Archives for posts with tag: Must Frequent

When we pulled up to Thai Tanee on Alpha Rd. in Dallas, we were a little unsure about going in. Situated between a laundromat on one end and a pool hall on the other, we weren’t sure what we were walking into; but when we found an elegant room and a friendly staff inside.

Fried Tofu from Thai TaneeFrom the many appetizers, we went with Fried Tofu (4.95). Fresh from the pan, this was hot, hot, hot with very crispy corners and a soft interior. With pretty much the same flavor all tofu has, the sauce made the dish delicious with its light sweetness and crushed peanuts.

Pra Ram (Peanut Sauce) from Thai TaneeThe Pra Ram (peanut sauce) with veggies (8.5) is a wonderful dinner. This came out like a curry, with plenty of sauce and vegetables beside a cone of rice. The sauce was thinner than other peanut sauces we have experienced, but it was so full of flavor we were surprised. A strong peanut smell filled the area surrounding our table as we tried the amazing dish. Sweet and nutty, this comes with plenty of peanuts crumbled over the top of mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, cabbage and baby corn. We can’t recommend this enough. If you can only come here once, we encourage you to try the Pra Ram.  

Pad See Ew from Thai TaneeWe always like Pad See Ew, so tried it here with tofu (8.5). The dish is sweet, but not so much so that it builds to a sickly sweetness before finishing. Always mild, this is one of our favorite versions. The tofu is firm and big noodles are well cooked. The sauce is darker than others we’ve tried, but also more delicious.

Pad Woon Sen from Thai TaneeThe Pad Woon Sen (8.5) is also quite nice. Crisp celery, carrots and onions with whole mushrooms accent wonderfully chewy glass noodles that perfectly cooked to a complimentary texture. We had this with tofu, which is pretty basic, but if you prefer meat, that is an option.

Pad Thai from Thai TaneeWe also enjoyed Pad Thai (8.5) with its spicy green onions and sweet sauce. This is extremely flavorful and the noodles are thick and well coated in sauce. The spice from a green onion spice took us off guard at first, but it worked with the sweet to create a wonderful dish.

We were only one of three tables on our first visit, and one of two on our second. This is most likely because of the variety of ordering options. Dine in, of course, carry out, and delivery are all available. And, you can even order online, so the lack of visible customers is not indicative of the restaurant’s quality. The atmosphere is nice, the staff friendly and the food ranges from great to amazing. Thai Tanee is an instant favorite we can’t wait to visit again.

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

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

A recommendation from a friend put Sal’s Pizza Restaurant in Plano, Tx. on our radar, and we couldn’t be happier. With fresh made dough, delicious pasta, and friendly staff, it’s no wonder we like this place. We walked in and immediately felt like we were visiting friends.

Sal's Angel Hair with Garlic and Olive OilOn the first visit, the angel hair with olive oil and garlic (7.95) set the bar for everything else. Clean pasta with large slices of garlic may sound simple, but this was definitely art. The garlic was flavorful and the pasta cooked just right to layer the flavor and texture for a perfect meal.

Sal's Cheese Ravioli with Tomato SauceLater, the vegetarian tried some cheese ravioli with fresh tomato sauce (6.95). We asked and were told the sauce does not contain any meat broth. The sauce was tangy and plentiful, almost to the point of drowning the huge ravioli. The ravioli are filled with ricotta cheese and herbs, so given their size, this is an intense flavor on its own. Balance the sauce to cheese ratio in each bite for the best meal.

Sal's SaladPasta dishes here come with a basic salad and bread. The salad is nothing special, just some iceberg lettuce, a cucumber slice, a cherry tomato, and a pepper, but the house dressing is amazing. A thick tomato-based vinaigrette tangy enough to make you pucker, this is our new favorite dressing.

Sal's Pepperoni and HamburgerAll of us like the pizza here, and prices ranging from $9 to $18, we can actually afford to love it. The carnivore tried pepperoni and hamburger and noticed it is not nearly as greasy as other pepperoni pizzas he’s had. The cheese and meat are piled onto a hand-tossed crust that is the perfect thickness to appeal to both crisp and chewy pizza lovers.

