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Top 10 Vegan Restaurants '00-'09
  -- Thursday, December 31, 2009

Preface: a few weeks back, my friend Sami asked me to do a top 10 list for his zine/site, Trumbull. As it was the end of the year, I was in a tad bit of deadline hell and whipped out a top 10 tshirt list with nary a comment. Just shirt after shirt. I was happy with it. It covered my bases.

Skip forward to this week. Sami and Owen began compiling all the lists and publishing them. After reading Mark Baumer's very detailed "Best 71 Movies ...," I felt shame. I had basically called in my list. It was good enough, but it certainly wasn't my best effort.

In order to right this wrong, I'm putting together a top 10 list that will be stupidly long, full of personal jokes and tender moments. I will go on ad nauseum about stuff no one cares about. BUT, no one will ever say I "called this one in."

My Top 10 Vegan Restaurants of the Last Decade

Please note. These restaurants are all ones I frequented in the last decade. And that order is determined by memories of times spent there. Food played a big part in the ranking as well, but memories beat food any day.

Runner Ups

Washington Square Park Vegan Indian Cart - Manhattan, New York, New York USA - get your veggie samosa to go!

Lula's Sweet Apothecary - Manhattan, New York, New York USA - a new comer on the dessert scene. I was sold on the shoppe before my first bite.

Hillside Quickie - Seattle, WA USA - great, greasy sandwiches. Sooo good.

Mighty O Donuts - Seattle, WA USA - my first vegan donut. I was stoked. I had given up on those crappy vegan donuts in a plastic bag. This place reminded why I loved donuts as a kid.

Ronald's Donuts - Las Vegas, NV USA - my second first vegan doughnut. Blew my mind. Literally. I did my part to polish off 3 dozen donuts in 3 days. A good friend then over nighted me some. It was probably the best thing I have ever received in the mail. And I once received an original Project X EP in the mail.

Help Yourself, Cafe, Island Joes Coffee - Key West, FL USA - Key West came strong on the vegan food tip. I enjoyed the best iced soy latte I've ever had before at Island Joes Coffee. Help Yourself helped me to a wonderful smoothie, and the library had a very nice bathroom.

10. Annapurna - Albuquerque, NM USA

In 2007 and 2008, my work kept sending me to Albuquerque, NM. We were doing work at Kirtland, and we had to spend weeks at a time there. The first couple of times I went, I never got a chance to hit up Annapurna. The first time, I just missed it. I ended up at 20 Carrots for a shake and Fei's Cafe (which felt like Quan Yin minus Master Ching Hai). Nothing too memorable, really. But on the third trip, I went earlier than the other guys and made sure to hit up Annapurna right away. It was worth it. The fresh bread was heavenly and I gorged myself on all the food. I spent a whole evening sitting there working on my laptop and just enjoying myself. Later in the week, I would have a chance to go back to pick up sandwiches for a co-worker and myself. The meat eating coworker proclaimed the sandwich to be one of the best he ever had. Now that's cool. Another funny note, my manager at the time had a nephew who was working there. I happened upon him and surprised him by knowing his name and who is uncle was. It was chill. Great restaurant.

9. The Big Sur Bakery - Big Sur, CA USA

During the summer of 2002, the wife and I spent two amazing weeks driving up and down PCH1 in California. We saw it all. Hearst Castle, The Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, the works. We ate at a million wonderful spots and enjoyed all of it. The weirdest spot was probably the Inn of the Seven Rays. No one else was there, and it was decorated for a wedding. Very weird. One day while driving through beautiful mountains and dreading a potential dinner of french fries and salads, we found ourselves at The Big Sur Bakery. If you've never been through that area, let me tell you, there is nothing out there. Just road, trees and hippies. Not a bad thing but not the best thing for a starving vegan. Luckily, The Big Sur Bakery hooked us up. This was probably the first time I ever ate a wood fired pizza. And a pizza that didn't have red sauce. I went with a taco style pizza, black bean sauce. It was amazing. The crust was just crunchy enough, and the toppings were applied without over applying. It just worked. That restaurant found us, we didn't find it, that's for sure.

