Tag Archives: vegetarian food

New menu at Green and Bragg’s Factory Diner coming soon!

In case any fans of Phoenix’s Green Vegetarian haven’t heard the news yet, proprietor Damon Brasch has made some changes to the menu to start the new year. Gone are the flatbread pizzas, the Green burger, the meatball-oriented items (po-boy and bowl) and maybe a few other things I didn’t order frequently.

However, the additions more than make up for the losses. To start, the Big Wac is on the menu! I was never a fan of the non-vegan version, but Green’s is out of this world. It will be very hard for me to not get the Big Wac every time we go to Green.

I resisted the urge today (having already gotten one earlier in the week), and instead tried the Artichoke Chicken Salad, along with the Mac n Cheez from the kids menu.

Green's vegan artichoke chicken salad and mac n cheez

The blackened mock chicken in the salad was crisp and lightly spiced. I’m not usually one for a creamy dressing, but the light lemon flavor sat well with me.

The Mac n Cheez had a good blend of Daiya and what I assume was a homemade cashew cheese, which made it nice and gooey. I was surprised that there was a touch of garlic in it though, given it was for kids.

My husband’s choice may be a challenger to the Big Wac’s priority status. The new BBBQ Bacon Burger was messy and fabulous.

Green's vegan BBBQ bacon burger

It was the same thin burger patty used in the Big Wac, but it was covered in tangy barbecue sauce, caramelized onions and tempeh bacon. It also comes with oodles of mushrooms. I’ll be opting out of those when I give it a try.

Next on the list for us to try is the Lemon Pesto bowl or maybe the Black Jack Pita. Other news of note is that the Wendy’s Pickle is now officially on the menu instead of being a whisper item. Also new is a Blonde Alfredo bowl, but I’ll have to be talked into that since alfredo sauce has never been a favorite of mine, even in pre-vegan days. (Although oddly enough, the Ritz Carlton made a vegan alfredo for me at an event I was at recently, and it was outstanding.) Additionally, the menu now features “kids” items, such as a nice basic burger, pita-quesadilla and chicken nuggs or digits. I was assured that immature adults can order from it too!

Get in there and have fun trying all the new items!

Thanks to a tweet from @WesleyTech, I also learned that a new vegetarian and vegan restaurant is opening up in the old Bragg’s pie factory on Grand Ave. south of Roosevelt, which will be called Bragg’s Factory Diner. They don’t seem to have a website or menu up yet, but they are actively monitoring their Facebook page and said they will probably open in March. And there will be pie! However, they are so close to my other favorite, Treehouse Bakery, that pie may be less of a priority than vegan Pop Tarts.

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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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The Yard House Serves Gardein!

During the Phoenix Coyotes’ great 2012 playoff run (as of right now they’re down 3-1 against the Kings, but regardless of how the conference finals end – we’re still proud of you), we found someplace else to eat other than our usual hummus sandwich at Which Wich. It turns out Yard House, right outside the arena, has a complete Gardein menu! Who knew?

They don’t specify what is vegan and what is just vegetarian, and I appreciate the disclaimer on their site that they are not a vegan environment, but it’s far better than my usual “just give me some fries and a beer” when at a bar. During our visit they were way too slammed with playoff fans for me to be fussy and ask about each ingredient, but it was pretty easy to make educated guesses on what was “fairly safe” for vegans or not, based on the descriptions.

We arrived at Yard House about four hours before puck drop in an attempt to watch the New York Rangers playoff game on one of their tons of TVs before going in for the Coyotes game, to avoid an inevitable spoiler from the Jumbotron scoreboard. We asked to be seated by a TV showing the Rangers and they accommodated us, even when we threw a fit that someone else tried to change the channel. We felt bad taking a table for that long, but oh well. We killed time by getting an appetizer of the Gardein Boneless Wings.

Yard House Gardein buffalo wings

We went with buffalo style, and they were plenty hot and a very generous portion. They are served with ranch dressing, so just put that aside if you’re vegan. I liked them quite a bit but my husband turned his nose up after eating a few. They were deep fried, fairly thick and coated in sauce, but once they cooled off they got too spongy, so there were a few left on the plate at the end. They don’t come close to how great Green’s or That’s a Wrap’s buffalo-style items are, but for veggie bar food, they were just fine.

About two hours later, we ordered our meal (yes, we tipped very well). I got a Spicy House Salad, but had them hold the Asian slaw because it sounded too vague and I didn’t want to ask.

Yard House Spicy Salad

It was fine – nothing to call home about but certainly palatable and healthier than the wings! I’d probably go for the mixed greens next time though as the dressing was a little too meh – kind of fake spicy and sugary with questionable contents.