Sal's Slice of Margarita PizzaThe margarita pizza is heavy with cheese and contains no sauce. Fresh basil cut into large strips and generously spread over the fresh sliced tomatoes give this an artful appearance. When the waiter said he liked how it looked, we had no idea it would be this colorful. Beautiful and delicious, we absolutely recommend the margarita pizza.

Sal's Veggie Pizza with added Sun Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke HeartsWe also tried Sal’s Veggie pizza, but we added sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Those were absolutely worth adding as they changed the dish from what would have been a better than average mushroom, black olive, green pepper and onion pizza to an amazing texture and flavor combination.

None of the pizzas are overloaded with red sauce, so if you prefer heavy sauce you should ask for it. We love the dough, so are happy to be able to taste the bread without an overwhelming sauce presence. All the pizza we tried was dry on the bottom, so we could use our hands without worry.

In short, Sal’s Pizza Restaurant offers delicious pizza and pasta, is a good choice for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, and delivers everything we could want from a great pizza place.

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

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

For about three years a little Indian restaurant has stayed tucked in a shopping center off Belt Line and Central Expressway in Richardson. But Udipi Cafe is not just another Indian buffet. Everything served at this restaurant is vegetarian. Not just vegetarian friendly, but 100% meat- and broth-free vegetarian food. How have we missed this for so long?

Whatever kept us away before, we’re definitely going back now. The wait staff is a mix of people from friendly and helpful to curmudgeonly yet somehow easy to like. The food, however, is absolutely wonderful. On our first visit, we were so overwhelmed by options that we had to ask for a recommendation. Yes, it was strange and wonderful to have an entire menu from which to choose; so strange that we couldn’t make a choice.

Udipi Cafe Soup AppetizerDuring dinner, an appetizer of soup came to the table. If this is a standard item, be aware that we dubbed it “Death Pepper and Cauliflower Soup.” We felt it in our tear ducts, yet we it was extremely flavorful and we kept putting our spoons back in the bowls. Definitely try it if you can take the heat.

Per our request, our waiter gave us a few options. He first recommended a dosa, which one of us ordered, then said the mutter panner or butter paneer masala would be good. We went for the second option and were delighted with the dish.

Udipi Cafe Huge Butter Masala DosaUdipi Cafe Butter Masala Dosa FillingWhen the food arrived we discovered that Udipi Cafe is very generous with portions. The Dosa was huge, possibly the biggest one we’ve had so far. The beautifully crispy crepe is monstrous, but the filling is centered over a plate so we were pleased to find that this is actually manageable. We still had enough to take home, though. The spicy yellow potato filling definitely builds the heat, but it takes a while. The sauces are not going to cool anything down, either. This is delicious, but bring tissues if you aren’t used to spicy foods.

Udipi Cafe Butter Paneer MasalaOnce we tasted the butter paneer masala we had to ask and discovered that the paneer is made in house. It is firm, yet doesn’t crumble, and has a nice flavor on its own. The sauce is not spicy at first, but give it a minute to build and you’ll fall in love as fast as we did. Creamy and tomato based, this had a slight anise seed flavor that made the thick sauce stand out.

Udipi Cafe Buffet PlateIf you are in the mood for a buffet, come in for lunch. At about the size of any other buffet, this one holds only vegetarian dishes, so you get twice the normal variety. Try all of your favorites, of course, but be aware that they will bring you a fresh, yet slightly smaller, dosa, so save some room.

The only negative we encountered was the dessert cart not holding gulab jamun. That’s not actually a negative so much as our being spoiled by most other buffets we encounter offering it. We were honestly too stuffed for much dessert, so it’s probably a good thing it wasn’t there.

Overall, we were delighted to find an Indian buffet where we didn’t have to deal with goat meat while reaching for the spinach and we were even more pleased when we discovered the food is delicious. We will definitely add Udipi Cafe to our must frequent list. Maybe we’ll see you there on our next visit.

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

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

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.

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.

Healthful vegetarian meals can do wonders for the body, but who says vegetarians all have time to shop, rinse, chop and cook every single day just because we cut that one little thing out of our diets? Sometimes, we like to pull the junk food out of the freezer just like anybody else. (There, the secret is out. We can all stop gasping and pretending this is a surprise.) But for years this was a difficult objective. Vegetable lasagna doesn’t always mean vegetarian, and reading every label in search of chicken stock or beef broth can get time consuming. There was always a small group of options at any major grocery store, maybe three to five products, plus veggie dogs, available to us, but that’s changing fast.

