Rumor alert: Ellen may not be opening a vegan restaurant after all!  »

Word on the street (and by street I mean the internet highway) is that Ellen and Portia’s SoCal vegan restaurant may not be happening after all! Oh no! I was looking forward to this collaboration of superstars—Ellen, Portia, Chrissy Hynde, Steven Bing, Tal Ronnen and Waldo Fernandez. I was also looking forward to hooking up with a Sugar Daddy, because I knew there was no way in hell I’d be able to afford eating at that joint, being a restaurant worker myself.

As excited as I may have been about a new vegan hotspot opening up, I did have my reservations. Everyone wants to open a restaurant. Everyone thinks they’ll be great at it, but the truth is, most new restaurants don’t make it in their first year.  It’s hard work. Nevermind that the people who can handle working in the restaurant industry are bat shit crazy. The turnover rate is astronomical. If you haven’t read Laura’s “Top 10 Reasons You Can’t Be a Professional Chef" for SF Weekly, get on that! She got some flack in the comments section that it was unrealistic, but those people are dead wrong.
My point is that working in this industry is my career, and I love it, but it has been both the best and worst experience of my life. It’s tough, mentally and physically. So if Ellen and Portia want to keep their sanity, maybe they should run the other way. Plus, I’d hate for them to be the jerk owners who show off their shiny new cars, while their staff juggles two jobs—because let me tell you, this industry does not pay well (that is a paraphrased sentiment from Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, but also true of my own experience. You can love or hate that guy, but Kitchen Confidential is THE first-hand account of working in the industry, and I for one, really enjoyed its harsh honesty).

{Photo via}


Road trip: Pho 14 and more in D.C.!  »

In 2010, PETA named Washington, D.C. the country’s most veg-friendly large city. This is clearly bullshit. Other than Sticky Fingers Bakery, D.C. has no “holy shit you HAVE to go there” kinds of vegan places like SF, NYC, Denver, etc. Nevertheless, there’s some good eating in that city, and over the holidays I did my duty as an American and spent a lot of money eating out so my I wouldn’t have to blame all my weight gain on the vegan Christmas cookies my [awesome] mom made.

I hit up Pho 14 in Columbia Heights with some omnivore buddies one night. Pho is all about accessories, like [insert style pop culture figure whom I’m too big a nerd to keep track of]. The vegetarian broth is kinda sweet but then BAM! add some lime juice and it’s a whole new thing.
Notice the bowling-ball lacquer on the table.

My man DK and I shared some spring rolls (so tightly wrapped!) as an appetizer, then ordered a large tofu pho, which felt like stealing because they split it for us in the kitchen, and the two bowls were huge and dinner was so cheap! This would be a great place to bring a date because you’d look classier than you really were!

Another night, DK and I wanted something romantic near the Mall (the one with the monuments, not the one with Bath & Body Works). Mandu on K Street seemed a good choice given how obsessed we were with Sura in Oakland.

The waitstaff totally got the whole vegan thing, and only brought us munchies that had no shrimp or fish sauce. Our entrees were fresh and filling but a little bland—I wanted to run into the kitchen and whip up a sauce for my bi bim bop, but instead I just ate it all including every tiny little grain of rice.

D.C.’s also know for its Ethiopian food, which I love. We hit up Dukem this time, which had a nasty bathroom, a suspicious taste of butter, and was pricey, pretty much not worth it. Try Etete or Meskerem if you’re there, those are better. But really just go to Cafe Colucci in Oakland, it’s the absolute bestest, I’m considering having children so I can send them there to be indentured servants and learn to cook for me that way.

The actual highlight for me was all about booze, duh: The Gibson, a $12-fancy-cocktail joint near all the Ethiopian places on U Street. Make a reservation and bring a smartphone, because you’re going to need to Wikipedia the shit out of their changing, incredible menu (Akvavit what?). Everything we tried was spectacular—better than SF’s Bourbon & Branch or Williams & Graham in Denver—but watch out for the egg whites they sometimes want to put in things. Gross. Definitely a great date place, especially if someone else is buying! I’m gonna start dating again just so people will buy me drinks; it’s good for my husband, too, though, I swear.


All October: Sacramento goes vegan. Road trip!  »

Now’s probably a good time to go take that tour of the state capitol you’ve been putting off since fourth grade, because for a limited time only, Sacramento has new vegan dishes!

For the month of October, chefs at 10 restaurants are featuring special vegan options. It’s a contest! The idea is that you go eat the foods, and then vote on what’s the best, and then you can win “prizes” if you vote. There’s also a thing where you’re extra special if you go try the vegan foods at all 10 restaurants. That would take way more eating out than my budget can handle, but if anyone wants to buy me a plane ticket from Denver and subsidize my meals, I’ll share the prizes with you, I swear.

