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Austin vegan adventures

Austin, TX, is a fun and friendly town reminiscent of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, L.A., Oakland or Brooklyn but with a feel all its own. Namely, the feel of sunshine on your pale PNW skin. Mmm… vitamin D.

I loved the 6 or so days I spent there recently.

Festival

Texas Vegfest was the catalyst for the trip and marked the midway point of my adventure — I wrote more about it in another post.  To prepare for Texas VegFest, I kept a strict regimen of diet and exercise — walking around town until massive blisters sprouted on my feet and consuming four square meals of Austin’s finest daily.

The festival is at scenic Fiesta Gardens along the water in East Austin. Perfect weather, vegan food from all over the state, vendors from all over the country, animal activist groups, awesome speakers, bands — you really couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable day. Here’s Christy Morgan speaking:

My high school friend Kat, who is getting a PhD at UT, attended with me — her sister is vegan, and most of the vendors answered Kat’s questions about veganism. Kat’s scientific, inquisitive, and frank nature made her an ideal omni companion — she sampled everything (even the vegan crab cakes!) and gave me her honest opinion about what she thought.

Tons of fun — great job, Texas Veg Foundation. I’d highly recommend Texas Vegfest as an excuse to visit Austin, as if you need one.

Food

Hoboken Pie

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After arriving on a Wednesday evening around 6 p.m., starving, at my home base for the next 6 days, the Firehouse Hostel (very clean and nice place, though loud due to its proximity to Sixth Street), I consulted my Austin vegan dining bible and found Hoboken Pie to be just a few blocks away.

Hoboken Pie served probably the best pizza I’ve eaten since going vegan – crisp, bubbly cornmeal-bottomed crust with gobs of melty Daiya, topped with mushrooms, caramelized shallots, and olives (my selections). Only in Texas does a 14” pizza serve 1-2 (I’d say more along the actual lines of 2-4) but I managed to eat ½ the pizza with relatively little effort – the rest served as two breakfasts and one late night drunk snack. It’s not a big place, maybe 2-3 tables, but the staff were all these adorable tattooed boys who happily gave me vegan-friendly bar recs.

Casa de Luz

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I dined at macrobiotic heaven Casa de Luz (or “Casa,” as the cool kids call it) three times on my stay – once for lunch and twice for dinner. Each time was a different experience, since the offerings rotate, and I didn’t regret the duplicity because it’s a fairly unique experience – I can eat freeto pie or gutbuster burgers in Seattle or Portland, but this sort of hippie goodness isn’t readily available near me.

The way is works is this: for $12, you (and everyone else) get hot tea, iced tea, a bowl of soup, a salad, and a plate of assorted deliciousness: beans, rice, veggies, and greens topped with various sauces — it’s great for people like me who dread making decisions. If you want dessert or a second helping, you just pay more.

Here’s the assortment of what I ate:

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You can sit inside or outside, alone or with other people (though on a busy day, you’ll probably sit with other people). This is the group I dined with for lunch — I only knew one of them coming in:

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Casa is rumored to be popular with local celebrities, which I can confirm because a guy who looked at lot like Owen Wilson and turned out to be Owen Wilson was there at lunch. As much as I would have loved to tell Owen Wilson how much I love Wes Anderson’s movies, I didn’t work up the courage to speak to him.

Owen Wilson is in this picture but you can’t really see him, as he is engulfed in the glow of fame and natural light:

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I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum, you know?

Curra’s Grill

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Christy, The Blissful Chef, picked me up at my hostel after a failed SoCo bridge bat sighting attempt (more to come on that) and whisked me away to this taco and margarita paradise.

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While it’s mostly meaty and the rice isn’t vegan, I thoroughly loved Curra’s cactus, mushroom, and soy chorizo tacos and avocado frozen margarita. I think a few other menu choices were vegan, though I probably wouldn’t go here unless I also had a thirst to quench and a sobriety to destroy — it was kinda far off the beaten path.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods got its start in Austin just a few blocks away from the current mecca on Lamar. The flagship store is nuts: it’s got a juice bar, a salad bar, a cookie bar, and even a bar bar, serving fine craft beer. I ate a quick dinner there one night consisting of pesto-Daiya portobello, kale-avocado salad and soup, and breakfast tacos another morning.

Seriously: breakfast tacos to a Seattleite are like breakfast pizza or breakfast cake or breakfast leftover Ethiopian food, but they’re an actual thing in Austin. $4ish got me a massive creation of tofu scramble, soy chorizo, potatoes, guac, salsa, and a variety of other toppings. Two corn tortillas could not contain the delight.

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Yeah, it looks kinda sloppy-gross, but it was oh-so tasty.

Wheatsville

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This crunchy co-op near the University reminds me a lot of Madison Market – same sort of offerings, same vibe, same crowd. Which means I loved it. Their popcorn tofu made the PPK 100 this year for good reason – it’s amazing: salty, spicy morsels of chewy delight. I made a plate of this with beet salad, chased with a Red Rabbit maple walnut donut, washed down with awesome local kombucha.

Mmm… buffalo sauce.

Capital City Bakery

This tiny food truck is in parking lot near the university along with Conscious Cravings, a vegan-friendly falafel stand, and something else that I can’t remember. If you don’t follow owner Kristin Davenport on Instagram, do it now, and then dare to tell me you don’t want to chow down on everything she makes. You just can’t not love her gorgeous baked goods, which happen to be as scrumptious as they are beautiful. And she’s adorable!

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After waffling between a massive oatmeal sandwich cookie, a vanilla cupcake, and a frosted brownie, I went with the brownie, which turned out to be the best decision of the trip: it was the chewiest, densest, chocolatiest brownie I have eaten in a long time, possibly ever. The brownie alone would have been amazing, but the smooth peanut butter-tinged frosting and drizzle of fresh ganache elevated it to uncharted levels of indulgence.