We’ve recently noticed the vegetarian sections in the freezer cases getting larger. The original few selections from Amy’s and a few more from MorningStar Farms or Boca are still around but lately we’ve noticed actual vegetarian (not so much vegan yet, sorry) options for pizza, burritos and a wider variety of meat substitutes.

Whole Foods Market's frozen meals displayEven the go-to veggie places are increasing their options. Whole Foods Market has a huge selection of Amy’s products (perhaps the whole line, with at least three cases of just that brand), Tofurkey pizzas and meals, Kashi, Starlite Cuisine – which was new to us – and the more widely accessible brands we keep stocked in our freezers. Add to that Veganaise, Tofutti and Wallaby brands and you might not need to go anyplace else. The frozen options are mostly of the three to five minute variety, so we’re well on our way to fitting in with the other people who don’t have time to cook.

Central Market Frozen Food DisplayCentral Market offers an equally strong variety of frozen meals, but, to be honest, we started going there for the bakery. Artisan breads made fresh daily, need we say more? We do? Really? OK. Fresh tortillas made in house! We asked, and these do not include lard, so there’s a double bonus. Yes, we’ve loved Central market for years, mostly for the bakery, but also for the variety of vegetarian and vegan options the stores offer.

While looking for fast meals, remember that Whole Foods and Central Market have both created their own store brands that offer some vegetarian options. Whole Foods markets their brand under 365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic Everyday Value while Central Market’s brand uses the store name. Both stores also have great bulk and pre-made areas to grab anything from pickles and olives to pesto and couscous. These can get a little pricey, but the options are there if you’re in a hurry.

Natural Grocers frozen food displayIn our search for fast options, we ran across a Natural Grocers. Never having been into one, we were impressed with wide the vegetarian selection, which extended beyond the freezer case and into the frozen bins, but also with the prices. Some of the items we saw here were significantly less expensive than at similar places. Of course, dealing with specialty foods means paying more until our diets are mainstream, but this bill didn’t sting like so many others.

Sprouts Texas Grown produce signWe found another nice surprise at Sprouts Farmers Market. This store offers dry goods and bulk snacks, but it really does look more like a market than a store. The produce stacked up in bins and along walls was clean, colorful, and it smelled delicious. Coming across a huge section marked “Texas Grown” didn’t hurt our opinions, either. We like any chance we get to eat food grown on relatively nearby soil so the sign made us smile. Add to all of this a decent sound track and Sprouts absolutely goes onto our “must frequent” list.

Mock Abalone and Mock Chicken from an Asian marketA couple of options we never heard mentioned when asking people where to find good vegetarian pre-made food are the Asian and Indian markets around town. This hole in the suggestion list surprised us. Given the abundance of vegetarian options available at any of these stores we honestly thought those would be top of the list. Whether you are looking for mock meats or paneer, both of these tend to have huge selections at great prices. We often spend less going to both our local Indian and Asian markets in one day than we do in a quick trip to Whole Foods. Like so many other places, the vegetarian and meat versions are shelveGreen dot marking vegetarian option on Indian food packagingd side by side, but reading the labels will keep you on track. And here’s a helpful tip: foods imported from or intended for sale in India tend to have either red or green dots on their packages, indicating meat (red) or veg (green) ingredients. That’s a shopping speed increase off the bat.

Wherever you shop, if you’re in the market for quick microwave meals and prepared foods, the vegetarian options are growing. Yes, fresh is always better, and better for you, but that’s generally true about anything. And, like so many other people around here, sometimes we’re just too busy to dice and chop, bake and boil, stir and fry. But it’s great to know we have options and that they’re growing every day.

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.

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.

When we walked inside Spiral Diner, we noticed a brightness and cheerful decorative style. A clock painted directly on the wall, paper lanterns hanging from a silver ceiling – this is a great place just to be. Guests read from books provided by the restaurant and get their own drinks from the Oogave soda fountain. Sweetened with agave nectar, these sodas are extra fizzy and come in a variety of interesting favors. Root beer tastes exactly like any mass-marketed brand and grapefruit soda was an unexpected treat, but watermelon cream soda is truly amazing. And it’s for sale by the four pack over in the Spiral Market.

