moonlight.jpg
Shabby outside, grungy inside, sketchy karaoke, and kick-ass vegan eats.
My recent dining adventures at Renton's Blossom Vegetarian got me pining for the mock meat-studded

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Moonlight Cafe Looks Like Shit and Is the Shit

moonlight.jpg
Shabby outside, grungy inside, sketchy karaoke, and kick-ass vegan eats.
My recent dining adventures at Renton's Blossom Vegetarian got me pining for the mock meat-studded plates at its parent restaurant, Moonlight Cafe. Moonlight's iffy interior--gummy tables, spotty carpet--is a lowly cousin to Blossom's refined aesthetic, but that's never kept me far from its doors. I've actually acquired, after many visits, a whole set of "Tupperware" re-purposed from their sturdy take-out containers.

Like its stuck-in-time shabby decor, Moonlight's menu is just as unchanging, but it's always a reliable pleasure. A trip to Moonlight is like visiting an old aunt who's always glad to see you but doesn't clean up for the occasion, greeting you with smudged lipstick in an apartment full of old newspapers. Servers prep food, sort basil, top off soy sauce, and fill jars of sambal right there in the front of the house. Dishes are served on chipped plates and mismatched dinnerware. If you've been there often through the years, you're bound to see a veteran face in the waitstaff.

For vegans and vegetarians, few Seattle restaurants can top this brand of unfussy hospitality, and it all culminates with the vegan menu--the item-for-item mirror of Moonlight's traditional Vietnamese menu. And yes, folks have been raving some time over the dueling menus, but really, who else goes to those lengths (I'm talking a whopping 105 menu items) for us veggies?

It's a smorgasbord. For starters, there's the fried eggrolls, which are supreme, filled with cabbage, carrots, "pork," liberally seasoned with black pepper, and served with a light soy dipping sauce. Vegetarians often opt for fresh rolls to side-step their fried, pork-filled counterparts, but no worries here with these vegan torpedoes. The fresh rolls are lighter but packed with flavor, housing delicate shreds of fried tofu, rice noodles, and basil in a rice paper wrapper next to a savory peanut sauce.

If you've ever questioned whether your tofu pho broth hints of chicken or beef, you'll not wonder here. The broth on #41, the special tofu & vegetable noodle soup, is clean and aromatic, with rich flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and garlic. With all the noodley accoutrements and a variety of vegan meats--ham, fried tofu, mushroom cake, and gluten balls--you've got yourself a meal indeed, and one free of doubt.

Oh, and then there's the eternally endearing Engrish, which is not a knock on the establishment but a final salute to its worn-in character. It may have been edited since I picked up the old, battered take-out menu I keep in a kitchen drawer, but item #49 on the vegan menu reads: "Bun Rieu Chay, crap meat & tofu noodle soup." Years ago I underlined it and have a chuckle every time I call in a take-out order, and truth be told, I've never ordered it. I can hardly tear myself away from the chicken cashew with vegetables (#64) or the vermicelli rice noodle bowl with shredded tofu, egg roll & grilled pork (#37). But let's get real here: it's probably the shit.

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