There’s a new vegan restaurant in town, but you can’t actually visit it. Lucky Cat Vegan is a delivery-only restaurant that opened three weeks ago from dietitian-chef Navin Hariprasad, the owner of downtown Indian Tex-Mex fusion restaurant Spice in the City. Food from Hariprasad’s new, virtual venture can only be order via UberEats.
Spice in the City, which opened four years ago, has a lot of vegan and vegetarian fare on its menu. But Hariprasad, who became vegetarian three months ago, was discouraged with the plant-based options in Dallas.
“It seems like when you go out to eat vegetarian or vegan, either it’s really simple, like a side salad and a potato, or you gravitate towards Indian or Thai,” Hariprasad says. “Eventually, you’re going to get burned out. You want to have some variety and try some different options.”
Though he only recently became vegetarian, Hariprasad is very familiar with plant-based cooking.
“My mom’s a strict vegetarian, and growing up, she made a lot of different types of cuisines — Indian, Mexican — but it was always vegetarian," he says. "I never missed meat at home because she was making such a good variety of food and it was so flavorful."
UberEats first launched its virtual restaurant initiative in New York City in late 2017 and recently approached Hariprasad about opening a virtual restaurant here in Dallas. Hariprasad mentioned his interest in focusing on vegan food, and UberEats confirmed that it's highly sought after in the area.
All Lucky Cat Vegan food is prepared in the Spice in the City kitchen, but Hariprasad is mindful about how he prepares dishes.
“We use a separate fryer for vegan and non-vegan items and separate pans, too. We don’t do cross-contamination,” Hariprasad says. “As a food service manager and public health practitioner, I definitely understand the importance and cultural sensitivity of this. We take it very seriously.”
With Lucky Cat Vegan, Hariprasad hopes to appeal to a larger audience beyond just vegans and vegetarians.
“I always felt like there was an opportunity to educate people, even if you’re not vegan," he says. "It’s still a good idea to incorporate more plant-based eating to your diet. Having some healthier vegan options that have these plant-based meat alternatives is a good option for heavy meat eaters. It’s better for the environment, too. There’s a lot of factors we’re hoping to impact."
To start, try the poblano fritters with tomatillo ranch ($6), the mushroom and cactus wonton crisps ($6) or the sweet chili “beef” meatballs ($8).
So far, two of the most popular entrees are the poblano burger ($16) and the spicy orange chili cauliflower ($14). The poblano burger includes an Impossible Foods vegan burger patty topped with poblano aioli, Daiya cheddar “cheese,” tempura poblano fritters, organic spinach, pickles, jalapeños and onion, served on a brioche bun. It comes with a choice of sweet potato fries or a large spinach salad. The spicy orange chili cauliflower is lightly fried and tossed in a spicy sweet onion glaze. It is served with your choice of basmati rice or raisin Pulao rice.
While Lucky Cat Vegan is still very new, Hariprasad feels optimistic about the concept.
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“Having a virtual restaurant really streamlines things for the restaurateur — you’re not having to build a whole separate brick-and-mortar and deal with the variables when it comes to overhead and staffing a full restaurant," he says.
There is more in the future for Lucky Cat Vegan and Hariprasad.
“UberEats is the first platform we’re on, but we hope to expand to other platforms, as well. We know there’s a huge need for it," he says. "We want to get our feet wet, assess the volumes first and then focus on expansion.”
Hariprasad is also working on a third concept, Hot Off the Press, which will serve gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches. It is slated to open in March in downtown’s Main Street Garden Park.