Archives for category: Review

We’ve written a couple of times about restaurants and events around Oak Cliff, and we’re getting the impression this may be the go-to place for vegetarians around the Dallas area. This week, we followed a tip from our friends at Greenling (we don’t work for them, scout’s honor, we’re just in that honeymoon phase) and tried Bolsa on Davis Street. Another Oak Cliff restaurant, another beautiful meal. And, like some of our other favorites, Bolsa serves vegetarian fare and meat dishes with equal attention to detail, so put this on your list of mixed group destinations.

While we usually visit restaurants together, this week one of us went with a couple of friends who don’t usually contribute to the VICC Project, so when you read “we,” it means the VICC vegetarian and some omnivorous friends. (Really, it’s the same setup with different people, but we don’t want to mislead anyone.)

The recommendation that sent us out this time mentioned that Bolsa strives to use local ingredients whenever possible. Of course we love the concept, so we had to check it out. We walked in and immediately noticed a collection of bird houses above the bar. This is only one of uncountable personal touches that make this restaurant/wine bar stand out. The wait staff is friendly, one wall is made of garage doors (part of the building’s original purpose, according to the site) and something about the place just makes you relax when you walk in. We did walk past some sort of hide on the floor to get to our table, but that was the only thing to cause a question.

Bolsa Cucumber Avocado Sandwich and Baby Greens Salad with Cranberries and AlmondsWhen we asked the waiter for their best vegetarian dish, he recommended the cucumber and avocado sandwich (9) without so much as pausing to take a breath. If you can come up with something that fast, we’re sold. He thought about it, and said margherita pizza is also great, but since it was lunch time we all had sandwiches. Thin cucumbers must have been stacked an inch tall with avocado sliced equally thin between them and the baby lettuce on the sandwich. Tomatoes, pesto and locally baked focaccia bread made this an amazing meal. This place definitely takes flavor into account when creating vegetarian options, which are not limited to salads and sides. Mixed baby lettuce salads with cranberries and slivered almonds with an amazing vinaigrette dressing came standard with the sandwiches. Healthful and delicious, we can’t recommend this enough.

The reuben (9), which comes on a beautiful marbled rye, also received a good report. Not a crumb was left on the plate, if that is any indication, so bring your meat-eating friends.

Dude, Sweet ChocolateAfter lunch, we headed (a couple of blocks at most) to the Bishop Arts District for a summer stroll through the shops. While there, we visited Dude, Sweet Chocolate, an artisan chocolate shop specializing in dark chocolates. The owner created chocolates in the open view kitchen while we browsed the boxed selections. We tried some samples (the two of us who tried the blue cheese and sea salt in chocolate had mixed opinions, but we all loved the hazelnut spread) and had the opportunity to chat her up. Extremely informed about the politics of cacao farming around the world, she said she buys her ingredients based on their quality and flavor, but that often turns out to be fair trade and/or organic. She doesn’t buy things because of their certifications, even though the stuff she buys may have them. From talking to her, we got the impression that she’s more of a fair life supporter than someone who demands or chases a certificate. And she cares about the source of her ingredients. Certifying organic or fair trade is expensive, and putting that money back into the land and those who work it makes more sense than chasing documentation that may or may not mean you’re getting something better. It makes sense to us! Crack in a Box from Dude, Sweet ChocolateShe is intelligent and impressive, but when you’re talking chocolate, you should really let the chocolate do the talking; and it did. Beautiful dark chocolate, this stuff is amazing. We joke about different foods being addictive, but Dude, Sweet actually sells “Crack in a Box,” which is a bark-style dark chocolate with soy nuts, almonds, nibs and who knows what else inside. Yes, we’ll tell you now, this is the stuff of dreams.

With names like “Break Up Potion” and “One Night Stand” for chocolate sauces containing bourbon and tequila, respectively, you know you’re in for a treat at this little corner of heaven. Make a point to visit Dude, Sweet the next time you are in Oak Cliff. You won’t regret it.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

Thanks to a link Dallas Vegan Roundup shared on FaceBook, we recently found a new (to us) place to eat. BEE (Best Enchiladas Ever) Enchiladeria on Davis Street has been in Oak Cliff for about a year and a half and given the tasty food and large portions, we hope it’s here to stay.

Slightly confused on our first visit, we walked to the pick up area thinking we could order there. A very nice woman at the cash register saw we were clueless and pretty much led us by the hand through the ordering process. Similar to Which Which’s ordering style, you enter and go to a counter with pens and two-sided order forms, check off your boxes, put your name on the form, and head to the cash register. (As always, we were trying to do everything backward.)

