For many an undergrad, the college years are an experimental time: a time to do illicit drugs, bang your way through a fraternity, and explore the vegetarian lifestyle. OK, I don't have proper stats on those first two, but generally speaking, college towns have more vegan, vegetarian, and vegetarian-friendly restaurants than any other kind of 'hood (save, like, certain hippified parts of California--not that there's anything wrong with that).
Organic, house-made tortilla chips and salsas from the salsa bar are bomb-diggety.
It's no wonder our own U-District boasts a share of its own: places like Araya's, Chaco Canyon, Wayward Cafe, Pizza Pi, and Sunlight Cafe are well-loved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, and you'll find wholesome fare at them all, each with their own bland view of the Ave, or a parking lot--but nothing like the panoramic vista of Lake Washington at the Agua Verde Paddle Club.
To be clear, Agua Verde is not a vegetarian restaurant--Mexican standards like Carne Asada and Pollo en Mole are available here, but with a focus on natural, sustainable, locally sourced foods, it's easy to get behind Agua Verde (and if you've ever wondered if your refried beans are swimming in lard, you can rest easy here--all sides, from the Arroz Verde con Acelga--green rice with chard, quite good--to the pureed black beans are vegetarian).
The place is extremely popular--families, students, groups of friends were all piled in when my boyfriend's family and I stopped in on a recent Friday night. The entryway was so packed that the swinging door (be aware: the front door swings widely both ways!) smacked a woman straight in the face. She braved the abuse gracefully enough, but quickly shimmied out of the way, and you can only image how many times that's happened. We had just enough time to slurp down a margarita in the madness when we were whisked away from the crowd to the enclosed, heated porch.
In addition to a pick of side dishes, veggies also have abounding options for dinner--many dishes, like the quesadillas, nachos, salads, and soups are made vegetarian and chicken, pork, fish, or steak can be added for an additional charge. After plowing through a pile of organic, house-made tortillas--with a few rounds of Verde's three salsas--I tasted the Burrito Vegetariano, a mild mix of yams, onions, peppers, rice, pinto beans, and jack cheese swaddled in a spinach wrap. Served with a side of lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream it was a little bland but exceptionally filling, and an extra slathering of salsa and guacamole peppered up the flavor profile nicely (we had ordered a few sides and I added some of that green rice to a few bites, too).
The meal was satisfactory--not show-stopping but I barely tipped the iceberg for a true measure--so I made a note to return to work my way through more of the vegetarian dishes and also to observe how perfectly Verde captures Seattle weird: it just has that casual-Mexican-restaurant/spirit-of-the-U District/kayaks-and-paddleboards-for-rent/stunning-lake-view-at-down-to-earth-prices thing down pat. Agua Verde may not hit all the right notes, but for freewheeling folks--vegetarian and beyond--on a budget, there's nothing else like it.