It has come to my attention that some people choose to be vegetarians. I personally find most animals to be quite delicious. I like the porks. I very much like the beefs. I even like the fishes, which (as I would soon learn) are not, in fact, vegetables. Long story long, it's difficult for me to imagine choosing a foodlifeworld that does not include gristle.
In order to better understand these vegetarian human beings, I chose to take a walk in their meatless shoes and become vegetarian for one month.
There are many different levels of vegetarianism, ranging from "not actually vegetarian, just a high-maintenance meat eater hidden in hemp Jesus sandals who claims that fish and lard aren't meaty" to "I exclusively eat wheatgrass and sighs" vegan.
I was told by actual, real vegetarians that classic vegetarians are allowed dairy products and eggs, just no meat. (For the purposes of my experiment, I did my best to avoid animal rennet, but I was not on a strict no-animal-rennet vegetarian diet.) This is known as being ovo-lacto-vegetarian. "So, up to this point, I've been a carne-ovo-lacto vegetarian?" The vegetarians did not laugh. I learned very quickly that we do not make jokes about our vegetarianism.
In an effort to reduce my fear of going meatless, I found comfort focusing on foods that I love that also happen to be vegetarian. I fucking love mushrooms and arugula and peppers and squash and blue cheese. And there's enough olive oil and bread in the world to get me through 30 days. If I wanted to, I could eat Popsicles for every meal for a month. I could be the hero lady who invents frozen-treat vegetarianism. Beer isn't meat -- maybe I could go booze-o-pretzels-veg. Come to think of it, my alcoholic grandpa had to be vegetarian. He survived on a diet that consisted exclusively of fine French wine, vichyssoise and sugar cookies. Dude invented Beaujolaistarianism.
My mission: Find the best vegetarian food in Dallas. My requirements included a preference for restaurants that offer meat eaters nice dining options as well (so that if you're vegetarian and your friends want to go eat steak, you don't have to miss out just because of your dietary restrictions), and low-maintenance ordering (I don't want to have to order an entrée salad and ask for it "without chicken or bacon or ham," because I know what servers can and will do to people who are high-maintenance orderers. I used to be a waitress. Spitting? You should be so lucky.
I looked for restaurants that embrace vegetarianism in a meat-centric world. "We have a lot of side items you can choose from" wasn't going to cut it. I wanted entrees that were specifically conceived with vegetables in mind. The vegetables should be the focus, not an afterthought.
Behold: The Cheap Bastard's List of Restaurants that Serve the Kind of Foods Vegetarian People Like to Eat.
Here are your cheaper options for veggie food in Dallas.
Eat at this Hare Krishna temple and you'll please your wallet, vegetarian stomach and soul. Kalachandji's offers up a buffet that changes daily and will only cost you $9.95. Every single vegetarian in Dallas already knows about this place (along with Cosmic Café), so if you're new to vegetarianism, don't brag to veteran vegetarians about how you found "this totally awesome hidden gem!" They will smirk at you and pat you on the head like you're a cute pig they'd never eat. Enjoy Kalachandji's steamed vegetables with a lemon-tahini sauce, eat up some spinach pakora, hit up the salad bar and always get that yellow split pea soup. I skipped the barbecued tofu, but that's just because I had too recently attempted to smoke tofu like a brisket. Surprising to no one, it did not turn out well. That experience will haunt me for life. (5430 Gurley Ave.)
Torchy's Tacos has more than one option for your vegetarian-taco-wanting face. Try The Independent (fried portobello mushroom, black beans, corn, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado, plus ancho aioli), the Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs, fried poblano chile, guac, carrots and cheese with a poblano sauce) or the fried avocado taco. And don't skip the queso. Never skip the queso. (5921 Forest Lane and other locations)
Check out Velvet Taco for a different spin on vegetarian taco time, plus a more "Is that a euphemism for vagina?" name. (Yes. Yes it is.) They've got a tabbouleh taco, a fried paneer taco and a falafel taco (with tahini crema, arugula, tomato, avocado and red onion in a lettuce wrap. It's a nice alternative if you're currently over-mushroomed). Alternatively, you could order eight servings of rotisserie corn and call it a day. (3012 N. Henderson Ave.)
For $9, you could eat the vegan buffet that is offered at Loving Hut. You could also not eat the buffet and just drink up the completely strange atmosphere of this place. It smells more like a spa than a restaurant, and they're even playing that rad-ass-flutes-and-birds-and-shit-I'm-fuckin'-trekking-through-the-mountains-spa-time music. My favorite framed poster here says, "They are intelligent. They are brave. They are famous. They are beautiful. They are athletic. They are vegan," and includes hot photos of Einstein and Elijah Wood.