8b. Garden Grille Cafe - Providence, RI USA

Friends of ours moved to Pawtucket a few years back. We would visit on occasion and always had a blast. One night, we went out to this restaurant that was literally 3 blocks from their house. It was called The Garden Grille Cafe. The food immediately blew my mind. To this day, I still make my own version of the Crazy Weech (it's a shake with chocolate soy milk, bananas and peanut butter. Hmmm, so flipping good). The ingredients are always super fresh, there are a ton of vegan options and the food is just damn good. Sometimes a meal would be forgotten and we'd have to make a ruckus, but for the most part, every trip was enjoyable. We love hanging with our friends, and we loved going to The Garden Grille. One time we ran into Merrick there. And he ran into his ex-girlfriend's mother or some relationship like that. He spent most of the night entertaining our friends' baby, despite sitting at a totally different table. Of course, they have recently moved out of Pawtucket. I'm not sure what we'll do now.

8a. Udupi Bhavan - A few spots, Mass USA

I went to WPI in Worcester. I'm a computer nerd with a Master's degree. Learning about vegan indian food was perhaps the best part about being a grad student at WPI (just kidding, dad!). Many of the other grad students were Chinese, but one fellow, PUNIT, was from India. Not only that, but he was vegetarian to boot. When he discovered that I didn't eat meat either, we became life long friends. He turned us onto Udupi Bhavan. At this time, it was located in Ashland. We rode up one night not sure what to expect. We left with minds blown. It was amazing. I loved every bite. I especially loved the South Indian breads that I had never seen before (due to eating at mostly North Indian restaurants). Channa Batura? Yes please. And some vegetable samosas, thanks. One time, we took my family to eat there. My dad was so amazed by the batura that he took a picture of the waiter carrying it to our table. I don't think the waiter was keen on that. And one night, we saw Elijah from The Trust. His girl gave us the worst recipe for cheese cake we had ever made. Terrible recipe but great people. We followed them when they moved to the train station in Framingham too. It was bigger, but usually colder. Then one day, the door was shut, and it was closed. We thought forever. But it finally reopened in Shrewsbury, Mass. It was great. It doesn't hurt that right down the street are vegan cupcakes either ...

7b. Love & Haight - San Francisco, CA USA

I love sandwiches. I hit this spot up on the Bane / Strike Anywhere Dead Note tour of 2006. We stopped in San Francisco to scoop up our friend Kris Hallee. I probably hadn't spent that much time with him in 8+ years when he lived on John St. It was awesome. And we met up with my friend Plante too. She's great. Toss in some excellent sandwiches, and I'm sold. Of course, the lady behind the counter thought I was stealing drinks. In reality, I had grabbed the wrong juice and switched them out. Pomegranate and cranberry look pretty similar, but I wasn't in the mood for pomegranate. Great eats, followed by a day of checking out shops and getting a sweet tattoo. Overall, top notch day.

7a. Real Food Daily - Santa Monica, CA USA

I also hit up this joint on the Bane / Strike Anywhere tour. I'm pretty sure I had been there before with the wife, but she can't recall us eating there. Likely, I'm confusing our trip with another trip I took with friends the summer before. It happens. More than she would like, I bet. Anyway, this visit was especially great. I love hanging with friends, hitting the road, and seeing excellent shows. Great food and camaraderie never hurts. As we emptied the van, we then quickly filled the upstairs seating loft. Mostly just Bane heads, but Hallee was there. Stevie Fallis too. Just good times and good eats.

6. Eat & Two Veg - London, England

The wife and I hit up London in March of 2006 for some a little bit of vacation. I've always been enamored by the city. So we flew on over. It didn't hurt that I had two cousins from Australia living there at the time. We did the usual tourist stuff during the day, and met up with my family in the evening. I didn't want to get too fancy on them so we found this "american styled diner" where I was sure they'd be able to find something they could enjoy (they are both probably the opposite of vegan). And enjoy they did. Everyone had fabulous food and drink. I even splurged and picked up the whole bill (when I got back to America and saw the exchange rate, I nearly needed someone to pick me up off the floor). The food was excellent. But the real best was our waiter. He was this crazy American, and he was positive we had something in common. Whether it was some Worcester connection or a college connection, I can't recall. But he was POSITIVE that he knew me somehow. He didn't, but that's cool. It definitely made the meal more entertaining, that's for sure.

