Arlington: Iris Coffee and Bagel Shop

There are two things you should know about the dining scene in my hometown of Arlington, Texas. The first, is that it’s overwhelmingly dominated by chain restaurants. You have to search hard to find independent joints. The second is that you can’t expect to find a real bagel.

Growing up, when my family wasn’t eating migas for Sunday brunch, we were eating bagels from wherever we could find them. Most often it was Bubba’s bagels. My dad would walk there (crossing a few highways), and bring us back a bag of bagels. Bubba’s is long gone now, but Iris Coffee and Bagel Shop is in the same spot. And I think it’s a big step up. For one thing, they serve coffee, and Arlington could really use more independent coffee shops. (This makes three that I know of in a city of 350,000+. Scratch that. Health and Harmony House closed between the time I wrote this and the time I published it. So we’re back to two independent coffee houses)

That’s actually how I ended up there on my most recent visit to Arlington. We were on our way back to Austin and decided to stop at the first place serving vegan lattes that wasn’t a Starbucks. Iris Coffee and Bagel Shop, it was.

We were just planning to get coffee. I remember from the Bubba days that there wasn’t much vegan besides the bagels at this coffee shop. Which is why I was delighted to see the special written on their board. Monkey Bagels!

Monkey Bagel at Iris Coffee and Bagel Shop. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Who wouldn’t love something called a Monkey Bagel? It’s a bagel with peanut butter, sliced bananas, and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, toasted until the bagel is crispy and the peanut butter is melty. There’s supposed to be a drizzle of honey, too, but do you really need honey on top of peanut butter, bananas, and cinnamon sugar? That’s overkill (and not vegan).

My coffee was good, and the Monkey Bagel was even better. This wasn’t gourmet food, but it sure was a pleasant surprise for Arlington.

Vegan Guide to Arlington, Texas

I grew up in Arlington, and my family still lives there. So I have lots of opportunities to visit. Arlington is surprisingly vegan-friendly. Besides these restaurants, there are the usual veg-friendly places like Taco Bell and Subway, but I’d save those for road trip emergencies. Check Vegan Eating Out to find out what’s vegan at your local chain restaurant. I’m also sure that other international restaurants (Italian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mediterranean, Indian, and so on) have vegan options that I haven’t discovered yet. Have something to add to the list? Leave a comment below, and I’ll keep the guide updated.

Restaurants
Al Amir — Mediterranean food in central Arlington. Recommended by UTA Vegan Club.

Andalous Mediterranean — There are a number of Mediterranean restaurants on this list, but I think this one has the widest selection of vegetable dishes. Besides the usual suspects, there is za’atar bread, purple-and-white potato salad, couscous salad, kidney and garbanzo bean salad, Egyptian baby eggplant, and more. The food is served cafeteria-style. Like Luby’s for a more enlightened generation.

Beiruit Rock Cafe — Near UTA, and recommended by folks in the UTA Vegan Club.

Chipotle — Chipotle is a vegan’s best friend. The black beans and rice are vegan, and you can even sneak in a few vegetables. And vegetable entrees get a free scoop of guacamole. This is the place to go if you’re in a hurry or you’re with friends who are allergic to non-chain restaurants.

Denny’s — You won’t be blown away with the food here, but you might get dragged here at 3 AM after a late night knitting session. Or whatever the kids do these days. (If someone tries to drag you to IHOP at 3 AM instead, I hope you like water and pickles.) Get the veggie burger (no butter on the bun) and go crazy and add some avocado or a side of broccoli. If only breakfast will do, go with grits or oatmeal.

Digg’s Tacos — A fast casual Tex-Mex joint near UTA. According to Broccoli Bulletin, most items ordered with the veggie mix can made vegan by leaving out the frequent offenders (cheese, butter, sour cream). Read her review for more info on customizing vegan dishes.

Freebirds — Freebirds is another great bean and rice option. They recently sat down with some Austin vegans to chat about adding more vegan options to the menu, so keep your eye out for some good changes.

Genghis Grill — Mongolian grill. You choose the ingredients, and they cook them. If the communal grill bothers you, places like this will often either clean it before cooking your food or cook your meal on a separate wok.

Health and Harmony Coffee House. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

 

 

Good Karma Kitchen —This gluten-free vegetarian food truck makes stops at UTA on Mondays. Check their current schedule on their website.

Health and Harmony Coffee House — Near UTA, this independent coffee shop is very vegan friendly. They have soy and almond milk for their drinks, and they host community events including vegan potlucks. They’re planning to add more vegan items to their cafe menu, and I’ll update this when I find out what they are. CLOSED

Istanbul Grill — Mediterranean food is always a good choice for vegans, but the atmosphere and the food at this Turkish restaurant are extra nice. Split the mezze plate with someone, and you’ll leave happy. (Some items on the plate need to be subbed to make the platter vegan.)