I dare you to get yourself an entire tray of "House Balls" (fried soy balls) and not laugh at the fact that you're eating balls in a love hut. This won't be the best vegetarian cuisine you've ever experienced. There was one green salad on the entire vegan buffet. But you should definitely go here, order a water and stare at every single damned thing in this place. "Are they playing a flute version of Kenny G's 'Songbird'? YES! YES THEY ARE!" (14925 Midway Road, Addison)
This is your vegetarian drive-thru option that doesn't involve french fries, a Diet Coke and a feeling of dread. Order the off-menu veggie wrap. They stuff it with all of the vegetables available in their kitchen, and you stuff it into the biggest hole available in your face. (4814 Greenville Ave.)
Eating a frozen pop for every meal is a highly underrated form of vegetarianism. I highly recommend it. Steel Pops has the sour cream cherry pop of your forever-after dreams. (You don't know how badly you want this, but it will work itself into every single dream you ever have after you've eaten it.) After you're done here, head around the corner to Carnival Barkers for ice-cream dinner. Promise me you'll pioneer the new frozen-treat-veg fad. (2012 Greenville Ave.)
Here you can get your fill of cheese-centric pizza. But the Caesar salad is legit, so don't order that if, for you, anchovies count as "not vegetables." They also had a vegetable stromboli special, and it was better than hugging puppies. Fried zucchini dipped in jalapeño ranch is another winner, or just forget the zucchini and pump the jalapeño ranch straight into your mouth at the register. Owner Jay Jerrier will likely Instagram a photo of you chugging the ranch, hashtag it #ranchchug2014 and turn it into national news. (202 W. Davis St.)
If it's time for a smoothie or a juice, get one from Green Grocer. The watermelon lemonade made me so happy, I didn't even mind how much it talked my ear off about how local and fresh it was while I was pounding it. "Can you taste the Dallas in my watermelon? I'm that fucking local, dude. I piss 75243." While you're here, also buy a six-pack of beers and play No GMO Bingo. Every time someone says "No GMO" you drink. If they go off on a rant about Monsanto, chug. (3614 Greenville Ave.)
Whole Foods Food Court
If you want to watch vegetarians in the wild, my favorite place is the Whole Foods salad bar/juice bar at lunchtime. Here, you'll see vegans elbow the bullshit "fish-doesn't-even-count-as-meat" vegetarians out of the way for the last scoop of quinoa made from real TOMS. Pro tip: They charge by the pound on that salad bar, so lay off the hard-boiled eggs if you want to leave the store without having to hand over the title to your Prius and your ovaries. Pro tip No. 2: Do not eat the hippies. They still count as meat, somehow. (Lots of places)
Head over the page for Alice's favorite vegetarian cafés
Vegetarians Love Cafés Do you deny it? Of course you don't. Here are some café options.
Right off the bat, I'm gonna tell you I don't like it when foods that aren't meat pretend to be meat. So get the fuck out of here, seitan. Same with the "amazingly cheesy cashew-based cheese" nachos that are on this menu. I see you, cashews. You are cashews. You are not cheese. Saying cashew cheese is amazingly cheesy is like saying Steve-O is amazingly actor-y. It's a claim that just can't be taken seriously. When you go to Spiral Diner, stick to vegetables. Because the vegetables here are great. Get a big-ass salad. Get a hummus wrap. And chug blueberry Maine Root soda they have on tap. It's something out of Willy Wonka's Vegan Chocolate Factory. (1101 N. Beckley Ave.)
Get your veggie stir fry on (onion, carrot, edamame, soy and Sriracha), and add portobello mushrooms. They also have several salads (I counted 12) that are vegetarian, which was rarer in Dallas restaurants than I thought it would be. It's even more rare to find that many salads in a shopping mall. Most other places have chicken or shrimp in their salads, and you spend your whole time ordering it asking for modifications. "Can I get the chicken bacon blast salad, only without the chicken and bacon? Oh, is the blast vegetarian? No? Can I get it without that? Oh, it's infused into the whole thing? Oh. Cool, I'll just eat this free table bread, then, and fuck you." (NorthPark Center)
The goat cheese and avocado sandwich here was blowjob-worthy (goat cheese, avocado, spring mix, red pepper aioli). They also offered a vegetarian asparagus and Gruyere sandwich that looks amazing. Just try not to make eye contact with that beautiful lobster roll, and you'll be fine. (6912 Snider Plaza, University Park)
Breakfast is the easiest meal of the day to be vegetarian. BECAUSE: EGGS, YOU GUYS. Roll up to Garden Café and order their build-your-own omelets. If you feel cheated out of being a high-maintenance orderer, since it's so easy to order vegetarian here, ask for only egg whites instead of just regular eggs. People in line behind you: (judgey faces, shaking their heads, mumbling) "Egg racist." Still hungry? Order the veggie plate at lunch, which is four daily side items or two side items and a soup or salad. Still hungry after that? Get off your vegetarian ass, hop into the garden like a bunny and start eating. (It is key that you pretend you're a bunny. If you do not succeed at looking like a bunny, the owners will definitely yell at you. Bring headband bunny ears.) If they try to arrest you, just keep yelling, "BUT I'M A LOCAVORE, BITCHES!!!" (5310 Junius St.)