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Goddamn, girl – you are going places.

Mr. Natural

I guess this is an Austin vegetarian staple, and there are two locations – a dining companion at Casa de Luz told me the Cesar Chavez location is better. I wasn’t overly wowed but I enjoyed my meal.

The way it works is this: half the place is a sorta cafeteria-style deli and bakery, and the other is a natural foods store. If you decide to eat, you get your choice of a salad, an entree, and a couple of sides (they’ll throw in a tortilla) for a reasonable price. Not everything is vegan, but I was happy with my selection — soya in sauce, potato salad, a tofu/sunflower seed tamale, and a mushroom-potato-pepper hash. It was all a little oily, but good.

Arlo’s

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Arlo’s vegan bacon cheeseburger is supposed to be amazing, and I am remiss to say that I did not try it. This food cart is usually located at Cheer Up Charlie’s, though long lines for it formed at VegFest. I was part of one of these lines.

Their seitan tacos are also fantastic — chewy cubes of seitan, slightly crisped, lettuce tomato, and a creamy chipotle dressing.

Mmm… tacos.

Me So Hungry

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I missed out on the ATX Vegan Drinks at Cheer up Charlie’s, but decided to check out the bar after VegFest. I wasn’t really hungry, but the fellow in the group nice enough to share their picnic table with me had positive things to say about his Me So Hungry tofu banh mi, so I figured, “well, I need breakfast tomorrow, so…”

Me So Hungry isn’t 100% vegan, but will make most of their items vegan, including subbing a vegan sauce for the non-veg one. Despite being a weird pink color, the barbeque tofu was perfectly spiced on chewy toasted bread.

Steeping Room

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I met Marie and Daniel of Red Hot Vegans and Austin Vegan Drinks while waiting for my banh mi at Cheer Up Charlie’s – Daniel was wearing a vegan shirt, and in a rare act of kale lime ginger margarita-fueled outgoingness, I introduced myself to their group. Marie and I made plans to meet up for lunch on Monday at Vegan Nom. Only Vegan Nom is closed Mondays.

Tea-themed cafe The Steeping Room was no consolation prize: picture Remedy-level tea selection, GLT-caliber sandwiches, and awesome soups and salads. My tempeh bacon, tofu, tomato, and vegenaise sandwich with cashew caesar salad served as both lunch and airplane dinner. Between that salad and those at Casa de Luz, I didn’t have a boring dressing experience the entire time. The Steeping Room’s strip mall atmosphere is a little chain-y, even though there’s just two locations, but the wait staff was super nice and doted completely on Lily, Marie and Daniel’s absolutely precious dachshund.

Via 313

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Daniel tipped me off to this Detroit-style (sauce on top of the cheese) pizza cart by the Violet Crown Social Club, which will sub Follow Your Heart (old-school in the Daiya age!) for dairy on their offerings. I went there on my last night in town, and my order of this square, chewy-crusted pie didn’t last long.

I was going to save it half for breakfast the next day, but then was all like, “YOLO!” and ate the whole thing.

Sweet Ritual

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Don’t be fooled by the healthy-sounding facade. Though Sweet Ritual is inside of a juice bar, there is plenty of thigh-widening amazingness inside.

They serve both hard ice cream and vanilla soft serve. Deciding between the two was difficult, but as a reformed Dairy Queen fan, the thought of a creamy vanilla soft serve sundae topped with Chick-o-sticks and housemade salted caramel sauce tickled my fancy.

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It was delicious.

Green

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If anyone tells you not to go to San Antonio (“I think if you didn’t grow up in Texas, the Alamo could be verrrry underwhelming” – jackass Texan friend who will remain unnamed. It’s the freakin’ Alamo, dude. Davey Crockett? Jim Bowie? Remember it? I’m not from New England but the Battle of Bunker Hill still means something to me because I’m a citizen of the U.S. of A.), don’t listen to them.

San Antonio has a completely different feel from Austin’s Seaportoakciscolyngeles atmosphere – more frontier, while still hip and fun. Do as I say and not as I did and plan on spending more than 4 hours there (“you need 4 hours in San Antonio for Margaritas and TexMex alone!” a client tweeted at me).

The Alamo is frustratingly crowded and a little hokey, but you aren’t a real American until you’ve seen it – the moment I crossed the threshold, a latent appreciation for country music and light beer awakened within me.

I balanced this newfound love of 4×4s and firearms by dining at a commie pinko vegetarian restaurant: Green Vegetarian Cuisine, a lovely 1.5 mile or so walk up the scenic riverway away. It was crowded, but I found a place on the patio bar and sipped unsweetened hibiscus iced tea.

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My Daiya-smothered enchiladas were not the best of Tex Mex cuisine (the sauce sorta tasted like Prego. Also, what is TexMex cuisine? As a Californian, I’m pretty sure we eat a ton of TexMex, only we just call it “Mexican food,” and it’s not any worse than what you find in Texas, despite what every Texan will tell you), but they were tasty nonetheless – I should have trusted my gut and gone with one of Green’s macro-ish bowls, which looked fabulous.

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What really blew my mind was the selection of baked goods – the feather-light frosting, awesome ganache, and perfect crumb of my s’mores cupcake made up for the somewhat average entree.

Fun

White Horse

Neil has a friend who bought a Cricket trailer and then camped out in Austin with a bunch of hippies and some goats for a month. I arrived in town right before he left for Santa Fe to search for the treasure of Forest Fenn, but prior to doing so he took me dancing at this Austin favorite. Seriously, every friend who has been to Austin loves this bar. The place was packed on a Wednesday night with young and old alike two-stepping (which is actually kinda three steps?) to awesome alt-countryish bands. Tons of fun. Be sure you boogie with everyone wearing a cowboy hat.

