The Everything Else Guide to Austin

The vegans are descending on Austin for Vida Vegan Con. Lots of other people will tell you about the best food and most popular activities in Austin. I wanted to tell you what I always want to know when visiting other cities. Where are the best cookbooks? Where can I spend some time with kitties? And where do the locals grocery shop?

Vegan Cookbooks

Vegan Cookbooks

A stack of cookbooks I saw the last time I was at Half-Price Books on Lamar. It’s pretty representative of the books I often find for sale there.

Obviously, Book People is worth a visit whenever you’re in Austin, but I’m a big fan of two other spots for cookbooks. Monkey Wrench has a really interesting selection of old school vegan cookbooks. The kind that talked about diy and self-sufficiency before those topics had their own TV channels.  Half-Price Books has a surprisingly great selection of vegan cookbooks. I especially like the location at Lamar and Koenig (and check out the Good Will next door while you’re in the area), but all of the Austin locations have really great vegan cookbook selections. Per the name, books are priced at half the barcode price.

Bonus: Stop by the feminist bookstore Book Woman to pick up board books about nontraditional families and other hard-to-find radical children’s books. The game store next door is also worth a visit.

Visiting Cats

The Shoal Creek Nursery Cat.

The Shoal Creek Nursery Cat.

When I’m on vacation, I go through serious cat withdraw. If you have the same problem, visit these spots. (You’re vegan, so you probably already know this, but let the cats come to you, not the other way around.)

Dragon’s Lair Comics has two delightfully fat cats and a good selection of games and current comics. In the back, you’ll often find tabletop games in progress.

Butterfly Bar is a nice, mostly outside bar with an Italian food truck called Patrizi‘s that will make you something vegan off-menu (thank the vegan bartender for this!). Get a white sangria and pet the cat that roams the area.

Shoal Creek Nursery has a nice selection of organic seeds, planters, yard art, succulents, and the usual outdoor plants. And, of course, a garden cat.

Grocery Stores

Rabbit Food Grocery's adorable storefront.

Rabbit Food Grocery’s adorable storefront.

Rabbit Food. It almost goes without saying, but visit Austin’s all-vegan grocery store. You will regret it the rest of your life if you don’t. They have all the vegan products you’ve been wanting to try as well as a great selection of purses, bags, shirts, and other nongrocery items.

Recommended buys: soy curls, Lavanila deodorant, Sweet Ritual caramel sauce, Yellow Bird hot sauce.

Fiesta will show you a truly local shopping experience. These stores are an interesting combination of great produce and international items and really cheap/poor quality everything else. This isn’t the store to find organic fair trade canned tomatoes or bananas. But it is the store to get fresh turmeric root, kosher ramen packets, or Indian snack foods. Want 20 limes for a dollar? You’re in luck. Want a pear? Maybe? There might be pears. (If you’re sensitive to fish smells or sights, maybe sit this one out.)

Recommended buys: kosher ramen, halal jello, ingredients for Terry Hope Romero cookbooks (i.e., aji amarillo, tamarind, palm sugar), impulse snacks

The Whole Foods on Lamar is the chain’s flagship store. I think it’s more interesting for its prepared food than its groceries. You’ll spend an hour trying to decide what to get from the buffet, raw food bar, sandwich bar, sushi bar, smoothie bar, pizza bar, taco bar, or prepared food case. Good luck and godspeed.

Recommended buys: vegan chicken salad, any variety, and as much vegan cheese as you can carry

Central Market is the upscale part of the local HEB chain. This is where you go to find the One Perfect Apple. Or really expensive olive oil pressed by cloistered nuns in Spain. Or other expensive things you purchase because for one short minute you know it’s the one thing keeping you from a perfect life. If you have kids in tow, there’s a nice playground.

Recommended buys: window shopping, fresh tortillas, kale salad from the prepared food case, soy gelato.

MT Supermarket is a large Asian market. It’s mostly Chinese, but you’ll find products from all over Asia in the store. I mentioned above that sensitive vegans might want to skip visiting Fiesta. That goes double for MT. You will notice a strong fish smell and see people buying live animals. If you can get past that, there’s a fascinating supply of noodles, ramen, vinegars, soy sauces, fresh produce, fresh tofu, and other ingredients. There is an entire freezer aisle of mock meats.