I know zilch about the group that organized this, and whether the prizes are legit or will be like a half-used roll of postage stamps or whatever, but for those of you out Sacramento way, it seems worth checking out. 

The restaurants:


Denver’s Garbanzo = Chipotle + Falafel. Be jealous!  »

The A-students, stalkers, and private detectives among you may be aware that this Vegansaurus writer has recently left the cushy vegan comforts of the Bay Area for the wild west of Denver. I’m still mourning the loss of Ike’s Place (we barely knew each other!), Souley Vegan, and Millenium, but now at least I’ve found something y’all in New York and San Francisco should envy and covet: Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, a.k.a. the greatest fast food innovation since sesame seed buns.

Remember what life was like before Chipotle saved your road trips? We’ll call those times the Dark Ages, when there was no dependable vegan-friendly option sure to be in any town, any airport, anywhere. Yeah, fantastic local places are the best, but truly viable fast-food might be even more precious since it’s so…everywhere. 

Well my friends, those of you who aren’t in Denver, Boulder, or Colorado Springs are currently living in another medieval period, which I will call the Pre-Garbanzo Era. I pity you.

As you can see from the epic photo above, Garbanzo serves up a mighty selection of falafel and accompaniments. The menu works just like Chipotle: They’ve got a bunch of tasty things you can combine however you like into wraps, bowls, salads, and (in this case) pitas. Vegan options include falafel, spiced rice, red cabbage, pickled eggplant, hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, and more. You also get your choice of sauces. And there’s soup.

One of my favorite things is this little label they have on every item. Just look for the…bear paw chickpea? Is that what that is?

This is not the best falafel I’ve ever had, but it’s good, and plentiful, and respectful of my dietary choices. The only bad thing is that most of the locations are in strip malls on the outskirts of town. I hope that changes.

Luckily for you non-Coloradans, the chain is just getting big enough to start franchising. According to their website, Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha/Lincoln, Baltimore/Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all up for grabs right now. All you moneybags should open one in your town.

Garbanzo is going places. Here’s to hoping it’s somewhere near you. 


Another veg restaurant pops up on Chicago’s Northside!  »

Every time I blink, a new veg restaurant opens in Chicago! Don’t get me wrong—it’s always welcome news. But how am I supposed to choose where to eat when I visit with so many options?? Easy. I’ll just go to all of them. I’ve already walked the Magnificent Mile and been atop the Sears Tower (I don’t care what its new name is, it will always be the Sears Tower to me), so that frees up all my time to eat EVERYTHING VEGAN in that city.

The view from the Lincoln Park Whole Foods parking lot.

The new restaurant in question is Quesadilla: La Reyna del Sur, which is located in Chicago’s Bucktown/Logan Square neighborhood at 2235 N Western Ave. Logan Square is also unofficially known as the best neighborhood in Chicago. (I should know, I used to live there! California Ave. represent!)

Unfortunately, Quesadilla’s (can I call you that for short?) has no website of its own, but Second City Vegan has a review! Any Chicago-based Vegansaurus readers hit the place up yet? What do you think?


El Nuevo Mexicano has vegan food! Chicago, I’m coming back!   »

Not to live, just a visit. I simply refuse to attempt to survive another winter in the Midwest. I don’t care how delicious the vegan food is, I cannot take it!
On a side note, Virgin America has just announced flights to Chicago! I can fly on the cheap and cush to go visit my old stomping grounds! On my most recent trip outta town, I discovered Plant Cafe at Virgin America’s new Terminal 2 at SFO. Vegan cupcakes at an airport? Who says airports are no fun?

There are so many reasons to visit Chitown—Old Style, friends, amazing falafel sandwiches, and now,  El Nuevo Mexicano in Lakeview has announced new vegan options! I’ll take a pitcher of margaritas and the entire vegan menu, thanks!

Feast your eyes on a few of the selections, then buy your plane ticket. September is a really tolerable beautiful month for Chicago.image



The peeps at El Nuevo Mexicano credit Mercy for Animals as the inspiration behind their new vegan options! Mad props, MFA!

El Nuevo Mexicano is located at 2914 N. Clark St. in Lakeview, Chicago.

[photos courtesy El Nuevo Mexicano’s Facebook page]


Sura Korean BBQ: Oakland’s unlikely gem of vegan awesomeness  »

Once upon a time I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Temescal with a friend when we passed this restaurant that I would never in a zillion years have chosen. But this certain meat-eating person was like, “Oooh, Korean BBQ! Let’s go there!” and since I wasn’t really hungry I was like, “OK fine, whatever you want, friend-from-out-of-town, I will go sit with you and try not to grimace.” We sat down, ordered (seemingly) overpriced appetizers, and sat back to wait. Then Sura changed my life.