LYFE kitchen offers four menus that range from low-maintenance-I-can-eat-everything to vegan and gluten-free. They have basically taken a Cheesecake-Factory-menu number of items and divided them into four menus so it doesn't look like as much food. The strategy works. It was really nice to be able to look at an entire menu of vegetarian options without having to read through a bunch of food descriptions, only to reach the end of "blue cheese arugula salad" and get Rickrolled by bacon for the 350th time. "Let's see. That's a vegetable. That's a vegetable. Cheese is fi ... DAMMIT BACON DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT!"
Order the quinoa crunch bowl. It's quinoa tabbouleh, fresh vegetables, avocado, arugula, edamame hummus, chipotle vinaigrette and hot sauce. The edamame hummus made me no longer tired of hummus. Which says a lot, considering that hummus is pretty much the One True Vegetarian Appetizer at every restaurant in the world. The food here is pricier than, say, going to Kalachandji's. Sure, the ingredients are high-quality and it's tasty, but at the end of the day, it's still just guacamole, right? "Hey, bitches! I just chopped avocados for you, made a big deal about it being vegan and charged you a buncha money for it! Suck all of the suckable things!" Luckily for LYFE, from the looks of the packed dining room, Dallas is sucking it right up. (3699 McKinney Ave.)
But where do vegetarians go after dark? Over the page is the answer.
Vegetarians After Dark It's vegetarian dinnertime. Here are some not-super-expensive vegetarian dinnertime places.
HG Sply Co. is a Paleo-friendly restaurant on Lower Greenville that focuses on "natural food that fuels your day" and also appears to be a magnet for food douches. Lots of special ordering going on. "Can I get that with bacon instead of pork belly?" Lots of people bragging about how much they worked out today. "I did a thousand!" Lots of people poking at their food with their forks, visibly doing calorie math. Not everyone who was eating in HG was a food douche, but the ratio of food douche to not-food-douche was much higher here than at the average restaurant. I would bet that the ratio of food douche eating at HG is directly proportional to the ratio of food douche to regular person who practices a Paleo diet. In any case, food douches have a lot of money and are packing the place on a Tuesday night, so three cheers to the concept.
I was told by real vegetarians that the quinoa burger at HG Sply Co. was "the best fake burger in Dallas." If you like fake burgers, maybe you should check it out. I could not make myself order the quinoa burger, as I have discovered on this meatless journey that I am a staunch "STOP TRYNA BE MEAT WHEN YOU AREN'T MEAT!" vegetarian. (That makes me ovo-lacto-no-fucking-bullshit-meat-o veg, for those of you following at home.) I do not find tofu to be offensive on its own, but if you try to offer me a tofu burger -- OVO-LACTO-NO-FUCKING-BULLSHIT-MEAT-O VEG HULK SMASH. Tofu sausage, same problem.
One of the lowest, deeply saddening moments of my month of vegetables was at Smashburger as I was trying a black bean burger. The burger looked burger-y upon arrival, but then I touched it. I poked at it with a spoon like you might poke at a maybe-dead animal. It squished. I knew it was going to be awful. But I had no idea how deeply disappointing it would be. My husband: (laughing at me, taking video) "Are you actually crying right now?" Yes. Yes, I was crying. We have now learned that fake burger makes me cry. And so, I do not order fake burger. But you can. Because this is vegetarian America.
Instead, I ordered The Gathered (a bowl of quinoa pilaf, roasted vegetable ratatouille, Brussels sprouts). I also had one of their "non-alcoholic drinks" (known to normal folk as "juice") called the Finish Line (watermelon, pineapple, mint). The bowl was very good. And do you know why it was very good? Because everything on the plate was just happy being what it is. Quinoa was like, "Hey y'all, I'm quinoa. Love me or hate me. I'll tell you what I'm not gonna do, though -- I'm not gonna squish myself into burger pants and expect you to believe I'm ground beef. Just not gonna do it." Brussels sprouts were like, "Bitch, I know kids hate me and I couldn't give a shit, mostly because I literally do not shit. I am a vegetable." And that juice -- that was spectacular. Whatever you eat at HG Sply, Co. get that Finish Line drink. Maybe add a shot of vodka and yell at the Pretend Crossfitters next door on your way out. (2800 Greenville Ave.)