Recommended buys: window shopping, cheap agar powder (near the registers), dried noodles, vegetarian ramen

Wheatsville Coop is our local food cooperative. It’s aesthetically nicer than many coops. Lots of vegan products throughout the store. Like Whole Foods though, you probably are more interested in this store for it’s prepared food. They are famous for their popcorn tofu and vegan mac’n’chese. They carry a lot of the same vegan products as Rabbit Food. Be cool and purchase from RF, mkay?

Recommended buys: popcorn tofu poboy, mac’n’cheese, Red Rabbit donuts, Skull and Cake Bones gf cupcakes, anything from the freezer or fridge areas since RF doesn’t sell cold items yet

The Flag Store has a more official name (Hyde Park Market), but you’ll immediately understand why no one uses it. The outside of the store is covered in various flags. And they’re all for sale. Have you ever been awake at 2 AM and desperately wanted snacks (no comment on what you’re doing up at 2 AM that makes you want snacks). The Flag Store is what you’d create if you made a store that sold exactly what you want to buy at 2 AM. And then crammed everything into a hoarder’s house. Every kind of vegan ice cream you can imagine. Cookies. So many cookies. Chips in every flavor. Frozen pizzas. Candy. A huge variety of beverages, including sodas, juices, kombucha, wine and beer.  Literally every beer it’s legal to sell in Texas.

Recommended buys: Sweet Ritual ice cream, chocolate, 512 Pecan Porter, Guinness Extra Stout (which you then combine with that sweet ritual ice cream for an excellent float, and yes, it’s vegan), Uncle Eddie’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

Lately in Vegan Texas

I haven’t been around much, mostly because of this:

I'm an adorable germ-filled baby made entirely out of tacos!

I’m an adorable germ-filled baby made entirely out of tacos!

But that doesn’t mean vegan awesomeness in Texas has stopped. Check it out, bullet style:

  • Rabbit Food Grocery is going brick-and-mortar. Jessica and Gabriel are awesome, and so is the possibility of walking into a store to buy kale, vegan dog food, and Earth Balance junk food all in one trip. Go check out their kickstarter to help make it happen. Even a $1 helps. And tell your friends!
  • If you watched RFG’s kickstarter video, you may have noticed Gabe is wearing a Texas VegFest shirt. And there’s exciting news out about the festival. First of all, we’ve got our 501(c)3 classification from the IRS. I’m pretty sure helping to found a nonprofit was on my bucket list. Check! Also, the date for the 2015 festival was just announced, check it out. Texas VegFest (and our friends at New Year, New You in Marshall) made a list of ten must-attend VegFests. AND we’re also nominated for best festival in the Austin A-list awards. Head over and vote for us! You’ll also see lots of local vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the food categories. Picking a company to vote for in the healthy lunch category is brutal!
  • Speaking of vegfests, Texas Veggie Fair is fast approaching. How cool is it that Robin Quivers is one of their featured speakers?
Taco, cookie, avocado bruchetta, and samosa at Alamo Drafthouse Village

Taco, cookie, avocado bruchetta, and samosa at Alamo Drafthouse Village

  • Since I last wrote, vegan food has been popping up everywhere. Pulse Vegan is now open in South Austin with lots of great comfort food like The Frenchy, their take on the French dip. Maoz in Austin has added two seitan-based soy-based sandwiches: shwarma and BBQ, both available in either a pita or a lavash wrap. They’re both fantastic. I highly recommend stuffing some of their excellent french fries in your shwarma pita. Follow the instagram account @unalomevegan for a sneak peak at an up-and-coming vegan food cart specializing in “healthy and convenient meals with a gourmet flair.” And the Village location of the Alamo Drafthouse is trying out a vegan menu. Eat there often and maybe they’ll bring to all their other locations.
  • In San Antonio, the folks behind Green Vegetarian have opened the first drive-through style veg fast food restaurant in Texas. The entire menu at Earth Burger is available vegan (just like at Green), and it has a good mix of comforting favorites like burgers and chik’n tenders and healthier items like kale and edamame–something I think is key for veg fast food.
  • In Dallas, all-new vegan joint Sykamore Vegan House is serving Asian- and Western-style food in a spot that once was a burger place. Also, LYFE Kitchen, a chain created by celebrity chef Tal Ronen, with a focus on flexitarian food. Which translates to, healthy-ish food that’s lighter on animal products, but not vegetarian. It also means a menu with marked vegan items like Morning Tofu Wrap, Unfried Gardein Chick’n, and Chocolate Chip Cookie.
Image from MalkTexas.com

