In the Valley, there is no reason for herbivores to hide in the corner, sticking to skimpy appetizers, less-than-satisfying sides, and entrees that sound promising but are just fancy vegetable plates. There are international restaurants with proprietors that understand and respect a vegetarian's palate. We've highlighted a few places that have made an impression on us. All are offering takeout.
Ammos Mediterranean Grill6530 West Happy Valley Road, #114, Glendale
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 as though you've experienced an adequate amount of vegetables, complement your plate with a fattoush salad, a combination of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, olives, and pita chips. This family-owned business makes food that is worth the drive even if you're nowhere near Glendale.
America's Taco ShopMultiple Locations
Vegetarians and vegans don't have to worry about asking whether there's lard in the beans at America's Taco Shop. There isn't. America Corrales, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Terry Bortin, says that was a conscious decision. "We wanted people to have the option to eat healthier," she says. Sans pig fat doesn't mean sans taste, though, and you can choose from a variety of bean-based options, including tostadas, a bean bowl, or our favorite, the burrito filled with veggies, rice, cheese and beans. The restaurant's Scottsdale location is quaint, colorful, and full of history, with pictures depicting America's upbringing in Mexico and her family.
Cafe Lalibela849 West University Drive, Tempe
Vegetarians often assume it's best to stick to sides. Put this thought out of your mind when experimenting with the menu at Cafe Lalibela. The combo plate here is made for vegetarians; we counted at least eight veg-friendly options. Among our favorites: azifah (lentils with onion, jalapeños, lemon, tikil gomen) with lightly spiced carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and turmeric, and yekika alicha — yellow split peas spiced with onion, turmeric, and herbs. Located near downtown Tempe, this Ethiopian cafe creates a cozy and communal vibe. Although dining here is fun for two, the atmosphere is optimal for a family meal. Lalibela also serves a soft injera bread (a sourdough made from teff flour, and available free of gluten) that we like to use as a dipping tool for all the lentils and vegetables.
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Malee's Thai Bistro7131 East Main Street, Scottsdale
Thai food is traditionally cooked with fish sauce, oyster paste, and meat broths. But most vegetarians know to ask for meat-free versions of these. Good thing Malee's Thai Bistro will customize its dishes with full vegetarian ingredients. While waiting for your food, chat with owner Deidre Pain, who says the restaurant has a "willingness to accommodate a variety of preferences so each individual has the option to cater to his or her taste." Malee's menu is indeed designed in such a way that makes substitutions easy — virtually every meat dish can be swapped for tofu cooked the way you want it. The coconut curry with fried rice is a favorite. This is comfort food for vegetarians — an unexpected and pleasant surprise, given how few restaurants are willing to sacrifice the fish or meat ingredients that form Thai cuisine's holy trinity.
Pizzeria BiancoMultiple Locations
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 Rose is topped with spicy red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and sweet pistachios. The Biancoverde is fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and ricotta topped with an unexpected twist, arugula. The peppery taste of the greens isn't a distraction, rather an upgrade on a traditional pizza. Speaking of greens, complement the pizza with an inventive salad like the Farmer's Market Salad (depending on the season, expect a combination of greens, fennel, orange, grapefruit and herbs). If you desire a heartier accompaniment to your pizza, Bianco also offers handmade mozzarella with local tomatoes and basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 20, 2017. It was updated on June 2, 2020.