After recently switching to a plant-based (almost strictly vegetarian) diet this summer, I realized that a vegetarian diet needs to function like a successful marriage: It should be sustainable for the long term but it also needs to stay exciting in order to flourish. Just like marriage, vegetarian diets make things complicated when it comes to socializing. Where should a vegetarian go out to eat where she won’t get stuck with either a) nothing to eat b) an iceberg wedge or c) cheese ravioli with cream sauce? Just like I hope to do if I one day find myself married; I attempted to find ways to keep the magic alive between my vegetarian diet and me when I go out to eat. Here’s what I tried:
LYFE Kitchen (Love Your Food Everyday) recently opened on Hamilton Ave in downtown Palo Alto. The restaurant’s concept is healthy fast food and its CEO is a former McDonald’s executive. Although this lively spot has a bright interior complete with a verdant herb garden, it still exudes an air of sterile commercialism that is reminiscent of other franchises or chain restaurants.
The menu itself is impressive in its vast array of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. The flatbread pizzas, however, failed to impress. Although I am usually one who goes wild for flatbread pizza, this one was like a cracker loaded with cheese and pomodoro sauce. Similarly, the roasted mushroom and goat cheese pizza was flavorful but a touch too sweet due to the pomegranate balsamic, caramelized onions, and goat cheese. The daily soups are often vegan and therefore many are made with (in my opinion too much) coconut milk. The roasted beet and farro salad, however, was a delicious selection of seasonal produce, nuts and fruits and I added the gardein (garden protein, kind of like tofu), which tasted surprisingly like chicken. As far as LYFE’s other meat alternatives, the entree “Art’s Unfried Gardein” actually tasted almost exactly like fried chicken. While I normally eschew diet foods that unabashedly attempt to imitate real foods, I thought that this one was actually quite tasty. All in all, LYFE Kitchen delivers a solid menu, but the flavors and seasonings prove that less is more.
Verdict: Just friends.
Another spot I tried was Reposado, also on Hamilton Avenue. Reposado, an upscale and swanky Mexican restaurant, features unique twists on old favorites. Reposado isn’t marketed as a vegetarian restaurant and offers various meat, fish, and poultry options, making it an easy sell to friends. Common dining etiquette asserts that one should not fill up on chips before the meal, but quite frankly the chips, guacamole and salsas at Reposado are worth it. The guacamole is extremely zesty, made with liberal amounts of lime and cilantro and topped with queso añejo (shredded cheese). As far as vegetarian options go, Reposado actually provides a separate vegetarian menu –something rather rare at upscale restaurants. Instead of chastising diners for vegetarian preferences, this restaurant offers various meatless entrees that do not leave the meat to be desired. The vegetarian tacos are tasty, as are the unique, bean-filled ravioli. The only notable downside to Reposado is the bill at the end of the meal.
Verdict: I’d be ready for a second date.
There’s one restaurant, however, to which I just can’t stop returning: Oren’s Hummus Shop. This small and unpretentious café is new to the scene of trendy spots along University Avenue, having just opened this past summer. Oren’s Hummus Shop serves the best hummus I have ever tasted. (Yes, at first I too was skeptical that another pita and hummus restaurant was opening downtown, but Oren’s hummus is in a whole different league). I particularly enjoy the hummus topped with beans and tahini, and both the regular pita and the whole-wheat pita are irresistibly fluffy. Diners are also greeted with spicy green harissa sauce, a spicy red pepper sauce and a cabbage appetizer, all of which are delicious. I have tasted most of the dips and small plates, my favorite of which were the Moroccan carrots, the baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), the falafel and the Israeli chopped salad. The prices are reasonable and the small plates make this a perfect place to go to share bites with friends. The only downside is the inefficient service. I can work with that.
Verdict: Potential relationship. I wouldn’t mind going home to that hummus day after day, year after year.