Bee Order FormWhen we asked if the sauces were made from chicken broth, our guide asked if we were vegan or vegetarian and proceeded to put little red marks on each of the vegetarian options. Of course the vegan options, which are marked with a heart, were included, but she showed us a few additional items. A few of the sauces that we might intuitively think were safe, like sour cream sauce, actually contain chicken broth, so we appreciated this personal tour of the menu.

 

Bee vegetarian enchiladas We went with the two enchilada plates (6.99) for the first visit. Completely customizable, you might find it difficult to put together an enchilada you don’t like without trying. But we went outside our standards and ordered things we hadn’t previously tried elsewhere. For the vegetarian, this was heaven. The Quinoa and Tofu in a corn tortilla with avocado verde sauce and Vegan Special in a blue corn tortilla with tomatillo sauce were both great. The tofu is cut into squares and has a nice smokey flavor. A close preferential second, the Vegan Special comes filled with julienne zucchini, carrots, potatoes, red peppers and more. All those thin veggies make it a little awkward to get onto a fork, but we somehow managed to clear our plates.

The omnivore tried the Chicken Tinga with sour cream sauce and Brisket with queso blanco sauce. While the chicken combo is good – comparable to Primo’s chicken enchiladas – the Brisket is incredible.

Never having been to an enchiladeria, we were surprised when they called our names and asked us which fresh toppings we’d like to put on our enchiladas. Everything looked good so we went with our favorites. The uncooked vegetables add a crunch factor to the plate as well as mixing cool and warm in each bite. We love juxtaposing opposites in our food, so this was a welcome addition.

While drinks are pretty standard anyplace you go, we recommend getting a cup of water here. BEE offers chilled water with lemon and lime that actually tastes good. Sure, it’s only water, but that little something extra makes it better and memorable.

As we started eating, our guide came around to see how we liked our food. She noticed the vegetarian’s plate contained mexican rice, which is made with chicken broth, and immediately brought a bowl of vegan rice. Honestly, she was more broken up over if than we were and she made it right before we had started on the rice or even realized anything was wrong. The fact that she made an effort to correct the error and apologize goes so far beyond what our paper plates and plasticware lead us to expect from this restaurant that we are convinced she’s the best staff member in town. (Although, another visit to BEE brought us another, equally kind staff member, so maybe it’s the training.)

Bee vegan riceThe vegan rice (which is lighter in color) was actually better than the mexican rice, according to the omnivore who tried both, and has a buttery flavor we all liked but didn’t ask how they created the flavor without using actual butter.

On another visit, we thought we’d branch out and try some other options. From the back of the order form, we chose a spinach and mushroom bee burrito (5.99). The menu says that all of the vegan burritos include a spoonful of guacamole but we didn’t see that scoop in our burrito. We did instantly taste the rice, and the mushrooms reminded us of the wild mushroom soup from La Madeleine, so we may just not have noticed the avocado if it was there. Either way, we didn’t miss it. Once the standard ingredients go in, you have the option to add your choice of fresh ingredients before the burrito is sealed. The tortillas are big, but our burrito maker had to have used a little magic to get everything inside. Like Freebirds or Chipotle, BEE gives you more food than one person needs.

Given that most people can find something to love here no matter where they fit into the dietary spectrum, BEE is a great place for mixed groups. We left our visits full and happy and we agree that this place lives up to its name.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

All of us here at the VICC Project have visited an Italian place in Garland since dinosaurs roamed the earth. OK, maybe not quite that long, but definitely our entire lives. Since opening in 1981, we’ve watched Siciliano’s, A Taste of Italy grow from a small, dimly lit room in a shopping center into a large, airy restaurant in its own freestanding building.

Siciliano's, A Taste of Italy's Baked ZitiA favorite, even when all of us ate meat, was the angel hair with artichokes. That fell off the menu at some point along the way so we tried other dishes, like eggplant parm (best we’d had), baked ziti (great if you like ricotta, still very good if you don’t), and plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce (also delightful). Over the years we’ve eaten our weight in Siciliano’s food many times over, so we aren’t exaggerating when we say we love this place.

When we recently noticed a new (to us) lunch menu and asked a waitress for a vegetarian recommendation, we were shocked when she offered a chicken dish we could just order without the chicken.