Image from MalkTexas.com

  • New product alert: Malk is making raw, organic nut milks from almonds and pecans. Pecans! So Texas. For now their milk is only sold in Houston, but I’m hoping there’ll be some magic worked out between Malk and Rabbit Food Grocery in the future.
  • Vida Vegan Con will be taking place in Austin in 2015. Buy your tickets before they sell out. It’s well worth the cost. You get food, samples, tons of great information, and a chance to connect with awesome vegans from all over the world. Don’t think you need to be a blogger to get something out of the classes; there’s lots of useful information about social media, activism, and vegan lifestyles.
  • Just a teaser: the taco scientists behind the taco cleanse are working on something new. Hint: it involves tacos.

I can’t promise to post as frequently as before, but I’ll try my best to pop up now and again. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter and Instagram to get more frequent updates.

ETA. While I’m not posting as often, I AM keeping up with comments. So dude who commented, “If you post this comment, I’ll donate to save an imaginary animal.” You (and the unicorns of the world) are out of luck.

11 Restaurants with Good Gluten-Free and Vegan Options

Buddha Bowl from Steeping Room

Buddha Bowl from Steeping Room

A family member was just diagnosed with celiac’s disease, so I have a new interest in the intersection of gluten-free and vegan, also known as xgfx. Where can the whole family get a good meal together in Austin? Here’s what I found:

A quick note on gluten: Because even minuscule amounts of gluten can cause havoc for people with celiac disease, restaurant staff need to take special care to prevent contamination issues. I consulted Jessica of ATX Gluten-Free about which restaurants have a good reputation for preventing cross contamination, and these all passed the test. But if you have celiac disease or a severe allergy, it’s always a good idea to check in with your waitstaff before ordering. 

Bouldin Creek Cafe
This is the perfect spot for breakfast. Order off the gluten-free menu. The staff is well-informed about both gluten-free and vegan diets. The most popular order seems to be the El Tipico with tofu scramble, though my personal favorite is the Tofu Chorizo tacos.

Casa de Luz
Casa de Luz is an experience. You pay when you enter. Seating is communal, and you both serve and bus your own table. The menu varies day to day, but you can expect some combination of beans, whole grains, greens with a sauce, a vegetable dish, and fermented vegetables. If it sounds bit hippie, that’s because it is. Meals are all gluten-free and vegan. Desserts are an extra charge, and some may contain gluten.

Counter Culture
Gluten-free items are clearly marked on the menu. My favorite xgfx item is the tempeh reuben, made with local Hearty Vegan Tempeh, sauerkraut, and cashew cheeze. Ask for gluten-free bread on  your sandwiches. Keep an eye on the daily special. If you feel like a splurge, try the raw cashew cheeze plate or the spicy baked artichoke dip from the appetizer menu. Both are fantastic.

Frank’s
Check out the veggie and gluten-free section where vegan and gluten-free items are marked. Chili cheese fries (skip the sour cream to be vegan) and frito pie are highly recommended.

Galaxy Cafe
Grab a gluten-free menu by the door and ask for the vegan menu at the cash register. Stare intently at both until your eyes cross. Then order a vegan burger (no mayo please!) on rice bread with a side of sweet potato fries. Or regular fries, if you’re boring. Other good choices include an avocado and tomato sandwich or a veggie wrap.

G’Raj Mahal
Vegan items are marked on the menu. Gluten-free items are not marked, but all the entrees are gluten-free (though consult your waitstaff to be safe). For bread, try the papadum, crispy crackers/chips made from lentils. I always get the baingan bartha, but the whole menu is pretty popular. (Note that G’Raj Mahal is temporarily closed while they switch from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar location. They expect to reopen in February.)