The highlight of the meal by far and above was the Gardein Burger (and fries). I failed to get a photo because we ate it so fast. It was cooked well, and the fries were really great. You can substitute a Gardein burger for any of the burger options on the menu, but for vegans the only option was “just the burger and veggies please” – everything else looked non-vegan. We also avoided the roasted garlic aioli that comes with it since we didn’t want to ask questions. The sliders might also be an option, without the cheese and probably not the “special sauce.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the bun had egg in it, but there’s no indication on the menu/on their site.

While I won’t be bailing on Which Wich any time soon, it’s nice to know there’s another dining option near the arena when we are able to get to games early either in the finals or next season and want to hang out for awhile. Of course, that’s making a double assumption there will be a “next season” in Phoenix, given the ownership situation and the pending NHL CBA talks! Let’s Go Coyotes! And of course, Let’s Go Rangers! As of today, my dream of a NYR vs. PHX final is still alive!

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The Big Tease: Specials at Green

Lately, Green New American Vegetarian’s proprietor Damon Brasch has become the biggest vegan food-tease in the Valley via Green’s Facebook page.

Green's Facebook page

He’s driving me “specials” crazy. It’s bad enough that I crave Green’s thyme fries and spicy peanut chicken salad on a daily basis. And now that Green’s Phoenix location is 10 minutes away from my home and/or office, I go there far more than anyone should. But to make matters worse, Damon has twice the ability to tempt me to make an extra trip with his somewhat-weekly and always intriguing specials for both locations, which he teases his loyal patrons with on the Facebook page days in advance.

Case in point: Damon posted last Friday that there would be new specials coming up soon. I hadn’t seen any posted over the weekend, but twisted my husband’s arm that we should go to the Phoenix location on Saturday to get salads, since we’d be “in the neighborhood.” While there, the person taking my order said they should have new specials on Monday. I had the day off on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so beginning at about 10:30 a.m. I stalked the Facebook page to see what they’d be, hoping to go for lunch. By 1:15 I had given up, figuring “maybe Tuesday” and made lunch at home. At 1:30 p.m. The Teaser posted that the Tempe location has an amazing sounding special: “The 1970’s PO BOY- our tasty throwback Nature Burger patty with a tahini lemon dressing over fresh lettuce, tomato, sliced cucumber, and alfalfa sprouts. A bit of vegan mayo on a toasted po boy roll make this classic, one vintage sandwich – comes with a side.” I griped, and then realize I have a meeting tomorrow right by the Tempe location and can squeeze in a visit before or after.

Then the fatal vegan food-addict blow came. Fifteen minutes later Damon posted that the Phoenix location special is an “Aspen Mountain Grilled Cheese n Tomato Soup – Colorado cracked wheat, buttered and toasted with vegan American slices and a side of house made tomato soup with organic elbow corn pasta- Throwback- Just like mom used to make.”

That was it. I couldn’t take it. I finished up my household chores (a rationalization/justification for having a second lunch) and hit the road. Here’s the result:

Green's vegan grilled cheese special

The bread was grilled perfectly – just greasy and crispy enough to give it some bite. The “cheese” was a bit dry/flavorless, but I think we all know that my penchant is for Daiya (which this wasn’t). I should have asked for pickles (which I always put on my grilled cheeses for some reason).

The soup was spot on — tangy and robust, and given some extra boost by the pasta.

Green's vegan tomato soup

Once it clicked in my brain to dip the grilled cheese into the soup, my day was made.

Of course while I was there I had to pick up a couple of brownies from Nami – which I swear are the world’s most perfect brownies (vegan or not).

Green's vegan brownies

Crisp on top and on the edges, chewy inside, and with just the right amount of chocolate decadence.

As to that special in Tempe, I’ll be trying it tomorrow for sure! Be forewarned that the best specials usually only last a couple of days. I’ve been burned too many times waiting til the weekend only to hear “we just ran out.” Get there soon!

Special note: for those not “in the know” – there is an off-menu  special that is always available and definitely worth trying – the secret wendy’s chicken (but I call it the Chick-fil-a because of the pickles).

Green's vegan Wendys special chicken

It’s fried “chicken” pieces with hot sauce, pickles and mayo (but I leave off the mayo).

It’s become a regular for me (much to my waistline’s chagrin) – almost surpassing the no harm chicken parm or the secret bbq chicken sandwich.

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Nami! Green! Downtown Phoenix! It’s all happening!

Green New American Vegetarian downtown Phoenix location

This is just a quickie in case anyone hasn’t heard the most exciting news to hit Phoenix in 2011. Both Nami and Green are open in the “downtown” location: 2014 North 7th St. Nami opened Friday, and Green opened today, on “World Vegetarian Day” – how fitting!

Nami features tsoynamis and delicious vegan desserts (cookies, cupcakes, etc.). Green has the same vegan menu as the Tempe location.