“Umm, thanks, but do you have anything that didn’t start with chicken?” we asked. “Are your sauces broth based?”

“Oh yes,” she said, “all of them are. Really the only thing you could get is the three cheese pizza. That doesn’t have sauce on it.”

GASP! “Nothing?”

“That’s really your only option. Sorry.”

It was like rhinos came charging in to pin us to the booth. We’ve eaten here our entire lives, some of us actually used the high chairs at the old location, and all we have left is pizza and rolls? So this is crushing disappointment. Now we know.

At that moment, when our hearts sank and we agreed to at least try that sauceless pizza, we felt as if an old friend, a very best friend, had died. How sad we were that we could never come back to this once wondrous place and have our fill of delicious, saucy pasta dishes. We’d never again feel the garlic butter drip off the rolls and down our forearms or chins. Nor would we laugh at each other as this happened. Our worlds got smaller.

Then it hit us. According to our waitress, we’ve been eating broth-based sauces the entire time we’ve tried to maintain vegetarian diets. Yikes! That stings! And why did we never ask about the sauces before? We ask every time we go someplace new, but we took for granted that this trusted food was meat free. That was not smart. A trip to Italy taught us that nearly everything starts with meat, then goes from there. But we are in the U.S. and we’ve loved this place forever, so it never crossed our minds to ask.

We were so stunned by this revelation that we didn’t even think to storm into the kitchen and question the chef. We’ll save that for next time. And, even with this newly found meat knowledge, there will be a next time. That’s how addicted we are and how good this place is! We can’t stop going even though the menu is reduced to one item. Two if you count the freshly baked rolls.

Siciliano's, A Taste of Italy's rollsHonestly, the rolls alone are worth the trip into Garland. Dripping with melted butter and always hot, straight from the oven, these are the standard to which we hold all other breads in Italian restaurants. So far, nobody has engineered a better garlic bread or roll and we all feel nobody ever will. But, as the saying goes, we cannot survive on bread alone.

Siciliaon's, A Taste of Italy's Three Cheese PizzaSo the pizza came. Yes, the crust, which is made in house, is bread, but the cheese and toppings come together to make yet another masterpiece from this restaurant. Pick your favorite three toppings and you have your individual perfect pizza. At $8.99 for a small, it’s a little pricy for one, but there is enough to share. Just find a friend who likes what you like.

After thinking about this for a while, we almost wish we hadn’t asked. Sure, we’re glad to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies, but the general ability to just enjoy something and not care whence it comes is becoming a little more clear to us now. Of course, the omnivores among us have no problem, and the strict vegetarian is limited to the (amazing) pizza, but for those who don’t mind a little broth in the sauce, this is still a great place to eat.

The most shocking part of this whole ordeal is our general lack of sense when it comes to places we already love. Lesson learned. Unless you’ve already asked, check the ingredients. We’ll probably check again in the hopes that maybe this particular waitress misinformed us, but the point is that we should never have just blindly followed the mouth-watering smells without question. For now, we’ll just have to accept that we’ll do better in the future.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

With lines in the menu stating they will compromise their sauces to accommodate a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, it’s no wonder Thai Soon displays “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” awards along the walls. While this restaurant does serve meat dishes, everything on the menu can be made vegetarian. Everything. This is perhaps the first place we’ve wandered into without knowing much about the menu ahead of time and experienced option overload. No limitations on what we can eat? Vegetarian soups? Really? We were just about to panic, then we remembered that most people have an entire menu from which to choose. How nice it is to feel “normal” for a change.

Thai Soon's Vegetarian Fried Rice with TofuA dedicated lunch menu keeps things rather simple with a list of specials for $6.95 or passion lunch specials for $7.95. All options come with soup or salad and a vegetarian egg roll. We tried the Vegetarian Fried Rice with tofu and Rad Na with tofu, both on the standard lunch menu. Crispy vegetables in the fried rice are fresh and flavorful. The rice is sticky enough to (mostly) stay on the fork and out of the lap on its way from this mountain of goodness to your mouth. When we ordered, our waitress asked if eggs were OK, so they can make this vegan, too, if that’s more to your liking.

Thai Soon's Rad Na with TofuWhile we liked the fried rice, we loved the Rad Na. We’re suckers for flat noodles around here, so that’s part of our preference, but this would have been good with any starch base. Loaded with crisp vegetables, tofu, and a brilliant sweet, dark sauce, this is a wonderful dish for lunch or dinner. And for such a generous portion, the lunch price is quite a deal. Definitely an instant favorite.