Thank God for Sundown at the Granada. This is absolutely my top choice for vegetarian food in Dallas. When I walked in the door, the hostess asked me, "How can I help you?" in a way that I've never heard it asked before. It was as if she actually cared to help me, and beyond that, she believed that she would be able to help me with anything I could have possibly replied. Me: "Um, I need the power of flight." Hostess: "Please take a seat at a table, and a server will be right out with that for you."
A calming instrumental mix tape that they clearly stole from a masseuse gently played in the background. I got the general feeling that I was being emotionally hugged. I realized that this is the perfect place to bring a friend to quietly bitch about other friends so that you can feel better about your own life choices. Over flatbread.
The hostess seated us, smiled, walked away (presumably to work on the flying thing) and then our server arrived and took our order (in a voice that was barely louder than a whisper).
The menu at Sundown has several options for vegetarians and vegans. I had the mushroom and honey flatbread and immediately hip-bumped, high-fived and slapped my server's ass for a job well done. There are also options here for your meaty friends, so please just go here if you're a human and get your spirit hug. (3520 Greenville Ave.)
Find out where it's super easy to be vegetarian, over the page
Easiest Places to Be Vegetarian It's easier to order vegetarian at Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Ethiopian restaurants than at steakhouses. Here were my favorites from my time in the vegetarian clink.
When I asked vegetarians where I should go to eat vegetables, over and over again, I heard, "SIZZLING CAKES AT MOT HAI BA." They're essentially lettuce wraps filled with all the smiles in the known universe and the cartoon-glitter-kitten purrs of a thousand Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers. In short, they will force you into unbelievable happiness. (6047 Lewis St.)
Injera. I'm still not sure how you're supposed to pronounce it. Is the "HOLY SHITBALL I LOVE THIS DANG CREPE THING" silent? After you've accepted that you're obviously the only non-regular in this restaurant (based on the fact that everyone else is on a first-name-speaking-not-English basis with the servers), order the vegetable combination for $9. The day I ordered it, it had a red lentil thing, some steamed spinach and a bunch of other stews that are so good, they'll make your brain say, "Is this mole? Is that masala? I like this more than I like boobs, and I like boobs a lot. Like, a lot a lot." (8989 Forest Lane)
After a crazy vegetarian night out doing vegetarian things, like going to the vegetarian movies and ordering vegetarian coffee, reading a vegetarian cookbook at Vegetarian Barnes & Noble and getting vegetarian high, go to Dalat to cure your hardcore case of the late-night vegetarian munchies. There's vegetarian pho, there's a great vegetarian vermicelli bowl and, most important: There's beer. (2537 N. Fitzhugh Ave.)
Indian food is an easy go-to for any vegetarian. Chennai Café, in Plano, even has its online menu conveniently broken into vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. And as a recently meat-free human, I noticed that leaving the meat out of these curries really didn't change my food experience at all. I'm here for the naan-as-spoon experience. I want tikka masala, a bucket of naan and a quiet corner where I can shovel that shit into my head without judgment. Chennai Café is that quiet shovel corner. (5024 Tennyson Parkway, No. 200, Plano)
The spicy basil rice here is the most powerful dish in the world. Lucky for you, it's vegetarian when you order it with tofu. Feeling under the weather? Spicy basil rice will come to your house, put a warm towel on your head and heal your insides as soon as it touches them, just like the tears of that chick from Tangled. Got a cut on your leg? Shut up and put some spicy basil rice on it. Got a friend who's acting like a bitch? Throw some spicy basil rice in her mouth and clear that shit right up. (2222 Medical District Drive)
Find out where rich vegetarians go, over the page
Vegetarians ?With Lots of Green You got some vegetarian money to blow? Here are ?your best bets.
Order the vegetable brochette with quinoa and piquillo vinaigrette and you'll be as happy as your pork-chop-chugging companions. (Which is to say, super-plus-good-I-just-won-the-vegetable-lottery-oh-and-also-I-saw-a-gramma-with-fake-honkers-hitting-on-a-minor-happy.) Oh, and unless you hate everything that's right with the world, get dessert. You're vegetarian, not un-American. (2927 N. Henderson Ave.)
