time. Highly recommended.

Falafel King in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 31 09

rating star

This place is just a tad grimy but the food was actually pretty decent. I had a falafel pita sandwich which was respectable, given the price, and probably the best I've had in Uptown (which isn't saying too much, as there's much better falafel to be had outside of Uptown).

The service was kind of slow. My tiny order took a good 10 minutes to arrive, but maybe that means it was made fresh?

With the low prices, late hours and halfway decent food, I am satisfied with Falafel King. I wouldn't ever crave it or go out of my way to have it, but I would eat there if I'm hungry and in the neighborhood.

I also like that they give Minnesota Public Radio members a 15% discount

Fasika in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 28 09

rating star

Various people I've spoken to have suggested that Fasika serves the best Ethiopian food in the Twin Cities. Those people are correct. Fasika is easily the best Ethiopian restaurant in the Twin Cities.

While they don't have too many veg. dishes, what they do have is delicious, and prepared with grace and quality. The menu states that all the vegetarian dishes are "100% vegan" which was a nice touch; kudos to the owners or to some previous vegans who managed to get that labeling added and understood.

My friend and I split a "miser wot" ($8.50; lentils with berbere sauce) and another lentil dish with unlisted spices (also $8.50). Both were excellent. The miser wot was spicy without being overpowering and tasted fresh and light. Similarly, the other lentil dish we had was served hot (temperature-wise) and had a perfect, delicate balance of garlic, onions, jalapenos and other spices; it's rare that one finds such a perfectly executed dish. More over, other Ethiopian restaurants I've been to have a hard time maintaining the freshness, texture and temperature of the food they served---dishes come out lukewarm, mushy or with an aura of day-old leftovers. Not so at Fasika, where everything was popping, bright and flavorful.

The injera that came with the dish was ample and tasty, without being overly sour. This was the first time I've been to an Ethiopian restaurant where I actually ate all of the injera that they gave me.

The service was warm, friendly and unobtrusive. They also gave out free small cups of coffee to every table. My only gripes are that the ambience was lacking (it seemed kind of bleak and bland like every other Ethiopian place I've been to), and at least for the beginning of our meal, there was some super-strong incense burning right in the middle of the restaurant that made it difficult to breathe. Regardless, I will definitely be coming back to Fasika in short order.

Fast and Furless Vegan Emporium in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 31 08

rating star

The fact that the Twin Cities has a vegan clothing store at all is amazing. It's definitely "gutsy" as another reviewer commented and I commend and appreciate the owner for his dedication and courage. Their new location on Franklin Avenue is chic and modern and full of space. I bought a pair of shoes there for a good price (they were on sale), but I do wish they had a larger selection of shoes. In fact, I think they should dedicate less space to bags/purses/belts/wallets, and focus most of their energies on shoes for men and women. As it stands, they have a decent collection and the sale-price shoes are affordable, but most of the rest seem to hover in the $120 range, which is way too high. Also, many pairs had limited sizes in-stock (the "bell curve" sizes from men's 8-10 were usually out of stock). So, the store has some room to improve, but as it stands, I will be shopping their again in the future.

Fireroast Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 5 10

rating star

This is a beautiful, cozy, hippie cafe. The inside is a part diner (with small booths), part coffee shop and part gift store; the outside is a lovely place to sip some tea and catch the summer breeze.

The first time I went, a group of older people had a sing-along session, replete with a guitar and lyric books. It was folk music and pretty cool that five or six people could just hang out and sing in the middle of a small coffee shop. It didn't feel intrusive at all.

Both times I went to Fireroast I had a cup of tea ($1.80); Fireroast has a small, but good, selection of loose-leaf blacks, greens and herbals. I also had a vegan peanut butter chocolate chip cookie ($1.75) which was their only vegan baked good available. It was a great cookie: sweet, moist and nicely peanut-buttery.

If Fireroast had more vegan baked goods (why no cakes or cupcakes or brownies?), and more vegan food options (how about tofu/seitan burritos and tacos, since you already offer tamales?), I'd be back often.

Foxy Falafel in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 3 10

rating star

The falafel here is decent, but not great. You can get a sandwich for $6 and it comes with five falafel pieces, and lots of lettuce and lemony hummus. For $6 this seems like a gigantic rip-off; I could get nearly twice as much falafel, for half the price, at Wally's in Dinkytown, which is the reigning falafel champ in the Twin Cities, in my opinion. Moreover, Wally's falafel is better quality, and comes with more vegetable filling.

The falafel pieces at Foxy Falafel taste pretty good---a nice blend of herbs with a perfectly crispy outer shell.

On the other hand, the hummus inside wasn't great, in my opinion, and there was way too much of it. Foxy Falafel definitely didn't get its filling proportions correct and make the sandwich feel like a glorified hummus wrap. You won't see this kind of amateurish production at Wally's.

Also, where were the tomatoes? Just lettuce and hummus don't make for a great falafel sandwich. Cucumbers would have been nice, too.

I liked that they use a wholewheat pita and bypass that white flour nonsense. That was their one saving grace.

In short, Foxy Falafel is too expensive for what it's offering and makes a mediocre product at that. If they charged only $2.50-$3.00 per falafel sandwich, I'd give them another shot. As it stands, I'd rather just go to Wally's.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

I love this place. The decor and atmosphere are sophisticated and European in feel. The service is super-friendly and attentive and knowledgeable. The food is spectacular for the most part, but take a pass on their attempts at Asian-style dishes. Their vegan stromboli was succulent, subtle and filling. Their vegan turtle cake was the best cake I've ever had, vegan or otherwise. It was moist, not overly sweet, and well balanced with cake, sugar, caramel and nuts. The prices of the food are extremely low given the high class atmosphere and the high quality of the food. The vegan dishes max out at $12 and most are closer to $9; their desserts are $3.95, though in other places, they'd be twice that price, with half the taste. Highly recommended.
Pros: Quality * Prices * Service

Galactic Pizza in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 21 09

rating star

I'm glad to say Galactic Pizza has regained its crown as the best vegan pizza maker in the Twin Cities. They just recently started offering Daiya vegan cheese which hopefully will wash away the dark memories of their Chicago Soydairy Teese days. Daiya looks and acts like cheese and tastes pretty damn good to boot. It's superior to every other rice or soy-based cheese in the US market.

Galactic Pizza makes wonderful vegan pizzas, with numerous topping choices, including local, seasonal CSA options and Minnesota-centric things like wild rice. Their crusts are absolute perfection---crispy, thin, light and golden. I can honestly say that I crave Galactic Pizza quite often. They also have killer, gourmet vegan cheesecake from a famous local Minneapolis cheesecake maker, Muddy Paws (now that Muddy Paws only does catering, Galactic is the only place in Uptown to get your fix for a slice, rather than a whole cake).

The service is consistently friendly. The interior decor is hip, retro and funky. They deliver in an electric pod car and wear superhero costumes. I love it.

Prices for their pizzas are a bit high, especially considering how light their pies are (I can finish off a medium in ten minutes); on the other hand, the quality of their vegan cheese, their unusual vegan topping choices, and their delicious crust, makes it worth every penny.

Gandhi Mahal in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 1 09

rating star

"To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to the protection by man from the cruelty of man." Mohandas K. Gandhi, The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism

Gandhi, the father of India, the anti-colonial revolutionary who overthrew an empire and helped create the world’s largest democracy, was a vegetarian. When he was a young man, he struggled with his food choices, especially when he went to London to study law in 1888. After continuous soul-searching and no end of personal and cultural obstacles, he not only amazingly remained vegetarian in meat-heavy Victorian England, but went on to play a prominent role in The Vegetarian Society in London, and became an ardent vegetarian spokesman until his death in 1948. Aside from the above quotation, he also stated, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Had the owners of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant cared to read Gandhi's autobiography, which the restaurant displays prominently when you walk through the front door, they might not have chosen to use his name and visage for their establishment.

Had the owners cared to read Gandhi’s treatise, The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, they might not have chosen to serve meat, and to use his familiar, smiling face to brand their business.

If the owners had any respect for Hindus, Jains and Indian Buddhists, they would not have chosen to serve meat, and especially not beef, in their restaurant.

Then, appallingly, the restaurant has the sheer disrespect and gall to state on their menu that they are “dedicated to the principles that Mahatma Gandhi advocated in his lifetime. Gandhi lived a life of satyagraha, peace, voluntary simplicity, and an end to discrimination against people.”

Conveniently, they don’t mention his vegetarian principles, lest it conflict with their business model.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so appalled and angered by a restaurant in my entire life. For the record, I am Indian-American, and a vegan. Though I was born in the US, I have a deep admiration for Gandhi. And, while I prefer vegetarian Indian restaurants, I am not opposed to non-veg. Indian restaurants in principle. As such, I came to Gandhi Mahal with an open mind. I read all the previous reviews on Yelp and which spoke highly of the food and of the service.

But I found the food to be passable at best, with nothing special going for it. We couldn’t order some dishes because they could not be modified to exclude dairy products (ghee/butter/cream/yogurt are commonly used in North Indian cooking), which I found questionable, as I’ve lived in India and know you can make any dish vegan if you have a good, creative chef (which Gandhi Mahal does not have).

So, after asking a lot of questions about ingredients, we ended up with two dishes and an appetizer. Our “eggplant pakora” appetizer was decent, but nothing I’ll remember tomorrow. Our “Alu Begun” (potatoes and eggplant) curry was okay, but used bland, industrial-grade vegetables bought from any generic supermarket. The “Vegetable Kahari” suffered from the same issue and had strange spices that tasted wrong somehow. The main dishes were both oily and heavy, which I’ve come to expect at North Indian restaurants in the US, but is disappointing and tiresome nevertheless.

The service was all over the place. We seemed to have three different waiters, all of whom were friendly, but not particularly attentive. The service wasn’t fast by any means nor was it special. At the end of the meal, they gave each of us a gigantic wet paper napkin to clean our hands, which was wasteful not only because of the paper material, but also the sheer size of the napkin, which was more like a hand towel. In a traditional Indian restaurant, you would be served a finger-bowl with lukewarm lemon water, not an environmentally-destructive piece of paper. At least they could have given us something made of cloth instead?

If you’re looking for good Indian food, go to The Vegetarian or Nala Pak instead, both of which label their vegan dishes. If you’re looking for fresh, light, innovative and Indian-esque food, check out the wonderful Nepalese restaurants, The Himalayan or Namaste Café (both of which serve meat, but have excellent vegan food as well).

Gandhi Mahal not only spits on the memory and philosophy of India’s first and foremost citizen, and one of humanity’s great spiritual and political leaders, but it serves mediocre food to boot.

Gangchen Bar & Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 17 08

rating star

Gangchen has a surprisingly warm, trendy and well-maintained interior with friendly service. It also has a cozy, quaint bar which seems to attract lots of locals and regulars. The place definitely feels like a classy, understated, never-crowded neighborhood bar where everyone knows everyone.

The restaurant is ostensibly Tibetan, but the bulk of the menu consists of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Tofu or mock duck can be applied to all dishes. Prices are low and the veg dishes max out at $7.99 a piece. Portion sizes are respectable, about as much as you'd get with a lunch special somewhere else.

From what I gathered, the restaurant doesn't put fish or oyster sauce into dishes, so vegans can rest easy. My hot pepper stir fry with tofu was decent but didn't wow me. It tasted just a shade above Chinese strip-mall food and was too heavy on sauce-thickening corn starch. That said, I'll definitely go back to try one of their curries or see if they can veganize a Tibetan dish. I will also try some of their cocktails and see if they can't make a delicious Himalayan drink of some kind.

Gardens of Salonica in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 17 09

rating star

This is a lovely, cozy cafe that's minimal in decor, but gets tons of sunlight, which makes it feel really inviting and familiar. I really like the atmosphere here, first and foremost.

It's also the only Greek restaurant I've been to that has labeled vegan food. Granted, you have to read the descriptions carefully, as the "vegan friendly" disclaimer is buried in the text of the menu, rather than marked with a bright green "V".

I had a leek-lemon-garlic Boughatsa ($1.95 for a small one) which was a phyllo dough pastry filled with potatoes and a mash of leek, lemon and garlic. It was quite tasty and would make a great appetizer to go with wine or beer.

I also had a "Yigandes" ($8 a la carte) which consisted of lima beans baked with other vegetables/herbs in a tomato sauce. This was one of two vegan entree options. Normally the dish comes with either a soup or a Greek salad, but none of the soups were vegan and the Greek salad has feta. Strangely, they wouldn't allow me to substitute a vegan salad, of which they had four or five different options.

The Yigandes was really delicious and simple---lots of olive oil, garlic, onions and a really fresh, home-cooked flavor. It seemed like an excellent sauce more than anything else and I wondered why they don't serve the dish with fettuccine or some kind of egg-free noodle; on its own, the dish is tasty, but feels insubstantial in quantity and needs a starch component. It's definitely a small portion and therefore, at $8, a bit on the pricier side.

On a whole, though, I liked the food and atmosphere here. I think they could make a few adjustments to be more vegan-friendly (like adding a couple more dishes and soups, allowing for substitutions of vegan salads, and offering a vegan dessert) but it's still a great, unusual place in the Northeast.

Ginger Hop in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 28 09

rating star

Ginger Hop is probably the only place in the portion of Northeast, directly across from downtown, that has labeled vegan food. I stopped by here for lunch one day and had a mixed experience.

First, the location is great in a quaint, cozy section of Northeast. Second, the bar area is gorgeous and makes you feel like you're in the 1920s with original woodwork, high arches, brass and the whole deal. It's truly striking and atmospheric. The draft beer selection is limited, but has a few keepers (Lift Bridge, for example); the bottled beer selection is much better, though prices range in the $5-7, which is a bit pricey for what they're offering.

The main dining room area is nice, too, though modern and not as distinct.

The service was excellent: friendly and prompt.

But I was not terribly impressed with the food. There are a few labeled vegan options on the menu, but none of them were particularly appealing or innovative. Also, there was only one vegan entree option; otherwise there's one vegan soup, a couple of salads, and a couple of appetizers such as sweet potato fries.

I had the only vegan entree, the Bodhisatva curry ($10.95 with tofu). The dish came to me lukewarm in temperature, and I felt the dish lacked robust flavor---no spice and little salt. The fried tofu that came with it were tiny, runt-sized cubes that were deep-fried rather than stir-fried, which made them too chewy and slightly unappealing.

The portion size was also quite small considering the dish cost $11 (they charge $1 extra for tofu, just to make things worse). You could get 2-3 times as much food, and much higher quality food at that, at Evergreen or Jasmine 26 for the same price.

Also, there was no option for brown rice. Please, offer brown rice, Ginger Hop.

To make matters worse, Ginger Hop is one of "those" restaurants that gives you a tiny portion of white rice and then forces you buy more for $1. I hate it when places charge for white rice, especially because it's an inferior product and the restaurant's cost is pennies (at most). It's a really dirty way to do business, I think, and disrespects your customers.

Ginger Hop is a new place so I'm sure they're working stuff out. Add some brown rice, stop charging for white rice, add more vegan options and this place will be worth coming back to.

Ginkgo Coffeehouse in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 30 08

rating star

This seemed like just another coffeeshop with nothing special. They had Oregon Chai (ugh) and did not have any vegan baked goods, though I had been led to believe they did.

I like that they opened up in a remote location (as neighborhoods need business) but there isn't really any reason to go out of your way to get here, as Gingko doesn't offer anything unusual.

Gorkha Palace in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 29 10

rating star

Gorkha is the latest Nepalese restaurant on the scene in the Twin Cities. It stands out for its momos and service, in particular.

My friend and I came here and had a half order of veggie momos ($6 for 6 momos) as an appetizer. They were excellent: fresh; savory; and made with a wonderfully substantial dumpling covering made of rice. Gorkha got its start making momos so make sure to order some when you visit. Also, the side sauce they gave was also great; it tasted like a light and simple salsa.

For our main course we had a aaloo katahar (jackfruit curry) ($11) and a chyau tarkari (mushroom and potato curry) ($11). I use the jackfruit dish to compare between the other Nepalese restaurants in the Twin Cities. Gorkha's execution was good, especially with the way they made the potatoes tender; that said, the jackfruit was a bit too acidic (I'm guessing it wasn't washed enough after sitting in a can). I think Cat Man Do (in St. Paul) has the best jackfruit dish in town, not only for taste, but also for value (it's the cheapest and has the largest portion size). That said, Cat Man Do has terrible service.

The mushroom dish was very good though I wished they'd used a different variety of mushroom (perhaps oyster mushrooms?). In general, pretty much every Nepalese joint in the Twin Cities offers the same vegan dishes---some kind of garlic-ginger-tomato sauce with potatoes and one other ingredient. I'd like to see some new preparation styles and Gorkha would do well to branch out.

It's great that they label all their vegan options. Kudos to them for that.

We also had an order of puri ($2.50) which tasted fine, though I would have preferred tandoori roti instead (which Gorkha doesn't offer). Puri is deep-fried bread which is pretty heavy and not particularly healthy; roti is lighter and goes better with Nepalese curries, in my opinion.

The service was extremely friendly and helpful. The owner stopped by to say hello and even gave us a discount for referring him to the Minnesota Public Radio discount program.

I really like the ambiance, friendly service and excellent momos at Gorkha. They also have a happy hour special from 4-6 giving you discounts on their momos (and other appetizers) as well as their beer and wine. I'll be back for that!

Grand Shanghai in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 25 08

rating star

I finally came to Grand Shanghai and was impressed with their unusual menu items, from fried tofu skins to the "8 treasure rice pudding." Their specials board suggested a variety of vegetable stir-frys, though I didn't ask about those. The place was bustling and filled mostly with families eager to set their children on the early road to obesity through $6.99 all-you-can-eat buffets. As such, if you're coming to the restaurant alone or with only one other person, be warned that they'll seat you in a high-traffic and busy area with kids running around and people picking up take-out orders.

I had the mock goose (thick mushrooms wrapped in fried tofu skins and cooked in a wine sauce) and the "tofu skins with Chinese greens." The mock goose is ostensibly an appetizer though, at $7.25, it's quite expensive and the portion size could easily constitute an entire meal. That said, it was delicious. The tofu skins are semi-crunchy and chewy, amazingly all at once, and the mushrooms were delectable. This was a highly unusual dish with tricky and complex textures. It's also one I've never seen before and I've eaten at hundreds of Chinese restaurants.

But my main dish, tofu skins with Chinese greens, was mundane. I asked them to veganize it and the dish they served to me was bok choy and whole soy beans with the tofu skins stir-fried in corn oil. No soy sauce, no chili oil, nothing. It was amazingly bland. Sadly, there was no brown rice option, either. I hate white rice.

However, the tofu skins in this dish were prepared differently---they looked like long, flat egg noodles and were super-thin (only a special machine could slice tofu than thinly). The consistency of the tofu skins also reminded me heavily of high-grade cheese. With a little bit of nutritional yeast we could have the perfect mozzarella substitute.

Also, with a more creative chef, these tofu skins could become the backbone of many a delicious dish (here's hoping Evergreen will start using them).

Grand Shanghai is a cut above the average Chinese restaurant and offers unusual dishes with delicious tofu skins. But their vegetarian selection seems bland, excepting the mock goose. I would recommend this place if you're in St. Paul; otherwise, stick to Evergreen in Minneapolis.

Grand Szechuan in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 4 10

rating star

How many restaurants are there in the Twin Cities that have the word "Szechuan" in their title? My estimate is 47. And they all have chefs that formerly worked at Little Szechuan (in St. Paul) or Tea House (in Plymouth).

This is not a bad thing, because these restaurants are spread out and fill niches in random places, from Roseville to Bloomington to Plymouth to St. Paul.

The menu here, for the record, is virtually identical to the menu at Little Szechuan, and has about 85% overlap with Szechuan in Roseville. Vegan dishes include: ma po tofu; home style tofu; szechuan green beans; stir fried pea tips; kung pao lotus roots; etc.

I had a szechuan spicy tofu ($10). The dish was okay. In terms of quality, it doesn't match Little Szechuan's dish of the same name; by comparison, Grand Szechuan's version is less spicy, and the tofu is not as crisply fried. If anything, it's a bit too chewy.

I also wanted a scallion pancake appetizer, but they only serve that on the weekend.

The service is friendly and prompt. The prices are reasonable.

By Bloomington's standards, Grand Szechuan is gourmet and way better than any other Chinese restaurant in the area. It doesn't live up to Little Szechuan in St. Paul, but I'm glad the suburbs are starting to get some decent dining options.

Grumpy's Bar & Grill in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 12 09

rating star

The dark and drab atmosphere inside Grumpy's depresses me; I wouldn't say it makes me grumpy, but it does make me sad. All the colors are black or grey, the bartenders are not talkative (though the servers are friendly and attentive) and it's just generally not a bar I enjoy going to.

It does have lots of space, though, and a pretty decent location with a fair amount of street parking nearby.

People rave about the tater tots, but I could taste the "frozen" in them and got bored after three or four.

Also, the kitchen is not forthcoming about ingredients in their food. For example, none of us have been able to determine whether there's honey in the BBQ sauce (for the mock duck sandwich) or if the breads/buns they use are completely vegan. They just wouldn't tell us anything. So the kitchen staff either didn't know or didn't want to say, which is both unusual and unacceptable.

All in all, I'd rather go the 501 Club a few blocks away, which has more food options and better atmosphere.

Hard Times Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

Hard Times is the ultimate punk-rock all-night vegetarian cafe and restaurant. At any given moment expect to see intellectual punkers, hobos with coffee, and everyday folks playing chess. The atmosphere is pure 1970s grunge, with a kick. The music is a bit too loud, but tolerable; the food is well-priced and tasty, with various comfort-foods, gyros, tacos, burgers, hummus and desserts. They can make pretty much anything vegan and everything is vegetarian. Waits for food are long and the service isn't the friendliest, but it's crisp and mostly efficient. Come to Hard Times for the food and the vibe. It's a Minneapolis institution.

Harry Singh's Caribbean Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 27 09

rating star

UPDATE: Harry Singh's is my go-to place when I'm in the mood for something other than Evergreen/Jasmine 26/French Meadow/etc. The vegetarian items here are pretty much all vegan and consist of simple, home-cooked Indo-Caribbean specialties such as roti-dhalpourie (curried vegetables and/or potato and chickpeas stuffed inside a fried wheat roti) and pigeon peas with rice.

The prices are reasonable given the portion sizes (two dishes are $8.50, and a few others such as the rotis are around $11).

The food here has a lot of black pepper and Caribbean spices, but if you want to make the food "hot" you should add a little bit of Harry's signature sauce which is on each table. It's possibly the spiciest stuff I've ever tasted, easily surpassing anything I've eaten in Mexico, Thailand or India; even a drop is scalding on your tongue and mouth, so be extra careful, or you'll end up hurting yourself and completely ruining your dish.

I only wish Harry Singh's had a few more vegetarian options, with an emphasis on different ingredients (potatoes and chickpeas get boring quickly) such as bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and squash. Marla's Caribbean Cuisine (owned by Harry's sister) has similar food and also gives you the option of tofu in some dishes, which is really nice, and adds some variety to the flavors and textures you encounter in each dish.

Still, I'm glad Harry's is around and keeping my food choices diverse.

Herkimer Pub & Brewery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 16 09

rating star

I like that Herkimer's brews its own beer, though I wasn't that impressed with the draft that I had. But it's gutsy to brew your own beer and I don't think any other place in the greater Uptown area does that, so I must give them credit for it.

The atmosphere was okay when I went. It felt like a friendly, familiar, comfortable place and didn't seem pretentious at all.

I also had a plate of mini veggie burgers which were made of blackbeans. They were fairly bland and boring, mostly because I couldn't use the main condiment on the side, a chipotle sauce (which is NOT vegan). I did like the sweet potato fries, though.

That there aren't many vegan food options at Herkimer is surprising, especially given that moto-i next door (owned by the same guy who started Herkimer) has a ton of vegan stuff. Also, Lyn-Lake is otherwise a bastion of veganism, from the pizzas and desserts of Pizza Luce and Galactic Pizza to the falafel and baklava at Falafel King. Herkimer could really jack up its business if it put a little bit more thought into its food; that said, it's a halfway decent bar with the courage to serve its own brew. That's rare and unusual and deserves recognition.

Hien Deli in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 19 08

rating star

Hien Deli is smart enough to copy the business model/atmosphere of Jasmine Deli, as it tries to cater to non-Vietnamese and vegetarians. It has clearly labeled vegetarian options and veg. banh mi. Many of the other small Vietnamese cafes on Nicollet don't make any effort to be veg-friendly or to attract frightened, uninitiated Minnesotans.

However, the food at Hien Deli falls short. Their banh mi was more coarse and bland than Jasmine's; Hien's bread was dry and not crispy and warm, they don't have a more flavorful "curry mock duck" option like Jasmine, and the rice dish I had was passable, at best. It lacked the delicacy and freshness you find at Jasmine.

While I appreciate that Hien makes an effort to attract vegetarians, its food quality is not up to par with its inspiration, and the still reigning-king of Nicollet, Jasmine Deli.

Himalayan Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 6 08

rating star

I went here for the first time yesterday. I loved the kothe (fried dumplings), which were delicious, especially with the tomato-cilantro sauce on the side. Our main courses, bhanta aaloo (eggplant curry) and kataar aaloo (jackfruit curry) were both delicious---the sauces were light, fresh and not oily, and the addition of fresh tomatoes and green onions made the flavors come alive.