Capitol building

Some people don’t like doing the tourist things in cities, but I do. I mean, when else do you have the opportunity to enter the building where so many educational, LBGT and women’s rights are taken backwards?

It’s a really pretty building though.

If I were Rick Perry, what would I do?


Equal rights for all! Abortions for some! Miniature American flags for others!

Bat Bridge

Austin is home to the world’s largest bat colony, and every night right at sunset, they supposedly swarm out from under the South Congress Bridge en masse to nibble on the insects that live by the river. I twice stood on that bridge, freezing, and the rabid little f*ckers never appeared.

South Congress Street

If you’re looking for cowboy boots (umm, not vegan), cute boutiques, and vintage clothes, SoCo is a fun place to shop — Uncommon Objects is especially neat. There are also classic Austin watering holes like the Austin Motel (whose sign has made its deserved appearance on this Instagram account, hehe), the Hotel San Jose (lovely outdoor patio bar), and the Continental Club. The coffee shop next to the Hotel San Jose had vegan muffins, and Christy said that a dosa cart was vegan friendly, but I didn’t really explore the vegan options around here.

Sixth street downtown

… is ridiculous. Think Belltown, multiplied by infinity — a spectacle of drunken “this is why people hate America” debauchery. There’s nothing but bars for blocks and blocks and blocks. A coworker who attended UT warned I might get punched in the face if I went there, but it was right around the corner from my place of lodging so I needed to check it out, right? Sh*tshow. (Not on my part.) Walk a few more blocks east and you get to good stuff.

I totally rode that mechanical bull though.

Cheer-up Charlie’s

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I loved Cheer Up Charlie’s! This place on E. Sixth (the good part of Sixth) has a large outdoor area with lights and picnic tables (okay, many places in Austin have a large outdoor area with lights and picnic tables), a parachute, stage, cutesy murals, and a couple of vegan-friendly food trucks.

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No wonder Austin Vegan Drinks meets here often.

Eastside Showroom

Eastside Showroom is next door to Cheer Up Charlie’s and a local favorite, I’ve been told. I met a guy claiming to be the owner’s ex-brother-in-law at Bimbo’s right before my trip, and he recommended it to me. This fellow seemed a little bro-y (but nice), so I wasn’t sure whether Eastside Showroom would be my scene but it totally was. It was basically just Canon or Tavern Law, but in Austin. Seriously — the bartender serving me that night grew up in Issaquah. Good cocktails, decent beer selection, classy atmosphere.

Barton Springs

The same jackass Texan friend who told me no-go on the Alamo recommended Barton Springs as a beloved place to cool down on a warm day — he was right this time. The 80 degree weather wasn’t hot enough to make the frigid water tolerable for a dip, but I washed off my dirty, blistered feet in it. (Seriously, who plans a walking-heavy vacation and only brings flip-flops and boots with heels? This girl.)

Chuy’s

I don’t really get the fascination with Chuy’s, a TexMex diner, but everyone I talk to who has been to Austin seems to love it — the picture I posted of a pricky pear margarita got tons of likes and “I love that place!” from random people. Maybe the food is good — the menu isn’t very vegan-friendly, so I dunno. Chuy’s is by Barton Springs and worth stopping in to cool down though, if you’re passing by — my drink was refreshing.

Blues Dancing


Kat likes to blues dance, and took me to a dance studio in a shopping mall way the heck up in the north of town (tangent: we drove by Donut Taco Palace 3 on the way home. The fact that one Donut Taco Palace exists makes me happy — three of them makes me ecstatic.) The first part of the evening was a lesson, for which I was thankful, and then we danced until 1 a.m. to an awesome live band. A couple of my partners clucked at my choice of dance footwear, but every Californian is born with an innate ability to do everything in flip-flops, so there.

Dolce Vita

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Veronica recommended this Hyde Park bar for its proximity to Mother’s Cafe (where I did not eat because I was too full but is an Austin vegetarian staple) and its big-a$$, strong, cheap ($5) soy White Russians. Curiously, they are garnished with an olive, but since olives are the best garnish ever, it’s no biggie.

Driskill Hotel

If you enjoy hotel bars, you’ll like this historic hotel that was across the street from my hostel. The Driskoll Hotel is old-school Texas (lots of guns and taxidermy) but the staff is friendly (had a nice conversation about llamas vs. alpacas with one of the bartenders, which isn’t entirely random) and the people watching is fabulous (old man on a date with an escort, anyone?). A good place for a classy drink and an ego boost — hello, lonely out-of-town middle aged men.

Sidenote: I guess Air B-n-B is a dating site now? One of the valets stopped me as I entered to ask whether I was from Boston, because he saw me coming out of the hostel and apparently had date with an an Air-B-n-B girl who was staying there. Go figure.

I didn’t go to:

Finally

I love Austin, but it’s kinda the opposite of New York: Austin would be great to live in (unlike New York), but you really need a reason to visit because it’s essentially just a sunnier version of home and I don’t know if there are the same non-stop attractions of a bigger city.

However, flights and lodging can be cheap (I paid a total of about $400 for both — $230 for flight and $170 for hostel), so if you need to get away and have never been, why not?

Or you can just visit Georgetown on a warm day.

10 awesome things about Texas VegFest

The second Texas VegFest was worth the trek from Seattle to Austin, for sure — people both here and there were surprised that I would travel halfway across the country for a vegan food festival but I:

  1. had vacation time
  2. had been wanting to check out Austin for a while
  3. am just that much of a dork.