Steeping Room
Their regular menu has icons for both gluten-free and vegan options, which is nice because you can order off the same menu as normal folks. Get a pot of tea, crook your pinky, and then pig out on a Buddha bowl.

Freakin' Vegan (front) and Florentino (back) from Tacodeli. Order corn tortillas for gluten-free. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Tacodeli
The great news about Tacodeli is that all of their vegetarian tacos are also gluten-free (obviously, choose corn tortillas). The bad news is they’re only open for breakfast and lunch. I highly recommend the Freakin’ Vegan, even if you feel like a doofus ordering it.  And bonus, their famous Dona Salsa is xgfx.

Tarka
This is a fast-casual restaurant from the people behind Clay Pit. Check out their gluten-free menu, which has icons for vegan options. Almost all of their vegan items from the regular menu are also gluten-free. I can’t get enough of their madras soup. If you get a dish that comes with chutney, ask for the vegan chutney as their standard chutney contains yogurt.

Thai Fresh
This quirky place is half Thai restaurant half coffee shop and serves wonderful desserts, many of which are xgfx. Gluten-free and vegan items are clearly marked in both halves. While the Thai food is great, be sure to save room for dessert. Adventurous eaters should try some of the more unusual flavors of ice cream, which in the past have included Texas Corn, Thai Basil, and Ginger Lemongrass. Newcomer tip: order your food at the counter. They’ll bring it out to you.

Wildwood Bakehouse
The entire restaurant is gluten-free, which means this is a good spot if you’re very sensitive to cross contamination. The vegan options aren’t super exciting, but if you’re gluten-free you’ll be thrilled to be able to eat sandwiches (with multiple bread options!) and pizza, even if the vegan toppings aren’t exciting. Be sure to check out the Sunday brunch buffet which comes with either a mimosa or juice.

Sweet Ritual ice cream cone

Sweet Ritual ice cream cone

Bonus: Sweet Ritual
This is the perfect spot to pick up a xgfx dessert. Their homemade waffle cones are gluten-free, and most of the ice creams are gluten-free as well. And of course everything’s vegan. The homemade salted caramel sauce is highly recommended.

Abilene Vegan Guide

Let’s eat vegan in Abilene, Texas, about two hours west of DFW. You’ll notice a lot of chain restaurants on this list. Partly, this is because chain restaurants abound in Abilene. Partly, it’s because it’s easier to verify whether dishes are vegan when you’re dealing with national chains. As always, please let me know if anything on this list is inaccurate or out-of-date. If you live in Abilene, consider asking area restaurants to carry more vegan options.

Abi-Haus—vegan French toast at brunch, y’all! Lunch and dinner options aren’t quite as exciting, but ask about the seasonal veggie plate and seasonal pasta. If nothing else, you can have an avocado and tomato sandwich on sourdough (hold the cheese).

Bangkok Thai—In theory, some menu items can be modified to be vegan. However many diners report communication issues. Ask about fish sauce, shrimp paste, and eggs in tofu dishes. Beware of the veggie egg roll which contains chicken.

Bonzai Japanese Steakhouse—The usual edamame and avocado, cucumber, or vegetable sushi rolls. For hibachi, order the vegetarian delight and ask for them to cook with oil instead of butter.

Denny’s—Denny’s now carries Amys vegan burgers. A number of the vegetables and sides are vegan. If you’re here for breakfast, you can get oatmeal (no milk) or grits (no butter) with fruit on the side.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop—A Texas chain. Tortillas, grilled veggies, black beans, refried beans, lime rice, and fried potatoes are vegan. Combine them into a taco, burrito, salad, or fajitas. Allergen/vegan menu is available online (pdf).

Genghis Grill—The usual Mongolian Grill experience. Their website charmingly proclaims, All diets welcome! Choose your vegetables (including tofu), sauce, and starch (vegan choices include white rice, brown rice, or udon noodles). Ask for their nutrition menu when you get there if you want to look over the sauces to see which are vegan or check it out online. If seeing your food cooked on the communal grill bothers you, most places like this will cook your food in a separate wok.

Jason’s Deli—Chain sandwich shop that has a small vegan menu (pdf) online.