Thai Soon's Salad with Peanut SauceOn our lunch visits, we went with salads, which were simple and topped with a super thick and creamy peanut sauce that made them rather addictive.

Thai Soon's Royal Curry

From the dinner menu, we ejnoyed the Royal Curry (8.95), which is a spicy yellow curry. Perhaps because we asked for a vegetarian version, this was more of a green color. But the sweet coconut comes through well and the spice builds as you eat your way through the dish. Even when the heat caused a runny nose (come on, we can’t be the only wimps around), this was so good we couldn’t stop eating. Soft grilled tofu against fresh, firm mushrooms and a collection of white vegetables, carrots and red bell peppers comes together for a sweet and spicy delight.

Thai Soon's Vegetarian Egg RollsPossibly the nicest surprise, the Vegetarian Egg Rolls (4.95) are simple and good. Without too many competing flavors, these are perfectly crispy and well complimented by the sauce, atop which crushed peanuts and cucumber bits float. With crushed red pepper throughout, this is a flavorful, sweet and barely hot sauce we have since learned to crave.

After several visits, we understand why so many publications chose Thai Soon as their favorite vegetarian restaurant. We have added it to our must frequent list and hope anyone near the Richardson area has the chance to stop in and try it.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

The Corner Pocket Sandwich Shop has changed corners, owners, and decorative style through the decades it has been on downtown Garland’s square, but through all the changes, this locally owned restaurant remains a regular lunch spot for city workers, locals and visitors.

For full disclosure, we’ll tell you up front that two of us have been eating here (under several owners and menu changes) since childhood and one of our writers worked here in high school. Of course that puts the lens of nostalgia into our opinions, but it also sets a pretty high standard for the current staff meet. For instance, the pocket sandwiches have been pretty much the same combination for decades: meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and dressing in a pita. But how you put it together can make the difference between eating the sandwich with your hands and using a knife and fork. We know to cut pitas at the little hole in the seam (they all seem to have one) in order to keep the contents off the table, but that little tidbit got lost somewhere along the way. So, even though you order a pocket sandwich, grab extra napkins because more often than not your pita will develop a hole right at the bottom. Of course, if it really bothered us THAT much, we’d stop eating here. But we can’t. The food is good, eavesdropping on the locals as they holler their conversations across the room is entertaining, and the atmosphere is downright comfy. On top of that, there are several vegetarian options and nearly everything is somewhat customizable, so what more can we really demand here?

Corner Pocket Stuffed Avocado with Egg SaladThe menu has expanded quite a bit over the years. The original pocket sandwiches, baked potatoes, nachos and chili are still there, of course, but now you can get things like stuffed avocados, frozen custard and more. We recently tried the stuffed avocado with egg salad and were a little hesitant at first. On the plate is a whole avocado, split in half with each side containing about a scoop of egg-salad. Between these is a little lettuce, tomato and a hard boiled egg and everything on the plate is sprinkled with paprika. While it sounds like a dainty little bit of food, this is an extremely filling meal. The egg salad is amazing, actually, but pairing that creamy texture and mild flavor with something as mellow as an avocado was a new experience for us. You can ask for ham, chicken or tuna salads as well, but, as always, we went for the veggie-friendly option. The dish grew on us with each bite, and by the time we finished, we were full, happy, and convinced we’d get this again.

Other vegetarian options include the MAC (Mushroom, Avocado and Cheese), Veggie Deluxe, salad, nachos and a broccoli and cheese baked potato. The MAC contains the ingredients that make up its name: four cheeses (melted, but usually not at the center these days) with mashed avocado and sliced mushrooms. The standard fixins of lettuce, tomato and creamy italian dressing are fine, but we tend to omit the lettuce and add black olives. 

Similar to the MAC, the veggie melt sports all of the goodness without the avocado. Honestly, almost anything you get here is good. We have run into some stale chips in the nachos in the past, but on our most recent visit even those were extra crisp and tasty.

If you have room after your meal, head back up to the counter and get some frozen custard. No kidding, this is worth the trip downtown on its own. The flavors change, so check the sign and pick a favorite.

In a city of more than 200,000 people, it’s nice to see such small-town charm on the downtown square. Pictures of stars from Elvis to Marilyn Monroe, sports icons and garland’s history line the walls and hand written menu boards offer selections. You fill your own soda cups and pick up your order from a window halfway down a hall when you hear your number called. Patrons smile, wave and usually have something nice to say to each other.