I’m not from Texas, had never been to Texas before, claim no allegiance to Texas, and even sometimes make fun of Texas (West Coast FTW!) but I had an an excellent time in Austin and especially at Texas VegFest.

Here’s why it rocked.

1. Weather and venue


Texas VegFest is held at Fiesta Gardens, a scenic piece of land along the central lake/river that cuts through town. Being outdoors on a nice day made the experience that much more special. Each booth was a clean white tent, and there were plenty of places to sit, eat, listen to music, and relax, as well as a big covered stage area in the center for shade.

2. Great food and booths

I really liked that there were both samples and the option to purchase actual meals — you didn’t feel the urge to freeload as much as some other food festivals I’ve been to and still got a great taste of what the Texas vegan scene has to offer. Food trucks from all over the state drove in for the occasion, allowing attendees to sample goods from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc. It was all new to me, so I didn’t discriminate. And massive vegan kolaches? Be still, my Czech-blooded heart!

Also, while the focus was on food and fun, animal activist groups like Mercy for Animals, Sea Shepard, PETA, Compassion over Killing, and a whole lot more had booths — wonderful to see such a strong ethical component to the day.

3. Awesome attendees

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Many of the attendees seemd pretty actively, obviously vegan, wearing vegan shirts, necklaces, etc., but not in an abrasive way. Folks were normal — any omnis or vegcurious folks in the crowd wouldn’t think that vegans are weird. Everyone was polite and milled around without pushing — a very laidback experience, despite the size of the crowd (a guy in line behind me for funnel cakes said that last year they were expecting 1,500, got closer to 2,500, and this year anticipated more — I might have made those numbers up, but, yeah. Lots of people).

Heck, I couldn’t tell whether these guys were there for crowd control or fun or both — they were enjoying their vegan mac that much:

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4. Fantastic Speakers

Isa Chandra Moskowitz? Colleen Patrick-Goudreau? Christy Morgan? The guy who founded the Hillside Quickies/Plum dynasty? These are serious caliber representatives of the vegan movement, and they were there, imparting their wisdom on us. Well, I guess Isa was sick, but still. STILL.

5. Cute tshirts

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These shirts are totes adorbs! I would be happy to wear this to the grocery store or gym or even with jeans for a casual weekend afternoon. It’s great year-round advertising!

6. It’s all vegan!

I knew that everything I put into my mouth at Texas VegFest would be 100% plant-based, though it wasn’t overtly advertised that way — this drove the message home even more clearly. Vegan food can be approachable, affordable, and delicious.

And, I mean, look at those tacos. No, really — LOOK AT THOSE TACOS. Vegan or not, you want to cram them in your gullet, right?

7. Vegan funnel cake


‘Nuff said.

8. Live music

The bands playing at Texas VegFest rocked — vegans are fun too! It was just lovely to sit in the pavilion area and listen to a 6-piece indie band while eating some aforementioned funnel cake, and made veganism seem more like a lifestyle, not just a diet.

9. Org. actively participating in social media


As I was live tweeting Christy’s talk, I noticed that the Texas VegFest Twitter handle was too. In fact, I found out about the festival last year through Twitter, and this is basically the reason I attended — that constant reminder of potential for good times goading me into finally buying a ticket to Austin. Great for building exposure!

10. Price

Texas Vegfest is a suggested donation of $5 — basically, the cost of a soy latte, with tip. The easy currency exchange (no breaking bills with $1s) made the line (pictured) move much quicker.

Want to see/read more?

Boston Dining Adventures

I lived in Boston (Brookline, actually) for two years right after college. I hated it.

As the clips I’ve seen of the HBO series “Girls” can attest, the years immediately proceeding college aren’t the best of one’s life in general, so I may be more critical of the city than I should be. Still, my California upbringing just didn’t mesh with Boston’s ribbon belt and Red Sox cap culture. When David asked if I would be willing to move to Seattle with him after only a few months dating (it was almost a year when we finally did it), I figured I really had nothing to lose by leaving (and don’t regret the relocation in the slightest).

However, with my friend Diana getting married to her college sweetheart, an wonderful guy named Ben, a few weeks back, I decided it was time to make my TRIUMPHANT RETURN to the East Coast.

Here’s basically what/where I ate while I was there for a couple of days in August — just a few spots. If you’re looking for a great resource on Beantown vegan dining, Vegan Miam has an awesome series of posts on other (and a few of the same) vegan places to eat in the greater Boston area.

Anna’s Taqueria

I met up with Tanya, visiting from New York via Woods Hole, around 1:30 p.m. on a Friday — we were both starving, and though the Bookline location was a mile or so away from our hotel near Fenway, I wanted my first meal back to be at the ubiquitous Boston burrito institution Anna’s Taqueria.

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Anna’s serves amazing burritos. It’s definitely not a vegetarian place and you need to ask for vegetarian rice, but everything is clearly labeled — the guac has sour cream, unfortunately. However, they have an amazing selection of roasted veggies (broccoli/eggplant/brussels sprouts/squash/carrots/etc) that the staff chop up and put into your burrito and refreshing agua frescas. Some salt would have improved it my burrito, but it brought back fond memories.

Veggie Planet

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Veggie Planet is a vegetarian pizza place in Harvard Square that will substitute tofu ricotta or Teese for cheese on any of their pizzas. My Portobella Redhead, with portobella mushrooms, caramelized onions, and an almond/tomato sauce, was excellent. You can swap rice for crust to make it gluten-free. My dining companions were thrilled with the Henry’s Favorite, and we each found a small to be more than enough.