The kitchen also accommodated our request for tandoori roti (which is not on the menu, but is a vegan version of naan).

I was especially pleased to see jackfruit curry on the menu, which is a rare and unusual item---jackfruit looks similar to chicken and has an airy texture; but it's light and absorbs the flavors around it like tofu. It's a natural, unprocessed mockmeat, in a way. I've only eaten jackfruit on rare occasions in India, so it was a surprise and delight to see it on a menu in the Twin Cities!

Portion sizes were large and excellent for the price (most dishes are around $10). Namaste Cafe on Hennepin offers similar food at the same prices, but they have much smaller portions than Himalayan.

Service was friendly, but the wait for the food was long. That said, the quality of the meal was high. If Himalayan adds a few more vegan dishes and also creates a large, fresh chai menu like Namaste, I'll have a new favorite Nepalese restaurant in town.

Holy Land Deli in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 14 09

rating star

I'm a little bit skeptical of Holy Land. While their pita is excellent, I wasn't that impressed with their hummus, baba ganouj or (most of) their falafel.

I first had a appetizer sampler ($7.51 with tax) which had two huge portions of hummus and baba ganouj, two small stuffed grape leaves, two small pieces of falafel, and three half-slices of pita. The hummus was pretty bland, in my opinion, and the baba ganouj was a notch better. It had a tart, lemony taste which was decent, though I wish it could have had a slightly smokier flavor. The falafel was great, with a good mix of spices, though I felt cheated since I only got two small pieces. The grape leaves were okay, but nothing I'd come back for. Finally, the pita was great, but only three half-slices? I would have needed at least eight in order to have done justice to the massive amount of hummus and baba ganouj they give you; in the end, I wasn't convinced enough by the food to justify buying more pita.

I also had a falafel sandwich ($7.51 with tax), which was a major disappointment. For one thing, the portion size is massive and much larger than it needs to be. Then again Holy Land is also a buffet, so they cater to the all-you-can-eat crowd; everything has to be in excessive proportions. The falafel in this sandwich was NOT the same as the one I got in my appetizer; the appetizer falafel was great and spiced, whereas the falafel in the sandwich was bland and didn't taste like anything, really. Also, the sandwich was stuffed with slightly burnt zucchini and cauliflower, which didn't enhance any flavors. Lastly, the tahini sauce was ice-cold and layered at the bottom of the sandwich, which made part of the pita cold to the touch, and the other part (not covered in tahini) piping hot. This was both annoying and disconcerting.

A word on the ambience: there is none. It's basically a bustling food court with people constantly shuffling around, yelling and munching away. It's not a great place to sit down and eat; I would recommend take-out to most people. Holy Land is an institution, so I feel wary giving it a mixed review, but I'll give it another shot in the future, to see if there's variance in the quality. There certainly was in the falafel.

Huong Sen Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 23 08

rating star

Huong Sen has a large menu featuring at least a dozen or more vegan dishes, but the quality of the food is terrible. The curried tofu was bland, mucky and overcooked; the black mushrooms with broccoli was greasy, bland and heavy. The food reminded me of two-day old cafeteria buffet items---all mush and awful. Worse yet, the place is expensive at around $9-12 per dish; most Vietnamese restaurants in the area are not only cheaper, but give better food and larger portions. Even their tea had gone stale and was one of those 2-cent varieties you find in the discount bins of Asian stores. While the service was friendly, the atmosphere of the restaurant was dull and dark and they keep the heat low, so I had to wear my jacket while inside there! Huong Sen is not to be recommended, especially when the Twin Cities have so many other great Vietnamese restaurants.

India House in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 14 09

rating star

Indian food is the great tragedy of my life. I was born into it and I can't escape it (nor would I try to) and, yet, I find myself dissatisfied 99% of the time at Indian restaurants pretty much anywhere in the world (including India).

In this case I'm talking about that Indian restaurant in your neighborhood. You know, the one with the buffet, and the tandoori dishes and the naan. The one with either Bollywood music or Mughal elevator tunes playing. The one with "India" or "mahal" or "palace" in its name. Yeah, that one.

India House falls into all of those categories. It is, in terms of food, an imprecise disappointment. The food here isn't bad per se, and it's more than edible, but the flavors are wrong and the preparations are botched.

I went to India House twice to put it through its paces, once for lunch, and once for dinner. The first time around I had an order of samosas ($5), tofu masala (~$9), and a tandoori roti ($2). The samosas were okay; the best part was the cilantro chutney they provided which was unusually fresh, coarsely chopped and spicy. It felt more like a great pico de gallo.

The tofu masala, however, was totally wrong: the tofu was not cooked (it was just dumped into the dish) and the curry was turned into a pasta sauce more than a proper curry. This is an easy mistake to make. The true measure of an Indian restaurant is whether it can make a tomato-based sauce into a curry, rather than pasta sauce. India House failed the test.

The tandoori roti was whole wheat and well made. Kudos to them for offering a whole wheat option; deep sixes to them for not offering brown rice.

For round two I had a chana saag (chickpeas and spinach) (~$9) and a bangan barta (eggplant) (~$9). Both dishes were spicy, as I had requested, but both also felt to be missing something. They were edible but flat and empty. I did like, though, that India House doesn't douse every dish in tons of oil. There's a light touch here which is appreciated; I just wish their recipes were better.

I give India House three stars because, while the food is only passable, the service is friendly and the prices and portion sizes do represent a good value. But, if you're looking for better Indian or Indian-style food, check out Delights of India (Minneapolis) or Everest on Grand (St. Paul).

Infinitea in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 7 11

rating star

Infinitea is a cool tea shop in Uptown that also offers some tasty vegan side snacks. I came here with a friend and we shared a number of things: a tea-infused apple cider ($3.50); a tea-infused hot chocolate ($3.25); a pot of an Indian black tea ($4); and a vegan scone ($2.50) and hummus with pita chips ($4).

The cider was great---hot and comforting on a cold winter day. It came in a large cup, too. The hot chocolate was really tasty (it was like a melted chocolate bar) but it was so small in size that I can't justify ordering this drink again---it's just not a good value for the price. With both drinks, you get to choose what type of tea you want to infuse into the drink, which is a great level of customization.

The scone was solid (it comes from Isles Bun kiddy-corner) and I appreciated the freshness of the home-made hummus (our server made us an extra batch free of charge, too).

On a whole, this is a great shop with nice foods, wonderful service and an excellent array of teas from around the world. If they had more seating (and more comfortable seating) and were somehow cozier, I'd be there all the time.

Isles Bun and Coffee in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 31 08

rating star

I had tried to get Isle's vegan scone earlier, but they had sold out by the time I arrived. So I went back the next day and got a hot, fresh scone filled with some fruits (peach and fig? I'm not sure what they were). It was delicious and super-filling, so don't expect to eat anything else for a couple of hours. Best of all, it's super cheap at only $2.

Their hand-squeezed orange juice is also spectacular. It's some of the best orange juice I've ever had in the US---it reminded me of when I was in Brazil and you'd get fresh orange juice at roadside stands next to groves.

There's some seating outside, but it gets filled quickly on the weekends. Inside has a few spots, but it's awfully tight. This place might be a good take-out joint; get some stuff, walk to Lake of Isles or Lake Calhoun and just sit and enjoy some scenery along with a vegan scone and orange juice or tea/coffee.

Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 12 08

rating star

I'd been meaning to try Izzy's for a long time and finally got around to doing it. The service was really friendly, but a bit slow, as there was only one person working the counter, and numerous customers.

She was well versed in the vegan selections available (4 sorbets and 1 soy ice cream), and even went to so far as to say, without me asking, that the cones were vegan, too (but the waffle cones are not vegan).

I had the blueberry soy ice cream, with "an Izzy" (their word for "topping") of mango sorbet. The blueberry ice cream was wonderful---subtly flavored, with a creamy and airy texture. I love most soy ice creams from the grocery store, but Izzy's definitely tasted special and different.

The mango sorbet was also solid, though perhaps not as exotic or as uncommon as the blueberry ice cream. They did have different sorbet flavors, such as pomegranate fizz, lemon, and rasberry, which might have been better choices.

If this place had one or two more flavors of soy ice cream (or even rice/coconut ice cream), it would rock the house. As it stands, it's awfully good. Even better, it runs on solar and wind power! What a cool place. Thank you, St. Paul.

Jack Yee's Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 28 08

rating star

A curious place, Jack Yee's is. It's an old Chinese restaurant that reminded me of the one featured in "A Christmas Story." But, as Bender from Futurama once said, "Father Time really took a bat to this place."

The inside looks nearly abandoned, like a decaying set-piece, with an unused buffet bar. The heat is barely on and I was forced to keep my jacket on the entire meal (it was around 40 degrees outside and maybe 60 degrees, at best, inside).

The owner is a jolly, energetic, helpful guy, but he also functions as the cook, waiter and busboy. As such, the service is pretty slow.

I walk by the place often and have noticed that the restaurant is usually empty, but sometimes has one or two old ladies on the inside. It seems to attract some regular customers, though not many.

Jack Yee's has a decent vegetarian section with mock duck and tofu options. If you like oily, sweet-and-sour stir-fry dishes, this is the place for you. Jack Yee's is not good or unique in any way, and it suffers from slow service and freezing inside temperatures but, given the lack of vegan options in this wasteland portion of the Minneapolis suburbs, I'm actually marginally pleased it's around.

Jasmine 26 in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 1 09

rating star

UPDATE: There was some concern that the curry pastes here contained shrimp or anchovy. The latest report is that they do not but you should ask questions anyway. Otherwise, the menu is super vegan-friendly and the waiters are knowledgeable.

Jasmine 26 is urban-chic and modern and has excellent food quality and prices. I've been eating and drinking there for about a year now and I still love it. It's my go-to place for late night meals, dates, or when I want to impress out-of-town guests. I dare say it's the flagship Vietnamese restaurant of the Twin Cities.

Most of their vegetarian/vegan items max out at $12-15 (lunch prices are 20-40% cheaper, but the portion sizes are smaller). The vegetarian crepe (which is actually vegan) and the veggie spring rolls are both wonderful; the crepe is especially unusual and the portion size is huge. Their lemongrass noodle "salad" is spicy, huge and delicious. The spring rolls are fresh and served with an excellent spicy peanut sauce, but the real thing that makes them stand out is a hint of mint. Also make sure to try their sea salt and pepper tofu cube appetizer which is so popular and delicious that I always overhear non-veg people at other tables ordering it.

The service is always friendly and they have a nice bar and drink menu with unusual Vietnamese and Asian cocktails and beers. Recently they added a cheap late night menu (after 10 p.m.) which includes the delicious banh mi mock duck sandwich you can find at their other restaurant, Jasmine Deli.

Jasmine 26, unlike Azia next door, creates the atmosphere of a local hangout with regulars and devoted customers, while still seeming upscale and sophisticated. This is a rare feat. I've become a "Norm-like" fixture (a la "Cheers") because I can always wander in, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and get a great meal and drink. You can't do that at Azia. The hours are great for nighthawks looking for a meal or a drink after the 10 p.m. close of most other restaurants. Jasmine 26 is highly recommended.

Jasmine Deli in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

Jasmine Deli is the in-the-know spot for people looking for authentic, light, tasty and home-cooked Vietnamese food. The service is always friendly and fast and there are numerous vegan items, including mock duck curries, cold salads, huge bowls of noodle soup with tofu, stir-fry rice plates and my favorite for quick-eats, the mock duck baguette sandwich (if vegan, specify no butter). All of their prices are under $9 and the sandwiches cost only $3 and make a great meal. Two issues, though: they don't accept credit cards and they have highly limited seating. Otherwise, this is the gem of the many Vietnamese restaurants in Minneapolis.

Jasmine Garden in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 14 08

rating star

This place is a shade above your average strip-mall Chinese take-out joint. It's a small restaurant with seating for maybe a dozen people at most, and is not particularly well-kept or inviting. But the service is friendly and the place seems to be run by a nice family.

While the menu appears to be almost exactly average strip-mall Chinese, I found the food here to be quite good, actually. It's not heavy on oil, corn starch or sugar, and generally feels much lighter and fresher than most Chinese restaurants. They use fresh green onion and zucchini, both of which you don't see often in Chinese strip-mall joints. They even offer brown rice (for no extra charge!).

Their "bean curd homestyle" is a solid dish. The woman behind the counter assured me the dish was vegan (after I explained what vegan meant), but I admit harboring some skepticism. On the other hand, the servers were friendly and seem trustworthy. I need to learn how to say "no oyster sauce" in Mandarin.

Given the dearth of decent food options in the southwest suburbs, especially Hopkins, Jasmine Garden is about as good as you'll find.

Jasmine Orchid in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 14 09

rating star

Jasmine Orchid is owned by the same people who run Jasmine Deli and Jasmine 26, two of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the Twin Cities. The food at Jasmine Orchid, in my opinion, was nearly identical to what you'd find at Jasmine Deli (and all at the same prices)---mock duck banh mi, broken rice plates, noodle soup and simple appetizers.

However, unlike the Deli, Jasmine Orchid also has a selection of Thai dishes, all of which are significantly more expensive than the Vietnamese dishes.

My friend and I split a herb-basil spring roll with tofu ($4.50), which was spectacular. The basil was fresh and the thin, translucent rice wrapper allowed you tantalizing peeks inside the rolls, which were fill with golden-friend tofu, carrots, cucumbers, bean sprouts and basil. Spring rolls are usually not my favorite, because they're so easy to mess up in one way or another, but Jasmine Orchid pulled them off with grace and artistry.

We also shared a curry mock duck banh mi sandwich without butter ($3.50), which could have used more mock duck, but was otherwise tasty and the same quality of what you'd find at Jasmine Deli on Nicollet.

Finally, we split a mock duck and tofu noodle plate ($7.25) which was decent, but nothing special. It was served semi-cold and lacked a good sauce to give it flavor (this was the only dish that deviated in quality from Jasmine Deli). Also, I thought they skimped on the tofu and mock duck they provided with the dish.

All in all, this is a good restaurant and I'm glad it's in an area that's otherwise lacking solid vegan options. Kudos to Jasmine Orchid for accepting credit cards, which is a point of difference between it and Jasmine Deli.

Java Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 9 09

rating star

This is a strange place on Eat Street and probably the only Middle Eastern restaurant on the street. It's been open since 1974, apparently, and once you walk inside, you'll definitely think it's 1974: the place is completely faux-wood paneled; the carpet is worn; and even the cash register is pea green and old school. This restaurant feels like someone's 1970s rec room.

That said, it's pretty clean and the service is fast, not in least part because it was empty (they do seem to get many phone orders, though).

I had a baba gannuj appetizer ($5.00) which was nicely presented, but didn't have much taste---the eggplant could have been smoked more and maybe could have used some kind of spice. My falafel and vegetable "sandwich" (served in a piece of pita) was huge and cost only $4.75, but it too fell flat in terms of taste. I'm not sure what this place is doing wrong, but everything tasted bland; the vegetables, which included cauliflower, potato and eggplant, were burnt, which negatively affected the flavor as well.

This place has eight vegetarian dishes and a couple of veg. appetizers, all of which seem to be vegan, but I was not impressed with the food. The prices are really cheap and the portion sizes are large. Java's been open for 35 years now, so it must doing something right, though I'm not sure what that is.

Jerabek's Bohemian Coffeehouse and Bakery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 22 08

rating star

I went to Jerabek's with high hopes that it was a hidden gem of an independent, family-run cafe in a remote location of the Twin Cities. Ultimately, it didn't fulfill my full hopes, but it does have some charms.

I love the atmosphere there. It seems to attract regulars and lots of locals who sit and read the newspaper over a cup of coffee. It definitely feels like a neighborhood hang-out spot for people young and old alike. The vibe is cozy and familiar.

But they don't offer interesting vegan stuff. I thought they'd have two or three vegan baked goods, but all they had was a "crispie" (a flaky pastry filled with either cherry or apple) which wasn't labeled as being vegan. The staff actually deliberated a while before deciding that it was, in fact, vegan. It was tasty enough and quite cheap ($2) but somehow I have a feeling that it wasn't actually vegan.

They don't have any interesting drinks. They use crappy Oregon Chai like most other places, but their soy milk was a brand I've never seen or heard of (Moon Rose), that was fairly decent.

I like that they give a 15% discount to Minnesota Public Radio members.

In conclusion: Jerabek's has nice atmosphere but isn't all that vegan-friendly or original in its offerings.

Jerusalem's in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 22 09

rating star

I had a "vegetarian plate" ($7.50) which was the perfect amount of food for lunch, and also gave me a chance to sample a variety of their vegan offerings. The fried potatoes were, oddly enough, not that tasty and could have used some extra seasoning. The salad was standard with lettuce and tomato covered in tahini. I thought their hummus was decent, but not the best I've ever had; however, their baba ganouj was pretty good with a tart flavor and good texture and probably my favorite part of the meal. Unfortunately, the falafel was bland and they only gave two tiny patties on the whole plate, which seemed like too little.

The service was fast and friendly, though I did eat there at 2:30 p.m., when it was completely empty. The decor is overdone and all the colors from the rugs/decorations have faded and all the furniture is from 1970s, but not in a cool, retro way.

All in all, this is a decent place to get some standard-but-unspectacular Middle Eastern food for low prices, especially for lunch.

Katar River Restaurant & Bakery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 28 09

rating star

Katar River is an easy-to-miss small Ethiopian cafe/bakery that serves excellent, fresh food. Located in the warehouse/office park area around Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, Katar is in an unusual location, but it's also easy to get to, being right off the Midtown Greenway, and only a short walk from the Lake Street light rail station.

I had the vegetarian combo plate ($8) which consists of two pieces of injera, a berbere lentil dish, a tomato-jalepeno salad, and another lentil dish (though the menu claims it's a "chickpea" stew/curry) and collard greens. All of the items were great---fresh, flavorful and well-prepared and presented. For example, the tomato salad, which is covered in olive oil and lemon juice, was made into a colorful dish with the addition of orange bell peppers and green jalepenos. The portion size was large and definitely a great value at only $8.

The service is friendly and fast and Katar also has a lovely, covered patio that is a great place to sit, eat, and drink a cup of tea.

I only wish Katar had more variety in its vegetarian/vegan dishes: with only three options, it'll be easy to get bored of this place.

Still, as far as Ethiopian food is concerned, Katar is the only Minneapolis joint on par with St. Paul's superb Fasika.

Kilimanjaro Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 25 09

rating star

I was not terribly impressed with this place. The atmosphere is grim, spare and depressing, much like its neighbor Red Sea Bar and Restaurant, and the food quality is a notch below. In general, I found the food here to be below that of all the other Ethiopian restaurants I've been to in the Twin Cities, namely Blue Nile, Red Sea, T's Place.

My miser wot (lentils with berbere sauce) ($7.95) was too mushy and had a sour flavor, as opposed to the spicier, fresher preparation I've had elsewhere. I wasn't impressed with the flat and flavorless green beans, or the generic iceberg lettuce salad with Italian dressing, either. The small side of split peas that came with the dish was pretty decent, and I wish I had ordered that instead.

In summary, I probably would not come back here again, especially not with better Ethiopian places out there.

King and I Thai in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 23 09

rating star

Like almost every other Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities (and maybe the US, from what I've seen), King and I offers a menu full of seemingly-vegan/vegetarian dishes which are not, in fact, vegan or vegetarian. Indeed, fish sauce or shrimp paste is lurking in every corner. Ask questions, people!

Indeed, the red and green curries at King and I contain shrimp paste and cannot be made vegan. Also, the "Roasted Red Pepper Sauce" dish cannot be made vegan.

However, there were a couple of other dishes that we could work with. We shared a "Holy Basil Sauce" with fried tofu ($17.50) which was spicy and loaded with tofu and basil. The portion size is huge (it's easily enough for 3 or 4 meals), which sort of justifies the unusually high price tag, though I would prefer a smaller dish at a smaller price. For $17.50 you expect a 4-star dinner or maybe a 5-star lunch; King and I is but a generic Thai restaurant at the end of the day. This first dish was good, maybe even above-average, but it wasn't gourmet or spectacular.

We also shared a "Palatial" modified to be vegan with tofu ($17.50). Since the red and green coconut curries contain shrimp paste, The Palatial is the closest thing at King and I you'll get to a proper curry---it's basically a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu or mock duck, covered in thick, creamy coconut milk. The dish was slightly bland as it was served, but we added some garlic chili sauce and suddenly it became quite good. Again, the portion size is huge, and the food is good, but it's not outstanding.

King and I does have great atmosphere. The main dining room is a bit staid, but properly formal, whereas the bar area where we sat was lively, yet comfortable and calm enough for a romantic dinner. The bar is cozy and chill and feels like a neighborhood joint; I'll definitely be coming back for a drink at some point.

The service was excellent. Our server, a young woman with glasses, was extremely friendly and attentive and kept checking with the kitchen to see what could be made vegan. Moreover, she told immediately that the curries were not vegan or vegetarian and could not be modified, which suggested to me that she's conscientious and thorough about ingredient issues. She also went out of her way to prepare an all-vegan spice rack for us, with three types of chili sauces, sans fish sauce.

All in all, King and I is a good place, though very expensive (but at least the portion sizes are enormous). They don't offer brown rice, which is a bummer, and they also will charge you $1 for extra white rice, which is a double bummer. That said, this is a good place to get a drink and maybe split a dish with two other people.

KinhDo in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 19 08

rating star

Kinh Do is a notch above your average unidentifiable pan-Asian joint. I found the service to be friendly and prompt and my food arrived quickly. The ambience is decent---not quite a strip mall buffet, but not classy either. They have a huge selection of vegetarian dishes (many of which may or may not contain fish/oyster sauce, so make sure to ask) all of which are stir-fry variations on mock duck or tofu.

I had a mock duck with cashew nuts. It was fairly tasty; I liked the sour-tart flavor added to the mix by the banana peppers, and I appreciated the large portion size. But the mock duck wasn't cooked very much and must have been dropped into the wok straight out of the can, which is typical of most places that serve mock duck, but disappointing every time nonetheless.

Another downer: no brown rice. Why is it so hard for places to serve brown rice? It's healthier, tastier and, these days, roughly the same price as white rice.

Kinh Do seems good for take-out and attracts regulars. I like their hours and their location but, in terms of food, I'd rather go to Evergreen or Jasmine 26, which are fresher, more unusual and have a personalized touch.

Korea Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 3 09

rating star

I'm not sure why this restaurant has such a high rating on VegGuide. The menu doesn't have anything inherently vegan or vegetarian; all of the tofu dishes contain seafood, the menu is more than a bit confusing, communication about ingredients was a chore and constant worry, and there's no ambience. It's super popular with Korean students and some adventurous Americans but doesn't try at all to attract newcomers to Korean cuisine (I'm not a newcomer, but I'm not well-versed, either).

Ultimately, using tips from previous reviews, we had a vegetarian dumpling dish ($6) which was edible, but not very flavorful on its own. Also, my friend and I were both confused and worried about the ingredients, as there are small chewy, roundish balls that looked like some kind of meat. When we asked, the answer was that they were dried radish. If I had to guess, it was texturized vegetable protein (I hope) or something I'd rather not think about. I still don't know.

We next had a Tofu Jorim (~$10), also at the suggestion of the previous reviewer. This dish wasn't on the menu, so I'm glad my friend had remembered the name of the dish. It was okay, but also not terribly flavorful; there was no "sauce" per se, it was served luke-warm and it was basically just tofu with green onions and red chili, but had no kick to it whatsoever. It came with a meager portion of super-sticky and compacted white rice, which was not impressive.

Finally, we had a noodle bowl dish, the name of which I can't recall (also ~$10). It was not good. It consisted of tofu over long wheat noodles, covered in a black-colored gooey sauce that had a bizarre flavor---not sweet, not smoky, not salty. I don't know what it was, but it was not something I cared for after a few bites.

The side dishes and pickled foods were pretty decent, especially the eggplant and the kimchi.

This place gets packed at peak hours, so avoid it then if you don't like crowds. I wasn't a fan of all the styrofoam and disposable utensils either. I also didn't like the cafeteria-style service, where you order and pay, wait for your number to be called, eat and then have to bus your own table.

In the end, this place makes me even more suspicious of the vegetarian credentials of Korean food. It's a shame, because dishes at other tables looked really tasty and fresh, but they all had meat. If they could replicate that freshness vegan-style, I'd be back in a hurry. I'll try again, because I think Korea Restaurant can make good vegan food if I knew how to order it, and the service is friendly enough. But if you are vegan or vegetarian, and know nothing about Korean food, do not come here.

La Chaya Bistro in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 22 08

rating star

I liked La Chaya but I think it has room to improve. The atmosphere is chic and romantic without being pretentious or intimidating. This is a good place to take a date though the restaurant seems to attract a slightly older crowd, for your information.

The service was extremely friendly and the chef/co-owner, Juan Juarez Garcia, came to talk to us extensively about what he could make vegan. I truly appreciated his attention and dedication. A few dishes on the menu were already vegan but Mr. Garcia was happy to make something from scratch (though he said it would take longer, and the dishes he thought he could make impromptu sounded a bit pedestrian).

We enjoyed the oyster mushroom appetizer which was cooked with a wonderful Mexican chili and roasted garlic. It came with grilled soft bread and the combination went well together, with an array of textures and flavors (soft, crisp, chewy, spicy, savory).

