One of the funny things I have encountered when I tell people that I am a vegetarian is the person who suddenly and apologetically lists to me all of the reasons they are not vegetarian, and the funniest reason of all is, “There’s nothing to eat at restaurants.” I am not an evangelical vegetarian and the point of this article is not to convert any omnivores. I believe food has a personal meaning and diet is an individual’s choice. But the statement that there is nothing for vegetarians to eat at restaurants, especially in our beloved C-U, is false. I have enjoyed countless meat-free meals in our community. Let me share my favorite dining experiences of the past year:
10. Spicy tofu quesadilla at Spoon House
I’ve already spread the gospel of Spoon House on Smile Politely Radio, but it bears repeating. In addition to the unique Korean-style quesadilla, they have tofu burritos, tacos, and two other tofu plates. The prices are great and the decor is fun and modern. It is my favorite Campustown addition of the past few years.
9. Portabella mushroom sandwich, smoked sweet potato and coleslaw from Black Dog
Admittedly, there are not many options for vegetarians and even fewer for vegans at this establishment, but I did have one of my favorite meals of 2011 here! The smoked sweet potato and the beer variety are reason enough to visit this joint. Also try the Texas Caviar, an appetizer that is like salsa with blackeyed peas and hominy. Yum!
8. Gazpacho and whole artichoke at Luna
A romantic summer night calls for gazpacho on the patio, and well, artichokes are just sensual, so, of course I always order them. This one comes steamed with the heart soaked in a grainy mustard/brie sauce. Divine.
7. Buddha-plus Tofu at Empire Chinese
Another one of my favorite campus spots, Empire Chinese gets double-points for not only having many vegetarian options but many low-cal options, as well, on their Revolution Menu. This tofu dish comes with a sweet/spicy/peanuty sauce on the side on the side so that you can add as much or as little as you like, along with a generous serving of perfectly steamed brocolli, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and baby carrots.
6. Potato croquettes, soup, and salad at Destihl
Destihl has a huge menu, and they don’t forget about the vegetarians. The potato croquettes are addicting. Follow them with a bowl of cheddar beer soup and a Greek salad and you have a great meal. Also try the flatbread, the fried asparagus, and the stuffed peppers.
5. Barley special at Timpone’s
Timpone’s has a plethora of options for vegetarians for salads, pizzas, pastas, and entrees. My husband and I dined there for our anniversary, and one of the specials was a creamy barley dish. There was also a special on bubbly, so I regret that I cannot provide more details on the barley dish. I do remember that it was fabulous, though.
4. Gazpacho and spicy fried tofu at the Bread Company
Yes, two of my favorite meals of the year involved gazpacho. They were both wonderful and quite different. I have always enjoyed the Bread Company, and now they offer an entirely vegan menu in addition to their regular fare – go there!
3. Sharing plates at Bombay Indian Grill
It was a food love-fest when I visited Bombay with two of my herbivore friends this spring. We shared the tandori vegetable appetizer and three of their 20 (!) vegetarian entrees. Heaven!
2. Veggie Naanwich at Boltini
Boltini is our go-to date spot. The people are nice, the ambiance is chill, and the food is a great value. The Veggie Naanwich is my favorite sandwich in town, and I really like sandwiches. Get it with a side of fruit if you are counting calories. Otherwise, indulgence in the potato casserole for a side.
1. Torta Maria at Radio Maria
This brunch and entree option is so amazing that my vegan friend lifted her usual no-dairy policy to consume this. A delightful concoction of many of my favorite things – tortillas, goat cheese, chihuhua cheese, corn – I can’t bring myself to order anything else off the brunch menu, though they have plenty of meatless options. There is always plenty of culinary delight for the herbivore at Radio Maria.
Well, that proves it: there is plenty for the meat-free eater to consume in Champaign-Urbana. My kitchen is also a good place to find many meatless options. Maybe that will be my next article: Top 10 Meatless Meals Cooked in 2011.