Rest of the Best: 10 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Houston

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Photo courtesy Radical Eats
Who knew vegan food could taste so good? Check this dish out at our No. 2 pick!
Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we're rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!

When many people hear the word "vegan," their minds immediately rush to all the things that are not a part of a vegan diet, all the things a vegan can't eat. It's all about the negative--the lack of meat, the dearth of dairy, the absence of eggs.

If you're one of those people (just admit it) who turns his or her nose up at veganism as a fad or an unpleasantly restrictive diet, I encourage you to look at it from another perspective: Think of all the things a vegan can eat.

In a recent post about his own dabbles in veganism for Lent, Nicholas Hall wrote:

"When I dabble in faceless food, I always prefer to approach it from a different angle. While there are certainly challenges in moving from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one, I see those challenges as something to embrace. I see it as an opportunity to try new ingredients, ideas, and techniques."

So, thankfully, do all these restaurants. They may not all be completely vegan, but they all embrace the lifestyle and keep "faceless food" as interesting and delicious as possible.

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Spring in Houston: 5 Standout Artichoke Dishes Around Town

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Photo courtesy of Backstreet Cafe
This stuffed artichoke is available at Backstreet Cafe for a limited time only.
We don't know about you, but we've got a little bit of spring (veggie) fever over here. We've already looked at the best places to get your asparagus on, but this week, artichokes are the name of the game.

The ever-versatile vegetable, which is native to the Mediterranean, has a peak season that runs from March through May. That means you have another two months to enjoy these green goddesses at their fullest.

We've rounded up five must-try dishes from Houston's finest (and we're not talking your run of the mill spinach and artichoke dip).

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Vegan with a Vengeance: Pizza

Categories: How To, Vegetarian

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Vegan Pizza, pre-bake.
We'll get it out of the way right now: I'm being a bit loose in my veganism. I'm not eating any animals, dairy products, or eggs, but I'm not strictly avoiding sugar, nor actively eschewing honey. Call me a bad vegan. That's fine, because I'm not actually a vegan, I just play one on TV. Or for Lent. That's kind of the same, right?

I didn't figure it would be a terribly tough leap, as my family eats a varied diet with relatively little meat. Many of my routine meals either are or could easily be converted to fit vegan parameters, and I've done the vegetarian thing several times, for significant stretches. No big deal.

When I told my wife I planned to go vegan for Lent, she wasn't exactly thrilled. "It doesn't mean *you* have to go vegan," I told her. She was having none of that, though, complaining about the added time and labor costs of cooking two versions of dinner on a semi-regular basis. If I was vegan for Lent, so were they, at least when eating dinner together at home.

The kids had similar reactions. "What are you going to EAT?!" asked my oldest. I asked her to name the animal products we eat routinely, and she started ticking off animals: beef, chicken, pork, fish ..." She still had fingers left when she started trailing off, running out of foods with a face. "OK," I challenged her, "start naming fruits and vegetables." She spit out a good dozen, going full-steam ahead when I stopped her, asking if she'd gotten my point. "Yeah, I guess you can still eat most things," she said slowly, a surprised look on her face. While a bit reductive, the lesson points to a concept central to the way I'm approaching my temporary veganism, and equally central to what I've historically disliked about that diet and its more freewheeling cousin.


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Avocado Love: Three Things That Are Not Guacamole

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Photo by Catherine Blanchard
Coconut Avocado Ice Cream
Lifetime Houstonians may not know what a luxury it is to have year-round access to avocados. Three short weeks was long enough for me to learn that there is only so much guacamole one person can eat. With five avocados still ripening in my kitchen, I thought there just had to be another way to use them. Turns out, there are many. Here are three of my favorite alternative avocado recipes.

Pureed avocados make for more than a great dip. Blend two with one garlic clove (minced), the juice of a lemon, crushed red pepper flakes, a glug of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste for a creamy pasta sauce; it is by far the cleanest, fastest and most vegan cream sauce out there. All you need is a cutting board, a knife and a food processor of some kind. I mixed all the ingredients with an immersion blender, adding a cup of pasta-cooking water at the end to thin out the sauce without adding unnecessary oil.


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Going Healthy at Snap Kitchen

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Photo by Mai Pham
Malaysian curry was like a curried version of ratatouille -- and it's not only tasty, but healthy.

True story: A girlfriend of mine lost 12 pounds doing the Snap Kitchen 21-day challenge. Now, I want to lose 12 pounds, too, but I have to be honest when I say that the thought of eating healthy, pre-packaged foods for any length of time does not appeal.

"I eat with my eyes first," I told concept executive chef Matthew Reinhart and nutritionist Andrea Hinsdale of Snap Kitchen during a recent tasting event held to unveil items from their new spring menu. Our tasting started with snack items, such as house-made smoked salmon served on paleo, gluten-free crackers and something called "devily eggs."