Nami vegan treats case

We popped in for dessert after having a Berkley Vegan at zpizza (because we didn’t know Green was open too!) and picked up a few treats to go.

Nami vegan treats

It doesn’t look the the Green/Nami websites are updated with info for the new locations yet, but the Green Facebook page should give you all the info you need. Nami is open Monday – Sunday, 7:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. but I don’t know the Green hours yet.

Congrats to the Green team for making it happen!

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Fresh Mint: Vegan Vietnamese in North Scottsdale

One of our favorite vegetarian restaurants in the greater Phoenix area is Fresh Mint. It’s on the north-west corner of Scottsdale Rd. and Thunderbird, tucked away in a half-empty strip mall.

Fresh Mint Vegetarian Restaurant

I think they may suffer from not being close enough to ASU to attract the younger crowd like at Green. However, I believe they’ve managed to stay in business throughout the recession based on the quality of their food, the interesting menu and the always excellent service.

Fresh Mint is on our “high rotation” list, which means we usually make it there about once a month. The owners are from Hawaii, but most of the menu leans toward Vietnamese, Chinese or Thai flavors. Almost everything on the menu is vegan (except the Fried Imperial Rolls, the Imperial Roll Noodles and I’m not sure about some of the desserts). They use a lot of mock meats and tofu, and some of the sauces can be a bit salty so I wouldn’t say they’re a “uber-health-conscious” restaurant, but most of the items are fairly light and not greasy. They also don’t seem to do “hot” – even the curries are very mellow.

On our first visit, we grabbed a to-go menu and started marking each item we tried with a one to five rating. The menu has so much to offer we wanted to keep track of what was best. We haven’t tried everything on the menu yet but we’ve zeroed in on a handful of “fives.” These are the Lemongrass Soy Beef Delight, Golden Soy Chicken Delight, the Fresh Lemongrass Tofu, the Sesame Soybean, the Spicy Ginger Soy Beef and the Vegetable Chow Mein. And be sure to save room for the Banana Fritter — it’s a “five,” and definitely vegan!

During our most recent trip, we revisited a few of our favorites. Fresh Mint’s appetizers are mostly a variety of different rolls. Two we had most recently are the Fresh Summer Rolls:

Fresh Mint Summer Rolls

And the Fresh Cucumber Rolls:

Fresh Mint Cucumber Rolls

I normally get one or the other of these because I like their peanut sauce. While some restaurants’ peanut sauces can be spicy, Fresh Mint’s is pretty mellow — it’s thick and slightly sweet. Out of the two, I’d recommend the Cucumber Rolls because they are very unique compared to what you can get at other Asian restaurants.

We also had a couple of our favorite entrees – both “fives.” The Fresh Lemongrass Tofu is a totally unique dish.

Fresh Mint Lemongrass Tofu

They roll tofu and seaweed together with spices to create crunchy, slightly flaky bite-sized nuggets that are covered in a great sesame ginger sauce. I’ve never had anything like it anywhere else. The only downside is that sometimes the sauce can be a little salty.

One of my other favorites is the Vegetable Chow Mein.

Fresh Mint Vegetable Chow Mein

Chow Mein isn’t something I’d normally order on a menu – it sounds so generic and reminds me of when my parents would make Chung King Chinese food from a can. However, since we were making our way through the menu I had to try it and now I’m stuck on it. Fresh Mint’s house brown sauce is very mellow, but delicious. Typically my husband takes whatever he ordered and dips it in my Chow Mein sauce. I also love the crispy noodles when they get just a little bit soggy. Like the Fresh Lemongrass Tofu, it’s very unique. It’s also beautifully served!

Although I don’t have a picture of it, I’d also say that you must try the Golden Soy Chicken Delight. They combine ginger and lemongrass to make what they call a “master flavor” and I don’t disagree – it’s masterful! It’s so popular that sometimes they run out of it!

For dessert, beyond the Banana Fritters, the Mango Coconut Tapioca and the Plantain with Coconut Sauce are also vegan. But the Banana Fritters are just too good to have anything else. Unfortunately we were too stuffed to have them on our last visit.

As I mentioned earlier, the service at Fresh Mint is always impeccable. The restaurant is family owned and run. The husband and owner (I think his name is Michael) typically greets and serves all customers, while his co-owner, wife and executive chef Mai Ly prepares the meals to order. He’s always incredibly friendly but not intrusive, and doesn’t act “too familiar” with regular customers but acknowledges repeat customers with little gifts like Fresh Mint pens and stuffed animals from Hawaii. How could you not love that? I know they’re trying to franchise the restaurant, but I think they need a little help with marketing, like, how about a Twitter feed or Facebook page? I’d also love to see them start offering specials as I have no doubt Mai Ly could come up with some knock-outs using seasonal ingredients.