Kababji Mediterranean Grill and Cafe — This Mediterranean restaurant is in the tiny Arlington suburb Pantego. They have a variety of vegan dishes, including chickpea salad, lentil soup, couscous, potatoes, lentils and rice, cauliflower, and hummus

La Blue Casa — This Mexican restaurant located near UTA is transitioning to an entirely vegan menu after seeing Cowspiracy. How cool is that? In the meantime, they have vegan options for everything on the menu.

Sloppy Jenny at Loving Hut. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Loving Hut — Arlington’s all-vegan restaurant. One of the few all-vegan restaurants in DFW, even. The food is good, and the atmosphere is welcoming. Plus, vegan baked goods! Currently their food is a mixture of sandwiches, Asian-inspired bowls, and pizzas, with a few odds and ends to round things out.

Mellow Mushroom — Mellow Mushroom is a chain with pizza, salad, and sandwiches. I love their tempeh sandwich. The Arlington location carries Daiya vegan cheese.

Palio’s Pizza — Palio’s recently added vegan cheese as an option on their pizzas. The crust is crispier and chewier than Mellow Mushroom. A good place to go for pizza with someone who’s squeamish about so-called weird vegan food. This place is located just outside of Arlington in Mansfield, but that part of Cooper St is close enough we won’t quibble.

Pei Wei — Casual chain Chinese restaurant near the Parks Mall. Lots of vegan options, and the spicy dishes are actually spicy.

P.F. Chang — Upscale Chinese restaurant by the same folks as Pei Wei. Good vegan options. I love the eggplant and curry.

Pho 95 — This Vietnamese restaurant has a polished interior and a vegetarian section on the menu, so it’s great for date night The tofu ban mi is tasty and cheap (ask for no mayo and add sriracha).

Potager — Potager is the new darling of the Arlington restaurant scene. The restaurant is dedicated to sustainable and local food. Which means you might have to put up with some happy meat discussion. The menu varies from day to day. They always have vegetarian options, but if you want a vegan meal, it’s probably best to call ahead to see if they can accommodate you. [closed as of July 2015 with a possibility of reopening]

Smiling Moose Deli — This is a chain restaurant near UTA. The Broccoli Bulletin gives a thumbs up to the soup and says that any of the vegetarian dishes can be ordered vegan if you leave out the dairy.[now closed]

Souper Salad — Salad bar with some vegan options, including several salad dressings and croutons. Yes, croutons! The plain cornbread is vegan, too. Check out their vegan items on their website.

Sweet Tomatoes — Yeah, it’s another chain, but they get credit for clearly marking vegan food. Sweet Tomatoes is a buffet with soups, salads, and pasta. They are always a few vegan options. They post the menu online ahead of time, so you can see if any of the day’s specials appeal to you.

Star India — This is recommended by the Black Vegetarian Society of Texas, and I haven’t visited since I went vegan. According to BVST, half of the buffet is plant-based and much of that is dairy free. But it’s always a good idea to ask if anything contains ghee or yogurt.

Taste of Thai — Also recommended by Black Vegetarian Society as a good date spot. The menu states that any ingredient can be left out by request, but be sure to enquire about shrimp paste and fish sauce in any sauces.

Thai House — This is my family’s standby Thai restaurant. Stir-fries (labeled “main dishes” on the menu) and fried rice can be made vegan by request. Some of the noodle dishes can be made vegan as well. All of the curries contain fish sauce.

Ton’s Mongolian Grill — Same concept as Genghis Grill.

Grocery Stores
Arlington Farmer’s Market — Fresh produce grown by your neighbors. This market is still pretty new and small, but I expect it will keep growing rapidly.

Arlington Farmers’ Market in May. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Cho Saigon Asian Market — Asian staples and inexpensive produce.

Costco — Costo has good deals on vegetables, veggie burgers, hummus, snack foods, grains, canned goods, almond butter, and frozen parbaked roti and pita–so long as you don’t mind buying large quantities. I also think they have the best natural peanut butter. What they have varies from month-to-month.

Green’s Plants and Produce
— This is a garden center and food store with a nice supply of locally grown produce and locally made products. Because of the local focus, what they have on hand changes from day to day.

Halal Import Food Market — You’ll find lots of inexpensive international ingredients here. Indian snack foods, canned goods, grains, beans, fresh baked pita.