Getting a reservation at Lucia can be as difficult as getting a toddler into skinny jeans. Sure, it's do-able, but it's going to take some solid effort and a few tears. If you find that you have the luxury of sitting your vegetarian ass on one of the seats inside Lucia, order the potato gnocchi with Texas tomato and basil. When the King of Dallas Pasta David Uygur is making your vegetarian dinner, you know it'll blow your mind. (408 W. 8th St.)
The fancies of Dallas are all here, and you can eavesdrop on their conversations about their rich bitch friends all night long. It's like watching Real Housewives without paying for cable, plus the option to flip your own table. And, they've got a completely separate vegetarian menu available if you ask for it, with several options for appetizers, entrees and dessert. I had the tortilla soup, plus a sampler of butternut squash taquito, jalapeño/spinach enchilada, Mexican corn gratin and avocado fries. As a bonus, at the end of my meal I watched a grandma head-shake-frown disapprove of a young woman wearing a tight dress. All in all: specfuckingtacular. (2121 McKinney Ave.)
A morels dish that I had at FT33 inspired this entire vegetarian quest. Although the menu here changes as quickly as the smell of the air when your dog farts, one thing remains constant: a focus on local vegetables. You'll have plenty of options here. Sometimes, the ingredients in Matt McCallister's dishes are so local they're literally pine oil from his own Christmas tree. (Note: Yo, Easter Bunny. Probably best to avoid the McCallister household, unless you want to become a foam.) (1617 Hi Line Drive)
The Mansion You want a tasting menu? The Mansion has a vegetarian tasting menu just for you, and it'll be perfect. The only catch: You have to order it 24 hours in advance (presumably so chef Bruno Davaillon has time to forage for hippogriff mushrooms). While you're here, breathe deeply. The air inside The Mansion is purified with 100-dollar bills and diamonds. (2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.)
As an added bonus, here's my vegetarian diary.
Diary of a Mad Meat Lover Cheap Bastard chronicles 30 days of vegetarianism.
Day 1: I tell my husband I'm going vegetarian for a month. He replies, "You do whatever the hell you want -- the boy and I are eating meat for every single meal." I would have said exactly the same thing to him, and he knows it. We are truly in love. I slap him in the man nuts.
Day 2: I love eggs! This is so great! I could eat eggs for every meal for 30 days and be so happy! Eggs, eggs, EGGS!!!!!
Day 3: Seriously, have I mentioned how delicious eggs are? Hard-boiled: Check. Over easy: Love it. Scrambled: AND YOU KNOW THIS.
Day 4: Oh my God, I hate eggs.
Day 5: I will live at Steel Pops. I'll just live here. Fuck everything else.
Day 6: Beans are not burgers. They will never be burgers. Make it stop. Today, I cried real tears into a black-bean Smashburger.
Day 7: Jesus, I love Indian food and Thai food and Vietnamese food so dang much. Thank you, every other culture but mine, for embracing vegetarianism so hard.
Day 8: Go home, seitan. You're drunk.
Day 9: The farts are real. This is some next-level flatulence.
Day 10: Realization: Making dinner at home is so much easier than finding vegetarian options in restaurants. Plus, nobody judges me that my second and third courses are Jack Daniel's and Jack Daniel's.
Day 11: Ordered a green smoothie at lunch. Lunch friend leaves table and does not return. I then receive a letter in the mail that says that we can't be friends anymore because, "What the fuck, man?"
Day 12: I am forced to say the words "I'm vegetarian" as I'm ordering. I dislike being forced into high-maintenance ordering because I also dislike server splooge in my food. Hopefully it will at least be locally sourced.
Day 13: I create a drinking game: If I see mushrooms, pasta or hummus on the menu for vegetarians, I have to drink. Result: I am drunk.
Day 15: Friend had a birthday party catered by Pecan Lodge. I ate coleslaw. I did not stab anyone. Considered making out with attendees just after they had taken a bite of brisket, decided that was probably at least three kinds of cheating. I smell like barbecue, but wasn't allowed any. This is true pain.
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Day 19: Before I chose this time to be vegetarian, we planned a barbecue birthday party for our son. So we smoked tofu and fake sausage, just to see how it would go. It went more poorly than could ever be imagined. It went Anne-Hathaway's-British-accent poorly.
Day 21: I have a dream about McDonald's chicken nuggets. It's just 30 straight minutes of sexy food porn footage. Close-ups. Aww yeahs. I wake up scarred.
Day 22: My period will start in two days. I have been vegetarian for 22 days. This is the most volatile I have been in my entire 33 years of life. And someone just decided it would be funny to taunt me with bacon. ALICE SMASH.
Day 30: I have survived on a vegetarian diet for 30 days. I better understand the plight of the Dallas no-meater. At midnight, I will reward myself with an entire rack of ribs.