The food gives those super sodas a run for their money, too. A full menu with one catch – it’s totally vegan. That’s right. All of it. (Can you hear the church choir, or is that just us?) Order anything you want without worry. And in our experience, anything you order will be good.

Spiral Diner - Ramsey's Perfect Protein PlatterRamsey’s Perfect Protein Platter (7.95) made us look again when it hit the table. A plate of mush is what entered our minds on first site, but that plate soon emptied. Black beans and quinoa mixed with salsa make an extremely filling and flavorful dish. We added broccoli (only a buck extra), but could have easily gone with field greens (also a dollar) instead. This almost tastes like the inside of a bean burrito, only better. The salsa adds a tang, but the tahini dressing brings a flare and changes the flavor. This is very good, but we felt like we needed something with it – bread or naan, tortillas, chips, anything, really. That is more likely attributed to our own eating habits than to any sort of lacking in the meal, which is so filling as it comes that we recommend wearing an elastic waistband if you order it. Really, it’s so good you can’t stop eating, but filling enough you probably should.

When we asked the waiter what the restaurant is known for, other than being vegan, he said Nachos Supremo (9.50) is the most popular dish, and for a reason. “It’s good for you, but it doesn’t taste like it’s good for you.”

Spiral Diner - Nachos SupremoHe was correct. These nachos taste like nachos. Not like vegan nachos, not like nearly nachos; they taste like honest to goodness, lick the dripping cheese off your fingers and scrape it off your shirt, gooey, yummy nachos. No kidding! With quinoa, textured vegetable protein and black beans, there is no shortage of protein here. And given these are vegan, there is no guilt here, either. The “cheese” looks like mustard but tastes like cheese. It might be a little sweeter than traditional nacho cheese, but not much. And the “sour cream” takes the heat out of jalapeños just like the milk-based stuff does. Corn is a nice addition to standard nacho toppings like black olives and guacamole. Big enough to share, this pile of flavor is messy and crunchy with bottom chips getting soggy enough to make us use forks. A wonderful first experience with Spiral Diner, the nachos alone are reason enough to come back.

Spiral Diner - Sketti & MeatballsSketti & Meatballs (and pesto and pine nuts) with toast (8.95) is a plate of happiness. To quote Rachael Ray: “Yum-o.” A dark green thread of pesto drizzled over the red and orange mix of noodles and sauce. Pine nuts generously sprinkled over the top. Tangy tomato sauce. This is a good meal. The meatballs hold together like they are made of actual meat, but don’t worry, they are mushroom based. And oh so good! Again, be ready for an environmentally friendly box because plenty comes on the plate.

Spiral Diner - Chipotle QuesadillasA perfect appetizer or lunch option, the Chipotle Quesadilla w/ grilled tofu (9.50) are very messy, but taste great. Full of a mild flavor that’s almost like cream cheese, but of course it can’t be, the mushy texture with firm tofu makes for an interesting combo. A whole-wheat tortilla comes standard, but a corn tortilla is available for those living gluten free. This comes complete with guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños.

And finally, thanks to Restaurant Deals (@DealforkFW on Twitter) for recommending The “Ate” Layer Burrito (8.50). Again, large enough to share, this bursts with flavor. Corn, olives, quinoa and a perfect combination of other goodies had us looking at the burrito after every bite. The ingredients here resemble those in the Nachos Supremo, which makes sense and explains our instant love of this item.

While half the burrito was plenty to satiate a growling stomach, Spiral Diner offers sides. Out of curiosity, we went with the potato salad and this was the absolute best decision we’ve made since falling in love with this restaurant. There is enough dill in here to make it taste like a potato and a pickle had a head on collision in the condiment aisle; and boy is that good.

When we were at the cash register on one of our trips, our waiter recommended we also try D’Vegan, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant. This is an unaffiliated, potentially competitive restaurant, but instead of thinking about the dollars we could spend elsewhere, the staff members at Spiral Diner actually care that their costumers enjoy good, vegan food. We have to respect any place that employs caring people and recommends other businesses within the vegan community. Add to that the incredible food and fun atmosphere and Spiral Diner is a must-frequent favorite. And let’s not forget – Sunday is all-you-can-eat-pancake day! We will definitely be back.

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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