Overall, this is a great place to visit, a major piece of Garland’s charm and history in its own right, and vegetarian friendly to boot. Of course we’ll be back, we’ve come here for more years than we admit to being alive, but we also recommend you give it a try. Corner Pocket Sandwich Shop is a one of a kind treat that everyone should have the chance to enjoy.

When we think of Tyler, we tend to think of Roses, consider it the halfway point between Dallas and the Bossier boats, and maybe recall a small town charm, but we never really associated Tyler with vegetarian food or art. Not until recently, anyway.

A couple of us went out to support an artist we know at her first show in a coffee house. Of course we loved her work, even without all of our bias, but we were pleasantly surprised by the location. Caffé Tazza in Tyler, TX is a fun little place that offers a light atmosphere and fresh-made food. None of the pre-packaged cake slices and industrial wrapped sandwiches here. We found salad, paninis and pastries made in house from scratch. Even the scones and cinnamon rolls were fresh. So fresh, in fact, that the icing was still soft and gooey.

The best part of this freshly made goodness is the abundance of vegetarian options. Sure, the sweets are good, but every section of the menu offers some sort of veggie-friendly item. With artichoke, spinach and feta, the vegetarian quiche has more to offer than the standard Lorraine version. Vegetarian Breakfast Panini or a Vegetarian Panino at lunchtime, European salad (with optional meat addition, for those who need it), and a brunch bar on the weekends make this a great find. And everything we tried was good, to boot!

Caffe Tazza's tea serviceIn addition to the Thursday night art shows and great food, Caffé Tazza serves tea and coffee in hand painted Italian ceramics. If you love the dishes, check the walls. All of the pieces on the shelves are for sale, so talk to the staff about the ones you like. A two- or three-cup teapot with a teacup nearly equal in size gave a Wonderland feel to the visit. Add to all of this fresh squeezed orange juice and lemonade and we may just have to declare a new favorite in town.

The next time you are out Tyler way, stop by Caffé Tazza and have a bite. And, if you are lucky enough to be there between 5 and 8 p.m. on a Thursday, take in some local art with a glass of wine.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

Not typically known for fine dining, Garland recently added what we feel will be a point of pride off of Broadway Blvd. When we walked in, we noticed LaBella’s Spartan decorating style. A couple of pillars and small pictures here and there, but for the most part, the dining area is large and open. Tables are far enough apart that you don’t have to worry about bumping a purse onto the floor on your way to the register or backing into your neighbor, and the front wall is made up of a large window that provides plenty of natural light during lunch.

Since the restaurant had opened only a few days before our first visit, we were one of only a few tables and it seemed the only table not somehow connected to the owners, but that didn’t change the level of service. Our waiter was courteous, and even when we badgered him with questions, as we are prone to do, he answered what he knew and found out what he didn’t.

One of his question-answering trips to the kitchen brought great news: the tomato sauce is just that, tomatoes. Not chicken broth or sausage grease, just tomatoes, vegetables and spices. But don’t worry; your meat-loving friends will have plenty to choose from with the meat sauce, meatballs, and various meat dishes offered. We were just excited to know there are so many vegetarian options available.

LaBella's Cheese RavioliAnd those options are wonderful. A simple Cheese Ravioli (6.49) comes with four large, round ravioli pieces filled with ricotta and spices. The tomato sauce doesn’t hit the hinge of your jaw with bitterness like so many out there. This is a mellow and extremely filling meal.

LaBella's spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and basil

LaBella's ziti with olive oil, garlic and basil

Spaghetti or Ziti with olive oil garlic and basil (5.99) comes in a large portion and eats like Italian comfort food. That is, if comfort food came swimming in super-flavored oil. So good! This is such a simple dish that there isn’t much to say other than in this case, less is definitely more.

LaBella's baked zitiIf you need a little more pop in your pasta, try the Baked Ziti (6.49). You get a nice little zing from the tomato sauce, but the cheese is not overbearing, so the flavors balance out nicely. Like the others, this will leave you full and happy.

LaBella's eggplant rollatiniWe tried the Eggplant Rollatini (8.49) and decided unanimously that while not bad, this was our least favorite. It’s hard to compete with all the other good foods and something had to take the bullet, so this is it. Ricotta cheese wrapped in a slightly bitter eggplant slice under tomato sauce and mozzarella is good if you like ricotta, but if that cheese isn’t your thing, you may want to consider something else on the menu.

