Raleigh, N.C. — Many Triangle area restaurants are catering to a growing crowd of vegetarian and vegan diners, who want to skip the $30 steak without skimping on quality ingredients, hearty dishes and culinary creativity. So long, boring salads and lackluster rice and veggie plates, these five restaurants are pleasing vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
We should point out that Irregardless Cafe set the vegetarian-friendly trend in Raleigh when it opened in 1975. The eatery has been delighting locals and visitors ever since.
In 2009, the Remedy Diner followed in Irregardless' footsteps, and developed a menu that accommodates vegans as well as vegetarians.
So, it's no surprise all four restaurants made Our Five Faves list in 2011. This time around, we're digging a little deeper and trying out some newcomers to bring you a second list of the best vegetarian menus in the Triangle. But we couldn't forget our old standbys, and neither should you.
The Fiction Kitchen is the latest 100-percent vegetarian and vegan restaurant to grace Raleigh's food scene. When Out and About visited earlier this month, we were surprised by the many carnivorous references on the menu – "chicken" and waffles? BBQ pulled "pork"? But, Fiction Kitchen totally hit the mark.
The dishes were flavorful, filling and properly spiced. The menu is traditional enough for someone who only occasionally goes meatless, but interesting enough for the most adventurous eater. If you're looking to fool your carnivore friends, take it from WRAL-TV's Ken Smith: "There's no way (the pulled pork) is not real pulled pork."
Next up is one of my favorite places to grab lunch or a casual dinner: Neomonde is always a winner in my book. Though not an exclusively vegetarian eatery, Middle Eastern fare is rife with vegetarian options, and Neomonde has the best Middle Eastern food in the Triangle, hands down.
The falafel sandwich, served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, banana peppers and a lemon-tahini dressing is a very satisfying lunch. Unlike the bland falafel often served up in lesser eateries, Neomonde's chick pea patties have the perfect punch of parsley and a deliciously crispy exterior.
The hummus is so smooth and creamy, you'll want to spread it on everything. But what keeps me coming back, time and again, is the mjadarah – a hearty dish of savory rice and lentils topped with sweet caramelized onions.
Udupi Cafe in Cary had long been on my list of places to try after numerous recommendations from Indian food loving friends. I thought I would miss tandoori chicken or lamb vindaloo, but I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised. The chana masala, chickpeas simmered in a tomato sauce with ginger and garlic, is one of my favorites. The aloo gobi, a specialty dish of potato, cauliflower and spices, and the mutter paneer, cheese cubes cooked with peas and spices, also satisfy any Indian craving.
A staple of food truck rodeos around Durham, Triangle Raw Foods is not only vegan, it's all local, gluten-free and raw. Eating raw food means getting the most of nutrients that can be lost in the cooking process, so this is definitely a food truck for the hardcore healthy eater.
The Asian marinated kale and pad thai make a lovely, light pairing, and the chocolate tarts will put your sweet tooth to rest. It's feel-good food that doesn't compromise on flavor.
Triangle Raw Foods also offers a weekly delivery service for customers who want raw meals delivered right to their door.
Our last choice is not a vegetarian restaurant, but it is a great place for mixed groups of vegetarians and meat eaters to enjoy a lovely meal without missing out on their preferred styles of eating. Pizzeria Toro is one of the best new restaurants in the area, and it's sure to please any vegetarian (I would never, however, recommend eating pizza without cheese, so vegans should stick to the four choices above).
The kale salad is a triumph – the hearty leaves are tender and the chilis offer a spicy kick, perfectly balanced by sharp Parmesan cheese and toasty pine nuts. Five out of 11 pizzas are meatless, and there are two more pizzas – one with anchovies, garlic, chilies and basil and one with clams, hot pepper and grana padano – that would be suitable for pescetarians.
I've never had a pizza I didn't like, and I would highly recommend the simple pie with San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, as well as the white pizza with crimini mushrooms and fior di latte mozzarella from Chapel Hill Creamery. For something a little different, the pistachio, onion and taleggio is bursting with flavor, and the soft egg, oyster mushroom and arugula is certainly a one-of-a-kind pizza.
Also, rumor has it that The Garland, an upcoming restaurant below King's Barcade, at 14 W. Martin St., will feature several vegetarian friendly dishes with Indian flair. We're looking out for The Garland to officially open its doors soon – though it's not clear how soon is soon. We'll keep you posted.
What did we miss? Where do you get vegetarian fare in the Triangle?