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Veggie Planet shares a space with a folk music club, which means it can be hard to get a table when there are shows — we had to wait for an hour, though it was 7:30 or so on a Friday night (not to worry: Harvard Square has numerous shops in which to kill time/ buy a pair of pajama bottoms because you forgot yours). The only downside was that the wait staff was a little pretentious about the music scene, telling us to keep our conversation quiet so as not to disturb the patrons in the other room when in reality we could barely hear one another from across the cozy table.

Veggie Galaxy

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Veggie Galaxy is Veggie Planet’s sister restaurant in Central Square, though the atmosphere of each differs immensely. VP shares an intimate underground space with a folk music club, while VG is 100% diner, with cute tattooed girls serving up milkshakes and burgers.  All desserts are vegan and anything else can be made vegan, but most dishes are vegetarian by default, so FYI when ordering.

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M.E. (of Veganoramic View) and I sat in a comfy booth and split a Jack D’or and the stuffed French toast, which was absolutely amazing: soft bread with a bit of a fried crunch, filled with a sweet and slightly salty vanilla nut cream, topped with fruit and coconut whipped cream.

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M.E. got a chorizo-stuffed omelet, while I opted for a balsmic-glazed Seitan loaf over chard and mashed potatoes. After being denied mashed potatoes at the wedding, these hit the spot. I wasn’t wild about the flavor of the loaf, though I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so full.

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omelet

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loaf

For dessert, we had a few bites of peanut butter chocolate cake and the most amazing lemon meringue pie — yes, lemon meringue pie! M.E.’s husband Mike was the lucky recipient of the leftovers.

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Live Alive

Live Alive, right across the street from Cambridge city hall, offers grain bowls, wraps, salads, smoothies and juices in a peaceful, well-lit space. My breakfast rebel bowl was colorful and delicious, and the juice much needed after a few days of overindulgence. I’m definitely planning on replicating soon.

Trident Booksellers

For my last meal in Boston, I dined with Erik at Trident Booksellers’ Cafe, a few buildings down from the place I used to work (and he still does). I had forgotten all about the place, and was pleased to see their menu has a tofu scramble, vegan black bean burger, cashew chili, and juices. The cashew chili just hit the spot — another dish to replicate.

Other places to try

Sudo Shoes

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I walked by here on my way from my friend Mitch’s place in Somerville and just thought, “wow, cute shoes.” Then I saw a pair of Cri de Couer booties and realized that all of these insanely adorable kicks were actually non-leather! Sudo, pseudo, yeah.

Peace o’Pie

This little joint in Allston is kinda a hike to get to, but a good option for vegan pizza and meatball subs. I only ate there a few times during my tenure in the city, but it was always good.

Grasshopper

I never went here, but M.E. likes it. It’s a fake meat Chinese place right by Peace o’Pie.

FoMu

M.E. loves FoMu’s non-dairy ice cream offerings. I lived in Boston during the Wheeler’s days, and have always been impressed by how progressive this city is on the vegan ice cream scene — Bostonians love frozen desserts. FoMu, too, is located right by Peace O’Pie and Grasshopper.

Clover Food Lab

I saw this food truck on the Common and took a picture, but didn’t get around to eating there. They also have other locations around town!

Peru: a very exciting South American adventure

I spent March 24 to April 8, 2012 in Peru with a couple of friends, and left with a few new ones.

Mary, Toni, and I stayed in Lima with Toni’s awesome family, then flew up to Los Organos on the northern coast and chilled on the beach in an awesome house belonging to a friend of Toni’s former girlfriend, Mariela. After that, Mary and I explored Cusco and trekked for 3 days in the Andes.

It was magical.

I ate a lot of (vegan) traditional Peruvian dishes…

Vegan(ized) causa at Bircher-Benner in Lima

Seitan and pumpkin stew with potatoes and yucca at Bircher-Benner

Tacu-Tacu at El Grifo

Toni eating Mazamorra morada in Kennedy Park

Lunch on the trail

Mushroom cebiche at Pescados Capitales!)

avocados…

Fresh fruit…

Salads …

Three hearts salad at La Rosa Nautica in Lima

Salty snacks …

Canchitas

Chifles

Yuccas Fritas

Sandwiches …

Quinoa hummus sandwich at Greens Organic in Cusco

Soy meat sandwich at Govinda in Aguas Calientes

Veggie sandwich at Aldea Yanapay in Cusco

Amazing Argentinan-style lentil burger at Prasada in Cusco

And non-Peruvian dishes…

Tofu stir-fry at Jack’s Cafe in Cusco

Drank a lot of beverages…

Chicha morada

Cusqueña beer

Inca Kola

Chilcanos

Coca tea

Saw a bunch of cute animals…

Cats in Parque Kennedy

The most loyal dog ever.

Llamas

Cow

Donkeys

What a cutie!

Visited a bunch of cool places…

Los Organos

Cusco

Lima

Machu Picchu

And hung out with awesome people.

It was an unforgettable experience, and I hope to return soon.

Peru, te quiero.

Portland dining adventures

Portland is to vegans what Bangkok is to pervs: a mecca. Only instead of underage prostitutes, Portland offers a plethora of tasty vegan dining, boozy vegan drinking, and materialistic vegan shopping, because, hey, no sales tax.

The Rose City has a reputation for being the hippie little sister of Seattle (Wikipedia says it has 583,776 residents, making it only slightly smaller than Seattle’s 600,000+) but it really feels more like an oversized northern Northern California town: friendly and still a little rustic, despite its cosmopolitan attitude.

I was down there for Vida Vegan Con this past weekend (note: this is not my official Vida Vegan Con wrap up post — that’s coming later this week), and found Portland to be very bike friendly, both in attitude and in landscape — it’s relatively flat in comparison to Seattle. I recommend either renting a bike or bringing one along; Amtrak allows you to bring a bike (for an extra $5), and I happily pedaled through the city on mine.

