It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
Earlier this year, Seattle was dubbed the nation's best city for vegetarians; as one living here, I can vouch the award was well-earned. In recent years I've eaten exceptional meals in Boston at True Bistro, Chicago at Green Zebra, and La Toque in Napa, but few cites country wide offer the dense abundance of vegetable cuisine as Seattle's dining scene. Anyone care to draw a parallel between our distinction as the premier veg-based dining locale, and the Emerald City's recent decoration as the third smartest city in North America? Not right now? Then you'll just have to excuse me while I toot Seattle's carrot-chomping, lettuce-loving, smart-ass horn....toot toot!
It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
Yes, 2012 was a great year for the Seattle vegetarian and while there are many things I love about being one (an expendable grocery budget for organic produce, little worry of incurring diet-related conditions, a lifestyle that keeps a small carbon footprint, to start), one of my biggest is the simple pleasure of vegetable based cooking. The debauched joy of locating a veggie dog stand at midnight (above, right). Innovative recipes from The Chubby Vegetarian, Hot Knives, and Seattle's own Herbivoracious. Plum's Mac 'n' Yease. OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.
As I look forward another year of eating and adventuring in Seattle, a few places from my inaugural gastro-tour deserve mention. These "best bites," either fully vegan or just veg-friendly, stood out for the penultimate criteria I always look for: Options, quality, and ambiance/service. Read on for the best bites of Beet Street 2012, and happy, healthy eating in 2013!
Best Bar Food: The Neighbor Lady: Can you say vegetarian poutine and white bean sliders? Vegetarians ride the gravy train at the Neighbor Lady.
Best Breakfast: Silence Heart Nest: Get over the weird name (WTF?) and there's a brunch in your future you won't soon forget. How can you really go wrong when you smother baked eggs in cheese and pesto?
Best Burger: Zippy's Giant Burgers: Rae's Black Bean Burger is a tasty beacon for any herbivore stranded in Zippy's meaty waters, a standout among its kind in Seattle, and a good value--you won't have to eat again for days!
Best Chinese: Bamboo Garden: Get the General Tso's chicken (see left). You're welcome!
Period. End of sentence.
Best Comfort Food: St. Dames: Dames gives new meaning to the expression "Eat more [tamari braised] kale." Tender though not overcooked, it has a textured bite, a slight briney flavor, and goes great with their hush puppies. Never tried it? Get to St. Dames on the double!
Best Dining Companion Ever: Toby. Toby dines with true gusto, is up for adventure, and always brings thoughtful observations to the table. Unless otherwise noted, Toby is my de-facto dining date.
Gnoshing down at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.
Best Dog: Cyber Dogs: Come for the dogs (I recommend the "Doga Lisa," a tender soy frank housed in a soft wheat bun, blasted with pesto, tomatoes, lots of Parmesan, and baked to cheesy, gooey perfection), stay for owner Tatiana Harrison's warm fuzzies.
Best Fancy: Tilth: Best vegetable tasting menu in the city with a vegan option to boot. Items are prepared with exceptionally fresh ingredients and true finesse. Wear something nice!
Best Happy Hour: Cafe Flora: For vegetarians who have long since tired of the token hummus platter and uninspired piles of cheese at other happy hours, Cafe Flora's is a gold mine. The sweet potato fries and quesadilla verde are not to be missed.
Best Hippie: Chaco Canyon: Chaco Canyon is an oasis of Zen-inspired fare and a serene dining experience. Try the lentil burger or the aptly-named hippie bowl.
Best Indian: Pabla Buffet: Pack your plate with samosas, mint chutney, vegetable pakoras, nan, basmati rice with mixed vegetables, saag paneer, daal maharani (creamed lentils), and mushroom masala (mushrooms cooked with tomatoes, green peppers, and spices). If you have any room left, you can get seconds or a sticky-sweet Punjabi desert.
Best Italian: Tavolata: It certainly isn't vegetarian, but there's enough room at Tavolata's communal table for all eaters, and its house made, veg-friendly pastas are worth the visit. And the burrata!
Best Mexican: Mission Latin Restaurant and Lounge: Get the sauteed vegetable tacos, mushroom quesadilla, sweet potato tacos, nachos; wash down with plenty of margaritas. Repeat as necessary.
Best Pizza: Proletariat: Whether you're a wage-worker or bourgeoisie, Proletariat's unfussy yet genuine hospitality and great olive oil based vegetarian pies are worth returning for.
Best Raw Pizza: Pure: Made with cashew "cheeze," a sprouted crust--something like a flax/sunflower/pumpkin seed cracker--and topped with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes, Pure's raw 'za is marvelous.
Raw pizza worth a ferry ride!
Best Sandwich: Georgetown Liquor Company: From the Sleestak (roasted red peppers, goat cheese and arugula) to the Lowell (vegan ham, cheddar, and chiles on a whole wheat hoagie), the sammies here are as beloved as the Atari arcade games lining the walls.
Best Thai: Jhanjay: Zesty stir-fries, flavorful sauces, a bounty of mock meat, what more does a vegetarian need? Wine? Oh yeah, they've got that too--the Riesling at $6 a glass is a perfect pair to any dish here.
Best Vegan: Plum Bistro: Any restaurant that can unify omnivores and vegetarians alike through a dish called "Mac 'n' Yease" is doing something right.