Vegan dishes worth trying -- even if you're not a vegan

composite of five vegan dishes

There are some "meaty" options.

By Casey Normile

Vegan food often gets a bad rap from non-vegans. For many people, the thought of cutting out not only meat but also dairy and eggs is just too much to imagine.

But there is good vegan food in Capital Region. Here are a few local dishes worth trying, whether you're a vegan -- or a carnivore.

Tofu and Vegetable Mole Negro
El Loco Mexican Café in Albany (map)

vegan mole el loco

This place is definitely vegetarian friendly, with many veggie and tofu options, but certain dishes can also be made vegan. Case in point: this mole. I will say it's not the best mole sauce I've ever had, but everything together (tofu, vegetables, Mexican rice, black beans, lettuce and tomato) in those tortillas is pretty great.

Why meat eaters will love it: The tofu has plenty of flavor without a funny taste that reminds you you're not eating meat and it fills you up just as much as an order of chicken fajitas would.

Vegan Chicken Parm Sub
Little Anthony's Pizzeria in Albany (map)

vegan chicken parm sub little anthonys

When people think vegan, they might think of a salad with a side of fruit. But at Little Anthony's, the vegan food is just as hot, cheesy, "meaty" and melty as the regular dishes. Vegans can get the same traditional Italian American pizzeria treats that we all know and love, like "chicken" parm.

Why meat eaters will love it: Simply put, it's a huge chicken parm sub. The meatless chicken has a similar taste and texture as chicken, the tomato sauce has a good flavor and the roll seriously measures up. The only part that may remind you that you're eating a vegan sub is the Daiya mozzarella they use. While still delicious, you can taste the difference between it and real cheese.

BBQ Tofu Burrito
Bombers Burrito Bar - Albany (map) and Schenectady (map)

vegan burrito bombers

Next time you stop in for drinks -- and food to soak up those drinks -- try Bombers' barbeque tofu. You can get it in taco form as well, but if you want to really get filled up, go for the burrito.

Why meat eaters will love it: This dish has two foolproof components: 1. It's a burrito and 2. Barbeque sauce. It's a hefty roll of deliciousness and the way Bombers does their tofu, you'd swear they accidently gave you barbeque chicken.

Blue Corn Crusted Seitan Medallions
New World Bistro Bar in Albany (map)

vegan seitan new world bistro bar

New World Bistro Bar is known for its eclectic menu, so it's not surprising it also has quite a few vegan options, including pizzas, salads, pastas and sandwiches. And one of the good things about New World is that the wait staff is willing to point you in the right direction if you don't know what to order or aren't familiar with an ingredient.

Why meat eaters will love it: Seitan, or "wheat meat," is made from gluten. Now, that may not get your mouth watering, but it's used as a meat substitute because it has a texture similar to meat and it's high protein (gluten is protein).

This dish is like the vegan version of shake and bake pork chops. Great texture, great flavor, crispy crust, delicious sides of rice and beans and veggies. Even your carnivore friends will suffer from food envy.

The Lunch Buffet
Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs (map)

four seasons vegan buffet

After you've dipped your toes into the vegan pool, this little shop is a great place to get your ankles wet. Depending on the day they'll be offering vegan soups, rice and vegetable dishes, vegan chili, salads and desserts. (They also post their buffet options on their website every day.) Some meat substitutes such as seitan or tempeh may seem too foreign, but that's what getting your ankles wet is all about.

Why meat eaters will love it: Variety. Pick what you're comfortable with and what portion. If seitan seems too weird, just grab one piece so you don't over commit. Also, there's the picnic option. Grab a box of food and a lemonade and head to Congress Park (it's just two blocks away) to enjoy a nice animal-product-free afternoon.

Comments

The BBQ tofu at Bombers is something special. I don't know how they do it, but the tofu basically becomes a BBQ sauce delivery system. I know it's not vegan, but the BBQ tofu fries is one of my favorite junk food dishes in the area.

