If the thought of vegan food conjures images of a giant plate of alfalfa sprouts, it’s time to revisit the concept. These days, vegan restaurants in Texas tend more toward soul food than rabbit food, and they use creative stand-ins for beef (protein-rich seitan, made from vital wheat gluten), cheese (soaked and pureed nuts), and pork (the shredded flesh of the giant Asian jackfruit) that can satisfy even die-hard carnivores. While Austin has long been considered the capital of Texas’ vegan scene, other cities now offer stiff competition in the way of veggie-forward, animal-free fare. These five eateries around the state break the mold while putting plants first.
After selling mouthwatering falafel at farmers markets, José Cruz and Tiffany Sotelo opened vegan restaurant Señor Veggie in 2014. Housed in a marigold-hued building in the artsy Lavaca neighborhood, the eatery is well known for its veggie street tacos stuffed with tender jackfruit, tangy cilantro-lime coleslaw, and cashew-based crema; and Southwestern empanadas filled with sweet potatoes, black beans, roasted corn, and poblanos. Cruz uses vital wheat gluten —“a culinary marvel,” he says—to make the seitan that he smokes to create vegan brisket and carne asada. The vibe is laid-back and funky, and heaping portions mean you’ll take home leftovers.
620 S. Presa St.
Tough Cookie Bakery
This community-focused vegetarian coffee shop located in a century-old former church features local artwork on its walls, live music on Fridays, a kids’ play area, and a dog-friendly porch that invites patrons to linger. In the pretzel brat, a wheat gluten- and soy-based bratwurst is wrapped in owners Chris and Jennie McEwan’s signature pretzel bread, which they developed while selling pretzels at farmers markets in Dallas. If you have a sweet tooth, try the gooey cinnamon rolls dripping with vegan cream cheese frosting and the dense, cakelike brownies made with applesauce instead of eggs.
601 Chestnut St., Suite D
1204 Chestnut St.
Deb and Rob Sorich saw increased demand for vegan options in 2011, after then-mayor of Marshall Ed Smith and his wife, Amanda, began sponsoring healthy-living events that taught residents how to lose weight and lower blood pressure by adopting a plant-based diet. The coffee shop and café still honors the message with a vegan menu offering dishes like the Southwest black bean burger dressed with vegan jalapeño cream cheese, cilantro, and avocado. The same burger patty is a centerpiece of the fiesta salad, drizzled with creamy housemade vegan cilantro ranch dressing. Be sure to browse the antiques and gift shop that shares Central Perks’ historic building.
211 N. Washington Ave.
The Queen’s Table Vegan Cuisine
Located in a strip mall on the east side of the city, The Queen’s Table dishes out vegan soul food lovingly prepared by owner Queen Adalah Aza. Start with the surprising and inventive soy-based “unShrimp” wrapped in “unBacon” and served with remoulade. The deep-fried “unChicken,” made from wheat gluten, comes with traditional sides like collard greens; nutritional yeast, liquid aminos (a soy sauce analog), and vegan bacon infuse the dish with a rich, smoky flavor. For dessert, the cake cup alternates layers of chocolate, red velvet, or carrot cake with scoops of vegan ice cream and is topped with dairy-free whipped cream and a cherry.
12115 Montwood Drive, Suite B201
Chile de Árbol
When brothers Ramses (right) and Anubis Avalos adopted a vegan diet three years ago, they realized it would be hard to dine out in Brownsville. So they opened their food truck, Chile de Árbol, where they offer tacos, burgers, and Indian-inspired veggie-and-rice bowls, all relying heavily on scratch-made ingredients. In the vistec taco, a vegan adaptation of the region’s popular tacos de bistec, seitan made with wheat gluten, black beans, and garbanzos substitutes for steak. The pastor taco features homemade tempeh (fermented soybeans) marinated in a tangy-sweet sauce made from chiles, agave, and vinegar. “The ultimate accomplishment is when we see our meat-eating, barbecue-frenzied friends enjoying our tacos and coming back for more,” Anubis says.
The Broken Sprocket Bar and Food Truck Park
6305 Paredes Line Road
1204 Chestnut St.