The penne pasta with wild mushrooms was tasty but seemed too slight and not very filling. It was also pricey at $14. The special salad we got, an avocado-tomato salsa atop a piece of grilled bread, was artfully presented but seemed a bit bland. Finally, our kiwi berry sorbet was quite good---it was refreshing with a subtle sweetness and fruit flavor along with the wonderful presence of tiny, crunchy berry seeds. One final option vegans might consider is the potato pizza, which we didn't get, but is easily made vegan sans cheese.

In conclusion, I liked the atmosphere and attentive, caring service. I like that they use mostly organic ingredients. Some of the food was excellent, but some seemed bland, and a tad expensive. I think La Chaya could stand to diversify its menu and add some bolder, spicier options; for a Mexican-Mediterranean fusion bistro, the flavors here generally seemed to fall short of the ideal produced of such a mixture. It was almost as if the chef were holding back the full potential of such a wonderful combination.

For vegans and vegetarians the joint could use a tofu or seitan dish.

La Societe du The in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 1 08

rating star

This is a wonderful little gem of a place in a neighborhood filled with more conventional coffee/tea joints. For one thing, it's super-small and intimate, more like someone's living room, and there's only space for about eight people. The tables are small so don't think you can sprawl out your laptop and papers there. I'm not sure that there's wi-fi but, even if there is, this isn't the type of place to go web-surfing.

This is a cozy, European-style tea salon (not a cafe) for sampling high-grade teas and for having engaging conversations, either with your companion or with the outspoken, worldly and friendly owners.

Currently some of the baked goods (such as scones, muffins and cake) are vegan and efforts are underway to get them labeled so there's no confusion about what's what.

Make sure to sample some teas. You can get a pot (which consists of around 3 cups) for $3-5, depending on what tea you select. If you get a darker tea there's a good chance it'll make for a second steep, getting you double the tea for the same price. I find their Indian black teas to be exquisite but you can't go wrong with any of their multiple offerings.

Unlike its competitor TeaSource, La Société du Thé treats tea as an experience to be savored and understood, rather than a bulk commodity to be bought and sold. This place is an elegant anachronism in an age of to-go cups and standardized tea-bag offerings. I highly recommend it.

Little Szechuan in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 29 10

rating star

UPDATE II: I am obsessed with Little Szechuan. The food here is about as addictive as it gets, and wonderfully spicy, fresh and unusual.

I just tried the teatree mushrooms in dry pot ($12) which is probably the only place in the Twin Cities where you can get a dish like this. It consists of long, flower-like chewy mushrooms with bell peppers and scallions in an unusual garlic sauce. The mushrooms are extremely chewy, but I loved them, and again, this is a dish you won't find elsewhere.

I also love the "dan dan noodles" ($5) a simple dish of wheat noodles stir-fried in a spicy peanut sauce. The dish could have used more green onions, and maybe even some bell peppers, but it was otherwise extremely tasty. Make sure to ask for it without meat.

The "stir-fried A choy" ($9) is also really great. It's basically some type of vegetable, similar to Chinese broccoli, in a garlic oil sauce. I asked them to add Szechuan peppers to it and this made it a spicy marvel.

A quick summary of the rest of this review (in case you don't want to read further): the best dishes are the spicy Szechuan fried tofu, the quick-fried cucumbers, the dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, and teatree mushrooms in dry pot.

Update One: Little Szechuan has a new menu now though the veg. dishes appear to be mostly the same, albeit with a few new options. I tried the "lily squash" ($11.50) though I was unimpressed---it was under-cooked squash with some shallots, peapods and red bell peppers. Their was no sauce and the dish fell flat.

I also had the Szechuan potato fries ($5.50) which look great in the picture on the menu, but look a little more State Fair-pedestrian when they arrive (they even come in one of those plastic baskets you get at drive-ins and whatnot). That said, I liked their crunchy texture, and they were fairly addictive. The sauce they use is sort of spicy and sticky and adds even more appeal. The portion size is huge (enough for four or more people), so I wish they'd offer a half portion at half the price. On balance, I prefer the deliciously spicy quick-fried cucumbers ($5.50)

Original review: Little Szechuan is definitely not your ordinary Chinese restaurant though it may appear to be on pure looks alone. For one thing, the menu has unusual items such as lotus root, pea tips and bamboo tips, and you have to search pretty hard on the menu to find American-Chinese dishes (such as General Tso's), which are called "traditional" and are tacked onto one of the final menu pages in much smaller font size.

The first time I went I shared a House-style tofu ($9.95) and a stir-fried pea tips ($11.95) with a friend. The tofu was pretty tasty and had the perfect level of spiciness---just enough to make you feel it, but not enough to make you reach for your water after every bite. The dish itself consisted of lightly fried tofu slabs and lots of cabbage.

The pea tips were tasty, but I'm not sure this is a great dish in itself, as it consists of just tons of pea tips in a garlic sauce and nothing else. If it came in a smaller portion it might make for a good appetizer.

The second time I visited I got to try and share a few more dishes, including the ma po tofu ($9.95), Szechuan spicy tofu ($9.95), kung pao lotus root ($12.95) and quick-fried cucumbers ($5.50). The ma po was good and had an unusual tangy flavor; that said, I prefer the ma po at Evergreen, which has slightly better tofu and also mock pork in the mix (minced pork is often times added to the sauce of traditional ma po tofu). The Szechuan spicy tofu was excellent, with fried tofu, red bell peppers and scallions in a subtly sweet and spicy dry seasoning. The kung pao lotus root was okay, and I love lotus root (it's not commonly seen on menus), but I didn't think the brown sauce's flavor they used was great (too much corn starch, as well). Lastly, the quick-fried cucumbers were amazing---very simply stir-fried cucumbers in a soy sauce with dry red chilis. This would be a great appetizer with beer and a football game.

The service was fast and prompt though I've heard it gets busy on weekend nights. The customers comprised actual Chinese people and more than a few "in the know" Minnesotans.

I wish they offered mockmeat options, or even just mock duck. Also, they don't have brown rice, which is always a devastating blow to both my taste preference and my health. C'est la vie. Little Szechuan is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities though I think Evergreen in Minneapolis is still the reigning king.

Little Tel-Aviv in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 13 08

rating star

This place is decent. My falafel sandwich was a bit dry and the tahini was too liquid for my likes, but the overall taste was good. The fries were okay, but nothing special. Prices are on the higher side considering the quantity of food they give you.

I wasn't impressed with their tea which was just a Lipton bag. The service was also kind of curt and rough. I had to explain what "vegan" means which is never a good sign.

Ambience and decor are lacking. I'm sure this place looked great when they first overhauled it, but today it seems on the edge of decay and neglect, with somewhat sticky floors and faded paint on the walls.

I think this place might be a good spot for a quick snack like baba ganush or fries or a cup of coffee. But the food was nothing special and the more interesting sounding dishes seemed too expensive.

Little Tijuana in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 20 08

rating star

Minneapolis has many Mexican restaurants but very few of them are truly veg*n-friendly. The general trend seems to be that most Mexican places have beans cooked in lard and rice cooked in chicken broth and there's a pervasive misunderstanding about the meaning of "vegetarian" (to say nothing of "vegan").

So I appreciate Little Tijuana for not using either of those common, hidden ingredients, and for explicitly stating so on the menu. It certainly set me at ease.

At most Mexican restaurants, even if you speak Spanish, explaining veganism is difficult (which makes sense if lard and chicken broth are considered "vegetarian" in Latin America).

I thought the service was friendly and prompt. My food arrived quickly.

I had a guacamole taco without cheese ($3.50) which was pretty decent, but would have been much better if they made it with mock duck or soy protein (it seems so obvious; I don't understand why more Mexican restaurants don't embrace faux meats).

Fearing the taco wouldn't be enough to fill me up, I also ordered a black bean burger which was, in actuality, a Morningstar vegan patty on a bun ($7.25). No black beans there. It came with fries on the side. This portion of the meal was a disappointment.

I was also disappointed that Little Tijuana charges you for chips and salsa ($2.25) which are normally free at most Mexican restaurants. Their deep-fried chips were okay, but their salsa choices were almost all mediocre. The only one with any quality was the pico de gallo; I recommend avoiding their tomatillo or normal red salsas which didn't taste fresh at all.

My other major gripe is that this place nickel and dimes you for everything. You want lettuce and tomato with your veggie burger? An extra $0.50. You want a three ounce side of guacamole? $2.50. Also, they automatically gave me a larger and pricier glass of Coke, even though a smaller and cheaper size was available (which they didn't tell me about). I didn't like this at all, even if it was only an extra $0.55.

All told, Little Tijuana is not the best place for food, but their pico de gallo with chips is solid, as is their guacamole taco. I like their extra-late hours.

Most critically, this is the only Mexican place that I've been to in the Twin Cities which doesn't use lard or chicken broth, which in itself is a huge plus point in its favor. Little Tijuana keeps my trust whereas most other Mexican restaurants do not.

The Local in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 12 11

rating star

Go figure, The Local has a home-made veggie burger than can be modified to be vegan.

That said, I'd come here for a drink, regardless of the food. The Local is wonderfully atmospheric, cozy and elegant. I love the multiple bar areas, the enclosed nooks, and the homey feel of the joint; you feel like you could go in there on any given day and come out with a bunch of new friends. It also feels a bit like a time-warp in there; with the gorgeous woodwork and period details, you get a vague sense of what it might have been like to have lived in Minneapolis during the heyday of the early 1900s.

And, of course, they have a veggie burger ($10). I had it without cheese. Also, just in case, tell them to not use butter; my friend and I had a feeling that the buns were toasted with butter, but couldn't quite tell. Lastly, make sure to ask them for a potato bun, as their regular multigrain bun has eggs in it. Anyway, the burger was a large, tasty patty made with wild rice and chickpeas, among other things. I also liked that they provided cucumber slices, instead of ubiquitous pickles.

The burger itself was quite good. Not the best I've ever had, but it was definitely among the best I've had in the Twin Cities: hearty and flavorful. It held together nicely and had a perceptible kick to it.

My only gripe was that they slathered some sweet "tomato chutney" on the bottom bun which messed up the savory taste. That said, they were more than happy to get me a fresh, plain bun to fix that problem.

I also liked the french fries, which weren't oily and had a baked flavor. The curried potato crisps, however, weren't that great: they just tasted flat and the curry powder wasn't well-integrated on the crisps.

The service was friendly, prompt and unobtrusive.

Lastly, the beer selection here is slightly above average, but not terribly innovative. It skews heavily to the British-Irish-American side of things (not my favorite beer producing countries), but they have a couple of interesting drafts. Come here for the atmosphere, some fries and friends.

Loon Deli & Grocery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 23 09

rating star

While the convenience store portion of Loon is pretty standard (and more than a bit trashy), I found the falafel and hummus here to be unusually tasty. The pita falafel sandwich ($5.34 with tax) was not only cheap, but perfectly filling. It didn't feel heavy at all and consists of four or five pieces of garlicky falafel, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, and tahini sauce. The pita was soft and didn't get chewy, and the falafel was crispy without being crunchy, if you know what I mean.

The price was great (cheaper than nearby Falafel King or Lyndale Grill and Grocery). It also wasn't burdened with over-sized chunks of zucchini or cauliflower, and ice-cold tahini sauce, like at Holy Land Deli. Loon Deli has an understated, simple touch to their falafel.

I am impressed with the food here (if not the grubbiness of the joint). While both of the cooks are friendly and talented, I find that I slightly prefer the falafel made by the bald gentleman who adds lots of fresh herbs to the mix; the other cook, a mustachioed gentleman, does a great job, but leaves out the herbs.

Lotus Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 6 08

rating star

Lotus is decent at best. They give large portions and have a number of vegan options, but the food doesn't rise above its strip-mall setting. There seems to be a lot of industrial salt and oil and generic flavors, with no special spices or subtle sauces. This place is good for a quick, cheap dinner on a night you don't want to cook, but don't expect to the food to amaze you.

Lyndale Grill and Grocery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 4 09

rating star

This place depresses me. It's slightly grimy and cramped, the service is slow, and a tv blaring Lebanese news is smack center in the eating area of the joint.

I had their falafel and pita appetizer ($4.84 with tax), which came with hummus; the falafel was decent, but the hummus was below-average (where was the garlic?). I wasn't sure why it took 10 minutes to make the falafel, which felt like an excruciatingly long wait in those bleak environs.

It's a shade more expensive than Falafel King and the portion size was slightly too large; I would have liked two fewer falafel patties and a 50-cent discount on the price. I didn't appreciate that everything was served in a styrofoam container.

I would recommend this joint for a cheap lunch or for a late-night snack, but only for take-out, and only if you can't find anything else.

Mango Thai in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 6 08

rating star

Given the previous reviews, I went here with high hopes. While Mango Thai's in a great location near Cathedral Hill, and have hip decoration and sophisticated utensils and flatware, along with bistro-lounge music playing, I was not pleased with the food options for vegans.

I asked for a green curry with tofu, without fish sauce, but my waitress told me that fish sauce is pre-mixed in the curry paste. This was disappointing because a) green curry is my gauge-dish to see how good a Thai restaurant is; b) they were not willing to make the curry for me without fish sauce, which suggests they aren't so accommodating to vegetarians/vegans; and c) no Thai restaurant that is worth its name should be using pre-mixed and stock ingredients. Thai food is all about freshness and simple improvisation, which suggests that Mango Thai is cutting vital corners.

I ended up with a Pad Kee Mao (basil stir fry with flat rice noodles), but make sure to order it without eggs if you're vegan. The dish itself was decent, but nothing special.

Prices are reasonable for the quantity of food. The service was friendly, though a bit slow. This is a good place to take a date. But overall, I was disturbed that a Thai restaurant could be so vegan un-friendly.

Marla's Caribbean Cuisine in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 14 09

rating star

UPDATE: The service at Marla's is still extremely slow; I was there with a friend, and we were one of only two occupied tables in the restaurant, and yet it took nearly an hour for our food to arrive, and our waitress barely bothered to stop by our table, except for the initial order-taking, and finally the bill payment. The decor has improved slightly, though it's still a dive.

The food is still decent, but missing something to put it into higher-grade territory. Maybe it needs more spice or fresher vegetables? We had a chowmein with tofu ($8), which was good, but needed more spice for my likes. Also, the sauce was too watery. We also shared a stew/brown-down ($8) which was a bland stew served with herbed rice and red beans. The rice was good, but the stew was only passable. Make sure to request your meals be made vegan; I'm not sure what they use that's not vegan, but our waitress made it seem like there might be some hidden dairy in the mix.

However, the highlight of the meal for me was the "doubles" ($2). These are fried pastries filled with chickpeas and two types of sauces. I found the mixture of the tangy and spicy sauces, along with the semi-sweet, fluffy pastry, to be a wonderful combination. If anything, I'd recommend going for the doubles alone.

ORIGINAL REVIEW: This new Marla's restaurant is a nice addition to the Indo-Caribbean fare already around. My Jerk Tofu with dalpourie was super-spicy (maybe too spicy, even for this Indian-American) and extremely filling. It was basically a Caribbean burrito---lightly fried tortilla stuffed with onions, cabbage, green peppers and a spongy, fluffy type of tofu, spiced with black pepper and who knows what else. It was cheap at $8, especially considering the quantity of food.

My problem with the food, however tasty it was, is that a dish like this quickly gets boring after seven or eight bites. There's no surprise left to the flavors you'll encounter. And the portion size is so large that it becomes hard to justify eating the whole thing. Sadly, I don't think a dish like this would re-heat well, mostly because the tortilla would get soggy (I have the same boredom problem with the other major Indo-Caribbean joint, Harry Singh's). Smaller portion sizes, and maybe offering a side dish or salad along with the main plate, would make the food here more interesting.

The service was friendly but very slow and inattentive. I finally had to get up and force the attention of an employee so I could pay my bill.

This place has no ambience. Though it's only a few months old, it looks completely decayed and drab. The furniture is all old (and not in a retro, funky way) and the restaurant itself is littered with debris and odds and ends. The place looks like a cluttered, dingy 1970s wood-paneled rec-room, temporarily converted into a space for a birthday party. It was depressing to be in there.

Also, while I appreciate that Marla's opened up in an economically-depressed area, this also means that I'm not sure how safe the neighborhood is. There are a lot of shady-looking characters at that corner and I felt extremely worried about my bike, which I locked to a bus stop pole in front of the restaurant. I was constantly checking up on it. If you're coming in a group, make sure to take a car, as that pole is the only place to "safely" lock up your bike, and even then you should keep a close eye on it.

This place has lots of room to improve but, on a whole, it's a good addition to Minneapolis.

Marla's Indian and Caribbean Cuisine in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 10 08

rating star

This is a decent Indian restaurant. I thought that, given the owners' Caribbean births, they might put a novel twist on the Indian food they serve; unfortunately, Marla's offers straight-up North Indian fare and the Caribbean items are separate. I'd be curious to see if they could add some new, West Indies flavors to a South Indian dish like a dosa---that would really intrigue me and force me to come back.

My alu gobi was nothing spectacular. I was happy they were willing and able to veganize it for me but the dish itself was a bit flat and not memorable in any way.

The service was slow but friendly. Ambience and decor were passable, though a bit dreary and dark. I'll probably go back here as Marla's is, as of late 2008, the only remaining Indian restaurant in Uptown. But it didn't blow me away. If you're looking for fresher, more innovative Indian-esque tastes in a better atmosphere, check out Namaste Cafe or The Himalayan.

Marrakech Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 5 09

rating star

Marrakech is in the basement of a building in Dinkytown. It has a bit of a bleak, dark feel to it. I came here because of a sign outside advertising "vegan falafel" ($5.99).

The portion size of the falafel was huge and nearly enough for two meals. That said, I was not impressed with the food at all. The falafel pieces themselves were soft (not crispy), bland and lukewarm in temperature. The pita was so overloaded with falafel shreds, lettuce, tomato, tahini, mint and whatever else, that it ripped apart.

Worst of all the tahini was cold and made the whole dish lukewarm. You can't eat lukewarm falafel. It's like eating french fries at room temperature: all of the appeal is lost and weariness sets in.

I've seen other joints do the same thing (I'm looking at you, Holy Land) and end up ruining the dish. Also, the produce here tasted like bland, cafeteria-style cardboard vegetables (the tomatoes had no flavor, the tahini had no flavor).

I'd come to Marrakech only if you're looking for a cheap, quick meal with huge portions. Be warned you'll be sacrificing on taste and temperature, though.

The Matchbox Coffee Shop in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 16 09

rating star

I liked the chai here, especially because it is home-made and not some awful over-the-counter stuff that comes out of a Tetra-pak (I'm talking about you, Oregon Chai).

I also appreciate that they have ABC vegan cookies, though I wish they would make their own instead.

The space itself is really small, but it's in a quaint, quiet neighborhood with galleries and other art-shop places. It's a great place to bike to, or to get a cup of tea at, after a day of wandering the galleries and antique furniture stores.

May Day Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 7 08

rating star

This is a quaint, cozy little cafe. I liked that they had loose-leaf teas and two vegan pastry options: scones and cookies. The scones were out when I went, but I had a cup of Oolong tea and a vegan oat-chocolate chip cookie for only $2.87.

So it's not only cozy, but it's also cheap, for high grade stuff. The cookie was big and soft and well made.

The service was brisk and efficient, though not necessarily super-friendly. But it wasn't curt, either. The place can get crowded pretty easily, it seems, so be prepared to wait for a table or to get your order to go, depending on when you visit.

Mesa Pizza in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 4 10

rating star

I thought the vegan pizza here would have soy or rice cheese, but it does not. It doesn't have mockmeat toppings either. That said, they had one slice left of their "vegan pizza", which has a perfectly light and crispy crust, a semi-sweet and salty red sauce, and a TON of grilled vegetables as toppings (zucchini, bell peppers, artichoke, mushrooms, onions, etc.). The slice, costing only $3, was quite good. That said, it's usually not available; you have to ask them to make you a slice, which takes 10-15 minutes.

I'm not sure this place qualifies as "vegan-friendly" simply because it was smart enough to realize it's in Dinkytown and should offer at least one vegan item, but the quality of the taste and the reasonable price for the slice makes this a good joint. Also, they're open late, which is great if you're out and about at night. If they only start adding soy cheese and some mockmeat toppings (Galactic Pizza and Pizza Luce have both), this place would get a lot more patronage from at least one vegan.

Midori's Floating World Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 30 09

rating star

Update: While I appreciate Midori's vegan menu, I think the choices on it are quite limited. How often can you get tempura or noodle bowl soup? The only other options are cold Japanese salads, but those don't quite hit the spot for me. Their dinner specials are not usually vegan or veganizable.

Worst of all, their usually-reliable noodle bowl soup (udon or soba with mushroom broth) has declined precipitously in quality. The broth has no flavor and looks like water; their soba noodles are grey (instead of that beautiful purple hue), slimy and similarly flat, like the limp broth.

In comparison, Tanpopo Noodle Shop in St. Paul offers a larger, heartier soba bowl, with super-fresh ingredients, bursting flavors and thick, rich broth. Tanpopo also has limited vegan options, but at least they do those options well.

The atmosphere at Midori's is nice and I like their new location. This is an elegant place, to be sure, and I would take it over pretty much any other Japanese place in the Twin Cities (with the exception of Tanpopo), but it could really stand to revamp its vegan offerings and up the quality simultaneously.

July 17, 2008 review: I love that Midori's has a separate, all-vegan menu (you have to specifically request this menu, of which they have only two copies). I went to Midori's twice, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke that the food was so good. Midori's, along with Tanpopo in St. Paul, are the two best Japanese restaurants in the Twin Cities.

Their edamame is fresh and they also have authentic Japanese plum wines (tastes like almonds!) and beers. I normally don't like vegetable tempura, but their tempura batter is special---it's light, crispy and subtle, allowing the flavor of the vegetables to stand out (Midori's uses interesting vegetables such as pumpkin, squash and bell peppers). They also have a wonderful curry dish (available Wednesdays only) that is savory and filling, with artful presentation of long asparagus stalks, carrots and other vegetables. Finally, their kitsune soba soup bowl was not the best I've ever had, but it was certainly serviceable (Tanpopo wins on noodle bowls).

My only complaint is about their service. Both times we went, our waitress was not attentive, and it took forever to order and even longer for the food. Also, the first time we went, all of our dishes came out at the same time, so we had to quickly eat the appetizers and main courses all at once, while they were still hot. Other than the faulty service, the food is excellent and prices are reasonable. This is a great place.

Midtown Bike Center in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 2 08

rating star

I really like the Midtown Bike Center. It's one of those stores/cafes that comes to define a place---how many other cities in the country have a pit-stop cafe for bicyclists on a trail? (For that matter, I think Minneapolis might be the only city in the country to have marked vegan items on the menu of an airport cafe---French Meadow.)

I should add that the Midtown Bike Center is a well-done place. It's not just an ad-hoc joint set up on the trail. It's a spacious and well-designed store with all sorts of bike gear for sale and even offers bike rentals and valet parking and storage, among other things.

It's also right in front of the Midtown Global Market, which is a great location for bike day trippers.

The cafe used to be rudimentary with offerings like Clif bars and cheap coffee, but they recently added smoothies and Salty Tart baked goods which are made at the Midtown Global Market.

What's really clever is that they also sell day-old baked goods for only $1 ($1.07 with tax, to be precise) which is a cheap way to snack. I had a day-old mocha chocolate cupcake and it was delicious.

The Midtown Bike Center is a classy, innovative, well-implemented store/cafe aimed at bikers on the Midtown Greenway, but has enough stuff to attract even non-bikers. Kudos to them for doing such a good job and making Minneapolis an even cooler, cutting-edge city.

Midtown Global Market in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 2 08

rating star

The Midtown Global Market is a cool, unique, interesting place with numerous food stalls offering dishes from practically every continent. It's also a good place to get imported package goods and fresh produce. It speaks to the multicultural spirit of Minneapolis. I went today and the Mexico Tourism Board had musicians playing lovely tunes.

That said, I don't think there's too much for vegans here. The new Salty Tart bakery occasionally has vegan cupcakes and some other vegan baked goods, but you should call ahead to make sure stuff is in stock, as I've been there many times only to be disappointed that they ran out of their only vegan item. Holy Land Deli has some items which look vegan (couscous, veg. curry) but their veggie burger has cheese in the patty. There's a vegetarian dish at the African restaurant and vegetable roti at the Jamaican soul food place.

You can also try a vegetable torta at Manny's Tortas. They build to order, though I found that if you don't speak Spanish, describing what you want could be tricky. Fortunately I do speak Spanish and was able to get a confirmed vegan torta (vegetable sandwich). It is a soft grilled baguette filled with mushrooms, avocado, beans, lettuce and tomato. It sounds like a burrito, but it's much lighter and less dense. But at $6.45 it's awfully expensive considering the small portion size.

Be warned there are at least two large meat counters which is a huge turn-off. At least they're in the corners of the place and not dead-center in the market. On a whole, though, the Midtown Global Market is a hip place to explore different foods, do some grocery shopping or hang out and get a cup of tea/coffee at one of the cafe vendors.

Mim's Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 29 09

rating star

I think Mim's might have the best falafel in the Twin Cities. I'll have to go back a second time to be sure, but that's my initial impression. I've been to the standards---Falafel King, Holy Land---as well as more than a few smaller venues (Jerusalem's, Java, Shish Cafe, Lyndale Grill and Grocery, Loon Deli) but Mim's comes out on top for pure freshness, taste and value.

The cafe itself is a cozy little spot next to the St. Paul campus of the U. It could stand to be a little bit more sparkly and decorated, but it's decent as it is.