Portland has a reputation for being very tolerant (“keep Portland weird,” man!), and it probably would have been even weirder had Burning Man not taken all the raver kids down to the desert on the same weekend as my visit. This didn’t stop me from seeing a small child with dreadlocks, about a million interesting tattoos, some crazy bikes and a coyote, which kinda freaked me out because I was on my bike, with lots of flesh exposed to canine carnivore teeth.

It’s a cool, hip city, and the people who live there know that it’s a cool, hip city, and therefore they are cool and hip, and this self-consciousness somehow makes it a little less cool and hip (though it’s still pretty cool and hip).

But I had a really really really good time and would probably move down there in a heartbeat (I mean, if I had a valid reason to) so that I too could be cool and hip and eat amazing vegan food all day.

And on that note, on to the amazing vegan food.

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Vegan food at Safeco field

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks may both be vegan, but one cannot survive a ballgame on snacks alone.

Sure, you could bring food in (according to Safeco’s MLB site, “Food brought into the ballpark must be wrapped, bagged or inside a container. Items such as apples and oranges must be quartered.”) but you would be missing out on a quintessential piece of the American Dream: paying too much money for a one-way ticket to Diabetesville while watching a game that, frankly, runs about 5 innings too long.

Here are my suggestions of what to eat while watching the Mariners lose win (on occasion), based on all both of my visits this summer.

The Natural

The Natural is located at section 132 in the back of a small food court. The line was incredibly short (I waited longer to get condiments than I did for my dog) and reasonably priced: a smallish veggie frankfurter only put me back $4.50. They also offer vegan soup and a vegan veggie burger (both $7-ish, I think), and have a couple of vegan and non-vegan gluten-free options (including gluten-free beer).

Blazing Bagels

I walk over to Safeco sometimes during the work week for a toasted everything bagel with tofu spread, tomatoes, lettuce and capers from Blazing Bagels, and their bagel sandwiches are absolutely worth the walk. It’s technically not in the stadium, being on 1st ave S at street level, but is directly adjacent to the entrance and open on game days, so it’s an easy pre-, post- or during game stop.

Ricenroll

Safeco is probably the only ballpark in America where you can get sushi, mainly because Ichiroll sounds much better than Matsuzakaroll or the Takahashiroll. Actually, I don’t anything about the sushi presence in other stadiums, but thank your vegan stars that you can get overpriced fake Japanese food in Seattle’s. Ricenroll is in the same food court area (section 132) as The Natural, and has a few options. I wanted the tofu noodles, but they were out at that particular game, so I settled on 8 pieces of cucumber avocado sushi (at a rate of $1.13/piece). $4 edamame is another possibility.

Note: the box is not completely sealed, so don’t pour your soy sauce into it unless you want a lapful of the stuff.

I also saw someone walking around with chips and guac, and there are always the garlic fries, which are super-tasty/addictive and quite handy if you happen to be at the game on a bad date or seated next to a vampire. Mmm… garlic fries.

And don’t forget the beer.

Bay Area vegan dining adventures

I was in the Bay Area last week for work and stayed on for a few extra days to hang out with my folks, who live in Palo Alto.

While this extended trip was purely intended as an opportunity to spend time with family (and not a culinary exploration), I did have a few memorable experiences. Heck, even the catering company at my business engagement served a lovely grilled vegetable sandwich — my boss and I are still wondering how they knew I was vegan. (Maybe they just wanted to have all of their dietary bases covered?)

Homemade strawberry shortcake

My dad and brother picked me up at the airport, and my mom had dessert waiting for us when we arrived home: Hell Yeah It’s Vegan’s shortcake with Chef Brian McCarthy’s coconut-based whipped cream and fresh California strawberries. The whipped topping was creamy, cool, and velvety-fluffy, and while my mom wasn’t pleased with the shortcake (too chewy), I liked the texture. A sweet surprise!

Thanks, Mom.

Ferry Building

My brother and I took the train up to San Francisco on day one of my official post-work vacation. We both prefer to walk when we can, and worked up quite the hunger. Our first stop, the Steins Collect exhibit at the SF MOMA, is not too far from the Ferry Building, so we decided to stop there for lunch.

Foodies cream themselves over the Ferry Building — it’s supposedly not a trip to San Francisco without entering the Ferry Building and ingesting its offerings.

I wasn’t too impressed. The selection was not all that extensive (probably 20-30 shops/cafes, including Sur la Table and Peet’s), and mostly the same foodie crap you get everywhere on the West Coast: “good meat” and cheese from happy cows. Vegans: skip it.

I did enjoy the Hodo Soy Beanery’s curry tofu nuggets: firm, wrinkled layers of savory, slightly-spicy curried bean curd. I also picked up some of their rice pudding, which was a little too healthy for my taste — I would have liked more coconut and fewer raisins.

Westfield center — Loving Hut

After next visiting the Asian Art Museum, my brother and I had a couple of beers at Toronado before heading out to meet our parents at Millennium (!) for dinner — enough alcohol to enjoy my favorite SF beer bar without clouding our experience at the city’s most prestigious vegan restaurant.

Also enough alcohol to make my brother really need to take a leak as we walked down Market towards Union Square.

Fortunately, my teenage years spent finely honing the craft of shopping told me that Westfield shopping center was both proximal and a likely bathroom candidate. I was pleased to note that the food court hosts a Loving Hut. I didn’t eat there, but was just so tickled that an all-vegan opportunity exists at such a mainstream locale.

Millennium

I’ve heard that Millennium is a San Francisco vegetarian institution (all food is indeed vegan despite the vegetarian label), and having dined at Cafe Gratitude, Herbivore and Alive! on past visits, I wanted to give Millennium a try while in the city. My family graciously complied.

