Most vegetarians can remember a time not very long ago when the restaurant definition of vegetarian food was a plate of pasta primavera. While a few dedicated eateries - which you could typically identify by the Tibetan prayer flags out front - catered to meat abstainers with brown rice, tofu, sprouts, avocados and nutritional yeast, the vast majority of serious restaurants built their menus around animal flesh. Vegetarians grew accustomed to snacking before eating out.
But chefs have lately gotten wise to the splendor of vegetables, and eaters of all dietary inclinations are the beneficiaries. Whether someone orders sweet potato kale cakes because of a doctor's directive to cut back on red meat; because of a belief that a higher power doesn't want people to eat pork or because industrial agriculture isn't kind to the earth or its creatures makes no difference: The dish is still delicious.
Here, our picks for the 10 Seattle restaurants serving the very best vegetarian dishes, no matter what drives you to order them. And, speaking of ordering, the numbering of our list is arbitrary, except that we've put our favorite restaurant in the number one slot. As always, Erin Thompson compiled the contributors' comments explaining why these restaurants may make you want to permanently stash your steak knife.
10. Plum Bistro
Vegan food isn't the same as chomping into seared flesh, but it can be just as delicious, and Plum Bistro has solidified itself as one of Seattle's best vegan restaurants by proving it. Owner Makini Howell, who admits she's never even tasted meat, opened Plum because, being raised in a vegan household, she never had an upscale place to dine. "Most of our customers are not vegan or vegetarian at all," says Howell. Dishes on the bistro's menu include spicy Cajun mac and yease, quinoa and BBQ burgers, raw lasagna with walnut pesto, and hearty salads. And for brunch, the Stumptown pancakes with vegan cream sauce and chocolate is something everyone should eat at least once in their lives.
9. Sunlight Cafe
Here's who shouldn't go to the Sunlight: people who think the 1960s should be forgotten, who get upset by alfalfa sprouts, or who think tofu is a four-letter word. Their loss: the Roosevelt cafe's whole-grain hotcakes, veggie scrambles, big ol' sandwiches on house-made bread, and black bean burritos are delicious. And like all old-time hippie fare, food at the Sunlight is very filling.
Chaco Canyon Cafe walks its talk. Washington's first certified organic vegetarian cafe, it features a wide range of foods as diverse as its U District locale. Diners know what they're eating is good for the body, the soul, and the earth. Chaco Canyon offers enticing raw-food options, including the enchilada plate with cashew "cheese" and raw tomato tortillas, and the cilantro-pesto pizza. Cooked foods include one of Seattle's favorite veggie burgers--the lentil burger, with its finger-lickable "special sauce"--and a tangy artichoke melt. Weekend visitors will find brunch a treat, and folks looking for something simpler can choose from a rainbow of healthy smoothies and shakes.
7. St. Dames
Columbia City's beloved vegetarian eatery is a sought-after destination for veggies exploring the area. Religious-themed collage art, scattered potted plants, cozy wood booths, and festive string lights pull off a kind of "tasteful hippie" (or is that "eccentric aunt"?) aesthetic. Their price point is equally homey: entrees do not exceed $13, while wines by the glass range right around $6. Vegan mac and cheese is served with a generously portioned side dish of tamari braised kale, slightly salty and nutrient-rich. The Italian white bean and herb fritters, kale-pistachio ravioli in smoked goat cheese sauce, and samosa-style hush puppies are also truly exceptional.
Each night, in one or two seatings (make reservations!), Wallingford's Sutra serves a prix fixe dinner in four exquisite courses. The seasonal menu changes every few days, but each dish incorporates an astonishing range of organic, farmed, or foraged vegetables--creativity is king at this place. Here's a bare-bones description of a possible meal, omitting about half the actual ingredients for brevity's sake: a starter of savory wild-nettle bisque paired with a salad of pickled radishes, Asian pear, and fennel; a glazed lentil-arugula-cipollini onion cake; a main course of pumpkin-sesame gnocchi topped with wild chanterelles and a sage-tomato-saffron sauce; and a dessert of Theo Chocolate mousse torte, so creamy and luscious it couldn't possibly have been made without butter and eggs--but it was.
This tiny space in the Convention Center serves several purposes: hot dog joint/coffee house/Internet cafe/job referral service. Amid all this miscellany, dig into a Laika dog, smothered in eggplant caviar, zucchini paste, and chopped onions; or a Greek Goddess, a hummus-shrouded dog topped with avocado, veggies, and fresh Parmesan. Oh, one more thing: The entire menu is vegetarian, with not a "real" meat hot dog to be found.
At first glance, Georgetown Liquor Company comes off as a rough-and-tumble bar in south-central Seattle. But as you take a gander at the menu, you realize the cowboy-ish facade is just that; you're actually in a vegetarian restaurant. The menu ranges from nachos (with veggie taco meat) and tamales to "The Enterprise," a savory housemade veggie burger, and "The Lowell," a hoagie stuffed with vegan "ham," green chiles, cheddar, baby greens, roma tomato, and chipotle aioli. Generous salads and tasty homemade soups are also available in this shabby watering hole that brings home its mantra: food strong enough for a carnivore, made for an herbivore.
3. Cafe Flora
It's so nice when vegetarian restaurants take some creative license and do something adventurous within the confines of meatlessness. But sometimes you just want comfort food. Café Flora offers the best of both worlds: You can get tacos and black bean burgers here, and they will be excellent, but it's also the kind of place where you can order bizarre-sounding stuff like lavender ratatouille with chickpea polenta. And only here would ordering such a thing seem even remotely advisable.
Popular for its lunch buffet, the charming Araya's keeps an all-vegan kitchen, so its dining room draws a diverse group of college students, animal lovers, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews--as well as eaters who aren't driven by dietary restrictions. The restaurant's decades-long history shows in its decor, a dark wood scheme that's a few leaves short of a fern bar, and its mastery of Thai cooking. The custardy fried tofu could pass for dessert, and the silky green curry is terrific. Many of the dishes made with meat substitute somehow taste meatier than the real deal, perhaps because Araya has cut out the bovine middleman and put stunning vegetal flavors straight on the plate.
When it opened in 1996, Carmelita was only Seattle's second option for vegetarian fine dining. Yet 15 years and a whole host of competitors later, it's still the city's best. Both a neighborhood standard and a veg-foodie destination, Carmelita welcomes all with its rich tapestry of sights, smells, and tastes. While catering primarily to vegetarians and vegans, it has always done what some consider impossible: please meat-eaters too. Though the menu is seasonal and constantly changing, diners can always depend on, at the very least, one menu item that will appeal to--and appease--disciples of the flesh.
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