5. A Naestu Grosum - Reykjavik, Iceland

During a Valentine's Day getaway in 2005, the wife and I stumbled across this great restaurant. I was worried that vegan options in Iceland would be slim. I was 100% wrong. There are probably more vegan options in Reykjavik than there are in all of Connecticut and Rhode Island. The staff, actually, just the one lady who was hostess, manager, waitress and likely chef, served up some of the tastiest, most "rib sticking" food I have ever ate. In fact, this is the only place on earth where I have ever had seconds of spelt bread.

4. Some lovely hole in the wall - Le Rue Pic, near La Sacre Coeur Paris, France

Back in 2003, I was just graduating from WPI. I had no money, and wasn't having any luck finding a job. But one day, the wife came across an offer we couldn't pass up. It was a 7 day trip for two to Paris, France. Round trip flight, hotel and breakfast for 6 nights all for $1000. That's for TWO people. $500 each. How does that even work? I have no idea. Paris must have been having one hell of a recession. So being the adventurous sort, we went. And we ended up staying at this awesome little hotel on Rue Lepic. We had a balcony, and I would sit out there in the morning and again at night just watching the people. It was one of the happiest times of my life. Up the hill from our hotel was this nice little vegetarian restaurant. I think it was run by a husband and wife. We went twice. Both times, we arrived before they even opened. The wife and I are obviously blue plate special types, eating at 5 or 530. They ushered us in, and we sat and waited. The food was excellent, and the open air seating was excellent. I breathed it all in. It was an excellent feeling.

3. Lily Pad - Worcester, Mass USA

A feather in Worcester's vegan cap. This place was the bomb. After years and years of being assaulted by Quan Yin and MSG, this place opened up and a ray of sunshine hit Worcester. It was amazing. It was fantastic. The service was probably worse than Quan Yin, but the food ... the food was without compare. Remember those teriyaki strips? Damn. Soo good. This was the place to go to eat in Worcester. Every time you were in there, you'd run into someone you knew. Often times, you'd run into someone you lived with who happened to be dining their with a new girl. This happened on more than one occasion. When it closed, we all wore black for weeks. Even the rumors of them moving to Northampton couldn't cheer us up. Of course, they were just rumors.

2. Red Bamboo - Manhattan, New York, New York USA

Seriously. Nothing really needs to be said that you haven't read before about the excellent food. Many a Saturday was spent driving from Worcester to NYC. We'd eat at Red Bamboo for lunch, walk around the Lower East Side shops then hit up VP2 for dinner. Or the other way around. Many lunches went down here prior to shows at CBGBs too. Pre Final Mosh eats, pre Cro-Mags eats, Pre Mental / Bold eats ... This is another joint where you'd run into a million people you knew. Brandie Bailey, Rest In Peace.

1. Quan Yin - Worcester, Mass USA

Without a doubt, my first vegan dining experience. And I use the term "dining" lightly but in the most loving fashion. The food was super cheap, like super, super cheap, and tasty. But the service was ungodly. Normally it was just Joann running the whole show so I suppose it was understandable. One time she dumped a whole STYROFOAM cup of tea on my lap. She gave us free black bean pudding that trip. We had a joke that it didn't matter what entree you ordered, as they were all the same. After a few visits, I stopped ordering entrees. I would stick with the 21 with tofu & rice, steamed bun and a couple order of the "new" nuggets. This was the place to go and get food from. I attended a high school graduation party that was catered by Quan Yin. Best. Party. Food. Ever. Another time, I ate at a table squeezed into the corner in a chair pulled from behind the refrigerator because every other table and chair was filled by a party of 11. It was some girl's 16th birthday and she had brought her whole family to Quan Yin. Even Gran was enjoying the vegan eats. After a few years, I couldn't even order that. The MSG would kill me. And the ambiance? Wow. Master Ching Hai. She knows what's up. Sadly, Joann folded up the shop this year. After who knows how many years of being open. Crazy to think I ate at that restaurant for 12 years. Why can't Buddha Hut have steamed buns??



Anonymous Anonymous said...
pretty sure lily pad did finally reopen in western mass but as a nail salon. i remember my roomate getting a flyer in the mail years after signing the guestbook they had out when they closed.

i hate the garden grill. if you haven't tried crazy burger, i suggest a trip once the weather is better.

jim c
1/03/2010 2:52 AM  

Anonymous owen said...
COOL! rip AJ's vedge
1/19/2010 9:14 PM  

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