Why should the vegetarian hide in the corner? In the Valley there is no reason for herbivores to stick to skimpy appetizers, less-than-satisfying sides and entrees that sound promising but are just fancy "vegetable plates." There are ethnic restaurants with proprietors that understand and respect a vegetarian's palate and we've highlighted a few places that have made an impression on us.
Ammos Mediterranean Grill offers a hearty vegetable appetizer plate with hummus, baba ghanoush and falafel on a bed of lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers. The pita is warm and the hummus is authentic with the right amount of tahini. When you take a bite of the falafel, you aren't bombarded with pasty chickpea batter, but a crunchy outside and smooth inside. The dolmas are crisp — a sign they were made on the same day. If you don't feel like you've had your adequate amount of vegetables, complement your plate with a Fatoush salad, a combination of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, olives and pita chips.
When you walk into Ammos, the welcome matches the taste in the food. Several regulars popped in the restaurant while we dined — the first sign of a restaurant's reputation is when the staff knows its customers by first name. This isn't an accident; this family owned business creates an at-home atmosphere, with food that is worth the drive even if you're nowhere near Glendale.
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Vegetarians don't have to worry about asking whether there is lard in the beans at America's Taco Shop. There isn't. Choose from tostadas, a bean bowl or our favorite, the burrito filled with veggies, rice, cheese and lard-free beans. America Corrales, owner of the restaurant with her husband, Terry Bortin, decided to make a conscious choice in not including lard in the beans.
"We wanted people to have the option to eat healthier," she says. For vegetarians, these beans are a welcome since most restaurants opt to cook with lard. No pig fat doesn't mean the taste is compromised. The beans taste unprocessed and natural - with the salsas and guacamole, the flavors work together to satisfy.
The restaurant's Scottsdale location is quaint and full of history, with pictures of America and her family. You can feel the nostalgia as Terry points to the portraits on the wall of his daughters and the outtakes of America's upbringing in Mexico. Colorful walls give the place a quirky, but fun casual atmosphere.
All locations serve meat-free beans, so no need to ask if they are vegetarian-safe. Sit back and enjoy your healthy Mexican feast.
Vegetarians are sometimes intimidated by ethnic cuisines, assuming it's best to stick to sides. Put this thought out of your mind when experimenting with the menu at Cafe Lalibela since the combo plate is made for vegetarians. We counted at least eight vegetarian options. Among our favorites: azifah - lentils with onion, jalapeños, lemon, tikil gomen - lightly spiced carrots, cabbage, potatoes and turmeric and yekika alicha, yellow split peas spiced with onion, turmeric and herbs.
Lalibela creates a cozy and communal vibe, with seating similar to what you find in its native land. Although dining here is fun for two, the atmosphere is optimal for family enjoyment. You can sit on low-to-the-ground soft chairs in a circle, while passing around your communal plate. The best part of the Lalibela experience is the soft Injera bread (a sourdough bread made from teff flour, available gluten free) as a dipping tool for all the lentils and vegetables. You can check off your food groups while dining at Lalibela — carbs, veggies and protein. With this meal, you won't be reaching for a midnight snack.
Malee's Thai Bistro
Thai food is traditionally cooked with fish sauce, oyster paste and meat broths. Most vegetarians immediately know when an item is served with fish sauce and even though the main ingredients may only be vegetables, the broth also needs to be meat-free too. Malee's Thai Bistro will custom make the dishes you want with full vegetarian ingredients. The coconut curry with fried rice is a favorite. The spice of the curry and rice go well together and the heat level can be adjusted to mild, medium or hot. What's convenient about Malee's menu is the ease in which substitutions can happen for the vegetarian — virtually every meat dish can be substituted with tofu cooked the way you want it. We recommend splurging on the calories because the fried tofu is worth every bite.
As we waited for our food, we chatted with owner, Deidre Pain, who emphasized her "willingness to accommodate a variety of preferences so each individual has the option to cater to his or her taste." This philosophy might explain why, even on a rainy night, customers kept trickling into the small area in the front of the restaurant. Even when learning there might be a bit of a wait, few decided to leave, instead huddling together and smelling the curry sauce aroma coming from the kitchen. Pain tells stories in-between customers about her social work beginnings.
The cuisine at Malee's is comfort food for the vegetarian — an unexpected proclamation since few restaurants are willing to leave out the fish or meat ingredients that form the trinity of Thai cuisine.
Vegetarians are not neglected at Pizzeria Bianco. In fact, the menu at this famous restaurant offers more vegetarian pizzas than most pizza places in town. The Rosa combines ingredients that are unique and satisfying - spicy red onion, parmigiano reggiano, rosemary, and sweet pistachios. Staple pizza options are available with the marinara and margherita, where you will know why Pizzeria Bianco dominates national lists for the best pizza in the country. When you think there could be no other option left for pizza, there is — Biancoverde is a unique blend of fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano and ricotta — topped with an unexpected twist, arugula. The peppery taste of the greens isn't a distraction, but rather an upgrade on a traditional pizza.
Complement the pizza with farm-to-table salads. The Farmer's Market Salad uses seasonal local fruits and vegetables to entertain its guests. We had a mix of greens, red onion, and gorgonzola topped with a white balsamic dressing. Depending on the season, expect a combination of greens, fennel, orange, grapefruit and herbs. If you desire a heartier accompaniement to your pizza pairing, Bianco also offers handmade mozzarella, local tomatoes and basil, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.