Austin's best spots for plant-based dining
"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." – Michael Pollan
Fuel for human bodies sparks hearty debate across the globe, yet one dietary rule remains universally accepted: eating more vegetables is good for everyone. Cruelty-free ethics, sustainability, cultural identity, and food allergies only scratch the surface of the rainbow spectrum of core values inspiring people to choose plant-based diets. Austin has a slew of dedicated veggie establishments with special considerations for dietary restrictions to accommodate the lot. Whether you are vegan for life or just a lover of good food, this roundup will make it a little easier eating your greens (and blues and reds and yellows).
Brick and Mortars
Mother's Cafe anchors Hyde Park and the vegetarian community, and the friendly atmosphere is a picture of Austin charm. Yummy vegetable-based comfort dishes focus on organic, local produce loaded with flavor. Mother's famed cashew tamari dressing lives up to its creamy hype, and a personal favorite, the artichoke enchiladas ($9) feature artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, and jack cheese, all rolled up and blanketed with hearty ranchero sauce and black olives. The vegan Belgian chocolate cake ($4.95) and weekend brunch (with mimosas!) create believers out of skeptics.
With three Austin locations, Mr. Natural embodies a laid-back veggie lifestyle made convenient and delicious. It is part bakery, part counter-service cafe, part health food store, part yoga and meditation studio – and all parts vegetarian (with vegan and gluten-free options), with a great portions-to-price ratio. The beverages rock: the 14-ounce peanut butter and banana smoothie ($3.25) – great with yogurt and honey – is channeling Elvis; the sangria ($4.95) made with celery, beet, and carrot juices curbs some cravings; and fresh agua frescas ($1.50) are always a good idea in Austin. Plus, their craveworthy veg-Mex dishes, such as the Tamale Plate ($7.50) with three cheeses and jalapeño smothered in robust ranchero plus several sides, give Mr. Natural a dedicated fan base.
If a macrobiotic diet is your jam, or if you're simply in the mood for a peaceful and nourishing meal, Casa de Luz is the ticket. The driving force of the relaxed and gentle atmosphere – complete with exquisite garden paths – is the thoughtful dedication to fresh, organic, vegan, macrobiotic food served with community in mind. A flat-rate meal ($12) is different every day and always includes some kind of beautiful soup, salad, and entrée, in generous amounts. One Sunday lunch included creamy sweet potato and ginger soup, mixed green salad with orange miso dressing, and a heaping plate of black beans with sun cheese, brown rice, veggie tacos with guacamole, blanched greens with tahini sauce, and a pickled trio of cabbage. Desserts, such as pecan pie, are also available.
What began as a food truck in 2009 has blossomed into an adorable East Austin restaurant with a dedicated following. Counter Culture offers vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, oil-free, and raw alternatives to many beloved comfort foods. Local, organic produce is used whenever possible, and healthy food, not just animal-free food, is a priority. The regular menu offers specialties such as the Jackfruit BBQ sandwich ($8) with shredded jackfruit, organic chipotle BBQ sauce, and fixin's. Also popular are the plates: Spicy Raw Pad Thai ($13) made with kelp noodles, seasonal veggies, herbs, tangy ginger sauce, and sunflower seeds; Pesto Rawviolis ($13) consisting of raw ravioli stuffed with cashew cheese and topped with fresh pesto. Counter Culture also offers sustainable local craft beers ($4) and organic wine ($7/$30).
Veggie Heaven, a longtime fixture on the Drag, features budget-friendly Asian cuisine of the vegetarian and vegan variety. The enormous menu contains traditional favorites, such as Spicy Kung Pao Chowmein ($6.95), as well as side items like curry buns ($2.50) and pot stickers ($4.60). In addition to approximately one bazillion other choices, this spot curbs the cravings for faux chicken, beef, shrimp, and other substitute meats not offered everywhere. Plus, Veggie Heaven has a bubble tea menu full of tasty treats like the Creamy Papaya with Pearls ($2.50).
Bouldin Creek Cafe is a quintessential neighborhood eatery (in a new and improved location) with wonderful coffee, a cozy and relaxed vibe, and happy vegetarian cuisine. Everything is made-to-order from scratch, and the breakfast options are delightful. All egg dishes offer a vegan substitute: local, organic White Mountain tofu. Try the Oven Cake Breakfast ($5.75), two eggs served with fresh-off-the-grill blueberry cornbread and organic agave nectar and butter, with a Tokyo Fog Chai made with green tea chai and vanilla.
Here are a few more highlights among the dedicated veggie spots. Specializing in living foods, Beets offers a menu designed with creative combinations of raw food. Try the Pizza Rustica ($12.95), made of a sprouted sunflower seed and hemp crust, topped with fresh herbs and spices, tomato sauce, almond nut cheese, and fresh veggies. Swad offers vegetarian Southern Indian food, and its masala dosa ($6.95) and thali, which vary daily, both come highly recommended. If you've got a sweet tooth, try the vegan Glitterbeast Sundae at Sweet Ritual – because anything thoughtfully prepared with salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, and edible glitter is always a good thing.
Brick and Mortars
Mother's Cafe (4215 Duval St., 451-3994, www.motherscafeaustin.com) Mon.-Fri., 11:15am-10pm; Sat.-Sun., 10am-10pm (brunch 10am-3pm)
Mr. Natural (1901 E. Cesar Chavez, 477-5228; 2414-A S. Lamar, 916-9223; 205 E. Rundberg, 284-8543; www.mrnatural-austin.com) Mon.-Sat., 8am-8pm
Casa de Luz (1701 Toomey Rd., 476-2535, www.casadeluz.org) Daily, 7am-8:30pm
Counter Culture (2337 E. Cesar Chavez, 524-1540, www.countercultureaustin.com) Wed.-Fri., 11am-10pm; Sat.-Sun., 11am-10pm (brunch 11am-3pm)
Veggie Heaven (1914-A Guadalupe, 457-1013, www.veggieheavenaustin.com) Mon.-Fri., 11am-8:45pm; Sat.-Sun., noon-8:45pm
Bouldin Creek Cafe (1900 S. First, 416-1601, www.bouldincreek.com) Mon.-Fri., 7am-12mid; Sat.-Sun., 8am-12mid
Beets (1611 W. Fifth #165, 477-2338, www.beetscafe.com) Mon.-Thu., 9am-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 10am-10pm
Swad (9515 N. Lamar, 997-7923) Mon.-Thu., 11:30am-9pm; Fri. & Sun., 11:30am-9:30pm; closed Saturday
Sweet Ritual (inside of Daily Juice Cafe, 4500 Duval St., www.sweetritual.com) Daily, 2-9pm