To start one of our dinner meals, we tried the Caprese (6.49), which was beautiful. The mozzarella is very soft and tastes fresh atop a firm tomato that is more red than pink. Fresh basil and vinaigrette added spark to the calm cheese and tomato, making this one of our favorites in the caprese category.

LaBella's fresh breadAnd we can’t forget the fresh bread. These are more like mini loaves than rolls and they are exactly the kind of bread that lends itself to pulling out the gooey middle to eat first. But we can’t leave the outer shell, because it’s topped with oil or butter then sprinkled with garlic and Parmesan cheese before coming to the table. You get butter on the side, but honestly there is no need to add anything.

Garland locals might notice that the salad dressing is an awful lot like that served at Vetoni’s before they closed. Good observation! After Vetoni’s closed, the owner partnered with a nephew to open LaBella on Friday, April 20. And, smart guys that they are, they kept the cook that made Vetoni’s so great. The menu has some changes, but old favorites, like the garlic, oil and basil pastas, crossed over. Just like before, these guys have daily specials and offer wine glasses if you’d like to bring your own bottle.

With dine in, take out and delivery, LaBella Italian Grill will be a frequently visited staple.

Mcalister's Deli Taco Salad with Vegetarian ChiliIt’s not every day a vegetarian can order a taco salad in Texas, but at McAlister’s Deli the taco salads come with the option of regular or vegetarian chili. (And we must say, “Thank you!” to McAlister’s for this.) Tortilla chips line the edge of a huge bowl layered with lettuce, vegetarian chili (if you request it), cheese, and jalapenos topped with sour cream and guacamole scoops. The salad is good, but like any salad that incorporates a warm item, the lettuce loses crispness where it meets the heat. That said, we would probably order this again. Chips offer an additional crunch, jalapenos give the guacamole and sour cream a kick, and a bowl the size of a lamp shade holds enough food to fill two people. This is a great deal at $6.99, and the fact that a multi-state chain is embracing the vegetarian option makes it even better.

McAlister's Deli cup of vegetarian chiliFor those of us not hungry enough for a giant salad, the vegetarian chili is also available by the cup (2.89) or bowl (4.59). But don’t be fooled, just because it comes alone doesn’t mean you need more to make a meal. This is a hearty blend of beans, vegetables and spices that will fill your belly and keep you full for a good long while. While not greasy like many meat-based versions, this offers an intense flavor and a large portion, just what we like in your chili around here.

McAlister's Deli Veggie Club with Macaroni and CheeseWhat’s that? You don’t like chili? First, you’re probably not from Texas… but if you are, that’s OK because McAlister’s offers a vegetarian option on every section of the menu. Baked potato – check. Salad – check. (We realize a salad should be a no brainer, but start looking at the meat-free salad options when you go out. They are surprisingly limited these days.) And let’s not forget about the sandwiches. This is, after all, a deli. The Veggie Club (5.99) is a tower of cucumbers, lettuce, avocado and cheese that hold three layers of wheat bread what must be two inches apart. Crisp and cool, this comes standard with Swiss cheese, but we swapped that for provolone and cheddar and found it even better.

We like McAlister’s potato salad, but were pleasantly surprised when we recently went with a side of macaroni and cheese. This tastes like actual melted cheese instead of the powdered or packaged stuff we expected. We didn’t check the kitchen, but if it’s packaged, it’s a premium blend. Creamy and smooth, we all enjoyed this alternative option.

Finally, we can’t really talk about McAlister’s without mentioning their tea. More than once one of our writers has called the sweet tea insulin in a cup when discussing its wonderful super sweetness. This tea is downright good. So good, in fact, it has its own tea club. And yes, we’re all members here.

McAlister’s Deli is not specifically a vegetarian restaurant, but the chain offers vegetarian options on a daily basis, making it more appealing than the “burger or wilted salad” lunch options so widely available in the same time frame. And even better, the vegetarian options are surprisingly flavorful. If you’re in a hurry for lunch, or just want a change of scenery, find a McAlister’s location near you. Yes it’s a chain, and yes it’s fast food, but somebody forgot to tell that to whoever chose the menu.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next week for another ride through cattle country.

There’s a good chance that those of you who have spent any time in Dallas already know about Cosmic Café. It’s one of the staple places to which people bring their vegetarian friends when they don’t know what to feed them, but it became a staple for a reason.