That’s my brother, outside Millennium.

Despite reviews to the contrary, I found all of the food to be quite tasty, if rather overpriced (my omnivorous family didn’t complain, and actually seemed to enjoy their meals too, but I felt terrible for requesting to go somewhere so expensive). The menu is on par with Plum’s, for $6-$12 more per entree (i.e., about $25 a pop). However, the space is quite lovely (a high ceiling, artsy photos of vegetables on the walls, an old-school wooden bar), the wait staff attentive, and the water quite pure (the Natura Tap Water Filtration System seems to be a selling point).

The non-Natura libations are not to be scoffed at either. I ordered the Millennium Mary, a delicious, if unexpected, take on the bloody Mary — muddled cherry tomatoes, smoked peppers, and triple sec, among other ingredients; it was definitely more cocktail than brunch beverage. The beer selection was also well curated, if a bit spendy (my brother noted that Pliny the Elder was $11, while only $8 at Toronado –$4 at happy hour).

We started with the fried green tomato appetizer and bread. There were only three tomatoes between the four of us, but the 3/4 of a slice we each ate was crisply fried and fresh tasting, with a creamy aioli for balance.

Perhaps inspired by the Bali exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, I went with tempeh. This mustard-BBQ tempeh dish came with grits, sauteed green beans and carrots, celery slaw, and pool of bourbon BBQ sauce for dipping. The portion was perhaps small for the price, but just the right amount of food to feel satiated, not over-stuffed.

My family ordered the following:

Brik Pastry Roulade (grilled seitan, oyster mushroom & creamy new potato filling,warm black lentil salad with chard, caramelized shallot, fennel & sun dried tomato,red currants, red wine reduction, truffled black pepper-thyme oil, pickled chard stems) — terrible picture, I know.

Roasted Beet & Hazelnut Barley Cakes (grilled maitake mushrooms, crookneck squash, fava beans & rapini greens,balsamic roasted torpedo onions, saffron, fennel & chickpea tajine, Aleppo chile-black olive tapenade, cucumber-mint salad)

Huitlacoche Tamale (annatto seed cashew cheese & roasted poblano chile filling, smoky black bean ragu, sauteed greens with spring onion & ancho chile, nopales & radish escabeche, avocado, habanero-cilantro pipian)

For dessert, we ordered the chocolate mint brownie sundae. It was heavily minty, but very refreshing, and the perfect size for four quite satisfied individuals to end a nice meal. My ice cream-loving kin didn’t disapprove.

Country Sun

We kept it low-key on day two. We made breakfast, and Mom and I enjoyed some pampering before stopping by Country Sun to get something vegan to for me eat on the plane ride back to Seattle the following evening; SFO is fairly cosmopolitan, but it’s still an airport.

Country Sun has been my hometown’s natural foods resource for 40 years. There’s a Whole Foods downtown, but I prefer this small, locally-owned hippie grocery store on California Ave because it’s still crunchy — the last bastion of counterculture heritage in a town otherwise overrun with VCs, college students, and QR codes.

It wasn’t quite the selection I’m used to (I love you, Madison Market), but I was able to choose from probably 12 different options ranging from a tofu salad salad to an asparagus nori roll to a curry potato sambosa. I went with a BBQ seitan wrap.

Hobee’s

After biking over to and running/walking The Dish to enjoy the stunning, sunny Silicon Valley panorama, as we did on my last morning, the only logical dining choice is the über-Californian Hobee’s.

As another longtime Bay Area hippie establishment, it’s no surprise that Hobee’s has several viable vegan options, including the Seven veggie medley stir-fry and a cumin-heavy tofu scramble, and offers to substitute tofu for meat in any dish. The best reason to come here, though, is the house tea: a strong cinnamon-orange beverage that closely resembles Good Earth — I drink mug after mug of it until I can drink no more whenever I am there.

Hobee’s is also great for dining with your favorite omnivores — my folks love their omelets and coffee cake.

Other musings

It’s always a little strange eating at home. When I left the Bay Area for college, I ate everything. Though I went vegetarian my freshman year and returned home each summer of college, eating out now while visiting my parents is almost like learning how to dine in a new city; many of my old favorites are still there, but I don’t eat most of that food anymore.

Our favorite Indian restaurant, for example, has three vegan entrees and one vegan bread — even the rice has butter. The two of these three that we tried were fantastic, but… no rice? We even went to a Mediterranean place one night that offered me lamb as a vegan option — they just thought that vegan meant no dairy.

For such a prosperous and liberal place (its most famous resident only eats meat that he kills, afterall), Palo Alto is rather homogenous and dietarily vacant — a veg desert, if you will.

But you can’t argue with locally grown avocado, served here on a homemade (better than Hobee’s version, I might add) tofu scramble.

Vegtastic Prague

The Czech Republic is one of the most spectacular countries that I’ve visited. I make this statement both an American of Czech descent and as a person whose foreign travel experience includes Italy (standard European fare), Canada (bizarro America), England (bizarro Canada), and Russia (just bizarro), so take my words with a huge grain of salt.

The country is visually stunning. Architecturally speaking, the buildings range from soaring Gothic cathedrals to romantic churches to modern gems, while the countryside is quaint and picturesque. The history is fascinating, the artistic tradition is superb, and the cultural affinity for beer is quite enjoyable. Only the Czech Republic could turn a chapel decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 people into something elegant and not [all that] creepy.

But this is a food blog. A vegan food blog. The Czech Republic, for all its glories, is not a particularly veg-friendly place. I know because I went there last week. While our trip centered on Prague, we took day trips to Plzeň and Kutna Hora.