I had a falafel sandwich ($4) and a side of fries ($1). The falfel pieces themselves were excellent: fragrant; crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside; loaded with herbs; and not oily. The tahini was also fresh and actually tasted like sesame, which is a departure from the industrial-grade tahini you find in most places. Similarly, the tomatoes and cucumbers in the sandwich also had flavor and didn't seem to be the plastic cafeteria service veggies you find all too often at inexpensive Middle Eastern joints.

A couple gripes: the pita was not fluffy enough and seemed more like a triple-thick flour tortilla, rather than a proper pita. It was still tasty, but a bit too flat for my likes. Also, the french fries were super-oily and not crisp in the least (soft french fries are depressing and hard to justify eating).

For $4, the falafel sandwich is a great, delicious bargain. I only wish Mim's were not so out of the way; otherwise I'd be there all the time.

Mississippi Market in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 11 10

rating star

I like the new, larger location of this Mississippi Market. However, it has a few major flaws: for one thing, there are fewer vegan baked goods and deli products here than at the other location.

Secondly, while the store is bigger, the check-out area is remarkably cramped and they didn't have enough people working the individual aisles. I don't think they're using their larger space wisely.

Lastly, everything here is absurdly expensive, even by co-op standards. For example, a package of Field Roast sausages costs $7 here, as opposed to $5 at Whole Foods. The half-size containers of Silk soymilk were $3.89 here---you could get DOUBLE the quantity, for $3.30 or even less, at The Wedge or Whole Foods. Mississippi Market, that's just unacceptable.

Modern Times Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 24 11

rating star

Modern Times is a welcome addition to the American diner-foods world of the Twin Cities. It's a quaint, cozy place with really friendly and attentive service.

I came twice, both times for breakfast, and got to try a bunch of dishes.

The wild rice pancakes ($5) were awesome: totally Minnesotan; fresh; filling; and just plain tasty. They're by far the best vegan pancakes in the Twin Cities.

The bagel with tofu spread, spinach and tomato ($4) was really hefty and hard to eat. It's the type of sandwich that spills out all over your plate and makes a mess. I wasn't impressed with the taste of it, either; I think a more traditional bagel sandwich would have been better (maybe with a vegan sausage patty and some cashew "cheese"?).

As far as the tofu scramble/hash plates go, the vegan dishes all kind of blended together, in my opinion. The Tucson Hippy ($7) and the Not Your Mother's Migas ($8), for example, have nearly identical ingredient lists.

I liked the Migas slightly better, especially with the addition of some spicy chorizo. That said, the dish felt sparse and not particularly filling. It also was the type of dish that gets soggy and less appealing very quickly (owing to the nature of the tortilla chips getting soft with the moisture of the sauces). The chorizo pieces and the tofu, too, were cut up too small, and there wasn't enough of either; I would have preferred larger chunks of each and more quantity.

Lastly, they also have some quality loose-leaf tea options here, which is always a pleasure.

On a whole, Modern Times is good. I just think they could add a few more varied vegan options that are distinct from one another (the addition of vegan breakfast sandwiches would change everything), and also make small changes on the fine details of dishes.

moto-i in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 25 09

rating star

UPDATE: I've been to moto-i more than a few times since it opened back in October 2008. Their rooftop deck is nice, though I was bothered that they allow people to smoke up there, which killed a lot of the enjoyment of being outdoors on a summer day with fresh sake.

The sake menu has expanded, though I find myself less and less impressed with the sake as time goes on. I'm not sure why. Maybe their quality control has gone down? In any case, this is still one of the edgier places in the Twin Cities, and the US at large, as it brews its own sake on-site; good luck finding something like that anywhere else in the country. I must give moto-i credit for its sense of courage to try something new and keep Minneapolis firmly in innovative territory.

The food here is passable, at best, however. Make sure to ask lots of questions if you're vegan or vegetarian, as many dishes seem to contain fish or fish flakes. Based on what I've had, the ponzu broccoli tofu bun was bland and had a weird sweet sauce. The coconut lemongrass stir-fry was one of the most flavor-less dishes I've ever had; I had to douse it in soy sauce to get any sort of flavor.

The shirito pepper appetizer was pretty good though, if a bit too salty.

The free peanuts that came with the dish, which are cooked in lemongrass and chili, also pack a tasty kick, much more so than anything else on the menu.

The service is friendly. The bartender walked us through the various sakes they offer and how they're made. There are three levels of space to occupy, from the bustling ground floor, to the quiet, laid-back lounge area on the second floor, to the spacious rooftop deck.

All in all, this is a cool place, but the food is extremely bland and needs better labeling for vegan options. That said, any place that serves its own sake deserves recognition.

Muddy Paws Cheesecake in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 4 08

rating star

As of December 24, 2007, Muddy Paws' has closed their cafe. They are now focusing on their cheesecake business and have moved to St. Louis Park, but there is no cafe.

Muddy Paws Cheesecake in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 08

rating star

Their retail outlet closed a year ago, but Muddy Paws lives on in catering-form. Muddy Paws makes arguably the finest vegan cheesecake I have ever had, and I've tried at least two dozen different ones around the world. You can't go wrong with any of their multitude of standard and unusual flavors; their plain strawberry cheesecake is fresh and delectable while their edgy chai cheesecake is exotic and familiar all at once.

I highly appreciate that they have such an emphasis on vegan cheesecake, as well as gluten-free, for my new gluten-intolerant friends.

We recently had an office party where every single slice of the vegan cheesecake was devoured, whereas the non-vegan cheesecake wasn't even touched. My middle-aged suburban colleagues didn't notice any difference and, in the end, they were amazed to learn that they had just eaten vegan cheesecake. This is a testament to Muddy Paws' quality and deliciousness.

Muddy Waters in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 22 08

rating star

I rarely went to Muddy Waters before, mostly because they never had any food, and I wasn't impressed with their drinks (mediocre tea selection and a passable chai mixture). Now that they added some food, I have to admit that they're worth a second look.

The only vegan thing on their menu is a hummus sandwich, but it was a great sandwich---warm, soft bread and fresh vegetables. I wasn't expecting something of that quality at a punk rock coffee shop at midnight.

The service is friendly and the interior is nicely decorated with a retro-grunge feel. I like the roomy and comfortable counter area. They also have some retro video games.

The outdoor seating is usually populated by edgy, artsy punker types who, sadly, are always smoking. This makes it uncomfortable to sit outside, for me anyway. It's a shame, because this is prime territory for people watching.

If Muddy Waters added a couple more vegan options (how about a tempeh or tofu sandwich?) and some vegan pastries (Caffetto only one block up has vegan desserts, so why can't Muddy Waters?), this would be a prime contender for best neighborhood cafe. Right now, it's just falling short.

Mysore Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 24 08

rating star

Mysore offers a good dosa and a marginal South Indian buffet, with vegan options clearly marked, but I was disappointed that it recently added chicken to the menu and to the buffet. This is a huge disappointment not only because meat has no traditional place in South Indian food (it seems to have been jammed in at Mysore for business reasons), but also because it alienates the vegetarian community, Indian or otherwise. Given the unspectacular food, and that Minneapolis has three much better and pure vegetarian Indian restaurants, I wouldn't recommend Mysore. Try The Vegetarian or Nalapak or Bombay 2 Deli instead.

Nala Pak in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 12 08

rating star

I hadn't had South Indian food in a long time and was pleased to find Nalapak, a fabulous joint with friendly service and great food. Their dosa (sometimes spelled dosai) was crisp, huge, light and fresh; their Jalfrezi curry was creamy and spicy and went well with airy, un-oily chapati. Their samosas were also light and crispy with well-seasoned filling. The service was extremely friendly and the menu clearly listed what was vegan and what was lacto-vegetarian; they even have tofu as an option to paneer, which is not a common option in Indian restaurants. Highly recommended.

Namaste Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 26 10

rating star

UPDATE: Namaste has revamped their menu and added more than a few new vegan dishes (clearly labeled) with unusual flair. For example more than a few dishes seem to be more Chinese or Caribbean than South Asian.

I came here for lunch and had a "roti wrap" ($7) which was delicious and perfectly-priced for the size of the dish. It was a whole wheat wrap/roti filled with tofu, black chickpeas, onions and a variety of spices, as well as fresh cabbage and tomatoes. The dish is nicely spicy and feels both substantial, but healthy (I love that Namaste offers whole wheat and brown rice).

The service is friendly, but slow. Expect to wait a while for your meal.

Dinner prices are about double lunch prices, and the menus are extremely different as well. While I want to try some of their dinner dishes, the prices seem too high to justify (unless their portion sizes are huge, which I doubt they are, based on my past experiences).

All in all, Namaste is a great lunch spot and maybe a decent dinner one. The food and flavors here are fresh and unusual. Their chai (and large tea selection) is still easily the best in the Twin Cities and puts to shame places like Spyhouse and Tea Garden.

Previous review: Namaste now has outdoor seating and wine. It can get really hot if you're sitting inside during the summer (they don't have a/c), so keep that in mind. I still think it's overpriced, especially for the tiny portions they give you, but the flavors are fresh and light and they've improved the taste quality. Their chai is still the best in the Midwest. They have one excellent vegan dessert, the "carrots in coconut cream" which is deliciously sweet, smooth and creamy. Amazing, unusual flavors. Unfortunately, they only occasionally have the ingredients for it.

Ngon in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 21 08

rating star

Ngon has great ambience and service. It's a good place to take a date.

I wasn't completely floored by the food, though. I ordered a tofu dish that was overly simple and extremely small in terms of portion size (maybe 15 bites at most). But it cost $10, which was excessive, especially for lunch.

If they added a few more vegan menus, increased their portion sizes and jazzed up the food a little, this would be a gem of a Vietnamese restaurant. As of right now, it's pretty decent, but falls short of its potential.

Nina's Coffee Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 1 11

rating star

I love Nina's. For one thing, I just can't imagine Cathedral Hill without a centrally-located coffee shop (similarly, I can't imagine Cathedral Hill without WA Frost across the street).

As such, the location is prime and crucial. The space inside is lovely (it feels old and cozy, as anything should in a 19th-century building).

It's great that they offer a wide variety of loose-leaf teas; I'm particularly fond of their monk's blend, as well as their green with ginger.

As of March 2011, Nina's started offering vegan baked goods, made by an outside vendor (Venus Foods). I've tried their apple cake and their chocolate cake and they're both delicious: moist, fluffy and just perfect with a cup of tea.

My only gripe (and it's a big one) is that they rarely keep the cake in stock. It sells out almost immediately and it takes them days to re-stock, which is a real shame.

Also, Nina's could improve by offering some hot vegan sandwiches (how about something with mock duck or tofu?).

Other than that, this is still a great place and St. Paul wouldn't be the same without it.

Noodle Bowl Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 14 09

rating star

Noodle Bowl has a large vegetarian section on their menu and I was pleased that they don't consider fish sauce to be vegetarian. Most of the dishes are very simple (tofu with one other ingredient, or mock duck with one other ingredient).

I had a "fried tofu with chives and bean sprouts" ($8) which was good, but not great. I think it needed a lot more spice (fortunately there's some chili oil on each table) and also could have used a bit of ginger to add some zing; as it stood, the tofu was nicely fried (though they skimped on the amount of tofu) and I appreciate any dish with chives, because you don't see them often enough.

The dish could have used one other vegetable (carrots? bamboo shoots?) to give it some color and break the monotony of the chive-bean sprout-tofu holy trinity.

I was also disappointed, as I always am, by places that don't offer brown rice as an option. Unfortunately, Noodle Bowl is one of them.

The prices are good, with pretty much every dish in the $7-9 range.

The service was friendly, if a bit slow, even with a lack of other customers. The air conditioning wasn't working so it was nice that they kept my glass of ice water filled.

All in all, Noodle Bowl is a nice alternative on Nicollet, though in terms of taste and quality, I'd still prefer either Jasmine Deli or Jasmine 26.

Obento-ya in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 3 08

rating star

I don't understand how Obento-ya could win City Pages "Best Japanese Restaurant" award in 2008. The service was friendly, but slow, erratic and crazy. If we didn't flag our waiter down, he would have never stopped at our table to take our order. Getting the bill took forever and all of our food came out in random intervals (the edamame was supposed to be an appetizer, but ended up being a main course). The best part of my meal ended up being the Asahi Super-Dry 12 oz. beer that I ordered.

This is the first Japanese restaurant I've been to that has a difficult menu for vegans. You wouldn't expect this from a restaurant in Minneapolis, and especially one that's so close to Dinkytown.

The only marked vegan item is a mediocre, dry and bland sushi roll. Obento-ya doesn't have a separate vegan menu (like Midori's Floating World Cafe), nor does it have vegan specials or vegan broth for noodle bowl soups (like Tanpopo Noodle Shop). I ended up cobbling together a few grilled vegetable skewers (robata), which was unsatisfying and didn't fill me up at all. Also, they only give you two or three pieces of vegetable and charge you $3 for each.

The edamame was not fresh and was served to us lukewarm, as it must have been sitting on a counter somewhere. On a whole, this place is not only a rip-off with poor service, but it's also not vegan-friendly for the most part. Don't waste your time or money here; got to Tanpopo or Midori's instead.

Old Arizona in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 9 09

rating star

UPDATE: Old Arizona is a quaint place. Their tea room/chocolate shop is a cozy room full of all sorts of gourmet chocolate bars from around the world; they also have a good array of different types of loose-leaf teas which they have helpful, detailed descriptions of in an information binder.

I love that this is a community-oriented venue. They're currently undergoing major renovations so their hours are a bit erratic right now. But once the weather gets warmer, they'll be in full-swing.

If you're looking to buy tea or chocolate or to dance, this is your place. I haven't tried the cafe yet but the team the runs Old Arizona is animal-friendly and they have some vegan options and hope to expand their menu to include more.

Om Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 21 09

rating star

Om is probably the poshest Indian restaurant I've ever seen and also one of only a few nation-wide that falls into such a chic category. This is not your auntie's curry shop.

That said, the food is far from authentic and it's maybe not even fair to call it "Indian" considering the non-traditional ingredients and heavy use of American-preferred meats, fishes and dairy products.

As such the food is not terribly vegan-friendly. Somehow Om's "fusion Indian" concept has managed to browbeat Indian food into a mild, milk-filled meat fest, rather than a complex, vegetable-based bonanza.

None of the main entrees are vegan or can be made vegan. A couple of their salads can be veganized, and a couple of their side dishes are vegan. Our waiter told us all of the bread dishes contain buttermilk, so make sure to ask questions.

We shared a peanut eggplant side dish ($7) and also a new potatoes and chili side dish ($7). The eggplant was well-prepared and covered in a semi-spicy peanut sauce. I liked the presentation and the flavors though the dish didn't surprise me in any way. The new potatoes were much milder and tasty enough, but way too basic and bare for the trendy, fancy vibe of this joint. The portion sizes were large which made these a pretty decent value at only $7 a piece.

Om does make a great cocktail, though. I had a "Slumdog" ($9) which was basically a subtle lemonade with bits of mint and cilantro; it was unusual and it all came together smoothly. I think it could have used a bit more vodka but it was otherwise an edgy drink. My friend got an "Amber" which was gorgeous to look at and consisted of different layers of ingredients such as mango juice, Bombay sapphire, creme de cassis and lemon juice. It also tasted quite good.

The top floor of Om is good for lounging or watching a game at the bar. The bottom floor has large booths and tables for bigger groups, and is nice enough, if a bit spare.

I'm giving Om three stars for its drinks and relatively cool atmosphere; if they up their game on vegan offerings and get back to more traditional North and South Indian foods, I'd consider coming back more often.

The Open Book in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 10 09

rating star

I like the open atmosphere and layout of Open Book. This is a good place to get a cup of tea, read a book or consider making one of your own (in the book arts center a few feet away).

When I went they had one vegan soup (artichoke) and some vegan rice crispie bars from French Meadow, but no vegan sandwiches. Unfortunately, they only carry Oregon Chai, which is a serious negative point, in my opinion.

If they had some vegan cookies or cupcakes, along with a tofu or tempeh sandwich, this place would merit an extra star. As it stands, it's pretty decent.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 4 10

rating star

While I'm generally not a fan of chain restaurants, I have to admit that P.F. Chang's has saved me a couple of times, usually in work-related situations, where I'm forced to eat dinner with colleagues. If we end up at P.F. Chang's, I know I'll at least get a certifiably vegan meal, with actual spices (as opposed to an iceberg lettuce salad at some bar/grill joint).

Their Mapo tofu is actually pretty good and worth a try. I also enjoyed their Buddha's Feast which has a good variety of vegetables and mushrooms. The food here never feels heavy or gooey, like at most Chinese strip-mall joints.

The lettuce wraps appetizer ($7.95) are tasty as well and consist of diced tofu, water chestnuts and mushrooms in a savory soy-based sauce. Take a pass on the cucumbers side dish ($2.95) which were plain (though I liked the use of delicious black sesame seeds).

Prices are reasonable given the portion sizes and the overall quality of the meal.

I really like that they offer brown rice and also have a gluten-free menu, both of which demonstrate their conscientious spirit.

The service is consistently friendly no matter which outlet you go to (ah, the unwavering quality of chains). Their bar is fairly decent and the restaurants are always good at accommodating large groups. All in all, P.F. Chang's is mostly a winner and a net positive for vegans everywhere.

Peninsula in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 4 09

rating star

UPDATE: the home-made tofu here is NOT vegan, as it is made with eggs. My waiter did not tell me this and I only found out later from another vegan. If you're vegan, make sure to avoid anything with tofu here. I think it's ridiculous how they make tofu here, since it's such a simple, ancient food and usually basically consists only of soy.

Peninsula has some unusual offerings which merit recognition. I started out with a "roti telur" appetizer ($5.95), which is an Indo-Malaysian dish consisting of a doughy shell filled with vegetables and other stuff. The kitchen graciously left out the chicken and the eggs and replaced them with some home-made tofu instead (which I later found out is not vegan). I found this dish to be pretty tasty; the shell was soft and I liked the bell pepper and onion filling. Finally, the dish came with a spicy peanut sauce that really gave the food some flavor and zing.

My main course, only called "mock duck" ($11.95) on the menu, sounded amazing, but wasn't that great (and probably wasn't vegan). Like the tofu, this mock duck was home-made, which stands out in a town where mock duck usually comes from a tin can. It seemed to consist almost entirely of layer after layer of thinly-sliced, fried tofu; if there were any wheat gluten in there (the normal main ingredient of mock duck), I didn't see it. It was topped with thick mushrooms and everything was cooked in a soy-based sauce that made the tofu go soggy. The sauce was the biggest problem of the dish---not only was it bland, it was also gooey with excessive use of corn starch as a thickening agent. I got bored with the dish after a few bites. In comparison, Grand Shanghai in St. Paul makes an extremely similar dish called "mock goose," but they use a light, fresh soy-red wine sauce, and the tofu remains crispy as a result. They also use better mushrooms than Peninsula.

The dish came with white rice infused with coconut milk (brown rice was not an option, sadly), which actually cost $1 (I thought it would be free). This rice was okay, but it was not nearly as rich and fresh-tasting as the coconut milk rice, offered for free, at Bali Restaurant on 14th and Nicollet.

Finally, I wanted to try the unusual-sounding dessert "cendol" (green pea flour strips with sweet red beans, shaved ice and coconut milk), but I was informed that it's made with some dairy milk. Instead I ended up with the more pedestrian "pulut hitam" ($2.50), which is just sweet sticky rice in creamy coconut milk with sugar (one of the few dishes I can actually make myself).

In summary, the service at Peninsula is fast, efficient and friendly. The menu offers some unusual Indo-Malaysian dishes and also has home-made tofu and mock duck, which you don't see often (though I'm not sure either are actually vegan). But the execution of the food was mediocre on a whole and I'm not pleased that they are clearly confused about the meaning of the word "vegan," which is unacceptable in a city like Minneapolis.

Peoples Organic Coffee & Wine Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 3 11

rating star

This is the new coffee/wine-bar venture from the creator of French Meadow and it's a definite step up for the suburbs. Located in the Galleria Mall, Peoples Cafe offers foods and drinks that you can't easily find outside of Minneapolis or St. Paul proper.

I came here twice and got to sample their breakfast and lunch offerings.

First, we tried both of their veggie burgers (both of which are vegan and cost $10 each). The "Peoples Best Veggie Burger II" is made with chickpeas and cashews and is easily the best veggie burger in the Twin Cities. It's savory, hearty and downright fresh and tasty. I especially liked the sunflower sprouts (they look like alfalfa sprouts on steroids) and the tomato tofu mayo, both of which were improvements on the normal song and dance of lettuce and tomato.

The Veggie Burger I was also good, but not nearly as good as II. I think the mushrooms, walnuts and lentils created a somewhat sour taste that grew on me with each passing bite, but still didn't match the great flavor of the II.

The home-made kettle chips that came with both burgers were awesome.

I'd love to see a seitan burger as well as a tofu patty breakfast sandwich, given that they do a tofu scramble as well.

On the second visit I had their tofu scramble ($10) which sounded great in theory, but was only decent in reality. This dish was suddenly yanked from the menu, though you can still order it by special request. I think the dish was under-salted and the spices they used ("Himalayan spices") didn't feel integrated in the dish. I liked the use of bell peppers but the best tofu scramble in the Twin Cities still belongs to Pizza Luce.

We also had a vegan raspberry bar ($3) and a pot of unusual oolong tea ($4.50). The raspberry bar was smooth and soft and much better than French Meadow's raspberry bar, which tends to be harder and more acidic. The tea was great, though, and the pot they give you is enormous (we got six cups total between the two of us), to say nothing of second steeps.

On the second visit I had an almond milk nutmeg steamer ($3.25) which was tasty, but super over-priced considering the quantity. For $3.25 you could get a full container of almond milk, or even two; here you got a tiny cup. Peoples has a wide variety of cool-sounding coffee drinks made with either hemp, coconut or almond milk (I can't think of any other place in the Twin Cities that offers such a variety of non-dairy milks). My friend enjoyed her coconut mocha which had actual pieces of shredded coconut in it---nice touch.

All in all, Peoples is a cool place. It's kind of a coffee shop, kind of a bar, and kind of a bistro, but it comes together fairly well and the service is friendly and knowledgeable. Best of all, to see the word "vegan" in the suburbs, with unusual and thoughtful foods, is always a pleasure and a step in the right direction. If Peoples had more vegan offerings and upped the quality on some of its dishes, I'd give it another star.

Pineda Tacos in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 21 10

rating star

This place takes me back to Mexico. It's a grimy, hole-in-the-wall, downscale version of Chipotle with tacos for $1.75 and burritos for not much more.

I had two veggie tacos, made to order: rice; beans; lettuce; tomato; avocado; green salsa. The hard shell was excellent and crisped to perfection. The salsa was tasty, but I would have preferred a fresher pico de gallo, or minced jalapeno salsa (the stuff they serve is gooey and thick).

My main problem with the place is that you can't see them make the food. As such, you need to be extremely specific about what you want in your taco (if you're vegan, the options I listed above are about it); it would be much easier if they had an open view, like at Chipotle, and you could point to things and also get a better sense of what looks fresh or worthwhile.

There's some seating in the back room if you want to dine-in. Be warned that Pineda is kind of depressing and not overly clean, but the food isn't bad at all. At the very least, it's cheaper than Chipotle and tastes just as good. If they had tofu, seitan, tempeh, vegan cheeses and other cool stuff like that, I'd be back daily.

Pizza Luce in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

I loved this place. Their Lil Gracie pizza with soy cheese and veggies and fake sausage and pepperoni was tasty and light; their garlic-cheese toast with rinotta vegan cheese was also delicious and unusual. This is a great option to have for vegans who miss pizza and are also looking to have a beer with some good music in the background.

Pizza Luce in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 24 09

rating star

I love Pizza Luce in general. They're open late, the service is friendly, there's plenty of space, and they have a ton of quality, thoughtful vegan options. Make sure to try their garlic cheese bread with their own proprietary "rinotta" vegan cheese---it'll blow your mind.

This particular downtown branch now offers brunch options from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. I tried their vegan biscuits and gravy ($8.49) which comes with a side of tofu scramble. I liked the tofu scramble quite a bit---it was fresh, light and colorful, with an array of bell peppers and tasty broccoli. The seasoning was also good, though it could have been spicier. This is probably the best tofu scramble in the Twin Cities, in my opinion, easily beating the scrambles at Hard Times, Seward Cafe, Triple Rock and French Meadow.

The biscuits and gravy was okay, but not great; the biscuits were too doughy and small (I prefer crispy/flaky biscuits) and they floated in a huge sea of gravy; the gravy was way too sweet and should have been savory. I think it could have used some fresher touches, like chopped green onion and tomatoes in the mix.

The portabella florentine is also okay, though I wasn't a fan of the overly-salty red sauce that came with it. This dish is highly unusual, though, and not the sort of thing you'd see elsewhere, so I appreciate Pizza Luce for flexing their culinary chops.

I love the vegan breakfast burrito. I normally don't like burritos of any kind, but this one is loaded with seitan, fake sausage, rice, peppers and more. It's super flavorful and covered in a nice pico de gallo and herbs and comes with hash browns. It's also quite filling.

As it stands, the brunch menu at this location is an intriguing addition to Pizza Luce's already-great vegan choices.

Pizza Luce in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 17 08

rating star

I am never disappointed by Pizza Luce; it's my go-to place late at night or when I just want a big, filling meal with a consistent taste and quality. Their rinotta garlic cheese toast is delicious, mostly because of the wonderful marinara sauce they give, though the rinotta is also an unusual and tasty creation (why can't more pizza joints try to make their own vegan cheese, rather than just using pre-packaged ones?).