Maybe the ambience sets the tone for an enjoyable time, maybe people just love the food, or it could be a little of both, but this vegetarian restaurant off Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs has earned its reputation as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Dallas. We might go so far as to list it among the best in North Texas, once we’ve tried all the rest of them.

Cosmic Cafe Metal CupsFor now, though, we’ll confirm this place is something special. Walking in to see Buddha on the wall, a cat by the fireplace, and many other bright points of focus is just the beginning. Water comes in metal cups – which really do make it taste better – and the open room full of tables creates a white noise of conversation. Taking a seat out on the porch may cut down on the surrounding chatter, but the front of the building faces Oak Lawn. Tarot cards on the table help distract from the noise of traffic in the city, though. Inside or out, this is an extremely comfortable place to break away from any stresses of daily life.

The menu invites diners to stay awhile, saying there is no hurry, while books and activities on the tables keep you from realizing how much time might have passed. And you can enjoy meditation or classes, too. But as a restaurant, we’ve got to talk about the grub, right?

Cosmic Café has amazing food. No matter whence the dishes originate, everything here has an Indian twist. The spinach enchiladas (9.90), for instance, contain curried creamed spinach instead of the standard steamed. And the red corn tortillas have a little something extra we couldn’t place, but they are bright and work with the slowly increasing spice level of the filling.

Cosmic Cafe Herban Renewal SandwichIf curry isn’t your thing, try the Herban Renewal (8.46). This sandwich of avocado, creamed cheese, fresh spinach, fresh mushrooms and cheese comes on thick nan is nothing close to spicy. The fresh vegetables and mellow cheeses greeted our taste buds with a hug, and we loved every bite.

Cosmic Cafe Portabella TranceFor a little more flavor pop without moving to a full dinner-sized meal, try the Portabella Trance. Portabella mushrooms, spinach and garlic-sautéed onions give this a more juicy and hearty feel. The hot mushrooms and onions are very juicy, so have plenty of napkins on hand.

Cosmic Cafe SamosaAnd who can resist a samosa, really? Potatoes, peas and mild spices deep fried in a perfectly crisp outer shell are just too good to miss. Two to an order, the samosas (4.95) could easily fill a person over lunch, so plan to share if you want to experience more.

Cosmic Cave Buddha's DelightOr, maybe Buddha’s Delight (9.27) is a better option. This signature dish is almost a sampler platter, offering a samosa, dahl, rice and curried vegetables. Our experience included sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas and spinach, but the vegetables change periodically. The dahl is thick on its own, but put it over the rice and you have a more textured feeling. Three of us loved this plate and we absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for variety.

One thing we’ve looked at several times, but have yet to try is “I Hate Eggplant,” which sounds divine with sautéed eggplant, peppers and onions. We’ll keep that on the list for our next visit.

If you need to get away from the office for lunch, de-stress while you wait out rush hour, or just feed a roaming vegetarian, Cosmic Café has you covered. From reading and classes to meditation and food, this is a great place to visit.

As spring turns to summer, we’ll be looking for more patio locations. If you have a favorite, or just one you want us to try, let us know. We’ll put it on the calendar.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next week for another ride through cattle country.

If you follow us on Twitter, you know we were pretty excited about two food events that happened yesterday: Meatout and Truckstock. We looked forward to Meatout, this year presented by the Black Vegetarian Society of Texas, because it brought vendors and vegetarians together for education and sampling. Truckstock, which we only heard about through Zombie’s food truck, we attended with one goal: Check out Zombies.

Meatout 2012 Solomon EnterpriseMeatout 2012 offered vegan food samples, medical expertise, cooking demos and a welcoming atmosphere in which visitors could come together and learn more about generally healthy living. From midwives and chiropractors to juicers and caterers, the vendors covered a wide range of interests with one thing in common: they all supported a vegetarian lifestyle.

PETA and Mercy for Animals (MFA) had tables covered in stickers and pamphlets to educate attendees on the life “food animals” endure, but given the crowd, it was kind of like preaching to the choir. MFA even handed out a vegetarian starter kit that contains some great recipes, if you can get beyond the brutal reality pictures in the front of the pamphlet. We’re particularly excited to try the “Savory Pot Pie” from page 25.

And speaking of recipes, 30-plus-year vegetarian Chef Jeanette of Crosby Café and Catering gave a cooking demo, but we were focused on the fact that the catering company specializes in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. The whole company! Sure, if a client demands meat for an event it can happen, but this is one caterer over whom you won’t have to hover to ensure vegetarian friendly options. And for the coffee drinkers, Crosby has a line of organic, fair trade and bird friendly coffees.

