Pinto Bean Chili1

(Photo from the book "Meatless in Cowtown: A Vegetarian Guide to Food and Wine" by Laura Samuel Meyn and Anthony Head. © 2015 Running Press Book Publishers. Photo by Jason Varney)

Texas comfort food is the centerpiece of our November issue, featuring 24 pages of our Reader’s Choice Top 40 Comfort Food Destinations. For vegetarians and vegans (who also don’t consume animal by-products such as milk, cheese, or eggs), most of these recommendations are off the table, since most of these classic dishes rely on meat or dairy as the prime ingredients.

cflReader’s Choice Top 40 Comfort Food Destinations

But there’s no need for vegetarians and vegans to feel excluded: Throughout the state, there are a number of restaurants whose main focus is meatless cuisine, and they serve tantalizing takes on Texas comfort foods. Here are a handful.

Spiral Diner in Fort Worth and Dallas: I wrote about Spiral Diner’s incredible burger menu in TH (Vegan in Cowtown?, August 2010) and with rave reviews from the Dallas Observer and D magazine, this whimsical café’s still wowing vegans and meatless Monday diners alike. For comfort food with an adventurous southwestern kick,

Fearing’s Restaurant in Dallas offers a separate vegetarian menu, which includes tortilla soup and a taquito-enchilada-Mexican corn gratin sampler. Also, I have long enjoyed Cosmic Cafe’s Indian-infused take on enchiladas and other dishes.

San Antonio’s Green Vegetarian Cuisine serves a battered and fried Chicken Fried Chik-N smothered in cream gravy—the patty is tofu and the gravy is soy milk-based. (Green also has a Houston location, which doesn’t have Chicken Fried Chik-N on the menu but offers two kinds of enchilada plates.) Also in the Alamo City, all-vegan La Botanica proclaims: “No Food with a Face!” The restaurant’s on-site garden provides the fresh vegetables and herbs used in its recipes. The seasonal menu includes comfort food bites such as Ms. Bella’s Fried Beans & Rice Balls.

Houston has A Moveable Feast, a longtime to-go for vegetarians and vegans that offers its version of chili and chili pie. Field of Greens has veggie lasagna and curry veggie loaf. One of my favorites, Baba Yega is not exclusively meat-free but has separate menus for vegetarians and vegans with sizable selections. Try the Hippie Meatloaf made with quinoa, black beans, and herbs. For regional Mexican cuisine, Hugo’s has a complete vegetarian menu, and some items such as chiles rellenos can be prepared sans dairy.

And in Austin, where the selection of wholly vegetarian and vegan establishments is legion, there are plenty of comfort food selections at these places: Mother’s Cafe, Mr. Natural, Bouldin Creek Cafe, and Counter Culture. The newest of this group, Counter Culture continues to garner accolades from veg and non-veg foodie blogs and dining best-of lists. And for vegans who miss their ’cue: visit BBQ Revolution’s trailer. Like the famous Franklin’s, they’re open until the barbecue’s all gone.

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(Photo courtesy of Counter Culture)

On (a healthy eating source) I found a few all-veg- or veg-friendly locally-owned establishments not in mega-cities offering comfort foods. Also, some restaurants can adapt some entrées to be meat and dairy-free—call ahead to ask!

Amarillo has The 806, a coffeehouse and café that has an all vegetarian and vegan menu of mostly light bites, but serves chili. El Paso has Orange Peel, Pastries, Cakes & More, a bakery that offers vegetarian and vegan options. In Laredo, El Quinto Sol serves lacto-ovo Mexican food (meatless but includes dairy and eggs). The Green Owl Deli in McAllen has a vegan lasagna made with eggplant and zucchini, as well as veg-friendly Tex-Mex entrées. In addition to its regular menu, the café at Marshall’s Central Parks Coffee House has a full vegan menu that includes several kinds of burgers made with black bean or veggie patties, and a smoked tofurky reuben sandwich.

meatlessincowntown2If the pickings are slim to none where you are, there’s a new cookbook that features vegetarian and vegan Texas comfort foods, Meatless in Cowtown: A Vegetarian Guide to Food and Wine, by Texas Highways contributing writers Laura Samuel Meyn and Anthony Head, both vegetarians. The images alone are gorgeous and enticing—even for carnivores. I made the book’s Mixed Mushroom Risotto with Parsley and Truffle Oil as a main course, and it was flavorful and filling. I had never made risotto before and found the recipes easy to follow. You’ll find recipes for Pinto Bean Chili or Meatless in Cowtown Frito Pie (surprising fact: Fritos are vegan), White Cheddar-Green Chile Mac and Cheese, and Tamale Pie with Black Beans and Sweet Potato. Although I’m in the “no-beans” chili camp, Meatless in Cowtown Frito Pie looks irresistible to me!

Happy healthy chow-down, y’all!

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