I find the service and vibe at this particular Pizza Luce to be a bit friendlier and more laid-back than the other Minneapolis locations. Also, I've never had to wait for a table at this location, whereas the Uptown and Downtown branches can easily get packed, especially on weekends.

Pizza Luce in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 3 09

rating star

I finally visited the St. Paul location of Pizza Luce, but wasn't as impressed with it as I am with the others in the Twin Cities. In terms of parking and interior space (along with a bar), the St. Paul location beats the Uptown one, but for pure atmosphere, I would prefer the downtown Minneapolis or Seward branches.

I came here for brunch and was somewhat disappointed by my meal. I had the tofu scramble ($8.99) but it lacked flavor, and seemed to missing at least one or two crucial ingredients. Adding salt and black pepper didn't help. My friend, who also had the tofu scramble, agreed with me. We both also compared this scramble to the one at the downtown Minneapolis branch; the downtown location's version bursts with flavor and is probably the best tofu scramble in the Twin Cities, whereas the St. Paul branch served up a sleepy, boring, bland dish.

The service was friendly and prompt as I've always come to expect at any Pizza Luce. I'd go to the St. Paul branch for pizza or maybe a drink at the bar, but not for brunch again.

Pizza Nea in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 23 09

rating star

Of the three or so neapolitan pizza joints in Minneapolis (Punch Pizza, Black Sheep and Pizza Nea), I think Pizza Nea is probably the best value for your money. Punch Pizza is slightly cheaper, but also slightly lower quality and has less ambience; Black Sheep is about the same price as Nea, and produces higher quality pizza (especially their amazing crusts), but they have smaller portion sizes. Pizza Nea falls right in the middle of that and does a decent job in terms of quality, ambience and portion size.

For one thing, their "marinara" pizza (which comes without cheese and is vegan by default) is less than $7 and it's actually quite large. The sauce and toppings are all good quality and adding individual toppings is cheaper here than at Punch or Black Sheep.

I had a marinara with roasted red peppers and porcini mushrooms (~$10). It was a good, full meal. The crust is not as thin and perfectionist as at Black Sheep, but it's crisper and not as chewy and doughy as Punch Pizza's crusts. It also was not as charcoal-burnt as Punch's tend to get in certain spots.

The service was friendly and prompt. I like the atmosphere in the joint which feels like an upscale, but unpretentious, neighborhood hangout. You could have a beer with friends, or a romantic evening at Pizza Nea. All in all, this is a good place and holds its own against the competition.

Plan B Coffee Shop in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 08

rating star

I like the comfy, familiar ambience in Plan B. The service is always friendly and it feels like the kind of joint where you could easily become a regular.

Their drinks are nothing spectacular or unusual---standard teabag offerings, Oregon chai, etc.

They do make some effort to have some vegan options, such as pre-packaged ABC cookies. This is better than nothing, but falls short of the fresh, home-made vegan desserts and snacks you could get at other places in Uptown.

Plan B doesn't do anything new or anything daring, but at least they got a good vibe. If you're looking for unusual, fresh, lovingly-made snacks, desserts and drinks in Uptown, go to Namaste Cafe, Common Roots or French Meadow. If you just want a cup of tea with Silk soy milk, Plan B is fine.

Pure Market Express in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 14 09

rating star

In the vegan world raw food falls into a weird niche that has a lot of ardent supporters and also a fair share of skeptics. Pure Market Express, though, can win over skeptics and even surprise the choir.

First, this is not really a cafe. It's more of a pick-up retail outlet. There is space where you can sit and eat (a cool, elevated oval table) but all of the food will come to you in plastic packages and wrappings and you'll have to use plastic utensils. As such, if you're eco-conscious, I recommend bringing your own silverware and plates and insisting on the place using those.

Second, it's better if you order your food a day in advance. This should reduce your wait time as each dish takes quite a while to prepare (raw food is extremely complex, despite seeming simple in theory).

We shared a number of dishes and desserts. To start we had a lasagna ($10) which was just wonderful: it was fresh, light, full of a subtle basil-pesto flavor and superbly layered with "noodles" made of zucchini. Second we had a sausage pizza ($14) which was also excellent: a thin, cracker crust with nut cheese and a fresh tomato sauce. The sausages were made of nuts, mushrooms and other good things. This dish required a fair amount of assembly as each component was separately packaged. Our last dish was the jalapeno poppers ($9) which were also really tasty though I wasn't a fan of the chewy, salty eggplant-"bacon" strips that you sprinkle over the nut cheese-filled jalapeno pieces. Lastly, we got a free sample of pepperoni bites which were really delicious, crispy and tasted like actual pepperoni, more so than even the phony pepperoni you get at Galactic Pizza or Pizza Luce.

For dessert we had a slice of chocolate cheesecake ($8) and a piece of pumpkin pie ($9). The chocolate cheesecake was amazingly rich and dense. It also retained a sense of "wild" flavor with hints of cacao. The pumpkin pie was good, but not great. I was impressed that it really tasted like pumpkin even though there's no pumpkin in the ingredients. We also got to sample different macaroons; my favorites were the coconut and caramel ones, though the chocolates ones could hold their own.

On a whole this was some of the best raw food I've ever had. I'd actually want to come back here and try more things. For reference's sake, the food here is orders of magnitude better than what you can get at Ecopolitan. Ecopolitan isn't bad, but I find the flavors and preparations there to be extremely intense and hard to handle.

In fact, too much of raw cuisine easily turns people off with its intensity of flavors. Pure Market Express somehow manages to soften the edges and create food that's readily edible and doesn't require any acquired tastes.

I do have a few major issues with Pure Market Express: 1. there's an inordinate amount of packaging with each dish. Really unbelievable quantities of plastic wraps, boxes, utensils and more. I understand that they're more of a mail-order business, but maybe they could cut down on the packaging for in-store orders?; 2. the food is pretty expensive and comes in small portions. It's just as expensive as Ecopolitan, and much tastier, but also has portion sizes about 50% smaller than Ecopolitan; 3. it's way out in Chaska (a good 30 minute, 25 mile drive). That said, they do deliver to the Twin Cities.

In conclusion, Pure Market Express is worth the drive to Chaska and definitely worth it if you're skeptical about raw food. Nothing here disappointed us and a few dishes really amazed us. If all raw food were like this I would eat it more often.

Quang Resaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 6 08

rating star

Quang has large portions and a decent number of vegan options. But the food itself is industrial, heavy, oily and salty in taste; it surely lacks the delicate flavors that Vietnamese food calls for. Jasmine Deli is still the undisputed king of Vietnamese food and will remain that way. In terms of atmosphere, Quang seems more like a greasy Chinese diner/buffet with laminted tables, vinyl seating and fluorescent lights. This is a good place to get your fix for oily, heavy food, but it is no culinary gem, nor is it representative of true Vietnamese cuisine.

Rainbow Chinese Restaurant & Bar in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 9 09

rating star

The previous review scared me off from this place as I hate restaurants that don't disclose or even care about serving fish/oyster sauce to vegetarians.

But I gave this place a shot today and was not displeased. Our server assured us that the menu has been redone and revamped and that all dishes with the vegetarian symbol are 100% vegetarian, without fish/oyster sauce.

Our steamed vegetable dumplings ($7) were really tasty and light; the filler vegetables and mushrooms felt fresh, too. I think they're over-priced but they are definitely well-done.

I enjoyed my fried tofu with chives and mushrooms ($12). The sauce was light and not bogged down with corn starch and oil like you find at most Chinese strip-mall joints. I think there was some red wine in the sauce, too, which was a nice touch. The dish could have used way more tofu (there were only four pieces in the whole dish but no end of bean sprouts), but the flavor was subtle and good. My friend's non-veg dish also looked pretty fresh, simple and appealing. No grease, no rapidly-congealing sauces.

I also liked Rainbow's non-alcoholic cocktails which consisted of clever mixes of pop and fruit juices.

The decor is nice and modern and this is a good place to take a date.

I only have two gripes about Rainbow: a) they don't offer brown rice and; b) the portion sizes are way too small for the prices (most dishes are $12).

So while I like the light and un-greasy flavors at Rainbow, I'd still much rather go a few blocks up the road to Evergreen, which is cheaper, gives larger portion sizes, and has an infinitely more innovative and vegan-friendly menu. Rainbow makes good food but the dishes are pedestrian. Evergreen makes excellent food and has dishes you won't find anywhere else in the country. As such, I know where I'll be spending my food dollars.

Raja's Mahal in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 9 08

rating star

Yet another mediocre, depressingly-decorated, buffet-serving North Indian restaurant. I don't understand why North Indian restaurants all look the same and all serve the exact same mind-numbingly mundane and heavy, oily dishes.

As the child of Indian immigrants, I grew up with Indian food, albeit South Indian cuisine. That said, I am extensively familiar with North Indian fare as well, especially after living in India for a year after college.

After explaining my vegan requirements my waiter suggested the aloo gobi, a classic North Indian dish. The service was friendly and prompt. The vegetarian section of the menu seemed to be mostly lacto-vegetarian so make sure to ask for a dish that doesn't have ghee, butter, cream or yogurt in the sauce.

The food was passable at best. Like most other North Indian restaurants I've been to in the US, this one served up a copper bowl filled with a heavy, thick curry sauce with a flavor that sledgehammers you over the head. No subtlety in this dish. It was a bit too salty and citric for my likes, and the potato and cauliflower were cut in excessively large sizes, which also seems to be standard practice at North Indian joints. Also, the tandoori roti was too thick. Delicacy, attention to detail and understatement are generally not to be found at North Indian restaurants.

The prices are reasonable though it's depressing to be in the restaurant with its tacky decor and slightly run-down feel. I was hoping for some creativity in the food, something unique, a touch of home-cooked goodness, but did not find it here.

If you want innovative, fresh, light, simple and tasty food that's Indian-esque, go a few blocks down the street to The Himalayan or to Namaste Cafe on Hennepin Avenue. If you want quality vegan Indian food, check out The Vegetarian or Nala Pak, both on Central Avenue NE, and both of which are 100% vegetarian and clearly label their menus to show what's vegan. You don't have to play the "non-dairy" game at those places, unlike Raja's Mahal.

All in all, Raja's Mahal is a disappointment. I give them two stars only because the service was friendly and the food wasn't completely horrendous (but wasn't good either).

Ras in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 12 10

rating star

Ras takes the space of what used to be Dukem Ethiopian. While the place has new owners and a new name, the menu doesn't appear to have changed---they still hand you menus with "Dukem" printed on front. Also, this used to be a bar-grill a long time ago and the decor hasn't been changed, either.

I had a veggie combo platter ($12) which consisted of the usual Ethiopian standards: lentils, split peas, collard greens, etc.

It was okay, but not memorable. The food wasn't prepared fresh; it was already sitting out in chafing dishes by the bar and a woman just plopped each dish onto a piece of injera and served it to me.

If you're looking for good Ethiopian food, there are only two places to check out: Fasika (in St. Paul) and Katar River (in Minneapolis). Both of these joints make their food fresh, with each order, and you can taste the difference.

Red Dragon in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 23 08

rating star

I wasn't initially sure how to review Red Dragon. For one thing, it's an institution in Uptown. It's always packed at night with people looming over you, waiting to occupy your table/booth (get there before 9 p.m. if you want to sit down). The drinks are super-strong and most cost $8-$11. So, it's not a cheap place for cocktails, but the vibe in the joint and the amount of liquor they give you makes up for any high prices.

Onto the food: I was surprised that Red Dragon, given its location and clientele, does not have more vegan options. They serve LOTS of meat and most of the dishes are Chinese or Southeast Asian.

There's a small "vegetarian" section on the menu, but our waiter told us that the only vegan dish is the Buddhist Delight with mock duck. I'm not sure what they're putting in the other dishes, but it makes me worried, because East Asian food typically doesn't use dairy or eggs in their sauces/curry mixes. Yet the description of the dishes doesn't mention egg as an ingredient anywhere. In other words, they might be using fish sauce or some other awful thing in their so-called "vegetarian" dishes. Make sure to ask.

That said, the Buddhist Delight dish was fairly tasty, though in a salty, MSG-laden, gooey corn-starch-sauce kind of way. It'll definitely hit the spot if you're drunk, which you will be after one Red Dragon cocktail.

The service was friendly and attentive, despite the hectic, crowded, busy nature of the joint. Impressive. They definitely need more vegan dishes, but I give them props for their ambience.

The Red Sea Nightclub, Bar, and Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 6 08

rating star

Red Sea offered solid, simple Ethiopian food. I enjoyed my split pea with injera dish; it was delicately spiced and tasted fresh. The portion size was large (and included two small sides of red lentils and spinach---for free, apparently) and nicely priced at $8.99.

I wasn't impressed with the ambience of the place, though. If it weren't for the kindred spirits with whom I was eating, I would have found it difficult to have stayed in there for too long. For one thing, there's sickly, dark lighting with some stray bits of neon near the counter/bar. The speakers played random music and the big screen tv's glare was hard to avoid. This isn't a good place to take a date or to enjoy a pleasant dinner. I'm not sure I'd want to be there for alcoholic drinks, either. Just too bleak.

Rice Paper in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jun 26 08

rating star

Rice Paper is quaint and small, with friendly service. The food is definitely tasty (try the spicy/smoky/sweet grilled "New Moon tofu" or the excellent, subtle, complex green onion Chinese pancake wraps), but the prices are much too high. Everything is in the $15-18 range for dinner and $10-13 for lunch. Also, there aren't a huge number of vegan-friendly options, as even the veg-seeming dishes contain fish sauce. I don't appreciate restaurants that consider fish to be vegetarian, or restaurants that don't list or mark what's specifically vegan/vegetarian. In the Twin Cities, with so many vegans and vegetarians, people shouldn't have to ask whether or not a dish contains fish sauce; it's discourteous for restaurants to not disclose this information openly. In conclusion, the food is tasty, but expensive. Make sure to specify you're vegan. But for my money, I'd rather go to Jasmine Deli or Jasmine 26, which are more vegan-friendly, have better atmosphere, and equally tasty food---but much cheaper.

Roving Dish in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 3 10

rating star

Finally, a vegan vendor at a Minneapolis farmers' market! Roving Dish offers four or five different vegan (and gluten-free!) pancakes, including chocolate chip and currant, among others. They also have two types of "fritters" with different vegetable fillings.

Everything here is made with teff, the grain used for making the spongy Ethiopian product known as injera. That said, neither the fritters nor the pancakes taste anything like injera, nor do they resemble injera in any way.

I sampled a piece of pancake which was really tasty and had an unexpected, and good, flavor. It definitely wasn't your average pancake at Hard Times or Seward Cafe.

I also had a broccoli fritter ($7). This was a deep-fried thing (it would be perfect for the State Fair) and had a good savory flavor. Also, the broccoli stayed crisp and fresh. While it was tasty, the $7 price tag was awfully hefty, considering the small portion size. It was snack-sized (definitely not a meal unto itself) and $3-4 would be a more reasonable price.

Still, I'm happy Roving Dish is around and selling unusual vegan (and gluten-free) products. The people that run Roving Dish aren't vegan themselves, but I hope they stick to selling vegan stuff not only from a marketing perspective, but also from an ethical one.

Royal Orchid in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 29 08

rating star

I give Royal Orchid a 4-star rating, though with a tiny bit of hesitation.

Having grown disgusted by the "we want to be a chic bistro"-style Thai restaurants in Minneapolis, I decided to venture out into the suburbs to see what was available. I thought to myself, maybe outside of the city center one can find honest, simple Thai food that isn't dumbed-down or industrialized for co-ed taste buds in Uptown.

Royal Orchid, cozily tucked away in the corner of a strip mall in Roseville, offers an effective antidote to the mediocre, standardized Thai food in Minneapolis.

My green curry was hearty and had a good, strong flavor that suggested a personalized touch---this was home-cooked Thai food, carefully prepared, by someone with a welcoming idiosyncratic preparation sytle. That's the way Thai food should be.

The restaurant, most importantly, accommodates vegans and doesn't screw around with furtive fish/oyster sauce or other unsavory ingredients. The statement on the menu about "strict vegetarians" was reassuring. This restaurant, like most in Thailand, respects vegan and vegetarian diets and doesn't make it a guessing game for patrons.

My only reasons for hesitation on the 4-star rating: the curry, however tasty, had corn and carrots in it, which is strange and completely irregular; oddly enough, the curry DID NOT contain eggplant, which is the one staple of green curries. While the food tasted good I have to disagree with some of their ingredient choices. On the other hand, it does show the sign of an independent cook willing to do his/her own thing. Also, the service was fairly friendly, but a little bit inattentive. I could have used some more water fill-ups, for example.

Now I just wish that Royal Orchid were actually in Minneapolis. But at least whenever I have to go the big-box stores at Rosedale Center I'll have a great restaurant to eat at.

Sambol in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 29 09

rating star

Sambol is a nicely decorated, predominantly North Indian restaurant in a strip mall in Eagan. Normally I wouldn't bother going out of my way for a place like this, but Sambol also serves Sri Lankan food, making it one of very few places to do so in the Midwest (and maybe even in the country at large).

The standard lunch buffet offered only North Indian options, so I instead ordered from the menu, getting a "gothamba roti" ($11.95; Sri Lankan vegetable curry with thin wheat flat bread). Unfortunately there aren't many Sri Lankan options on the actual in-store menu (the online menu, which has many options, seems to be out of date).

I found the dish to be extremely reminiscent of a Thai red curry. Rich coconut milk served as a filling base, and red chili went well with the vegetables in the dish, namely peas, cauliflower, green peppers and carrots.

The roti had an interesting texture, not being soft, but not being hard or chewy either. I liked the unusual nature of the bread. I wasn't offered rice, but it seems they don't have brown rice anyway (only white), which is a minus.

While the food was tasty enough, the portion size was quite small, especially for the $11.95 price tag (not including tax or tip).

Given Sambol's remote location in Eagan, I won't be back often, especially as the Sri Lankan choices here are limited; however, I might be willing to give their North Indian curries a try at some point in the future, as I appreciate any place that tries to serve up different or unusual foods. Restaurants like these tend to do a good job on normal/everyday dishes, as they're probably what pay the bills (as opposed to exotic Sri Lankan dishes).

Sen Yai Sen Lek in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 12 09

rating star

Sen Yai Sen Lek is a gem. It keeps getting better each time I go back and is one of only a handful of Thai restaurants that I've been to in the US that accurately recreates the flavors I encountered regularly in Thailand itself.

First the foremost, this is probably one of only a couple Thai restaurants in the Twin Cities where you can be guaranteed to get a meal without fish sauce, without shrimp paste and without any other animal product. The staff and owners here understand and respect veganism and go to great lengths to make sure we are accommodated, and in fine style, I might add (separate veg*n menu, numerous veg*n appetizers, entrees and desserts, and friendly staff that always finds answers to your questions).

Secondly the food here is simply excellent. The curries and stir-frys are robust and complex and never feel watered down or simplified like at practically every other Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities (I'm looking at you, Tum Rup Thai and your Uptown clones). Too often does Thai food get turned into either piddling pad thai or soy sauce stir-frys over white rice; at Sen Yai, on the other hand, you'll get a dish loaded with herbs, a multitude of Thai chilis, and tricky variations of from-scratch, hard-to-make curry pastes. You never get the sense that Sen Yai takes shortcuts in its preparation.

Third, Sen Yai Sen Lek really listens to its customers and makes changes quickly. The first time I went they didn't have a separate veg*n menu. The second time they did have a veg*n menu, though my noodle dish seemed a little bland. When I came back the third time my next dish was wonderfully spicy and hearty. The fourth time I went they didn't have brown rice but their green curry with tofu was still stunning and substantial in its spice levels and overall heft. Finally, the latest time I went, the panang curry with mock duck ($11.95) was fragrant, rich, and now came with brown rice.

I also had a dessert, black beans with sticky rice and coconut milk ($4.95) which really hit the spot. You'll often see sticky rice with mango or banana, but rarely do you see unusual ingredients such as black beans. In another testament to Sen Yai Sen Lek's quality and attention-to-detail, the dessert came with a little twig of mint leaves. This doesn't sound like much, but it's something I have never seen at any other Thai restaurant, and it added that much more flavor, complexity and interest to the dessert.

Finally, this is a great place either for a quick, affordable lunch (lunch specials are around $8-9), or an intimate, extended dinner date. They have a good selection of beer and wine and the interior decoration is warm and inviting. I highly recommend Sen Yai Sen Lek.

Senor Wong in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 31 09

rating star

Senor Wong makes the best vegan tacos I've had---the "el mockos" made with mock duck. They're authentic, simple, and delicious. And they recently expanded their veg. options and have labeled their veg. menu items as well.

I like the downtown St. Paul location as it's an area devoid of many vegan-friendly restaurants (Tanpopo is the only other that comes to mind). Senor Wong has a lounge/bar feel and it draws the power lunch crowd. At night they have DJs and it's a good place to take a date or a group. It's cozy and yet also hip and smart.

I found the service to be friendly but slow. The menu has a number of vegan-friendly choices, mostly of the Thai/Korean/Vietnamese variety and has recently doubled their vegetarian and vegan offerings. I had a bell pepper stir fry with tofu ($8) in a home-made Korean sauce (or so they told me). It looked great but tasted bland and flat somehow. It was missing something. I might try a different stir fry the next time.

At the recommendation of the previous reviewer, I tried a mock duck taco a la carte ($3.50)---truly this "mocko" is a treat and a wonderful replica of authentic Mexican street food, down to its ingredients, taste and presentation. I honestly was not expecting a pan-Asian restaurant to do such a wonderful version of a Mexican standard. The corn tortilla was served open-face, slightly crisped, and the mock duck was subtly grilled/roasted (amazing touch!); the whole thing was lightly covered in pico de gallo. No lettuce, no cheese, no beans or other Americanized nonsense. It was a Mexican taco, although blessedly veganized with wonderfully-cooked mock duck (they didn't just dump it on straight out of the can). Happy Hour prices are lower so consider coming here after work to load up on these treats.

Seward Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 16 08

rating star

UPDATE: The more I go to Seward, the more I like it. It's more consistent at producing tasty meals than its main competitor, Hard Times Cafe; the food's quality doesn't seem to be determined by the whim of whoever is the line cook at any given moment. It's also slightly friendlier than HTC. However, it is not 100% vegetarian, unlike HTC.

I'm always impressed by their greasy but tasty hash browns, as well as the vegan french toast. I finally got to try their lunch food and was impressed with their marinated tempeh gyro which was filling, fresh and well-prepared. Next time I'll try their tofu sandwiches. I wish they offered these dishes on the weekends; unfortunately, they close too early (3 p.m.) on weekdays for me to get a chance to try their lunch foods more often. Their brunch food has some high points (french toast and hash browns), but treads mediocrity on others (tofu mock muffin is dry and small, biscuits and gravy is bland).

I'm not as impressed with their baked goods, though they do offer a good number of vegan and gluten-free cookies and muffins. HTC has mediocre baked goods as well. Also, Seward's bottomless cup of tea sounds great in concept, but is poorly executed, as the tea is low-grade and tends to over-brew on the hot plate.

Prices are good, though not as cheap as they used to be (most dishes range $5-8), and portion sizes are good, but not as large as at Triple Rock Social Club, another competitor.

The wait for the food is generally long (15-20 minutes).

In summary, Seward offers a few good dishes and has great lunch items which are unfortunately not available on weekends. Their weekday hours are problematic and I wish they'd stay open longer.
I also wish they were 100% vegetarian; what's the point of struggling to serve one or two local-meat dishes, when you can go all-veg for a mostly-veg crowd anyway?

Finally, my biggest gripe: they're cash and check only. Since I never carry around my checkbook I always have to remember to have a wad of cash with me, which is annoying in this electronic day and age.

Seward Co-op in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 12 08

rating star

While I shop at The Wedge more often (entirely due to its proximity to my home), Seward Co-op's prices have me reconsidering things.

The prices on produce of all types seems consistently and significantly lower at Seward than at The Wedge (today, for example, Seward is selling avocados for $0.89 a piece, whereas The Wedge is selling them for $1.49 a piece).

Similarly, prices on other items such as Field Roast mockmeats and Seeds of Change pasta sauce, are on average 10-20% lower than at The Wedge.

So, price-wise, Seward wins hands down. But in terms of selection, The Wedge offers many more varieties of non-dairy milk brands, yogurts, ice creams and bulk dry produce (such as nuts, grains and rice). Also, The Wedge has better vegan baked goods and hot cooked foods and sandwiches, in addition to a larger selection.

But I like that Seward has a little cafe/dine-in area to sit and eat or chat, which is something that The Wedge sorely lacks. The community aspect of The Wedge is missing.

In summary, Seward is definitely cheaper, edgier and less corporate than The Wedge. But in terms of selection and (sometimes) quality and variety, The Wedge wins. We'll see what happens when Seward moves to its new, larger location.

Shuang Cheng in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 22 09

rating star

As far as Americanized Chinese food goes, Shuang Cheng is pretty good, and has a much larger selection of vegan/vegetarian selections than most Chinese places.

We shared a curry mock duck, modified to have more vegetables ($8.25) and a spicy vegetarian vegetables ($7.95). Make sure to ask questions about ingredients, as some dishes contain oyster sauce.

I thought the curry mock duck was tasty in a salty-MSG way. Tender mock duck and a large portion size make this dish a good value.

