Vegan Eats Above and Below the Rim

When the thermometer hits 110 degrees in Phoenix, the natural inclination of the population is to head for higher altitudes. Two of our favorite destinations for day trips or overnight stays are Flagstaff, which is above the Mogollon Rim (the boundary between “way to hot” and “not quite as hot” in Arizona), or Payson, which is just below it. But what’s a vegan to eat in these small towns? As it turns out – plenty!

The vegan destination of choice in these two quiet towns is Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery.

Macy's European Coffee House and Bakery

In fact, I’ve lobbied to go to Flag just to visit Macy’s on more than one occasion. The menu is entirely vegetarian, and many items are either vegan, or can be made vegan with a bit of tweaking. The atmosphere is seriously mellow, with the staff and patrons seeming to have an unspoken code that even after many visits I have yet to decipher. It’s the closest vibe to that of my old college town of Gainesville, Fla. that I’ve found in Arizona, which makes sense given the proximity to NAU.

First thing’s first, Macy’s has the best coffee I’ve ever had in Arizona. And the prettiest as well.

Macy's latte and vegan danish

They usually have a vegan pastry or too if you get there early enough. On this trip we lucked into a vegan almond Danish.

For lunch, my husband had the hummus pita (without the feta).

Macy's vegan hummus pita

It wasn’t an adventurous choice, but it was delicious and filling.

I really like their burger, which is normally served as a “mushroom and Swiss burger” but I opt for it without those toppings.

Macy's vegan burger

Sometimes I get lucky and they have it on special with toppings other than mushrooms (which I hate) and Swiss (which they don’t have a vegan version of), but on this trip it was a touch plain. The mustard (put accidentally on the hummus plate) livens it up greatly though. And as a bonus – the fresh salsa at Macy’s shouldn’t be missed.

After hiking in the areas outside of town for awhile, we stopped back in Flag for a quick bite before heading back to Phoenix. We decided to try Tacos Locos, a Mexican restaurant right around the corner from Macy’s that has vegan options.

Tacos Locos in Flagstaff, Arizona

Tacos Locos offers eight different vegetarian options on the menu, all of which can be made vegan with ease. The prices are very reasonable too!

Meals come by default with plenty of chips and salsa, as they should (I’m talking to you, Chipotle).

Tacos Locos chips and salsa

The chips were fresh and warm, but the salsa was a bit bland so we spiced it up with optional hot sauces, available upon request.

My husband had the guacamole and veggie tacos, neither of which were world-rockers, but they were serviceable. I had a bean and rice taco and a potato taco.

Tacos Locos vegan tacos

Both were just fine, but the fried shell of the potato taco was the stand-out.

I probably wouldn’t drive to Flag just to go to Tacos Locos like I do for Macy’s, but it’s a nice option for a quick, safe bite.

When we next said, “We can’t take it anymore” and needed to get out of town, we headed to Payson. Lucky for us, our dining choice was not limited to Taco Bell vs. Subway. Ayothaya Thai Café is a decent Thai restaurant in Payson with a wide assortment of vegetarian items on the menu. When we asked if the dishes had fish oil/sauce or if they were truly vegetarian, they confirmed that there was no fish product involved. They menu also clearly states that they use vegetable oil.

Based on how crowded the restaurant was at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I’d say it is dining destination #1 for Paysonites. There was an odd duet of acoustic folk singers on a stage at the front of the restaurant, which was decidedly not Thai-esq, but they clearly had a strong local fan base.

We had read in reviews that the service at Ayothaya left a lot to be desired, so we ordered a fresh garden roll appetizer to start just to make sure we didn’t starve.

Ayothaya vegan garden rolls

They came out within minutes, which was a good thing because the meal took another 45 to arrive. But, it also meant they had probably been made hours before, and they tasted like it. The peanut sauce was good enough to cover up what the garden rolls lacked though.

I was intrigued that they had tempeh items on the menu, so I ordered the tempeh with mint leaves.

Ayothaya vegan tempeh with mint leaves

It was a light stir-fry but while I was hoping for something “minty” and flavorful, it was a little bland and greasy. The tempeh wasn’t very compelling either.

My husband did much better with the almond Thai curry.

Ayothaya vegan almond Thai curry

This was full of delicate spicy and the tofu was cooked perfectly.

There were plenty of other interesting options on the menu, such as the tofu royale, or the pra ram joe, so I hope to visit again soon!

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