Having spent a semester in Russia in college, I knew that the former Soviet Block is fairly heavy on the meat and dairy, so I was prepared to eat a lot of potatoes and rice. Being  descended from hearty Bohemian peasant stock, I rather like boiled potatoes, particularly the creamy yellow variety commonly served in Central Europe.

However, I was impressed by how comfortably I ate with only minimal sacrifice. VegNews had a serendipitous  feature in their September+October issue that served as inspiration, though having done my research, many of the places they featured were already on my radar.

Most waiters in Prague speak in English, and with the help of a Lonely Planet phrase book we were able to get by fairly easily; my 4 years of college Russian didn’t hurt either.

I start my tale with what Delta served on the ride over; I was so delighted to be served naan on an international flight that I whipped out my camera. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that my vegan airline meal was not vegan– below the foil was something that I’m almost positive was palak paneer: cheese. My in-flight breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios also not vegan, and the cheese lasagna they mistakenly served on the way back even less so– that one was fortunately rectified with an Italian-style rice and bean dish.

On our first day, we ate at a small vegetarian restaurant called Gopal in the Old Town near Prague Castle. Gopal serves a fixed meal that rotates daily and is definitely not vegan. With limited (i.e., no) Czech speaking ability, horrible memories of Russian cuisine, and a general ignorance of my situation, I was so relieved for the guarantee that my meal did not have meat that I was willing to eat some dairy. However, I spent the rest of the day feeling horribly guilty– traveling and wanting to “experience the culture” is no excuse to exploit animals– and vowed not to repeat this act again. The restaurant is all-you-can-eat and many of the options were vegan, so I imagine you could ask for just the vegan options.

Lenka Hlava (Borsov 2, Praha 1) is one of the most magnificent places to dine on the face of the planet. The building dates back to 1410; though the interior design is very modern and colorful, the setting maintains a intimate, slightly ancient feel.

Lenka Hlava’s menu is extensive, with an amazing selection of juices. I got something called Sahleb (salep) which Wikipedia says is made from the ground bulb of an orchid. It was more of a pudding than a drink, and had a sort of funny taste that reminded me vaguely of a mild poison. I ate the walnuts off the top and more or less left the rest.

While I didn’t care much for my drink, the food was amazing and copious. While not a strictly vegan restaurant, most of Lenka Hlava’s options either are vegan or can be made so. After much deliberation, I ordered bulgar risotto topped with sun-dried tomato pesto. I didn’t think I would ever be able to eat the entire thing, but a day of sightseeing left me very hungry and I finished my plate. The picture is blurry because I was in such a hurry to get back to eating it that I could barely sit still.

Country Life (Jungmannova 1, Praha 1) is both a vegan restaurant and a small grocery store. I didn’t eat at the restaurant, but, as VegNews mentioned, this is a great place to stock up on vegan snacks.

Here’s my bounty after day one– the blurry yellowish tube is full of garlicky tofu spread, delicious on the store’s fresh-baked bread.

I picked up a roll and some tofu-mushroom slices to eat on the train on our way to Plzeň:

Kolachy (singular: kolach) are a Czech pastry made of sweet bread dough and filling; my family has a great recipe that I’ve been meaning to veganize for a while. Country Life sold kolachy in a variety of flavors. Below are poppy (the best!) and tofu.

Maitrea (Týnská ulička 6, Praha 1)  is Lenka Hlava’s sister restaurant. It has a similar, though different menu and a brighter, airier space. It’s right by Old Town Square, making it ideally situated for a mid- or post-sightseeing meal.

Goulash with dumplings is a popular Czech meal. While it’s usually made with beef, Maitrea makes a seitan version that was rich and satisfying. Their dumplings were not vegan, but the nice young waiter substituted rice.

David and I walked by Dynamo on our way from the hotel to Republic square one morning, and the “vegetarian specialties” advertised in the window popped out at me. The menu had a couple of dished with “tofu cheese.” While we didn’t dine there at that point, we vowed to return.

Return we did, and I ordered pasta with this tofu cheese– which is really just smoked tofu. The sauce was a sweet, slightly spicy tomato chili sauce; a little unusual but very tasty.

There are several other restaurants in Prague that serve primarily vegetarian and vegan food; Happy Cow has a list, and while I would have liked to try more, I was able to eat just fine in conventional restaurants too.

For instance, many restaurants serve risotto; the Czech risotto is really more of a fried rice than an Italian-style risotto. Here’s an example from a nautical-themed restaurant in Plzeň:

It wasn’t all hearty and delicious, as you can see from the boiled potatoes and broccoli with almonds I ate below. The meal originally had blue cheese, but I asked the waiter to hold it. He asked whether I was allergic; I said no, and he asked if I was okay with cream. I said I was not, and he said, “well, you will just eat broccoli and almonds.” Fortunately, I like broccoli and almonds. And boiled potatoes.

Our last meal was at a tourist trap in Mala Strana. David ate Thumper, while I dined quite lavishly on tomato salad, stewed cabbage (lots of caraway in that one), sauteed spinach, and (again), boiled potatoes.

There were many other meals that are not pictured here: a lovely ratatouille at Cafe Slavia (Smetanovo nábřeží 2, Prague 1), an art deco restaurant across from the National Theatre; breakfasts of bread and apples from the Tesco across from our hotel; a plate of gnocchi at a mall after looking at probably 20 menus for a suitable vegan options. And of course, we drank liters of beer– and harder spirits: becherovka, slivovitz, hrusovice (pear liqueur), and the ever-alluring, slighty toxic absinthe.

Despite clearly eating (and drinking) a ton, the amount of walking and time on our feet burned it all off. I left Europe 3 pounds lighter when I arrived. Best. diet. ever.

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