The spicy vegetarian vegetables was bland, though, and the sauce had so much cornstarch that it congealed into a thick glop. It also skimped on the tofu.

And, as expected, there's no brown rice available. Say it with me, folks: brown rice tastes good and does a body good. Not offering brown rice at an Asian restaurant is akin to having only Wonder Bread at a sandwich shop. It's sacrilege.

Given that Camdi is so hit-or-miss, I like that Shuang Cheng provides an alternative veg-friendly option in Dinkytown. If you're looking for excellent Chinese food go to Evergreen. But if you just want a quick, cheap stir-fry and aren't in Uptown, Shuang Cheng does a slightly above-average job.

Singapore Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 1 08

rating star

Singapore Restaurant is a semi-classy Malaysian joint with friendly service and a nicely vegan-friendly menu. I tried the Captain's Curry after reading rave reviews about it; honestly, it was decent, but nothing spectacular. I probably wouldn't order it again given all the other vegetarian dishes on the menu. It was strangely salty, but the salt was masked by subtle hints of peanut, garlic and sugar. The curry itself was too watery for my likes and the vegetables were not really cooked---all of the vegetables were chopped in huge chunks and just tossed into the wok a couple of minutes before completion, if I had to guess. The vegetable choices weren't exactly inspired either---cabbage, broccoli, carrots, onions and a couple pieces of green bell pepper.

There was also a TON of tofu in the mix. Huge, block-sized pieces with didn't add anything to the meal, as the tofu was not cooked either.

There aren't many Malaysian restaurants in the Twin Cities (I think the newly-opened "Bali" is the only other one) so I'm glad that Singapore offers some variety. But the food seemed haphazardly prepared. I'll definitely give it another shot as other dishes on the menu sounded appealing and the service was definitely welcoming and accommodating.

The restaurant is in a random, isolated residential area that was awfully dark at night (no street lights) so I advise caution if you're riding a bike there. There's also a steady stream of traffic on 34th Avenue, and most of the cars seemed to be speeding and not making full stops at stop signs, so be careful.

Sole Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 30 11

rating star

The website for Sole Cafe suggests it is vegan-friendly and, more importantly, that the joint actually knows what vegan means. This is a rarity with Korean food, which typically is loaded with fish or meat broths even in otherwise seemingly vegetarian/vegan dishes.

During our visit, it was clear from the outset that our waitress didn't understand the term/concept of veganism, but she did understand "no meat." While this isn't the same as vegan per se, I think it did the trick. I've since learned that some servers are better than others in this area, so I guess we had the bad luck to have the server who's less knowledgeable on the terminology front.

We started off with an order of fried dumplings ($7) which were pretty tasty, though I think they're just a frozen variety that you can find at Asian groceries (Korea Restaurant in Stadium Village has the exact same dumplings).

For our main course we got a "tofu dolsot bibimbop" ($13) which was a stone bowl filled with a few vegetables, cellophane noodles, and exactly two smallish pieces of tofu. The dish comes out sizzling and you're then supposed to mix in some hot sauce on your own. The kitchen made a mistake and the dish came out with a big fried egg on top of it, which they then apologized for, and removed.

The dish was okay, but not great. I think it skimped on the vegetables and having only two pieces of tofu seemed ridiculous. Also, the food just seemed really basic.

It came with small dishes on the side (kimchee, bean sprouts, etc.) which were unusual; we're still not sure that the kimchee was vegan or vegetarian, but the other ones tasted all right.

Sole Cafe is an okay Korean joint but not particularly great for vegans or vegetarians, sadly.

Spoonriver Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Nov 12 09

rating star

Spoonriver is a sufficiently swanky spot to get a drink or meal before a show at the Guthrie. If you're on a date I recommend it for its convenience.

Food-wise, however, Spoonriver falls short, mostly because of some ingredient errors and also because of a lack of value for your money. While the menu has about three vegan or veganizable dishes, and two vegan appetizers, nothing really stood out as being "must-have" or highly innovative. And given the high prices at Spoonriver the food and portion sizes really do not live up to their cost.

We shared the veg. special of the night, an eggplant-squash-chickpea "stew" over couscous ($17), as well as an udon mock duck salad with peanut dressing ($15). The eggplant chickpea stew was tasty, but could have been served hotter (in terms of temperature). It was basically an Indian curry, though in a small portion. The eggplant wasn't properly integrated into the dish and felt tacked-on and out-of-place; I think the dish would have been better if they dropped the eggplant and added tofu or mock duck/seitan to the curry itself.

The udon salad was also relatively tasty, but I think they used the wrong types of vegetables (why lettuce and radish, when bell peppers, carrots or Chinese broccoli would have been more appropriate?). The peanut sauce had good, subdued flavor and the mock duck was unusually fresh and "meaty," but for $15 this dish did not fulfill my expectations. At Noodles & Company you can get an extremely similar peanut sauce noodle dish, which is just as tasty, but one-and-a-half times the portion size, for $8.

The service was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.

Also, the drinks were pretty good, too. I had a ginger cosmo ($10) which was an excellent, smooth mixture of cranberry nectar and vodka. While the cocktails are expensive the quality of ingredients and the unusual flavors justify the price.

In conclusion, Spoonriver has the outlines of a a great place, but the content of a mediocre one. If they dropped their prices by 20-30% and looked up some more sophisticated vegan offerings (take a gander at what Blossom, Horizons or Candle 79 offer) I'd come back.

Spyhouse Coffee Bar & Gallery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 17 08

rating star

Spyhouse is in a nice location and has good atmosphere with plenty of space to study or read or check out local artwork. I like that they have some pre-packaged vegan cookies, but their drinks are mediocre and the same as any other place---just the same old liquid Oregon chai mix added to some soy milk. Every cafe in Minneapolis does that. If you want fresh, home-made chai brews, go to Namaste Cafe, Common Roots or Butter Bakery. If you're just looking for a place to hang out and drink a cup of coffee or tea, Spyhouse serves the purpose.

St. Martin's Table in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 8 09

rating star

I like the quaint, cozy atmosphere in St. Martin's Table. The staff is always friendly and helpful. I also love how much of the proceeds go to charity and that the place is non-profit.

The food is simple, tasty, fresh and cheap. I usually get a cup of soup and a whole sandwich combo for $7.50. The soup is often times heartier than the sandwich; I particularly like their chili, or their curry soups, while the sandwich is just basically sprouts and a tofu or bean spread on top of fluffy bread. That said, it hits the spot, and it's usually hard for me to decide between the flavors for their spreads and soups (they usually have two vegan soup options and two vegan spread options).

Sometimes they have a vegan dessert option as well. I wasn't expecting much, but the mocha chocolate cake ($3.75) I had was spectacular---it was unusually moist, fluffy, soft and rich. The mocha flavor was oh-so-subtle. It was easily superior to anything at Hard Times, Seward Cafe or The Wedge. In some respects, I think it was better than even the turtle cake at French Meadow.

If St. Martin's had one or two killer vegan desserts daily, and also a mockmeat sandwich, I'd be there all the time, as the atmosphere is great, the prices are good, the food is fresh and light, and the mission of the cafe is pleasant and inspiring.

Surabhi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 08

rating star

Yet another industrial-grade, oily North Indian restaurant. How many of these are there in the Twin Cities?

I came for lunch with some colleagues and was forced to make-do at the standard buffet. At least some Indian joints let you order off the menu if you don't want the buffet, but Surabhi doesn't. All I wanted was a dosa, but instead had to settle on chewy papadadum, and a grease-heavy chana (chickpea) dish with crappy white rice. The rest of the veg. options in the buffet were loaded with cream or yogurt.

I didn't appreciate having to ask about which dishes were vegan versus vegetarian. If you want Indian or Indian-style food, go to The Himalayan, The Vegetarian, Nala Pak or Namaste Cafe. They label what's vegan and what's not, and the quality of their food is much higher.

Sweets Bakeshop in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 30 11

rating star

This is a great little bakery in St. Paul. They offer vegan cupcakes on Sundays and I was really impressed with the vanilla one they had ($3). It was really moist and fluffy and the frosting was oh-so-subtle and not sugary in the least. I think it's the best vegan cupcake in the Twin Cities.

If Sweets had vegan cupcakes daily, along with some other vegan baked goods, as well as maybe some tea, it would be the perfect bakery. As it stands, it makes a great vegan product; they just need to expand their line and offer vegan stuff more often.

Szechuan in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 10 10

rating star

UPDATE: Szechuan is a welcome addition to Roseville and has some unusual dishes that are hard to come by in the Twin Cities. Compared to Little Szechuan in St. Paul, or Evergreen in Minneapolis, it doesn't offer as much for vegans. That said, it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the Roseville area.

I started with a scallion pancake ($2.95) which was a great value considering the size of the appetizer. It's basically fried dough filled with green onions. It was tasty, but not the best I've ever had; it was a bit too heavy on the dough and light on the scallions. That said, this is one of the only places in the Twin Cities where you can get scallion pancakes any day of the week (Grand Szechuan in Bloomington offers them only on the weekends).

For my main course I had a Ma Po Tofu ($9.95) which normally is made with pork (which isn't stated on the menu), but was modified to be meat-free for me. Definitely ask questions about the "vegetables" dishes as many are made with meat.

It was a really solid mapo with silky-smooth tofu, shards of green onion, and tons of oil and pepper. Definitely don't get this dish if you're on a diet as, by weight, it's probably 50% oil. That said, it's nice to have maybe once a month. I liked that they added a slight touch of black pepper to the dish; in general, the dish was spicy, but the spice doesn't linger on your tongue, you don't need to keep reaching for your water, and your palate feels oddly refreshed after a few bites. It's an unusual type of spicy.

On a whole, I think it edges out Little Szechuan's mapo, but falls short of Evergreen's creative take (which is made with mock pork and has better quality tofu, in my opinion).

The second time I went I had a lotus root with pepper salt ($10) with was very tasty, but seemed more of a fried appetizer snack than a full dish. For those of you familiar with Jasmine 26's acclaimed "sea salt and pepper tofu cube" appetizer, this lotus root dish is similar: it's batter-fried lotus root with red and green bell peppers and a spicy/savory seasoning. There's no sauce to this dish, so it doesn't work well with rice, but the dish is fun to eat on its own, especially with the lettuce shards they provide. The wet, fresh nature of the lettuce mixes well with the fried, dry nature of the battered lotus root.

On both occasions I went, the service was mixed and occasionally indifferent and unhelpful; servers were slow to take our order, and we had to ask for tea (whereas I noticed they would automatically put tea on other tables).

If Szechuan had more vegan dishes (such as a meat-free "family tofu," or a new take on Little Szechuan's wonderful Spicy Fried Tofu), and was more knowledgeable about vegetarianism and veganism, I'd come back more often. As it stands, Szechuan does have some unusual offerings (such as shredded potato with green pepper, lotus roots with pepper salt, sauteed snow pea leaves, and spinach with garlic sauce) and is worth a look.

Szechuan Spice in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 7 11

rating star

It's great to have another solid Chinese restaurant in the greater Uptown area. I came to Szechuan Spice with a few friends and we got to try a number of dishes.

The mapo tofu ($10) was great: spicy; savory and hearty. Note that this dish uses silken tofu, which many people don't seem to like, but which I think is the only type of tofu that could work in this dish. It's pure Chinese down-home cooking.

The Kung Pao tofu ($10) was also tasty, with little fried cubes of tofu and a savory, colorful mix of vegetables. Similarly, the Buddha vegetable ($10), a dish we were reluctant to order, ended up being surprisingly tasty. It wasn't just steamed vegetables in a white sauce; it was properly stir-fried and covered in a nice soy-garlic sauce devoid of cornstarch (thankfully, Szechuan Spice doesn't seem to use cornstarch in any of its dishes).

Lastly, the eggplant in garlic sauce ($10) was great: fragrant and smooth. It wasn't as good as Evergreen's "house style eggplant with basil," but it came close; if Szechuan Spice put fresh basil in their dish, they'd be awfully close to Evergreen in terms of quality on this dish.

The service was friendly and prompt. Portion sizes were good and enough to produce leftovers.

On a whole, Szechuan Spice is a winner. As other reviewers have noted, Little Szechuan in St. Paul is better, and Evergreen in Minneapolis is also better, but Szechuan Spice shouldn't be ashamed to take third place behind those two giants.

T's Place in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 3 08

rating star

T's place has great atmosphere with lots of space and a bar and live music on some nights. Also, their food is tasty and unusual, particularly the vegan dishes like "yesawir wot," which feature wonderfully-spiced and flavored lentils, alongside a big, fluffy, spongy rice pancake. It reminded me of South Indian food, but had distinctly different flavors and a hearty, home-cooked feel. It's not often that one gets to eat Ethiopian food. The food here is not oily or greasy or heavy; it fills lightly and you feel satisfied. Their spicy tofu was also delicious. My only complaints are with the service and the menu---the online menu features only some of the vegan dishes they offer (they're labeled online), but their actual, in-restaurant menu doesn't label what's vegan and what's not (many of the dishes are lacto-vegetarian). So unless you've memorized the online menu, you're out of luck if you're vegan. Similarly, when I asked the waitress about ingredients, she didn't seem to know. The food comes out quickly, but service is otherwise slow and inattentive. Also, the first time I went, the main cook was unavailable, so I couldn't order half the menu. The next time I went, the cook was available, but the restaurant was mysteriously "half-open" and they kept the door locked, forcing people to knock on the window to gain entrance. All in all, the service and menu have much room to improve, but the food is unusual, tasty and lovingly-prepared.

Tam-Tam's African Restaurant in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 4 09

rating star

Tam Tam's offers a small, simple menu of pan-African stews, savory pastries and vegetable curry-style dishes. It is more meat-centric than not, but it does have some vegetarian dishes, all of which appear to be vegan.

I had the lentil sambosas ($2.50) which were similar to Indian samosas, but crispier and filled with different ingredients. The sambosa had a good crunch to it and the lentils stuffed inside were nicely flavored and kept whole, rather than turned into a mush.

I also had the "vegetable delight" ($8.99) which was a mish-mash of vegetables in a thick, semi-spicy curry sauce. It wasn't spectacular, but it was tasty enough, and seemed fresh and filling. The portion size was huge and I could barely eat even a third of it. The dish comes with either white rice (no brown rice here, sadly), injera or "ugali" (cornmeal bread); I had the rice and ugali. The rice was standard basmati, but the ugali was a big loaf of white cornmeal and was a nice, and unusual, alternative to plain old rice.

The service was a bit slow but friendly enough. The decor is above average and the place seems to attract an array of customers, from old Somali women to college students.

Finally, as an added bonus, Tam Tam's is part of the "Rewards Network" which gives you various perks (such as airline miles or cash-back or other 'points') when you dine there. I racked up over 80 Northwest air miles from my meal (6 miles per dollar spent Monday-Wednesday, 3 miles on other days). Pretty sweet.

Tanpopo Noodle Shop in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 31 08

rating star

Tanpopo is a wonderful restaurant. It looks and feels like a home and, indeed, the food is cooked "home-style" and is simple and tasty. There is ample parking nearby and the service is friendly and fast. I appreciated that they have a beer and sake menu, which makes for an even better occasion. Finally, the food is simple but delicious; they substitute vegan mushroom broth for their noodle-soup dishes, whcih are ample, fresh, healthy and well-seasoned. I loved their tofu soba noodle bowl (kitsune) and will try their wild mushroom bowl next time. Highly recommended. My only gripe is that they don't have more vegan options, other than the kitsune and mushroom bowls; other than that, they only have one or two vegan appetizers.

Tao Natural Foods in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 4 09

rating star

UPDATE: Tao, while still tasty and good, increased its prices in 2008 as well as reducing its portion sizes. So, you pay more, but get less food. I still like the food here---they have delicious vegan milkshakes (12 oz. for $7 ??) and a great black bean burger ($8)---but I've cut back on going here as the place is so expensive and the portion sizes are so tiny.

Tao also nickle and dimes you for everything. Add avocado to a sandwich? $2.50. Extra bread? $2.50. Before you know it, your $8 meal turns out to be $13 or more with these add-ons and you leave still feeling hungry.

Also, they got rid of their vegan waffle (why???) and their veggie burger is not vegan either (it has cheese in it). What a disappointment. At least they added the black bean burger, which makes up for the loss of the cheese-filled veggie burger. Also, their macrobiotic rice plates pack more of a kick than you might guess, especially with toasted sesame oil.

All that said, Tao has great atmosphere. It's a cozy little corner joint with the feel of an old-time diner. The wait for food can be long, but that's only because each dish is lovingly prepared and hand-made; no short-cuts here.

The food is healthy, fresh and nicely prepared. They also feature at least one or two vegan desserts. Tao also has a large selection of health food and body-care items, as well as a small book section, in case you need more than just food.

Taste of Thailand in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 16 09

rating star

The menu here is misleading, as it uses the word "vegetarian" but does not disclose that every dish has either fish/oyster sauce or shrimp paste. That said, with the exception of the curries, all the dishes can be made vegan.

Taste of Thailand is probably the best Thai restaurant downtown (and one of the only ones, for that matter), and probably one of the better ones in Minneapolis. It slightly edges out Amazing Thailand in Uptown, in my opinion.

We asked lots of questions and had a wonderfully friendly and helpful waitress who checked with the chef about ingredients. First, as stated earlier, none of the curries are vegan or vegetarian, and cannot be modified (the curry pastes all contain shrimp paste). Even the so-called "vegetarian red curry" is not, in fact, vegetarian.

Also, all of the stir-frys have oyster sauce, but at least these dishes can be modified to be completely vegan.

We had a Pad Bai Kra Prao (basil stir-fry) with mock chicken and no oyster sauce ($10.50). I found the dish to be nicely seasoned and spicy; it felt like there was some authenticity and heft to this dish, which can easily be made bland by a lesser restaurant. The mock chicken was cooked well, though it looked and tasted exactly like mock duck to me.

We also had a Pad Thai with tofu, and no egg or oyster sauce ($10.50). I liked the Pad Thai quite a bit, as it had an array of flavors and tastes, spanning the range from sweet to spicy to sour, which once again suggested authenticity. Pad Thai can easily be made poorly, but this place managed to get the tricky balance of flavors just perfect. The tofu could have been marinated or seasoned more, but that's a minor quibble.

In the end, this is a good Thai restaurant, but make sure to insist on no fish/oyster sauce in the non-curry dishes. Avoid the curries all together if you are vegan or vegetarian and don't wish to eat shrimp paste.

Tea Garden in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 2 08

rating star

I give this place kudos for having a separate vegan menu (albeit only containing drinks, not food) and for having a decent array of loose-leaf teas. I also like that they have pre-packaged vegan cookies (though freshly baked ones are better).

However, I don't like the ambience in there. It's a bit too spartan and unwelcoming, in my view. And it doesn't fall into the hip, retro-modern look, either. It just looks plain, with a slight twinge of grime, the likes that accumulates when tables aren't cleaned off regularly.

Their worst offense, by far, is that they don't have mugs or in-house cups. Everything comes in paper cups, with those cardboard holders, and un-recyclable lids. This is inexcusable given that they're in the eco-mecca of Uptown, and that almost every other independent cafe in the Twin Cities offers re-usable cups and utensils. Tea Garden has a long way to go in terms of being eco-friendly.

ThanhDo in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 9 08

rating star

This place gets crowded and was bustling when I came for lunch on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. I waited a few minutes for a table. It seems like a business power-lunch hotspot.

The service was friendly, if somewhat inattentive. I skipped the lunch special, as I'm sure the soup offered wasn't vegan; better to just go for the dinner menu and get a larger portion size for leftovers.

My "Garlic Lover's" with tofu was tasty enough, but the sauce was a gloppy, gooey, pinkish cornstarch mixture that seemed better fitted for a strip-mall Chinese take-out joint. Also, they don't offer brown rice, which is a bummer.

Prices are reasonable. I'll try ThanhDo again for their curries and maybe another stir-fry. Generally speaking, I like my pan-Asian food to be prepared lightly, with simple, fresh ingredients and not a lot of extra processing (i.e. corn starch and oil). Delicacy is the key, especially in Vietnamese or Thai food. I'm not sure ThanhDo is capable of this, based on my first visit, but I'm willing to try them again to find out.

Tiger Sushi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Feb 6 09

rating star

Tiger Sushi started in the Mall of America, which is fitting, given its mediocrity and utter lameness. Indeed, Tiger Sushi is representative of everything that's wrong with suburban mall-culture America and the insipid rise of generic sushi joints.

If you're a sorority girl looking for a place to start out your Friday night, or if you're a newbie to "ethnic food," Tiger Sushi will probably impress you and make you feel edgy and smart. You'll have fun playing with your chopsticks and pretending to like raw fish.

If, however, you're more adventurous and willing to go to places other that aren't owned by a corporate body, please read on:

I started out with a draft of Sapporo ($2.50 for happy hour), which was probably the best part of my meal; I did, however, find myself wondering how a supposedly "Japanese" restaurant could commit the grave sin of not offering Asahi Super-Dry, which is arguably the best mass-market beer Japan has ever produced. It would be like going to an American restaurant and seeing Budweiser, but no Miller.

After the beer I had a "kitsune udon bowl" ($8.95) which consisted of slimy noodles in a broth that seemed to be watered-down soy sauce and absolutely nothing else. I don't know if you've ever tried drinking soy sauce, but it's not pleasant. I foolishly thought that the menu's statement of "vegan version available" meant I'd get a mushroom broth, which is standard at true Japanese restaurants. While I give Tiger Sushi points for using the word "vegan" on the menu, I must say that their execution was revolting.

For vegans, there's one other type of noodle bowl, as well as a kung pao tofu appetizer, and steamed edamame. Other than that, vegans (and even lacto-ovo vegetarians) are out of luck in terms of food.

The hostess originally tried to seat me at the sushi bar, in a cramped spot wedged between two couples. I wouldn't have been able to even spread my elbows. Ironically, she called this "the best seat in the house" and didn't seem to think otherwise. Instead I seated myself at the empty and spacious bar.

The service was friendly and prompt. Kudos to them for that.

But let's get back to the mediocrity of Tiger Sushi. Not one block down the road, another Japanese restaurant, moto-i has the vision, creativity and courage to be the first and only saké brew pub in the US, and only the second in the entire world. Indeed, moto-i not only dares to serve a delicious, unusual product, (brewed on site), but it does so with skill and reinforces Minneapolis' reputation for cutting-edge food culture. It also educates people about a topic---saké---that they otherwise might not learn about.

What's Tiger Sushi's idea of boldness? Having a circular sushi bar. Track lighting. Waiters wearing shirts that say "Macho maki man" and waitresses wearing shirts saying "Tigress."

Three miles away on Lake Street, vegans and non-vegans can go to the family- and Japanese-owned Midori's Floating World Cafe. The food there is lovingly hand-crafted and they feature a separate vegan menu that offers far more options, with far better quality food. They offer multiple Japanese beers (including Asahi) and other, unusual liquors, such as plum wine. There are no curved sushi bars and tacky t-shirt slogans. There's no corporate, suburban glean to the place.

In St. Paul you'll find Tanpopo Noodle Shop, which is also Japanese-owned and operated and features a vegan prix-fixe menu on Tuesdays, along with superb noodle bowls with your choice of noodle (soba or udon) and a wonderful mushroom broth. They also have mochi, a Japanese vegan dessert. The food here is home-made and while you can't watch them slice it up in front of you, you can certainly savor its flavor and expand your palate.

Tiger Sushi is an embarrassment to Minneapolis and a sad addition to the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. They should have opened a location in another suburban shopping mall so they could better cater to their core audience. As it stands, they fall woefully short of the quality and innovation of their nearest competition (namely moto-i) but their true crime is homogenizing and bastardizing a cool neighborhood.

Tracy's Saloon in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 5 10

rating star

Tracy's is a simple neighborhood bar and it happens to have a few vegan options. I had their home-made veggie burger (all-American style, though there are a few other varieties) which was not bad. I liked the taste of the patty (though it was a bit soft and crumbly), but I was less impressed with the industrial-grade lettuce, tomato and white-flour bun they used.

The fries were good.

Tracy's also has a tempeh reuben, a mock duck curry and a tempeh hash (on the weekends).

I'm not sure why they don't serve any tofu dishes (how about a fried tofu burrito, or a tofu scramble?); it's especially strange because they do have tempeh. A seitan/mock duck sandwich or burger would be great as well.

Space around the bar is cramped and the beer selection isn't all that great, but I like that Tracy's is trying to hold its own against Pizza Luce and Triple Rock, which are the two nearest ultra vegan-friendly bar/restaurants. If Tracy's added a few more thoughtful and varied vegan options I'd be back often.

Trader Joe's in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Dec 3 08

rating star

Ah, Trader Joe's. Since moving to Minneapolis, a city with so many co-ops, I don't need Trader Joe's the way I used to, when I lived in the suburbs of Chicago.

But I can still always rely on Trader Joe's to offer low prices on soy and rice milks, as well as make unusual and tasty pre-packaged goods like their artichoke dips.

I also really love their store-brand mango-vanilla soy ice cream, which is dirt cheap and arguably better than brands you find elsewhere.

Most of all, I just like the vibe in Trader Joe's. It's casual, fun and sort of post-hippie, but still earthy enough to keep you interested.