TY for these great suggestions. I'm a vegetarian, heading towards the crazed world of veganism. I appreciate the nudge. :-)

I am not likely to give up flesh, frankly, and the best way to get me to eat vegetables is to give me dishes that were designed as vegetarian from the get-go, such as you might find in Indian regional cooking.

I enjoy the Four Seasons buffet, a lot, and it never occurred to me it was vegan. I don't like dishes that seem designed to appease ex-meat eaters, like a chicken parm sub with no chicken and no parm.

Re that Bomber's BBQ tofu, it almost sounds too good to be true. Most BBQ places make their sauce from a little of this and a little of that. Worcestershire might make an appearance, along with a few meat scraps. Do we know for sure that these guys are righteously separating the vegan saouce out?

I love eating vegetarian or vegan meals, even though I am not one myself. But I have no interest in eating meat substitutes, just vegetables, beans, etc. This article wasn't what I was hoping for.

Scallions in Saratoga has a great and very tasty vegan menu.

Don't forget about the brunch at Xs to Os bakery in Troy! Some delicious and healthy vegan food there, too. Of course, the desserts are amazing, too.

And you also left out All Good Bakers, they have a lot of delicious vegan lunch dishes, too, some with locally made seitan, they definitely should have been included in this.

Ms. Normile,

You are brilliant. THANK YOU for all of these fabulous recommendations. I will certainly be trying these delectable-looking dishes!

The blue corn crusted seitan at New World is my favorite dish when dining out. Secondly is Tofu steak with black bean sauce and asparagus at Van's....I don't know if it is completely vegan though (fish sauce is in a lot of vietnamese dishes). I love the pickled veg they put on the side!

Agree with BMF that veg/vegan meals that try to replicate meat usually fall down for me. Some of the "substitutes" can be good in their own right though, like NWBB's seitan medallions. Four Seasons is just good food all around, though some of the desserts are a little rough sometimes. I would probably pick them over any of the meat-included buffets I"ve had.

There is also Parivar too add a bit of South Asian flavor to your list. Everything there is vegetarian, and while they don't segment out the vegan dishes on the menu, those made without butter or yogurt would qualify.

All you have to do is ask.

Well done! Thanks for getting the word out! We frequent all of these places and give them big thumbs up and gratitude. I second Elise's Xs to Os and All Good Bakers recommendations and Daniel B's Parivar recommendation, too.

So easy to add a few good dishes to your menu. Blows my mind that in this economy, heck in any economy, every place doesn't try. Case in point--Gastro Pub. They add a little critter to almost everything. Even their veggie burger! Seems kind of mean, actually, to know that vegans are out there and give us the big whatev' by having no real choices on the menu.

Thanks again!

Looks like a nice list! The BBQ tofu at Bomber's is delicious, but I think that's because the main flavor/texture is "fried."

I've tried the Daiya pizza at Little Anthony's and found it a respectable alternative when my stomach decided it no longer wanted any dairy products. It was more like cream cheese than mozzarella, which wasn't a totally bad thing. It was nice on a pie with lots of veggies.

I was going to have a salad today... but that BBQ tofu burrito sounds aaaamaazing right now...

Two other vegan meals I highly recommend:

Pad Spicy Eggplant w/ tofu* @ Kinnarree
http://www.kinnareeonlark.com

Black Bean burrito @ Lil' Buddha on Lark

*There aren't any immediately identifiable animal products in this one, but it's possible the sauces used are not entirely vegan since I've never asked.

My mouth is watering over some of these pictures! Nice to see some local restaurants offering vegetarian/vegan options.

Thanks Jen and Randall for adding us to the list! About half of our lunch menu is vegan. Our salads, soup and specials change every week based on what uber-fresh produce we are getting from our farmers at the Saturday Delmar Farmers Market (www.delmarmarket.org) - sandwiches change seasonally. Check out last week's menu here: http://allgoodbakers.weebly.com/current-menu.html. This week's will be up by tomorrow night and our sandwiches will be changing again soon now that amazing summer bounty is arriving (corn this week!!). Hope you all can come by (open Wed-Fri 8-3,Sat/Sun 9-3).

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