A riff on traditional deviled eggs, the yolks had been substituted with hummus, upping the nutritional factor and reducing the calorie count to just 100 per four halves. I knew that they had done something different to the eggs, but it wasn't until someone told me that it was hummus did I put two and two together. The "devily eggs" were exactly the kind of thing I would eat if I were to embark on a 21-day challenge, and it was a promising start.


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How to Cook Asparagus Pretty Close to Perfect

Categories: How To, Vegetarian

Photos by John Kiely
You don't need a fancy pan to cook asparagus.

The first culinary sign of spring in much of the U.S. and Europe is asparagus shooting up from the soil. Americans generally cut them off to eat when they reach seven to nine inches in length, to prevent them from getting woody, but Europeans -- especially Germans -- cover them with dirt, to block out the sunlight and produce white asparagus, which are treasured for being more tender and less bitter.

Asparagus season starts in January in California, then moves north about this time to Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where the asparagus will keep popping up until June. There's no asparagus season here on the Gulf Coast, as the vegetable requires ground freezes and a dry season.


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Order the Curried Quinoa at Benjy's on Washington

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Photo by Troy Fields
Benjy's on Washington has an excellent vegetarian dish that even non-vegetarians will want to order.
I'm not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy ordering dishes that showcase in-season vegetables accented with grains or a meat substitute like tofu.

During a recent dinner at Benjy's on Washington, I forwent ordering meat-centric dishes like the braised short rib with a creamy cashew butter and cranberry jam, and a personal favorite, the nut-crusted crunchy chicken with a bourbon glaze and mac 'n' cheese. Yes, all these items are tasty, scrumptious and downright delicious, but my eyes (and stomach) kept looking at the curried quinoa dish with cauliflower, broccoli, tofu and pumpkin seeds.

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Juice: It's What's for Dinner, But Is It as Good as an Actual Meal?

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Photo by the dabblist
Chewing is sooooo last year.
As usual, some people think Houston is a little behind the times.

Juice bars -- as in restaurants/cafes/bars that serve only fresh squeezed juice -- have been a mainstay of New York and Los Angeles dining culture for years now. With the recent opening of several new juice bars in Houston, it seems the Bayou City is finally hip to the trend.

"I moved down here from the East Coast, and I feel like everywhere but Houston there are juice bars on every corner," says Becki O'Brien, the owner of Houston's newest juice purveyor, Big & Juicy Juice Bar, located inside Big Yoga Houston. "You go to New York, and there's a juice bar everywhere you go. I moved to Houston, and I was so shocked. Even most of the places we do have aren't organic. It's a huge trend in other cities, and Houston is finally catching on."

Still, one has to wonder if juice is simply a trend or if it really is a healthy meal alternative. What's the benefit of drinking juice over, say, eating a salad or munching on an apple? Is one cup of juice really worth what most juice bars charge? Can you drink juice instead of eating a meal and call it dinner?

We chatted with both juice purveyors and nutritionists to find out the real deal behind the juicing up of Houston.


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PETA Takes Issue With French Fry-Stuffed Burrito at Taqueria Arandas

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Photo from Taqueria Arandas and Clarice
Is this what you see when you unwrap a burrito? Then you, friend, might be a vegan.
Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to Judy Camarena, the president of Arandas Franchises, asking that the popular Tex-Mex chain Taqueria Arandas create a vegan version of its new french fry-stuffed El Mateo burrito, which was given away for free on Sunday at the restaurant's Heights location to anyone named Matt (or Matthew or Mateo, etc.).

Actually, it wasn't so much PETA as it was a single PETA employee, Matt Bruce. As a Matt and as a vegan, he was unhappy that his dietary restrictions prevented him from getting a free burrito that he would be able to eat. It should be noted, however, that Mr. Bruce lives in Los Angeles, so he probably wouldn't have been able to get a free burrito from Taqueria Arandas anyway.

Still, Bruce, a campaigner who travels the country organizing animal rights demonstrations, wrote to Camarena, saying, "Eating the El Mateo will make Matt fat, and all the cholesterol and saturated animal fat in the beef, cheese, and sour cream can also raise his risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even erectile dysfunction!"

Whoa now.

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Date Night for Very Little Dough at Doshi House

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Thai red curry on Tuesday nights at Doshi House.
When I'm not eating out on official paper business, I'm on a budget just like most people my age who are still paying student loans on top of car notes, mortgages, ridiculous cell phone bills and more (how do I use so much cell data just browsing Reddit?).

For occasions in which the manfriend and I want a nice evening out without a huge -- or even an average -- outlay of cash, Doshi House is my destination of choice. Every evening at this chic Third Ward cafe, owner Deepak Doshi prepares a single type of dish, and each night's dinner is only $6.95.

On Monday nights, it's Creole red beans and rice. On Saturday nights, it's "not so butter chicken." On Tuesday nights, my preferred night, Doshi makes a Thai red curry that's thick with the deep flavors of cumin, chile peppers, galangal and bright squiggles of Sriracha that bleed into the rust-hued curry.


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