Triple Rock Social Club in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 5 08

rating star

Triple Rock is a punk-rock bar with lots of beer, music, atmosphere and a large menu featuring numerous vegan comfort foods. On the weekends they have breakfast items like tofu scramblers and pancakes with vegan sausage; in the evenings they have various sandwiches, nachos, fries and other greasy-spoon vegan options. The service is super-friendly and fast. Prices are all under $10 for most items. Seating might get limited if you have a big group, especially at night. All in all this is a great place with an appreciated focus on accommodating vegans.

True Thai in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 26 08

rating star

Update: Since my initial review on March 13, 2008 I've been to True Thai four or five more times. I've noticed that the quality of the food and the service decreased each time I visited; the waiters seemed to get less friendly and the food seemed to taste worse and worse. The curries tasted burnt and the stir-frys were watery and bland.

I am also deeply concerned about allegations that the curries at True Thai are NEVER vegan and cannot be made vegan. The waiters and the female owner assured me that there was no fish sauce or shrimp/anchovy paste in the curries but the September 24 review by 'vegout' worries me. On the other hand, 'vegout' only posted that one review and hasn't been heard from since, meaning he/she might just have a grudge. But it's worrisome nonetheless.

Personally, I am putting a moratorium on this restaurant until I can find out for sure about their vegan policy. Below is my original review:

True Thai has some of the best Thai I've had in the Twin Cities, with a caveat for vegans and vegetarians listed below. Having lived in Thailand, and having been to at least 100 or more Thai restaurants around the world, I know what Thai food should taste like, and this place is awfully close to the real deal. Ingredients are fresh and light, well-spiced, colorful and fragrant. Prices are reasonable (in the $8-10 range) and they offer unusual options, such as curry puffs (similar to Indian samosas) and a tamarind stir-fry.

My only gripe is this: the menu doesn't clearly list what is and isn't vegan and I'm always suspicious of places when I have to tell them "no fish or oyster sauce or shrimp/anchovy paste." The waiters should tell us outright that some dishes use fish sauce, lest many innocent veg*ns make a false assumption and end up eating fish bladder. True Thai's curries can be made vegan, though if they're using pre-made curry pastes, it might have some sort of fish already mashed into it---the waiters seemed to be on top of this when I asked, but given the hustle and bustle of the place, I'm worried "no fish/oyster/shrimp sauce" specifications might get lost in the frantic kitchen somewhere. So that's my caveat: the food is good, but as a vegan, I'm skeptical of their commitment to me.

I've been to True Thai twice, on a Monday and Wednesday, and both times the place was packed (mostly with university students and professors). That said, we only had to wait five or ten minutes for a table. Service is prompt and friendly, if also hurried. Street parking isn't difficult to find in the area.

Tum Rup Thai in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 22 08

rating star

This place is decent, at best. The service is friendly and prompt. The decor inside is okay, but nothing special. Prices are pretty low for vegan dishes (under $10). But the food is nothing special. The sweet green curry was a bit too sweet and had no zing. The basil stir-fry (horapa) was decent, but nothing I couldn't make at home---it was just vegetables stir fried in soy sauce with some basil.

I fit this place in a category of lounge-like Thai joints which have mediocre food which, while better than the food in a chain restaurant, is still nothing to rave about. This is the sort of joint that will attract ex-sorority girls and frat boys who have some semblance of taste not to patronize Famous Dave's, but not enough taste to eat on Nicollet. Mediocre Thai or East Asian food is a sin in the Twin Cities, where one can find some of the most spectacular Vietnamese and vegan Chinese food in the country (I'm thinking of Jasmine Deli/Jasmine 26 and Evergreen Restaurant). As such, Tum Rup Thai is to be welcomed for not being a steak joint in Uptown, but it's to be derided for not being anything better than average.

The Vegetarian in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 1 09

rating star

UPDATE: The food here just isn't doing it for me the way it used to. It's still acceptable, and better than your average strip-mall Indian buffet in Bloomington, but lately the dishes here seem a bit too oily and hastily prepared. And the total lack of ambience and decor in the restaurant, while normally not an issue for me, is starting to stand out now that the food quality has decreased. I'd much rather go to Delights of India instead, which is brighter, fresher and has better food.

ORIGINAL review: The Vegetarian has extremely friendly service and a simple menu of basic, honest Indian food. Its specialty is South Indian cooking, but they also have some North Indian standards. Everything that is vegan is clearly marked on the menu and the kitchen is more than willing to modify some dishes to make them vegan, should you wish. The prices are reasonable, too. Overall, a recommended restaurant.

Vera's Cafe in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 1 08

rating star

This place has nice atmosphere, some outdoor seating and live music, but it otherwise has almost no vegan food items. This is a bit galling as nearly every other cafe in the extended Uptown area offers at least pre-packaged vegan cookies, if nothing else. But Vera's doesn't even make that effort. In my opinion, I'd rather go to Caffetto (corner of 22nd St. and Lyndale) or even just get tea and appetizers are some place like Jasmine Deli, Namaste Cafe, Galactic Pizza or Pizza Luce. Vera's doesn't offer anything special and doesn't even try to have vegan items.

Village Wok in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Mar 31 09

rating star

Sure, Village Wok is greasy, gooey, MSG-laden and buried in corn starch. But as an American Chinese food restaurant, it has inexplicable appeal and also has a huge selection of vegan dishes with the option for mock chicken and mock fish, in addition to ubiquitous standards such as tofu and mock duck.

Warning: Make sure to ask for your dish to be prepared without chicken broth; the menu has a "vegetarian" section but then indicates that you should tell your waiter if you want a dish made without MSG or chicken broth. At least they're upfront about ingredients. My waitress used the word "vegan" without any prompt from me, which was encouraging. I do find it frustrating that chicken broth is somehow considered vegetarian by Village Wok.

I had a mock chicken curry ($8.95) which was a savory, messy dish full of green onions, carrots, water chestnuts and unusual mock chicken. I'm not sure where they got their mock chicken from, but it's pretty realistic and reminded me of just a tad dry, day-old chicken. They also don't scrimp on the portion size. The taste was passable, and probably something I'd appreciate better at a late hour after drinking a few beers. That said, I'd be curious to try some of their other tofu and mock fish dishes.

The place is a low-scale, low-lit dive-esque place, but still was bustling when I went on a Tuesday afternoon.

The service was pretty friendly and attentive (with free tea, like old-school Chinese restaurants back in the day), though my order took nearly 20 minutes to arrive.

Village Wok is no Evergreen, but I appreciate that it offers unusual mockmeats and has such a large array of choices. The food wasn't terrible, but it doesn't stand out; my three-star rating rests primarily on the restaurant's long hours, mockmeats and scrappy mentality.

Vinh Loi in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Sep 23 08

rating star

This place used to be a Vietnamese BBQ with dead animals hanging in the window. So I was pleasantly surprised to walk inside and see a cleaned up, if depressingly utilitarian, interior.

The new owners have revamped the menu and added a substantial number of Thai dishes. In order to get a sense of the quality of this place, I ordered a mock duck sandwich (banh mi), and was impressed by the soft baguette and fresh ingredients served to me. It's definitely on-par with Jasmine Deli's legendary mock duck sandwich, though Vinh Loi falls short because it doesn't offer a spicier, "curry mock duck" option like Jasmine does. Vinh Loi's tofu banh mi was also tasty.

I also had a lemongrass rice noodle dish with fried tofu. It was wonderfully fresh, light and simple. It was also perfectly spiced. I didn't get any sense of excess oil use or cornstarch in the sauce---this felt like home-cooking. The portion size was fairly large and good for left-overs.

Sadly, their Thai food can only be described as pedestrian. It fits in the category of "Thai-lite", which is a shame, because all of the other Thai restaurants in Uptown are equally mediocre: most, but not all, of the ingredients are in place, and the flavors and actual preparation are far off from what Thai food is supposed to be. Stick to Vinh Loi's Vietnamese dishes.

The service was friendly and my waiter helpfully informed me that most of the menu can be made vegan, and that the Vietnamese dishes don't contain fish sauce (the cook doesn't like fish sauce in the Vietnamese dishes, but she uses them in the Thai dishes, so make sure to ask). I just wish they would be more explicit and list the vegan options, or create a separate vegan menu.

Prices are reasonable ($7-9 for the Vietnamese food, $9-12 for the Thai and $3 for a mock duck sandwich).

W.A. Frost and Company in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jul 5 10

rating star

This place gives you an awesome, authentic St. Paul experience. For one thing, it's in lovely Cathedral Hill and it's in a building from the 1880s. This is about as historic as it gets in the Twin Cities.

The outdoor patio is large, cozy, well-shaded and quiet. It's a great place to hang out and get a drink in the afternoon or to have a romantic dinner.

The downstairs lounge is awesome. It has a number of intimate, low-lit nooks with comfortable chairs; old paintings of St. Paul line the walls and the air temperature has a delicious chill to it (maybe because it's a basement).

Now onto the food and drinks. The drink menu is enormous with a number of unusual local and international beers, and hundreds and hundreds of different wines. All the cocktail and beer prices are reasonable, and happy hour prices are even better ($4-7 range).

Food-wise, there are actually some decent options for vegans. A number of small dishes can be made vegan (such as a chilled soba salad); for main courses, they had a portobello burger ($10) and a tofu dish ($10 on the bar menu, $17 on the regular dinner menu), both of which were easily veganizable. The burger was really great, with toasted ciabatta bread and great seasoning and veggies; the tofu was also wonderful (it consisted of two seared pieces of tofu in a garlic broth with bok choy and unusual mushrooms).

The service was top-notch, knowledgeable and friendly. Our server even came back to our table to let us know that the fries are made in the same fryer where non-veg items are prepared and immediately offered to find a substitute for us, if we wanted. We didn't care, but we all appreciated the level of detail that the kitchen and staff go to in order to accommodate vegans and vegetarians.

Come to W.A. Frost for drinks, ambience and unusual, well-made vegan dishes.

Wally's Falafel and Hummus in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 2 10

rating star

Wally's has excellent falafel and Middle Eastern dishes at disgustingly low prices. I'm still shocked that you can find food this good, for prices that low, in this day and age.

I first had a falafel sandwich ($2.99) which was superb: lightly toasted pita, fresh tahini, cucumbers and tomatoes, along with wonderfully seasoned falafel pieces. It was a substantial, delicious meal at the lowest price I've ever seen for a falafel sandwich in the US.

You can also upgrade your sandwich with eggplant, fried potatoes and cauliflower for a measly $1 more.

Given how great the falafel was, I decided to stick around and order some baba ganouge ($2.99). It was also excellent. It was presented in a beautiful way, on an actual plate (other places in this price range serve stuff on styrofoam), with six warm, soft slices of pita. I think the baba ganouge could have been roasted slightly more, but it was still wonderfully tart.

I went back later for their foule appetizer ($2.99) and lentil soup ($2.99) both of which are vegan by default. The lentil soup was thick and savory, but not over-salted. It was hearty in a way you don't see often enough (Babani's in St. Paul comes close) and definitely hit the spot for a frigid winter day.

The foule was also a wonderful dish, consisting of beans, olive oil, herbs and spices, along with some soft, warm pita. Foule is made specifically from fava beans and you don't see the dish that often on menus in the US. It's a great, refreshing alternative to ubiquitous options like hummus or baba ganouj (both of which can be great, but are also over-played).

The service was friendly and I'm impressed that they accept credit cards given how low their prices are. The hours are great, too, as Wally's is open pretty much all day from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Great for lunch or a super-late-night snack.

My only gripes would be that Wally's doesn't offer whole wheat pita as an option and that they don't have any vegan desserts.

Other than that, this is unusually high-grade food, served with care and delicacy, at unbelievable prices. Wally's is highly recommended.

The Wedge Co-op in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Oct 21 08

rating star

I love The Wedge. First and foremost it is a community gathering spot and you constantly run into friends there. It represents the liberal, progressive and intelligent nature of the community perfectly. It eliminated plastic bags early in 2008 and most of the customers are conscientious enough to bring their own bags. The staff is consistently cool and helpful and fun to chat with. If you're a member ($80 gets you four shares in the Co-op, along with yearly dividend payments based on your total purchases) you can get good discounts and access to cooking classes and other cool stuff.

The store carries everything you could possibly need, including obscure types of brown sugar and vegan baking ingredients, multiple vegan cheeses, Toffuti cream cheese, three or four brands of tofu and tempeh, six or seven brands of vegan ice creams and non-dairy desserts (soy, rice, oats, coconut, sorbet), multiple brands of vegan deli meats, three brands of soy yogurt and half a dozen different types of non-dairy milks (soy, rice, hemp, almond, etc.). They also carry four or five varieties of veggie burgers.

Their deli/cafe area seems to have gotten much better since I first started going there in October 2007. Today, a year later, they have a vegan burrito, portobella burger and tofu/tempeh sandwich options, in addition to at least two or three hot vegan dishes cooked daily (curries, dals, seitan stews, etc.). I find their sandwiches and deli items to be tasty, fresh and fairly cheap, but their hot cooked items tend to be expensive ($8 per pound) and a bit bland and boring. Make sure to try a sample before ordering anything.

Their baked good section is a rock-solid vegan haven. They always have three or four different types of cakes/pies, in addition to truffle balls, four types of muffins/cupcakes, as well as three types of cookies, and also macaroons and simple things like pumpkin bread or banana bread. Every once in a while they have key lime coconut pie (heavenly), chocolate mousse pie (decadent beyond belief), and cheesecake (crave-inducing). Their cooler section also has wonderful vegan tapioca pudding (made with coconut milk and sugar) and German cake.

I just recently discovered their smoothies and shakes which are unbelievably delicious, though probably calorie-laden. That said, they're cheap at around $4 a pop (in comparison, TAO Cafe on Hennepin charges $7 for the same size soy-banana-chocolate-ice cream smoothie).

I've probably gained 15 pounds because of the continuous, easy access to delicious, varied vegan foods I have there.

My only gripe (and it's not a trivial one): prices are generally higher at The Wedge, though you do get much better quality foods than you would at a mainstream grocery store. But organic produce at The Wedge tends to break the bank---for instance, they'll charge you $2 a pound for green peppers, whereas as Rainbow/Lunds you could get organic for $1.25. Non-organic would be under $1. In other words, produce tends to cost twice as much as elsewhere.

In the end, though, The Wedge is a special place. If I ever leave Minneapolis, it's the first place I'll miss.

Whole Foods Market in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Jan 29 10

rating star

I think this Whole Foods has a good selection of vegan packaged goods (such as soy/rice/coconut milks, mockmeats, and desserts). The prices are pretty decent on vegan items as well (for example, Field Roast sausages are only $4.99 here, as opposed to $6.59 at The Wedge).

However, it has a mediocre hot foods section. It only has a few, bland-tasting vegan dishes; their hot wok Asian area is a tad overpriced and also too processed-industrialized in its offerings (tofu teriyaki bowl, etc.).

That said, they do have a wonderful vegan pizza (slices cost about $3 or you can get a whole fresh pie for $12 Thurs-Tues, and $10 on Wednesdays). The pizza comes loaded with tons of vegetables, including spinach, bell peppers, garlic and olives and is made on a delicious whole wheat crust.

This store also has at least three or four high quality vegan desserts, including vegan cakes and cookies from The Chicago Diner. This makes the place serviceable.

Parking is difficult as it's a small lot in a confusing, busy 3-way intersection.

Whole Foods Market in Twin Cities, Minnesota
May 10 09

rating star

This Whole Foods is smaller and cozier than the Minneapolis location, but it also has a smaller selection of pretty much everything. There aren't as many mockmeat options, the hot bar doesn't have as many vegan items, and the bakery has only one or two vegan cakes, and only one or two Chicago Diner offerings (the Minneapolis location has double the bakery offerings).

It's a nice bike ride from Minneapolis, though.

The Wienery in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 23 10

rating star

This is a super-tiny, old-school, barely-up-to-code joint serving burgers, fries and hot dogs. Vegans will find some dishes of interest here, however. They offer vegan hot dogs (which made be made a dozen different ways, with different toppings), a mock duck philly (without cheese if you're vegan), and a home-made blackbean burger. The fries are also famous here.

The first time I came I had the mock duck philly ($5) without cheese. It wasn't great. For one thing, I could still taste the can that the mock duck had been sitting in (this is a common problem with mock duck; better to switch to seitan bought at a co-op, or made yourself). Also, a philly without cheese is not a philly; that said, there's a great vegan cheese available (at Whole Foods and at Galactic Pizza and Z Pizza), Daiya, which would work well enough. Or, for that matter, an herbed, nut-based "cheese," like the "rinotta" offered at Pizza Luce, would be excellent. Lastly, the bun it came on was one of those ungodly soft, spongy and white pieces of bread that so many Minnesotans love, but I love to hate. Give me a whole-wheat, flaky sub roll over fake white bread any day.

The hand-cut fries ($1.75 for one potato's worth) were okay, but not great. Somehow I found them bland and boring. For great golden marvels, check out McCoy's Public House in St. Louis Park, or The Loop in Minneapolis.

The next time I came I had the home-made blackbean burger ($3). I got some grilled peppers and onions added to it ($0.50). This was pretty tasty and a great value at under $4. For one thing, the blackbean patty had a spicy kick to it. Secondly, the bun was whole-wheat, and not white. Third, the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh and not cafeteria-grade. The burger just worked and had heft and taste to it for an amazingly low price; my only gripe, and it's a minor one, was that the patty didn't hold together and fell apart the more bites I took.

The service is extremely friendly and casual. If The Wienery had more vegan options (namely things like tofu scramble, vegan cheeses, and vegan sausages from Field Roast) I'd be back there more often. As it stands, this is a great spot to get a quick, cheap and tasty vegan burger.

Z Pizza in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Aug 2 09

rating star

We finally have a vegan cheese that can please both vegans and non-vegans alike: Daiya. Made from cassava root, this cheese actually melts, stretches and looks and tastes like real cheese (and it's soy-, rice-, gluten- and casein-free). ZPizza in Roseville is, as far as I know, the first place in Minnesota to offer it.

I don't remember the last time I was so excited to try a new vegan product. We ordered an extra large "Berkeley Soy Cheese" pizza ($20; note the names of the pizzas haven't yet been changed to reflect Daiya's arrival, but ZPizza no longer offers soy cheese). It came loaded with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms and vegan sausage crumbles; we also asked them to leave off the pesto, which is not vegan.

The pizza was good. Quite good. The vegetables were fresh, the sauce was flavorful, the crush was light and thin (though not as good as Galactic Pizza's crusts) and the Daiya cheese took me back to a world I had forgotten. On a whole, the quality of the pizza here is about equal to that of Galactic or Pizza Luce.

Daiya is an excellent vegan replica of cheese, and much better than any other vegan cheese on the market. It would also be, I suspect, happily consumed by non-vegans, as it has a tangy, authentic taste and texture. It's definitely a signpost in the road: the vegan world is becoming complete and we're turning the corner on cheese.

So, while the Daiya cheese is great, and worth a drive to Roseville, I do have some issues with ZPizza itself: the restaurant at first looks sort of modern and nice, but it seems tackier the longer you stay, and functions more like a dinky mom-and-pop joint, with paper plates, flimsy non-compostable plastic utensils and fountain soda. This is the type of place you'd go to after your kid's tee-ball game. I was expecting something a bit classier, such as actual silverware and table service. This is especially galling, as ZPizza proudly claims, "We use environmentally friendly packaging." With paper plates and plastic forks that go straight into the trash? That's not even greenwashing, that's just outright lying.

However, the prices here are good (cheaper than Pizza Luce or Galactic for the amount of food offered), and the Daiya option alone makes it stand out. I wouldn't want to come here to sit and eat, but I could definitely do take-out.

ZPizza delivers to a five-mile radius, and while that includes Dinkytown and the East Bank, it pretty much skips the rest of Minneapolis, and the trendier areas of St. Paul (south of I-94).

Also, for a limited time, ZPizza offers buy one get one free on large pizzas, but only on Mondays and Tuesdays, which is a pretty remarkable deal.

ZPizza has much room to improve, but I applaud them for making Daiya readily available across the country. Vegans, come here to taste the shape of things to come in the cheese-world.

Zen Asian Contemporary in Twin Cities, Minnesota
Apr 22 09

rating star

What utter mediocrity. In a city with no shortage of innovative, delicious East Asian food, Zen Asia thinks it can serve bland, unfocused food and slide by with its track lighting and romantic decor.

I came here for lunch and had a hard time figuring out what was vegan. Choices are limited and seem to comprise a "greatest hits" package of East Asian food: tempura; curry; pho; and all-purpose stir-fry. Instead of focusing on one cuisine and doing it well, Zen Asia wants to pursue a pan-Asian approach, which doesn't necessarily mean failure, but in this case, it does.

I ended up with a tofu stir-fry with mixed vegetables in a garlic-wine sauce ($9). The food was oily and bland, like the most basic stir-fry you've ever tasted in your life. Also, they don't offer brown rice. I found myself struggling to finish my meal and I was kicking myself for not getting a real meal at nearby Galactic Pizza, moto-i, or Pizza Luce.

The decor at Zen Asia is kind of upscale and loft-esque, but the restaurant is too vast and spread-out (also, what's the deal with the carpet?). It's not a place I'd take a date, and there's no bar. The air inside was horribly dry and stuffy and the place smelled like a cross between the shoe section of a sports store and a Lysol-soaked model condo.

My food took over 25 minutes to arrive, even though I was the only person in the restaurant. I must admit the service was extremely friendly and helpful; I felt sorry for my waitress, who was very sweet and attentive and did her best to accommodate my vegan diet, even though (from what I could hear from the kitchen) the cooks didn't seem to care.

If you're looking for good Asian food in a posh environment, go to Jasmine 26 or Rainbow instead. If you just want a good Asian meal, go to Jasmine 26 or Evergreen.

Brody's Bakery in Kansas City, Missouri
Mar 4 10

rating star

Brody's Bakery makes superb, rich, decadent vegan baked goods. Best of all, Brody's manages to replicate the flavors of your childhood, albeit in an animal-friendly way!

Full disclosure: the owner of the shop sent me some free samples. That said, I shared these treats with about a dozen other people and everyone loved them.

To start, the spiced sweet potato cookies were wonderful. I'd never had a sweet potato cookie before, but now I'll look for them everywhere; Brody's manages to make the cookie reminiscent of a pecan sandie, but then dazzles you with a soft, chewy texture, and bits of bright color from the sweet potato.

The chocolate almond truffles were rich, dense and delicious. At least three people who tried these could only say, "Wow." I especially like the almond shavings that coat each truffle.

The peanut butter chocolate cheesecake (with chocolate-covered espresso beans) was filling, rich and remarkably subdued in terms of peanut butter flavor. Most everyone agreed that this was a good thing---all the flavors, from the peanut butter to the chocolate to the espresso, had a chance to interact. While this dessert was delicious, I don't really consider it a "cheesecake" as its texture and flavor reminded me more of a pie; it didn't have the look or feel of a cheesecake, vegan or otherwise.

Lastly, the oatmeal pies were phenomenal. These marvels will remind you of Little Debbie snack cakes. I loved the chewy oatmeal cookies and the toffuti cream filling was sweet and drool-worthy.

Brody's is a gem. I hope they open a retail location to show the world how good vegan baked goods can be.

Eden Alley Cafe and Catering in Kansas City, Missouri
Mar 20 10

rating star

Wow, this is a cool place. It's one of those institutional vegetarian joints that's hip, smart and always in the groove.

The menu here is entirely vegetarian and mostly vegan and they also have different dine-in and dessert specials daily.

I started off with a single taco ($5.50) which came with a large helping of brown rice and a small side salad. The taco itself was amazing with succulent, marinated tvp and the best cashew "cheese" I've ever had. We vegans should drop the soy cheese and even Daiya, because these nut cheeses, when done properly, can work wonders.

I like that they allow single servings of many of their items, including tacos, falafel, and a few other options. It's nice to be able to get a variety of things. I'd love to see them offer a combo platter at some point.

For my main course I had their veggie burger ($10). I was not as impressed with the burger. It tasted decent on a whole, but the individual components needed work. For example, the veggie patty was bland and flavorless on its own (I think it was corn- and carrot-based). The bun was passable. The aioli they slathered on the bun and the lettuce was tasty, but they put way too much on the burger, making all the greens slide out of the thing and plop onto my plate. To improve the burger, I'd suggest a tvp patty (not unlike the delicious tvp used in the taco), with avocado and mushrooms added to the burger. Fries would be nice, too.

For dessert I had a slice of their "Pollock" cake ($6), a coconut-vanilla-chocolate chip delight. The flavor on this thing was great and the slice itself was gigantic. My only minor tweak would be to find a way to make it a little less dense, and a bit more airy and fluffy, if at all possible. Otherwise, it's a heavy monster.

The service was fast, friendly and gracious. The decor and ambiance were both great: Eden Alley has a huge, warehouse-style setup with high ceilings and excellent use of lighting and colors. It also has an art gallery/store near the front. This would be a good place to take a date.

Eden Alley won me over and I look forward to returning.

Little Monster Cakes in Kansas City, Missouri
Aug 29 10

rating star

Little Monster Cakes makes stunning cupcakes and donuts. Their donuts, in particular, are marvels of baking brilliance; they're heavy, got that perfect balance between softness and chewiness, and come in a variety of great flavors (think coconut, agave, caramel and even a pink-colored Homer Simpson donut).

Their cupcakes, too, are wonderful. They're moist, fluffy and never too sugary or buttery. I've tried both their gluten-free and regular varieties and I'd take either quite happily.

Best of all, they use spelt to make their products. This gives each cupcake and donut a more substantial flavor; better yet, you don't feel quite as guilty about eating them because spelt is a wholegrain.