You know how some restaurants give you bread or chips and salsa to munch on before your meal? Here, they’re like, “Bread, schmead, let’s give people 18, maybe 21 different little side dishes to eat while they wait for their food.” Free. Without you ordering them. Each different, each incredibly yummy. We felt like we’d won the lottery or something.
The little dishes change often so you never know what you’re going to get, but can include pickled vegetables, spicy tofu, black sesame squash, sprouted mung beans, seaweed salad, kim chi, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve been there three times now, and though they don’t explicitly cater to vegans, with a little work a mind-blowing meal can be yours. UPDATE: This may be trickier than I thought. Fish sauce is a hidden challenge, sorry guys. Still, I think it’s worth trying to navigate, but do so at your own risk I suppose. Here are my pro-tips:

  1. Tell them right away, as soon as you walk in/sit down, that you don’t want any meat or egg dishes (dairy doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem). Every time I’ve been there they’ve brought out a weird hot-pot egg dish without asking. My omni friends ate it but you can Just Say No.
  2. You don’t need a barbecue table. Sit far away from them, as that is where people grill raw meat. Ick.
  3. When you order, tell them again about the vegan thing and make sure they don’t bring you any small plates with egg or meat. The vast majority of what they bring out is vegan anyway, and I’ve had them bring me EXTRA vegan stuff. Just be clear. UPDATE: MAKE SURE TO ASK ABOUT FISH SAUCE TOO! FISH SAUCE WARNING ALERT WARNING!
  4. While there’s no separate veggie section on the menu, they put little stars next to everything they can make vegetarian. Some things come with egg but they’ve been really good about following my requests to leave it out.
  5. Ask for barley tea.

The food is awesome:
Sanchae sotbap/herbed vegetables—
herbed vegetables and mushrooms over rice

Doenjang bibimbap/House special green tea bean paste—seasoned vegetables with green tea rice and soybean paste. SO GOOD!

Other delicious things I’ve eaten but don’t have photos of:

  • Hyunmi doenjang bibimbap/sweet brown rice—seasoned vegetable with sweet brown rice and soybean paste, cold.
  • Beoseot/mushroom—tofu, mushrooms, and vegetables in hot pot. SO GOOD!

Sura Korean BBQ is located at 4869 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, and is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No website, but call (510) 654.9292.

Bonus: Sura’s only a few blocks from Scream Sorbet’s new shop. Waddle over for dessert, if you can manage.


Restaurant review: Nick’s Tacos at Underdog, plus your weekend plans!  »

Underdog is a sports bar that serves Nick’s Tacos, located in an area of San Francisco I like to refer to as the Mid Sunset. Not quite Outer, not quite Inner. Technically, what is 19th and Irving? I have no clue.

Nick believes in slow food, fast, which I guess I love. I don’t respect the Slow Food movement so much, as it tends to be super meat-heavy/hypocritical. Unless we are talking about cooking dinner in my apartment! My old roommate Vanessa said I am a great cook, but she can’t wait two hours to eat. What?! I like the flavors to meld—and I cook on low so I can check Facebook every two seconds.

I went to Underdog’s on a whim last year with two friends, as one of them knew the bartender and we NEEDED to make it for beer-and-taco happy hour. Taco happy hour, by the way, is only for ‘street-style’ meat tacos, but Nick’s is so inexpensive, you won’t stay too mad about that. Perhaps they will make the street tacos sans meat, I’ve never asked.

Drinking and tacos are two of my FAVORITE THINGS! I could tell I was gonna like the food as soon as our chips and salsa came. SO COLORFUL AND FRESH! I mean, really? In a bar? I was not expecting this.

That first time, I ordered the vegetarian tacos, which come Nick’s Way in a crispy corn tortilla wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. YES AND YES.

The second time I visited UnderNick’s, I had the taco salad. SO AMAZING. The best part is that it is a vegan entree, so I didn’t have to waste time asking for no cheese or sour cream and then stress out it’s going to come with those condiments anyway. Cilantro-lime vinaigrette? Done. Fresh tomatoes and delicious guacamole? Done. The best part, other than how it tastes, is that it doesn’t come in a heavy, fried tortilla shell, the part of the salad I always try to abstain from and then demolish in 30 seconds flat. Instead they decoratively top the salad with tortilla curls!

The first time I went to Underdog’s, my friend informed me of second Underdog up the street (different place of business completely). So after gorging on chips, salsa and tacos, I found room in my stomach for a vegan sausage dog with sauerkraut. And then went home and made seitan (while checking Facebook constantly).