Johnny Carino’s—A chain restaurant. Try the angel hair pasta with artichokes (no parmesan) and a house salad without croutons or cheese. Or order a pasta dish with tomato sauce and vegetables (no cheese). I’ve eaten at this chain a number of times, and it’s decent if unexciting.

Middle East—Unsurprisingly, this restaurant serves Middle Eastern food. The usual hummus, baba ganouj, tabouley, fatoush, along with a few more unusual options like peayas, described as cubes of potato with mint, onion, lemon, and olive oil. Menu is online at Yelp.

Natural Food Center—This health food store includes a small restaurant with daily vegan options including soup, tamales, burritos, chili, smoothies, and more. Grab a vegan dessert from the grocery section on your way out.

Natural Grocers—This grocery store carries many vegan-friendly convenience foods and specialty products like dairy-free cheese and yogurt.

Red Robin—Another chain with a vegan Boca burger and a robust salad bar. Be sure to ask for the Boca burger as the standard Gardenburger contains cheese.

Subway—The veggie delite. We’ve all succumbed to this sandwich at one time or another. Secret vegan trick: buy a bag of potato chips and stuff ’em in your sandwich. And then send a letter to subway asking them to add more vegan options.

Ta Molly’s Mexican—order meatless fajitas and they’ll load you up with mushrooms and tomatoes along with the usual peppers and onions

Tokyo Asia Fusion—Beyond the usual avocado, cucumber, and veggie roll, Tokyo Asia also has a sweet potato roll and an aspargus roll. Or order the hibachi vegetable dinner. Ask for your vegetables to be cooked in oil instead of butter.

One Week Taco Cleanse Meal Plan

burger taco

burger taco

Some people have a hard time imaging taco cleansing for a whole week. What to eat?  So I’ve come up with an easy meal plan that anyone can follow.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Monday breakfast tacos bean and potato tacos Burger tacos
Tuesday breakfast tacos tempeh bacon and spinach tacos Pad Thai-cos
Wednesday breakfast tacos chickpea salad tacos in lettuce Waffle tacos
Thursday breakfast tacos Amy’s tofu scramble tacos Lentil and Cauliflower Rice tacos
Friday breakfast tacos Salad tacos Totcho tacos
Saturday breakfast tacos Tacos from Freebirds or Chipotle, be generous with the guacamole Pizza tacos
Sunday breakfast tacos White Bean and Potato Tacos Buffalo Chickpea Soft Tacos with Avocado Sour Cream

Keys to creating your own taco cleanse meal plan

  1. Tacos. Lots and lots of tacos.
  2.  Make sure your tacos aren’t actually burritos.
  3. Don’t forget to supplement with Mexican martinis and margaritas!

I’m thinking of making this a regular thing and charging $50 each. Let me know if paypal or direct deposit works better for y’all!

The Guilt-Free Taco

I was feeling  a bit self-conscious about writing today’s taco post. You see, I didn’t cook this taco myself. And I didn’t buy it from one of Austin’s lovely taco establishments. Today’s taco comes courtesy of Amy’s frozen foods.

What’s that you say? Amy’s doesn’t make tacos? Sadly, they don’t. But they do make a frozen breakfast that includes tofu scramble, hashbrowns, and tomatoes. And those make excellent taco fillings.

Going into this post, I was going to make excuses about all the taco meetings I’ve been attending at dinner, which means I don’t have any home-cooked leftovers for lunch the next day. Excuses about how I’m too busy to leave the building to pick up lunch. But you know what? Screw that! There’s no guilt in taco cleansing.

Not-a-Taco-Post: Capital City Bakery Kickstarter

cupcake

Capital City Bakery candycane cupcake

I’m taking a quick break from talking about tacos to talk about how awesome Capital City Bakery is. (Don’t worry, I’m still eating tacos. Chickpea salad on flour tortilla for lunch.)