I can't recommend Little Monster Cakes enough. Check them out at the Upper State Street Farmers Market on Saturdays or get their stuff at Fuel Coffee Shop, both in New Haven.

Cafe Indigo in Concord, New Hampshire
May 25 12

rating star

What an unusual and tasty cafe! What I love about Cafe Indigo is that they do all of their food from scratch---their bread is made on site, as is their seitan, and obviously the famous carrot cake. You rarely see restaurants go to such lengths; most are happy to just use the pre-made stuff their distributor sells to them. Cafe Indigo takes no shortcuts and the payoff is big.

I had the pepper steak sandwich on their home-made whole wheat bread ($9) as my lunch. The bread and the seitan were both high-grade and well-done. I think the portion size was small, though, and I could have done without the blue tortilla chips and the tasty (but irrelevant) side of cole slaw that came with it.

For dessert I had a slice of the carrot cake ($3.75) and a mini chocolate ganache cupcake ($0.75). The former was excellent and lived up to the hype: moist, not too sweet, and not too carrot-y. The chocolate ganache cupcake, however, was dense and dry and not great.

The service is friendly. You place your order up front and then go sit down. It took me a moment to realize that.

Lastly, the cafe is in a weird location. It appears to be in a suburban storage complex with a bunch of non-food businesses, which probably keeps the rent down, but also might limit the customer base (no one would ever guess that there's a cafe amidst a bunch of warehouses and karate studios).

All in all, I applaud Cafe Indigo for going the extra mile and serving tasty food that takes no shortcuts. It's rare in this world.

Gamil's in Concord, New Hampshire
May 27 12

rating star

This is a run-down Middle Eastern joint with friendly service and an ample array of labeled vegan dishes. There are no surprises here---you'll find falafel, hummus, baba ganouj and a lentil soup---but at least you get some tasty and inexpensive food.

I tried some falafel balls and baba ganouj. The falafel balls themselves were nicely seasoned and had a bold, smoky flavor. Aside from the unusual mix of spices used at Gamil's, they also make their falafel in a slightly different way, with a mixture of chickpea and fava bean flour. The fava beans make for a great addition to the taste.

The baba ganouj was okay, but not great. I would have preferred a more smoked eggplant flavor and this one just didn't have it.

Gamil's is cash-only and they don't have any vegan desserts, but otherwise this is a nice spot.

The Dirt Cowboy Cafe in Hanover, New Hampshire
Nov 26 08

rating star

This is a nice, quaint little cafe just off of Dartmouth's campus. I used to go here if I had out of town guests that weren't too keen on getting Dartmouth cafeteria coffee. The drinks were okay but nothing special (though their website says they'll be getting loose leaf teas soon). Go here for the ambience or if you just want to get out of the Dartmouth bubble for a few hours.

India Queen in Hanover, New Hampshire
Dec 19 08

rating star

India Queen, how do you stay in business? Your food is terrible so it must be the karaoke that keeps the masses happy.

I ate here a few times during my Dartmouth days but was consistently disappointed. The curry sauces tasted like the tomato paste you get out of a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli.

Go to Jewel of India, which is a block away, instead.

Jewel of India in Hanover, New Hampshire
Nov 26 08

rating star

Jewel of India is a fairly decent, standard North Indian restaurant. I liked their aloo gobi and their fried cheese pakora (which I no longer eat since becoming vegan).

The service was usually decent. But the last time I went there I actually had to send a dish back (my standard aloo gobi) because it just tasted awful. I'm not sure what was wrong with it, as I had ordered that dish multiple times before. The owner was not happy with me and gave me a dirty look and didn't attempt to replace the dish. I think I was black-listed from that point forward; fortunately, I was just a few weeks away from graduating, so it didn't really matter.

The ambience is sort of romantic/quiet/classy and I found this was a good place to take a professor for lunch. Back then, Dartmouth students could get a discount, but I'm not sure if they still have that promotion.

Mai Thai in Hanover, New Hampshire
Aug 4 08

rating star

I used to eat here all the time when I was a student at Dartmouth. Their curries and stir-frys are fresh and colorful and reasonably priced. They use nice, crisp tofu. Make sure to specify no fish sauce.

This is one of the few restaurants in Hanover that is good to take a date. It has a nice bar and overlooks downtown.

Service is friendly, though tends to be quite slow. Make sure to plan for long waits between sitting down, ordering and actually getting your meal.

Stella's in Lyme, New Hampshire
May 18 11

rating star

Stella's is one of the only places in the Upper Valley to offer an upscale atmosphere and specifically labeled vegan dishes.

I tried the penne pasta dish (one of two vegan dishes; $12.50). It was pretty basic: penne pasta with some vegetables in a tomato sauce. I thought the dish could have used more vegetables and more tomatoes; the whole thing came across as sparse, which is disappointing given the price of the dish.

If Stella's had more vegan options (how about some vegan cakes for dessert?) it could be a winner. As of right now it's just a nice place to get a drink and hang out with friends, but don't expect the food to wow you.

Cafe Momo in Manchester, New Hampshire
May 25 12

rating star

What a disappointing experience. I really love Nepalese food and I prefer its subtle use of spices, and the restrained use of oil, compared to half-brother, North Indian food.

I started off with an order of bamboo soup ($5) which consisted of a few bamboo strips, potato pieces, and bits of tvp in a tangy, spicy tomato broth. The soup tasted fine, but it seemed over-priced at $5.

I had wanted an order of momos (a Tibetan/Nepalese rice dumpling delicacy) but they were unwilling to make me a half order. You can only get this dish for $8 and you get eight momos with it. Well, if you're a single diner, eight momos seems excessive.

Given that they have a lunch menu, why not offer the momos and a soup in combination with the main dish? Alas, that would be logical, and Cafe Momo has no interest in that. Or it just wants to price-gouge you.

For my main course I got the lunch edition of the mushroom curry ($10). Cafe Momo doesn't have brown rice, so I asked to substitute their "herbed flat bread" instead, as I hate white rice. They wanted to charge me for this substitution, despite it being THEIR fault for lacking in whole grain or whole wheat alternatives. Fortunately for me, they seemed to forget about this when they gave me the actual bill.

Anyway, the curry sucked. It was basically a tomato pasta sauce with some white button mushrooms dumped in. And the portion size was tiny; you could get three times as much food, for the same price, at any stripmall Chinese joint, and the Chinese dish would probably taste much better as well.The mushroom curry was not only not memorable, but it didn't seem particularly Nepalese either (I could have gotten it at any Italian restaurant). The herbed flat bread was also mediocre and become rock-hard with ten minutes of me receiving the food.

The menu on the website doesn't quite match what's given to you at the restaurant, but it's close.

The service was friendly but unhelpful in making changes. I didn't like the drab, dark atmosphere of the cafe.

All told, Cafe Momo falls short in the following areas:

-overpriced food
-small portion sizes
-lack of labeling of vegan dishes (though most of the vegetarian dishes are vegan)
-lack of brown rice and whole wheat
-terrible decor
-unwillingness to make substitutions
-lack of vegan items (how about some soy chai? or some coconut pudding?)

I wanted to like Cafe Momo, but I can't really recommend it. It gets two stars because the food, while mediocre, wasn't a complete disaster. Also, Cafe Momo does offer a bit of food diversity in a town that otherwise has none.

Queen City Cupcakes in Manchester, New Hampshire
May 25 12

rating star

Queen City is a small bakery that does one type of vegan cupcake a day. The day I came they had an almond joy ($3.50) which was delicious: moist, not too sweet and an excellent array of textures with a soft cake base and a crunchy frosting (because of the coconut shreds).

If Queen City offered more than one type of vegan cupcake daily, and also had loose-leaf tea, it would warrant another star. That said, this place does seem seriously good vegan baked goods.

Republic in Manchester, New Hampshire
May 27 12

rating star

Republic is a hip bar-restaurant that offers some tasty, if over-priced, food and drinks. We had a wild mushroom flat bread made vegan by omitting the cheese ($9) and a vegetable tagine plate ($16).

The flatbread was really tasty and nicely seasoned. The crust, too, was perfectly chewy, with just a slight crispiness. While delicious, I felt the portion size didn't quite justify the price.

The tagine was pretty bland and boring, consisting of cous cous and eggplant slices in a tomato sauce. This dish ultimately lacked in flavor and didn't do it for me.

We also shared a mint spritzer which was delicious and superbly subtle.

Lastly, I had the vegan chocolate banana cake ($5) which came beautifully presented on the plate (with powdered sugar and pieces of finely sliced banana and strawberries) but didn't wow me. The cake itself was a tad too dry and had little actual chocolate flavor.

The service was friendly but inattentive. We placed a drink order which never arrived (nor did it show up on the bill, thankfully) and generally felt ignored by our waitress.

All told, Republic isn't a bad place, but it isn't a great one. If they had labeled vegan options, and offered some unusual, spicy dishes made with tofu or seitan, it would warrant them another star.

Meena's Kitchen in Nashua, New Hampshire
May 27 12

rating star

Meena's offers some of the finer, more delicate Indian food I've eaten in the US. And that's quite a compliment, because my parents are from India, and I've been eating Indian food for thirty years.

First and foremost, the food here isn't doused in oil and cream and butter. It doesn't make you hate yourself after eating it, like most generic North Indian restaurants make me want to do. Second, Meena's takes some risks and dares to break the mold of vegetarian Indian food by offering some unusual creations (especially vegan ones).

We started off with the samosas ($5 for two). These were delicious: crispy, golden and nicely seasoned on the inside. I liked that the potatoes and peas still had some crunch left to them and weren't overcooked.

We also had a "date shake" ($5). Here's one of those breaking-the-mold offerings. Basically, this was a drink consisting of dates, coconut milk and chai seasonings (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon). It was delicious, as you could imagine, but it was remarkable for one main reason: Meena's chose to use coconut milk instead of dairy milk to make this shake. I can count on a single hand the number of Indian restaurants in the US (and probably the entire world) which would have the ingenuity to do something like this, and effectively offer a vegan alternative to the normally dairy-heavy dessert/drink offerings of Indian food.

Next we had a "pesarattu" ($10) which is similar to a dosa. I really liked the taste of this, but I'm not sure it was a great value for the money.

I also got the day's "Six Course Meal" ($15) which is basically an all-you-can-eat thali. Instead of a buffet set-up, you instead get a set menu of six dishes and, after having tried all six, you can decide which dishes you want seconds or thirds or fourths of. When I went, five of the six dishes were vegan by default, and the final one (the dessert) could be made vegan. However, this isn't always the case, so make sure you can get at least four of the dishes made vegan.

I was really impressed with the spinach dosa, which was subtle and flavorful. I also liked the black daal curry. The daal mango soup was a bold choice and offered some strongly tart and delicious flavors. However, I wasn't too keen on the chickpea curry or the bhajia, both of which tasted pedestrian. The tapioca pudding dessert, which was made vegan for me by using coconut milk, was tasty but I wish they'd cooked the tapioca longer (it came out dry and starchy, rather than soft and chewy). That said, it's uber-rare to get a vegan dessert in an Indian restaurant. Lastly, the chapati was excellent: home-made and fresh and soft.

Meena's offers excellent, unusual and home-cooked Indian food with numerous vegan options. The service was friendly and helpful. My only suggestions for improvement would be to add even more vegan dishes (how about something with tofu or tempeh or seitan?) and take even more risks with the menu.

Coriander in Cherry Hill Area, New Jersey
Nov 20 11

rating star

This place serves pretty standard North Indian food and has the usual lunch buffet as well. I don't like buffets, but they didn't give me the option of ordering off the of menu, unfortunately.

The two vegan dishes in the buffet, the mixed vegetable curry, and the aloo methi (potato-fenugreek) were pretty solid dishes, however: not too oily and nicely spiced. Also, you don't see fenugreek often at Indian restaurants (unless it's buried in a seasoning).

If Coriander offered brown rice and some tofu or seitan dishes, it would warrant another star.

Green House Vegetarian in Cherry Hill Area, New Jersey
Nov 20 11

rating star

Green House is a dimly-lit, long and narrow Chinese joint filled with vinyl booths. Not exactly downscale, but not really a place to take a date, either.

On the other hand, the food is above average and has some unusual options. I had the dried bamboo shoot with fried tofu (~$10) and the sha cha potato (~$10). The dried bamboo dish came wonderfully presented, with fried tofu pockets lining the edges of the plate, and the bamboo thrown in the middle. The bamboo had a fermented taste that mixed well with the black pepper-covered tofu pockets.

The sha cha potato, which is an unusual offering, consisted of skillet-fried potatoes with a spicy, savory sauce. I liked this dish but it's a better one to share with people, alongside other dishes. This dish could be pretty boring on its own, though.

I like that they have brown rice and the service was friendly. If you're looking for a tasty, unusual Chinese meal, Green House merits a visit.

Autumn Leaves Used Books in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

This is a hippie cafe located on the second floor of a used bookshop on the Ithaca Commons. While they do offer vegan bacon and seitan, their sandwich/panini choices looked really dull and it wasn't clear to me that they could do quality vegan versions of their egg-fish-and-cheese-heavy standards. The cafe is pretty basic.

Unfortunately, they don't offer vegan breakfast sandwiches or even the option to substitute tofu for egg in many of their sandwiches and dishes, which seemed surprising to me, given that they do offer seitan and vegan bacon.

I did get a vegan cookie from them ($2.70 with tax) which was pretty dry, hard and not terribly tasty.

While I enjoy the vibe at this place, it's currently not up to snuff. Add some vegan breakfast sandwiches, veganaise and egg substitutions and I might come back.

Giving Tree Cafe in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

Giving Tree is the new, collectively-run vegetarian cafe in town, occupying the space formerly used by the ABC Cafe.

This place definitely has the vibe of a collectively-run joint; it's just slightly decayed, and the service isn't particularly fast or inspiring. That said, it's a friendly place.

Note: while the cafe opens at 9 a.m., they don't actually start serving food until 11 a.m., which was frustrating to find out. It basically means that, if you're vegan in Ithaca, you can't eat at any veg-focused place before 11 a.m. on a weekday.

I had a chocolate chip cookie ($2) which was decent, but could have been softer, or at least heated slightly to make it softer.

I also had an almond nirvana ($2.75) which is a soy and rice steamer made with almond essence. It was really tasty, and you get 12 oz. of it, which isn't too shabby.

Lastly, I had a Mex Burger ($8.75) which is a home-made veggie patty (using Ithaca Soy's fresh, local tofu). They topped it with Daiya cheese and a home-made salsa. The salsa and cheese combo didn't quite work for me. I would have preferred the burger be topped with avocado slices and a fresh pico de gallo.

The burger patty itself was on the blander side; also, the texture was too spongy and chewy. The bun suffered from the same issue. In the future, I'd order the seitan sandwich instead (which is made from locally-produced seitan).

This is not a bad cafe and is a cool spot. I like what they're trying to do and it seems like they're still working things out (they opened in January 2010). I definitely think they should serve food earlier in the day, and hone their recipes a bit further. All that said, I will definitely visit again.

Greenstar Oasis in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

This is a great shop located centrally in downtown Ithaca (unlike the larger co-op which is a bit of a hike from downtown). Aside from stocking every vegan staple you could ever want, they also have a variety of vegan baked goods, and made-to-order vegan sandwiches. For people on-the-go they have vegan breakfast burritos and stuff of that kind rotating under heat lamps, ready to take to class.

I got a small chocolate-orange cake ($3.25) which was really good: moist, richly chocolate-y and subdued hints of orange.

Come here to stock up on groceries or get a quick meal. They have seating for about 10-15 people as well.

Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

Most people think Moosewood is hit-or-miss and I must agree. While I appreciate that it's an institution, and a founding father in the vegetarian restaurant world, it has much room for improvement, if it wants to stay relevant.

For one thing, it's an old-school 1970s "vegetarian" place, meaning it's not actually vegetarian (it serves fish) and isn't overly vegan-friendly by any means. Menu offerings change daily, and what they serve tends to be international in focus; this sounds great, except that stews, dals and dishes of that kind are today so mainstream and ubiquitous, that they hold little appeal, in my opinion.

I started with a guacamole appetizer ($6) which was tasty, but pricey.

I had a Moroccan stew ($15) for my main course, sadly, at it was the only vegan dish available the day I visited. It consisted of potatoes, zucchini and green onions in a vegetable broth, and was served with a chunk of dry corn bread. It also came with a simple house salad covered in a miso-ginger dressing (which was excellent). The stew was pretty lame, though, and way too basic to be worth $15. It lacked any real flavor or zing.

This might have been acceptable vegetarian fare in 1975, but it doesn't pass muster in an age of soy ice cream, Gardein chicken and Daiya cheese.

Why can't Moosewood make its own seitan sandwich? Or a tofu taco or home-made burger? Or, if Moosewood looks down on mockmeats, why not try to replicate some of the smart, gourmet dishes offered by places like Horizons (in Philadelphia) or Millennium (in San Francisco)?

Ultimately, Moosewood can't really compete. It's not vegan-friendly enough to cater to modern vegans and vegetarians accustomed to better, heartier, smarter fare; and it's not sophisticated enough to do battle with really upscale vegetarian and vegan restaurants that have internationally-renowned chefs. It sits in a tepid middle ground, and is hopelessly trapped in the 1970s.

Shortstop Deli in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

Shortstop Deli is a food counter located inside a grimy convenience store. They only have a couple vegan options (namely the vegan burger and a seitan sandwich), but it's good enough, considering that they're cheap, fast and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

I had a seitan sandwich ($6.43 with tax) (which you can customize by filling out a card). I got it with just basic vegetables (lettuce, onions, tomatoes) and no condiments. Also, they have a wholewheat bread option, which I took.

The sandwich was pretty damn good. It's kind of small, but it was stuffed with finely-shredded, high-grade seitan. It looked and tasted uncannily like roast beef, which is a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes. I really loved that they caramelized the onions, which added a more complex flavor to what could have been a simple dish; I also greatly enjoyed the wholewheat bread, which was fluffy, fresh and just felt substantial. It wasn't throwaway bread you get on a shelf in the grocery store.

All in all, this is a good place to get a quick, tasty meal. I can't wait to try their vegan burger. If they had more vegan options, I'd give them another star.

Viva Cantina in Ithaca & Finger Lakes, New York
Mar 3 10

rating star

Viva Cantina is a bar-restaurant with a quick serve area on one side, and a sit-down area on the other.

I came and had a tofu burrito (~$7) which was pretty good, filling and relatively cheap. It's definitely superior than Chipotle, for reference's sake.

For one thing, the salsa in the interior of the burrito is fresh and spicy. Also, the tofu is excellent: firm and fresh. Like many places in Ithaca, Viva Cantina gets its tofu from the local tofu shop, Ithaca Soy. This makes a huge difference in terms of taste and quality. If you've never had fresh tofu before, this will be a revelation.

My main suggestions for improvement: Viva Cantina should offer seitan tacos (there's an Ithaca-based seitan maker, as well), fried tofu tacos, tofu sour cream and other veganized standards. That would go a long way toward making the place more interesting and worthy of multiple visits.

Pure City in Pine Bush, New York
May 9 11

rating star

Unfortunately, Pure City didn't do it for me. It's a vegetarian Chinese restaurant off-the-beaten-path, and definitely an unexpected find in the middle-of-nowhere upstate New York. It's a long trek to get to Pure City, as it's far from the expressways as well.

I started off with a roti paratha appetizer ($3.25). This is an Indian-Malaysian dish that consists of a flaky bread and is usually served with a yellow curry containing potatoes and mock chicken or beef. It's rare to find vegan versions of it, so I always order it whenever I see it. At Pure City, you get the paratha, but you don't get any curry to go with it; instead they gave me a small saucer of cold sweet and sour sauce. I don't like sweet and sour sauce and, moreover, it doesn't go well with paratha at all. I was really disappointed by this preparation.

For my main course I had a "veggie protein with basil" ($11) along with brown rice. This was one of the basic stir-frys on the menu; all of the more interesting-sounding dishes were much more expensive, so I ruled them out. First, the portion size was small considering the price. You won't get any leftovers from this meal. Second, the food just didn't taste that great. The basil they used was bitter, which did the single most harm to the dish; also, the veggie protein was thin and stringy. There were a few carrots and peapods in the dish, but the main vegetable was zucchini, which also tasted just a tad bitter.

For dessert I had a slice of homemade vanilla cheesecake ($5). This was the best part of the meal. While the cheesecake could have been firmer, I liked the strawberry sauce they used, and the subtle vanilla flavor of the cake itself.

The service was extremely friendly and attentive (granted, I was the only person in the restaurant). But the food here just wasn't that great. If you're in the area, it's your only choice for a decent meal, so hopefully they'll improve their game over time.

The Wherehouse in Poughkeepsie, New York
Sep 17 10

rating star

I wouldn't have expected a place like this to exist in a town like Newburgh. It's a cool bar with an unusually vegan-friendly menu.

I got here at 11 a.m. promptly (their advertised opening time) but it didn't actually open until 11:30. At least a friendly worker there told me they were running behind.

I had the "Bangra Burger" ($11) which comes with fried zucchini sticks. The burger itself was pretty tasty, if just a tad dry (maybe adding some mushrooms to the patty, or some avocado and a soy marinade, could add some "wetness"). I also wish they served it on a wholewheat bun instead of white flour. The zucchini sticks were tasty but could have used a proper marinara sauce instead of ketchup.

I would suggest they add more vegan options (tofu or seitan tacos, a lasagna made with TVP bits, maybe some vegan bagel breakfast sandwiches with Daiya cheese and tofu and/or seitan and fakin' bacon, tofu scrambles, etc.) and it would warrant another star.

The service was friendly and prompt. All in all, this is a cool joint and worth a stop if you're passing through the area.

Brooklyn Mac in Brooklyn, New York City
Mar 11 12

rating star

This is a small, fairly-quick-serve joint for mac and cheese, and they offer two types of vegan cheese, as well as mockmeats and vegetables. You choose your size and then your toppings.

I got a small with vegan cheddar, mushrooms and vegan chicken. I also got a crumbly topping baked onto it (you choose between corn flakes and bread crumbs).

All told, it cost about $8 or so and tasted all right. I'm not exactly sure how much I crave mac and cheese in general, so the concept for this restaurant isn't exactly what I would go for normally. The portion size was pretty small, so I wouldn't call this a great value.

Two major problems with Brooklyn Mac:

-they don't offer wholewheat pasta (though they do have a gluten-free quinoa-based option, which tasted great, from what I could tell with my friend's dish)

-and they don't have enough vegetable toppings. For example, they offer scallions and broccoli, but not bell peppers? Candied walnuts and cranberries, but no artichokes or hearts of palm?

In general, this is a decent spot, but nothing worth raving about. I appreciate that they offer solid vegan alternatives, but it's not exactly my idea of a delicious, go-to spot for a meal.

Clementine Bakery in Brooklyn, New York City
Mar 20 12

rating star

There are many vegan joints opening up in the Village/LES and its geographic/demographic extension (Brooklyn) but this is not cause for vegans to rejoice, as many of the places are of mediocre quality at best (namely Champs, Pine Box Rock Shop and Maimonide). Clementine is, at least at its initial recent opening, one of the mediocre.

While the bakery is cute and the staff friendly, I found myself disappointed with the stuff I ordered.

The first tip-off is that none of the baked goods look good here. Everything in the cases looks limp, old and dry. I've never seen such a depressing spread of wilted baked goods.

Lesson one, Clementine: looks matter. Make your stuff look prettier, and make sure it doesn't sit out for more than a couple of hours, because looks fade fast.

The chocolate chip cookie (~$2) was a dud: dry, rock-hard and flavorless. It looked terrible sitting in the case, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway. I shouldn't have. Is it so hard to make a tollhouse-style vegan chocolate chip cookie that is moist and golden? Sure, maybe the cookie I ate was old and had been sitting out for a few hours; but that just means you need to frequently bake new batches and toss out the old stuff.

I also had a lime cupcake (~$2.50) which was passable. The cake portion was moist and nice with a subtle lime flavor; the frosting, however, was oily and tasted like unsalted butter more than anything sweet.

Lastly, the orange-chocolate brownie (~$2) was passable as well. It was dry and the orange flavor didn't come out, nor did the chocolate. I'm not sure what it tasted like, to be honest, which is not a good thing.

I also had a cup of loose-leaf tea ($2); kudos to them for having loose-leaf offerings.

I couldn't help but get the feeling that Clementine is around just for the sake of being a vegan bakery in Brooklyn. It cashes in on a growing trend, maybe. But the products offered here are of low quality. I'm glad Clementine doesn't use the word "vegan" anywhere, because it would only further cement the false notion that vegan is synonymous with unappealing, especially in the realm of baked goods.

Clementine, go to Dun-Well Donuts and see how fresh and flavorful their donuts are, if you want nearby inspiration. Take a visit to Sweet Freedom in Philadelphia for some of the tastiest vegan (and gluten-free) desserts in the world. If you want a real education on how to do quality vegan baked goods, fly to Columbus, Ohio and check out Pattycake Bakery. That place blows Clementine out of the water and regularly makes the golden, soft, moist chocolate chip cookie of my dreams, among dozens of other cutting-edge goodies. Clementine just doesn't cut it. I hope they can improve, but I'm not holding out hope.

Dun-Well Donuts in Brooklyn, New York City
Mar 11 12

rating star

Dun-Well makes awesome donuts (the New York Daily News ranked it among the best in NYC) and is a quaint, friendly coffee shop on top of it. It's a great neighborhood spot and loo