Hong Kong Market — Great for vegan-friendly Asian staples. Rice, canned veg duck, cheap produce, fresh tofu, soy milk, canned jackfruit, cheap soy sauce, rice paper wrappers. You can even find vegan buns or wonton and eggroll wrappers in the freezer cases if you’re willing to wade through lots of ingredients lists.

Kroger — they carry lots of vegan-friendly specialty items, including Daiya cheese and Gardein, two hot new vegan products. The freezer case is pretty well stocked with quick meals, too. And of course, every grocery store has a giant vegan section called the produce department! How well-stocked the special diet section is may depend on what part of town you’re in. This review is based on the South Cooper location.

Sprouts — This small grocery store has a freezer and refrigerator sections well-stocked with vegan-friendly items, as well as lots of good produce and vitamins. Prices are generally a bit high as they carry organic and natural brands.

Tom Thumb — same as Kroger. They have a surprising amount of vegan specialty items.

Whole Foods — vegan mecca for lots of cities, the Arlington Whole Foods carries prepared vegan foods and baked goods, along with lots of vegan staples.

[Updated September 2015]

Loving Hut in Arlington

I was thrilled when I heard that a Loving Hut opened in Arlington, Texas. I grew up in Arlington. It’s full of chain restaurants, and at times there wasn’t even a single independent coffee shop. So a completely vegan restaurant (albeit a chain) opening was a huge deal.

Last time I visited my parents we stopped by. Loving Hut has an interesting business model. It’s a chain of restaurants created by Supreme Master Ching Hai. According to their U.S. website:

Loving Hut is created with a vision that all beings could live in peace, love and harmony with each other and the planet. Loving Hut chain restaurants are newly opening around the world. It is an invitation to gourmet cuisine made with wholesome vegan ingredients, offering an accessible starting point for those making the noble transition to a plant-based diet.

Every restaurant is individually run, so you’ll find a different menu at each one. And every restaurant also has Supreme Master TV playing at all times.

Loving Hut on Matlock in Arlington, TX.  Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

The Arlington location is in a strip mall. Everything in Arlington is in a strip mall. It’s very slick-looking inside. The atmosphere is like a Starbucks or Apple store. The sound on the TV was off, and with your back to it, you’d never be able to guess what sort of restaurant you were in. In other words, it doesn’t look at all alternative or crunchy. 



Gardener’s Wrap with slaw. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons



I got the Gardener’s Wrap with a side of slaw. The wrap has soy protein, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado. The soy protein wasn’t remarkable or offensive. Like many soy products, it’s a flavor chameleon. Which is why I think it would be better suited to stronger flavors like barbecue sauce. I also would have liked more mayo on my slaw.

Pho at Loving Hut in Arlington, TX. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

My mom got the pho. She really liked it, though was surprised that the zucchini was noodle-shaped and raw. That was exactly what I expected. I think zucchini noodles are pretty common in vegan circles, but haven’t yet gone mainstream. She was happy to find “normal” food on the menu. (More on this later.)

Baguette Charm at Loving Hut in Arlington, TX. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons
My father got the Baguette Charm, which seemed like a take on a Philly cheesesteak. Again, this was made with soy protein, and it could have used some stronger flavors. But props to my dad for being adventurous. That’s potato salad on the side, and it was everyone’s favorite part of the meal. Definitely get the potato salad if you come. I believe “wonderful” was thrown around a lot.
Sloppy Jenny with corn. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons
My husband got the Sloppy Jenny, which is a veggie dog with chili, onions, relish, cole slaw, mustard, and homemade mayo. Matt really enjoyed it and will probably get again next time.
In general, my mother really liked the restaurant. She said the food on the menu looked more normal than the food at Spiral Diner, her only other experience with a vegan restaurant. The thing is, I don’t think that’s true. The menus are pretty similar in their use of things like soy, seitan, and vegan cheese. Both menus have familiar dishes like pasta marinara and beans and rice.

I think either my mother has had several years to get used to me and my vegan food since our last visit to Spiral Diner, or, more likely, the crowd and atmosphere at Loving Hut was less intimidating. You’re fairly likely to run into someone with tattoos, piercings, and/or unnaturally colored hair at Spiral Diner. And while someone in my generation wouldn’t blink at any of those, I think for my parents those are still signifiers of counterculture. The crowd at Loving Hut wasn’t any different than the crowd at a Starbucks. A bit young, but otherwise unremarkable. 

Another difference, and a really positive one, is that Loving Hut prints photos of all their menu items. This is really great for people who have never eaten seitan or other vegan specialty foods, and I think this probably helped my mother’s comfort level as well.

So overall, the food was pretty good, but not exceptional. I’m still very pleased to be able to find so many vegan choices in Arlington. And I’m looking forward to going back to check out their desserts and baked goods.