Capital City Bakery is where I get my birthday cakes, Purim hamentaschen, and bad-day-at-work cupcakes. Even before the trailer landed in Austin, Cap City’s founder Kristen has been a vital part of Austin bake sales and fundraisers. And now that she’s moving into a brick-and-mortar location, I know she’ll only expand her community involvement. (I’ve heard rumors about cooking classes and brunch.)

cheesecake

Cherry cheese cake

The reason why my friend Kristen is so successful is that she’s a perfectionist. Everything she makes is so damn good because she wouldn’t let it out of her kitchen if it weren’t. So it’s not really a surprise or “magic” that her vegan cupcakes taste awesome. It’s hard work and fat and sugar. And the tasty instagram photos don’t hurt.

Capital City Bakery is 94% percent of the way through a kickstarter to help raise money for baking equipment. You only have about a week left to feel that sense of pride from contributing to make something wonderful happen. So if you have a spare $5, send it their way.

 

Three Reasons the Taco Cleanse Isn’t Working for You

Sad Taco

Image by Sin Amigos. Licensed under creative commons

People have been asking me lately, Molly, what’s up with this taco cleanse thing? I ate a taco once and nothing happened? What’s the big deal?

Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away. Here are some of the most common taco cleansing problems and how to avoid them.

1. You’re not actually eating a taco. Filling + condiments + tortilla = taco, right? Not exactly. There are many taco-like objects out there waiting to trip up the novice taco cleanser. The most common of these is the burrito. You can recognize a burrito by its multiple folded edges (versus a taco’s single fold) and its generally large size. Burritos often require a two-handed hold, whereas the average taco only requires a single hand (which hand you use is up to you).

Burrito
taco

Lazy Smurf has made a valuable video to help you recognize this important distinction if you need more help distinguishing between tacos and burritos.

Solution: eat a damn taco!

2. You’re not cleansing long enough. At any level below “mild” (one full day of taco meals), you’re unlikely to see any visible changes. You can’t just supplement one taco a month and expect to see big results. You get what you put into the cleanse. See Lazy Smurf’s post about the four levels of taco cleansing for more information.

Solution: eat more tacos!

3. You’re not alive. Taco cleansing is not recommended for zombies or the undead.

Solution: None. There’s no point in trying to live a tacoless existence.

 

Vegan Food at DFW

Paper Airplane Embroidery by Hey Paul Studios. Licensed under creative commons

If you’re a vegan flying American Airlines, there’s a good chance you’re going to spend a few hours poking around DFW looking for something to eat. And now that’s easy! The folks at DFW have posted a list of all the vegan options at every restaurant in the airport. That’s really impressive. Other airports: take note.

Restaurants with especially good vegan options include Blue Bamboo in Terminal D (sushi, miso soup, spring rolls), UFood Grill in Terminal B (tofusion bowl, chili, smoothies), and Au Bon Pain in all terminals (rotating soups and snacks). As usual with a list like this, it’s probably a good idea to verify items are actually vegan before you order.

SXSW Interactive Panels You Should Vote For

Meatless Monday Unicorn

Meatless Monday Unicorn from Vegansaurus

It’s SXSW panel voting time, and there are a number of vegan-related panels you should support.

First up, Austin’s own Lazy Smurf is teaming up with Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel to talk about stereotype-smashing vegan activism like Thug Kitchen, the LA Vegan Beer Fest, and Vegansaurus’s Meatless Monday Unicorn in a panel called Activism on the Internet: You’re Doing it Wrong. The team will explore how social media plays a role in both forming and challenging these positive and fun forms of activism.

Next up is a panel called How Tech Saves Us from Junk Science and Animal Abuse. The name is a bit clunky. This panel is about the government’s role in animal experimentation. You’ll hear from a watchdog, a doctor, a former animal experimenter, and an attorney and animal rights advocate—not to mention getting to meet a few Beagles rescued from laboratory experiments. The panel looks at technological alternatives to animal experimentation from the points of view of both animal rights and scientific rigor.

I’m not going to tell you to vote for this last one, but it is of interest to a vegan audience despite being decidedly unvegan. Hacking Meat: Why Insects Are the Future of Food. Again, eating insects, not vegan. But it’s an interesting idea to explore in order to reduce consumption of animals that have more of a capacity for pain and emotion. Personally, I think it’s much easier to get people to eat beans and grains than to eat bugs, but I like exploring ideas that address the problem that we’re consuming an unsustainable amount of meat.