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Chakra 4: Let Food Be Your Medicine

Chakra 4 Vegetarian Restaurant

Several years ago, I eagerly anticipated the opening of the vegetarian café inside Chakra 4 – an herb shop two blocks from my office. My excitement was dampened after I tried it a couple of times and experienced extremely slow service, high prices ($15 for a wrap?), and average-quality food. In short: I wrote it off.

However, during the past few months I’ve been struggling to find places to dine at in Phoenix that aren’t “cheats” on my new “nutrient-focused, food-as-cure” vegan diet (i.e. tons of greens, less wheat and salt, no processed food). Let’s face it, I grew up in the high-salt, everything fried, processed food generation. I love Green the most in town and can’t live without Daiya now that I’ve found it. But given my new commitment to “eating for health,” I took another look at Chakra 4’s menu online and thought it might be worth revisiting. I’ve been there four times since. They clearly made improvements to the food since my previous experiences, and the slow service issues have been fixed too.

On my first re-visit, I tried the Black Bean Sunflower wrap (made vegan). Sorry – I didn’t take pictures as I wasn’t expecting much. The veggies were all incredibly fresh, the black bean hummus was entirely unique and flavorful, and I loved the chipotle salsa. I immediately called my husband and told him we’d be going there together soon.

During the next visit, husband in tow, I tried a seasonal special — the “Hercules” burrito.

Chakra 4 Hercules Burrito

It was at its essence a bean burrito, but it was full of fresh veggies and excellent salsa. It’s been hard for me to not order it on every following trip, but I had to try more items!

My husband ordered the Basil Pesto Foccacia (made vegan with raw nut cheese).

Chakra 4 Vegan Basil Pesto Foccacia

It was loaded with great veggies, and the pesto was some of the best I’ve ever tried. The bread (while not gluten-free) was also incredibly tempting. I had to try several bites (just to make sure it was as good as the first bite, of course).

Within a week or two, we were back again. This trip, I tried the Veggie-Dilla with a side of soup.

Chakra 4 Veggie-Dilla

It was similar to the Hercules, but less dense, more crispy, and I really enjoyed the soup – which I think was a red bean soup but can’t remember for sure. I had yet another favorite.

My husband got the Mediterranean Wrapsody (again made vegan with no feta).

Chakra 4 Mediterranean Wrapsody

This was a lighter choice – full of fresh, crisp vegetables that are perfect for the summer heat. The kale wasn’t too tough (they got rid of the stems), the wrap was flavorful, and the cashew cheese added taste and texture but wasn’t overwhelming. He ordered it with the quinoa pilaf, which was a nice side but nothing out of this world.

I took a business colleague with me for trip number four, and unfortunately forgot my camera for this visit. It was a hard decision for me to not order something I’d already tried, but this time I selected the Green Lentil Curry. Sadly, this menu item reminded me of why I didn’t like Chakra 4 when I first visited years ago. Instead of being a saucy rich curry over rice, it was a tiny dish of lightly flavored and fairly dry lentils, a separate small dish of rice, another one of bland steamed veggies, a side of darn good chutney and for some odd reason, a few big pieces of collard greens. I didn’t know what to do with it all so I made little collard wraps out of the items. The lentils were “okay” but it certainly wasn’t what I’d consider to be a curry. It left me feeling pretty disappointed, in that “I should have ordered the foccacia or veggie-dilla” way.

My colleague ordered the half Nutty Rawvocado wrap and miso mushroom soup. He seemed particularly pleased with the soup, but fully enjoyed the wrap too! I’m not a fan of avocados or mushrooms, so I didn’t sample either.

In summary, some things I like about Chakra 4 are:

  • They understand how to make healthy vegan food taste good and have a very creative menu. The restaurant’s motto is “Organic Vegetarian Food to Nourish the Body and Soul” and they aren’t fibbing.
  • They serve fresh, organic food and have tons of gluten-free and vegan options.
  • All the wraps can be made with a spinach tortilla, sun-dried tomato tortilla, whole grain bread, or kale leaf.
  • It’s in a great location – tucked behind the Trader Joe’s at the Town and Country shopping center on 20th St. and Camelback Rd.
  • They have a tremendous variety of hot teas (but need to offer more iced versions during the summer!).
  • They’re open on Sundays! Seven days a week actually!

Things that could still use help:

  • The two-top seats are very small and they don’t let you move to a four-seater unless they’re completely dead.
  • The prices are still pretty darn high.
  • I haven’t found a vegan dessert worth writing about yet… but I’m still trying.

No doubt I’ll be back again soon to keep working my way through the menu. Next on my “to try” list is the Apollo Pomodoro wrap, or maybe the Golden Hummus wrap. I can’t believe I could have been eating here for years, so I’m going to make up for lost time!

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