Vegging Out

Vegan food to keep you plump: Houston's best vegetarian (and beyond) restaurants defy any rabbit food visions

Vegan food to keep you plump: Houston's best vegetarian (and beyond) restaurants defy any rabbit food visions

Moving to Houston was traumatic. My first ever road trip took three days to complete. I was driving from the safety of my Canadian ehs to the wild unknown south of y’alls in my quest for higher learning.

Thelma and Louise-ing solo into uncharted territory, I had Houston stereotyped as a backwards confederate city of uneducated cowboys, cliché country music and oil wells spurting black goo everywhere.

What would a non-meat eating cultural mutt do in the state that brought us J.R. Ewing? I knew I would be safe inside the confines of academia but unsure as to what would happen after. The thought of a hot steamy cowboy saying howdy in full regalia was enough to keep me calm during my anxious lone journey.

Yes, I was an idiot.

Two speeding tickets later — thanks Diboll, Texas — I arrived somewhat safely in Houston the fateful Friday of Tropical Storm Allison. I was lucky enough to park my car before the clouds gave in and showered the city. I passed out of exhaustion and did not hear one drop.

Since then, I have come to love Houston and learned that indeed, a non-meat eater fares relatively well. Yes, Houston does have an abundance of steakhouses, seafood eateries, burger joints, fried chicken, crawfish and taquerias, but we also have a nice range of vegan-friendly restaurants.

It's an increasing number that keep me plump and has my guests saying “I didn’t realize vegan food could be this good,” maybe “so good I do not miss my steak” or my favorite, sarcastically, “this doesn’t taste vegan.”

Of course I forget most people think our sustenance looks and tastes like rabbit food. It doesn’t. What do I eat? Look at me. I don’t have a problem finding vegan good eats. After all, we brought you French fries.

The best of the best in Vegan

My top five Houston-area vegan restaurants (plus one) in no particular order:

It’s all about the food (and the water) at Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine on Richmond Avenue. The lunch and all-weekend buffet is truly an indulgent delicacy ranging from a brightly colored raw salad bar to once-you-start-you-can’t-stop veggie fritters, tofu curries, spring rolls, and beautifully cooked and spiced veggies. A family owned restaurant, you can bet they’ll remember you after the second visit, although they may not say much until you shyly smile and wave.

Pepper Tree's cleanliness would make me feel comfortable eating off the floor, although I haven’t yet entertained such an endeavor. I do have silver manners.

About that water? They use a special filtering system that alkalinizes the water allowing our typically acidic diet to neutralize our bodies, giving it a crisp, clean and light taste.

Get over it. It’s a little out of the way, but the best things in life are somewhat difficult to attain.

You will love Loving Hut on Kirkwood. Although the décor is somewhat minimal, the calming atmosphere is certainly attuned to the eco-green messages displayed on the walls. A colorful picture menu allows for easy selection of an array of mostly Asian inspired cuisine, some which feature very well spiced meat-like substitutions making it comfortable to dine with fellow omnivores.

The “Mongolian Wonder” beef-like protein is a favorite — I tend to make a mess when I let the brown rice soak up all the sauce — and so is the crispy wonton appetizer. And yes, they do have a burger and fries, vegan of course, and a dense, rich and naughty carrot cake that deserves a slight spanking.

Want to live?

Not all vegan cuisine is Asian although there are a vast variety of vegan/vegetarian options in Asian culinary traditions. It is then of no surprise that according to the United Nations, Japan and Hong Kong rank 1st and 2nd in life expectancy at birth while the US falls at 38 behind Cuba (37), South Korea (34), Costa Rica (30) and Singapore (15). If we tune into Dr. Dean Ornish message about the globalization of illness through the proliferation of the standard American diet, we are awaken to a tragic comparative reality.

People, we have work to do. But you can get your favorite homey foods veganized.

Field of Greens is a hop and skip for most inner-loopers in the Upper Kirby area and offers a huge menu that satisfies a wide variety of diets including raw and macrobiotic options. Their selections are very well labeled vegan, can be vegan, low carb and low fat. Simple substitutions can be made to turn a vegetarian into a vegan dish. A recent Web site and much needed interior color enhancement elevate the restaurant’s hip factor one notch.

My favorite dishes? Their wheat roast vegetarian fajitas are manly good eats, the green bean hummus wrap, and the eden burger — aka I cant’t-belive-its-not-chicken — with a side of tofu fries dipped generously in the breath busting garlicky sauce are culinary masterpieces.

Need to pump up your Foursquare check-ins? Side step over to the Path of Tea and zen out with some blood orange pu-erh or strawberry sencha green tea, maybe cool off with a green tea smoothie and a vegan chocolate chai cupcake.

A newcomer to the vegan restaurant scene is the Garden of Life Vegan Deli. Another off the beaten-path eatery, finding this humble and very young establishment may be a little bit of a quest as it resides in an unlikely strip mall on West Clay Street with an unremarkable sign. The menu is limited, which usually is a good sign, specializing in vegan soul food.

Being sparsely decorated with a small number of tables compared to the locale’s physical size makes it somewhat awkward, but the very friendly staff can deliver the most delicious lentil burger with all the fixings and spiced fries, a finger licking kale salad and homemade vegan ice-cream.

Take-out only, Pat Greer’s Raw Vegan Kitchen is Houston’s best source for fresh raw vegan cuisine and the most sublime raw peanut butter pie, homemade kombucha (fermented tea with a myriad of health benefits), cookies, snacks and other goodies. A locavore’s utopia, Pat’s creations are artful, colorful and tease my palate. The restaurant's a quaint home in the heart of Montrose and meeting Pat is like being welcomed into a cherished friend’s kitchen.

The garden burgers are dense and tasty, the falafels are quite flavorful, and the salad dressings are divine creations. Check out their menu, call ahead, and they will have your order ready.

I must give an honorable plus one vegan thumbs up to Jenni’s Noodle House as their vegan “Art Car” curry rocks my veggie world. Although not an exclusively vegan or vegetarian restaurant, there are labeled options and the sociable staff will be happy to dream up any creation that will satisfy your palate. If you believe in noodle-ism, the noodlehood with reward you.

And anyone that thinks in Madonna songs is just groovy.

Hungry yet?

News_Joel Luks_vegan roundup_May 23 10
Vegan assortment at Pepper Tree Photo by Vegan Noodle
News_Joel Luks_vegan roundup_May 23 10
Go-Green Deluxe at Loving Hut Courtesy of Loving Hut Houston
News_Joel Luks
Who says all vegans are frighteningly skinny?
News_Joel Luks_vegan roundup_May 23 10
Vegan Fish Tacos at Field of Greens Photo by Don't Lose Your Lunch
News_Joel Luks_vegan roundup_May 23 10
The author felt like Thelma and Louise when he first rolled into Houston.