Here’s your itinerary for this weekend (whenever your weekend is. Mine is Mondays and Tuesdays, holla!). Go to Ocean Beach, try to stay warm and work up an nice appetite/beer buzz on the sand, and as you are heading back to the city stop at Nick’s. Scarf down your food so that before your stomach can register it’s full, you can demolish a vegan sausage dog down the street. Sounds like a perfect day to me!

Underdog Sports Bar and Grill is located at 1824 Irving between 19th and 20th Avenues in the Sunset. It can get pretty bro-y on game days, so I’d avoid it at all costs then. Here’s the menu [.pdf]. [Ed.: I’ve heard that on Fridays during happy hour, they have $1 margaritas. Girrrrrrrl…]


How to be a fancy and demanding vegan!  »

Sometimes you may think to yourself, “Gosh, is that Megan Rascal fancy!” but there are fancier members of my family: my brother and sister-in-law are like the New York couple—so hip and chic. They love to go to nice restaurants and when they invite me along, they are always really cool and send me the menus beforehand to check if they’re vegan friendly. However, more often than not, the restaurants they seem to choose are like meaty-meat-meats-a-lot. I don’t know why! There are many meat-centric, yet vegan-friendly restaurants in this big city but they don’t seem to like them. So I’m always like, “I guess I can ask for this one salad without bacon?” And they are like, “great!” And I’m like, “great.”  But this last time, when they wanted to go to Savoy in Manhattan and I saw that there were possibly zero vegan items on the menu, I put my foot down. Well, sort of. I said, “I can make do with the salads I think! Also we have to try this thing people do, like at nice places, sometimes the chef will make a vegan dish that’s not on the menu just with what they have that day. We should try it! I’m scared. Maybe [your wife] will know how to do it.” See, I’m always telling you, I’m shy! So I’m nervous to bother chefs but my brother is not! He called the restaurant before we got there to see what they could do for me. According to him, 

I said something like, “And we have one vegan in our party—do you have options for her?” And she said “Yes, we can accommodate that no problem. I’ll make a note of that on your reservation.” And I said, “OK great! Thank you very much,” and that was it!

Easy peasy! When we got to the restaurant, my brother informed them that he had called earlier and I was the vegan, etc. and the waitress was very nice. She said that two items in the starters could be made vegan and that for the entree, the chef would make something special. I was so happy! I love special stuff. She asked me if there were any vegetables that I didn’t like, but there aren’t really so I told her not to worry about that.

I got a polenta dish without butter for my starter. It was very good. It was kind of like a breakfast cereal, like Cream of Wheat or something. It was good though. But the real excitement came with my entree! The chef made some crazy squash I had never heard of, stuffed with another, mushed-up squash and a bunch of vegetables, topped with a citrus salad and surrounded by kidney beans and these crazy roasted black olive things that were good even though I hate olives. It was AWESOME. And more importantly, it was FANCY! Then I finished with a scoop of chocolate sorbet. AWESOME AND FANCY!

When the waitress came out later and asked me how everything was, I was like, “It’s amazing! Tell the chef it’s great and I really appreciate it.” Damn, I’m classy. You should thank your chef, after all.

So friends, don’t be scared to go into those nice places and make your vegan needs heard! Just make sure you thank them so we keep our good name.


Dream of opening a vegan restaurant in SF? NOW IS THE TIME, SLACKERS!  »

According to SF Gate, in 1987, San Francisco banned new restaurants on Noe Valley’s 24th Street because residents felt they were losing local shops to eateries that drove up rents and caused traffic jams. Well bitches, that shit done happened anyway and yet, about 15 storefronts sit vacant (or basically decrepit and filled with extreme right-wing INSANITY) and the babies of Noe Valley demand eateries! NOW HERE’S THE MILLION DOLLAR IDEA. Wait for it. 

OPEN A VEGAN RESTAURANT (or 15!) in this health skinny conscious neighborhood! These fools will fall over backwards for delicious, nutritious vegan food (WITH A KID’S MENU THIS IS KEY) that will satiate their entire family plus maids (if they’re a Benevolent Ruler). And since these fools are all richie riches, you can hike the prices up and perhaps even survive in this hostile environment.

I’ll be real withchu, as a vegan who lived in Noe Valley Of The Dolls, it was HARD TIME for eatin’. There are very few vegan friendly establishments on the street and hardly anywhere tasty period. If you get something good in there, you could attract the locals and perhaps even all the scroungy vegans in the mission who need a classy date spot. Seriously, we’ll love it. Now is the time to get in there and give the babies what they want! You can do it! Please do it! FOR THE LOVE OF BABIES!

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