Kalachandji’s representatives handed out books on yoga, meditation and self-realization. This is the second time we’ve run into some of their representatives within the past couple of months and they’ve given us books on the promise of a donation to come later. We’ll again honor our word to donate the next time we’re at the restaurant for lunch, of course, but we’re impressed that they trust we’ll show up. (This probably says a lot about our jaded natures, too.) The books are technically not sold, but Kalachandji’s asks for donations to offset printing costs. Twice we’ve been cashless and told that whatever makes us comfortable is acceptable. We can’t wait to dive into the books, and we’ll definitely be out at the restaurant within the next couple of weeks to confirm that trust does pay off.

Field Roast and Tofurkey brands of not-meat, various spreads and crackers proved filling even when just sampling a bite here and there. And the Tofurkey rolls (maybe you call them pinwheels?) of tortillas, cream cheese spinach and sliced Tofurkey provided a tasty reminder of how easy it is to snack vegetarian and still have flavor. If free vegan food samples weren’t enough, DallasVegan.com handed out a list of vegan, vegetarian, and vegetarian friendly restaurants in the area. We’ve been to some, and can’t wait to try others.

Truckstock 2012 crowd with dogsWe moved from a community of vegetarians to another food community for Truckstock. Vendors circled the food trucks and fed the masses anything from pulled pork to cupcakes and pretty much everything in between. We went for Zombie’s, so hit that truck first. While standing in line we got to ask for recommendations and were told that the specials would probably run out early, but if we wanted a regular menu item, the Seoul Survivor is popular. We arrived early enough to try all three specials Zombie’s had prepared for the event, but they did eventually sell out.

The Jowah!! (6), a huge beer-basted vegan bratwurst with onions braised in Rahr beer, tasted pretty good even for someone who doesn’t like tofu dogs. The bolillo roll was crispy and the condiment and topping to wurst ratio was spot on for maximum flavor.

We didn’t try the sandwich, because we only had two stomachs, but one of our dining neighbors at the giant spool where we stood to eat said he didn’t realize it was vegan, it was just good. At an event that caters to meat eaters, this is saying quite a bit.

Truckstock 2012 Zombie's Daisy DoolinAnother “it’s just good” item was the Daisy Doolin (4). This vegan Frito pie should absolutely be added to the regular menu. At least during the cold months, although it is Texas and we have chili cookoffs on 105-degree days. The Chili is not heavy or greasy like meat-based versions. This is light and fresh with more of a mild salsa feel. The chips are similar to those found in tortilla soup, and add just enough to the beautiful chili. If Zombie’s does add this to the regular menu (hint, hint), get it with avocado because the way that mellow flavor and mushy texture compliments the fresh pico and jalapenos is well worth the added buck. From the sour cream sauce to the pico and down to scraping the sides of the bowl, this is absolutely wonderful. Not for a vegetarian or vegan version of something, either. The omnivore agreed, this is just plain good.

Truckstock 2012 Zombie's Decadence in an CupThe special we were told will stay on the regular menu is the dessert, Decadance in a Cup (4). Multiple people saw our nearly black chocolate mousse with strawberries and wanted to know where we got it. When we pointed to the truck, each of them got in line. This ultra-rich, dark chocolate avocado mousse was absolutely decadent; adding strawberries made it downright sinful. The mousse is a little heavy, but not the pudding texture one person described. This is almost the texture of a good Greek yogurt, only creamier. And the chocolate is dark, dark, dark. So dark we didn’t notice the avocado. Bring someone who likes chocolate so you can share, because this really is too much of a good thing for one person to finish.

In talking about the truck with Zombie’s owner Fred Hoang-Davis, we particularly liked that he said vegan food isn’t only for vegans any more than Indian food is only for Indians. Well put, sir! The success here comes from making good food for everyone. This good food just happens to be vegan. And all the people we saw eating off his truck seemed to like what they had, so he’s definitely on to something.

Unfortunately for us, we only had two stomachs running around on Saturday, so by the time we finished trying (devouring is more like it) the food we set out to try, we didn’t have room for any of the other trucks. You can check Google for Truckstock 2012 and find plenty of foodies who reviewed the rest of the vendors. This was a first experience with food trucks (not counting the construction site pre-packaged meal trucks) for both of the VICC Project attendees and we both absolutely loved it. Next time we’re in Fort Worth, we’ll make a point to look out for Zombie’s.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

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