Monday, January 30, 2012

Road Trip! Sweet Tomatoes in Pleasant Hill

I had lunch last week at one of the Sweet Tomatoes restaurants, a national chain that also includes Souplantation restaurants. Sweet Tomatoes is similar to Fresh Choice in that it's an all-you-can-eat buffet with a salad bar, soups, pastas, pizzas, breads, and desserts. It offers several vegan selections, but unlike Fresh Choice, it doesn't tell you what they are, at least not through the use of any signage at the restaurant. So if you are planning a trip to Sweet Tomatoes and want to know what you can eat, you'll have to either read the nutritional information on their website ahead of time, ask the restaurant staff when you get there, or take this article with you, since I list below all of the items on the Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation menu that they have identified as vegan.


Field of Greens: Citrus Vinaigrette
Mandarin Spinach with Carmelized Walnuts
Strawberry Fields with Carmelized Walnuts
Thai Peanut & Red Pepper
Thai Udon & Peanut
100% Whole Wheat Arugula Citrus
100% Whole Wheat Spicy Asian Peanut Salad
Aunt Doris' Red Pepper Slaw
Baja Bean & Cilantro
Dijon Potato with Garlic Dill Vinaigrette
Italian White Bean
Lemon Rice with Cashews
Mandarin Noodles with Broccoli
Mandarin Shells with Almonds
Provencal Green Bean & Potato
Roasted Potato with Chipotle Chile Vinaigrette
Spicy Southwestern Pasta
Summer Barley with Black Beans
Sweet & Sour Broccoli Slaw
Sweet Marinated Vegetables
Thai Citrus & Brown Rice
Three Bean Marinade
Tomato Cucumber Marinade


Classical Minestrone
Indian Lentil
Ratatouille Provencal
Santa Fe Black Bean Chili
Sweet Tomato Onion
Vegetarian Harvest

Hot Pastas and Kitchen Favorites

Salsa de Lupe
Sauteed Balsamic Vegetables

Not all items are served every day. For example, the only vegan soup they were serving when I was there was the Sweet Tomato Onion soup, which I decided to skip since I don't care for onions. Several of the vegetarian soups seemed like they ought to be vegan, but when I asked the staff, I was told that they were not. In addition, none of the breads or desserts at Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation are listed as vegan in the nutritional information on their website, although sourdough bread is usually a safe bet for vegans. They do have a limited selection of fresh fruit at their dessert station.

I sent an e-mail to the Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation corporate office asking for clarification about why certain items that appear to be vegan are not listed as such. I received a response that didn't really answer the question. However, the response did indicate that each restaurant has a complete ingredient list called the Product Information Binder. So if you're visiting one of their restaurants and see something that you'd really like to try, but which isn't listed as specifically vegan, you may want to ask to see the Product Information Binder in order to find out if the menu item includes any ingredients that you prefer not to eat.

There are no Sweet Tomatoes or Souplantation restaurants in the Sacramento area, although there are several in other parts of California and in numerous other states. More information about restaurant locations, hours of operation, and menu items is available at

Monday, January 23, 2012

El Papagayo

I've been encouraged by several people to check out El Papagayo Restaurant in Carmichael, so I decided I'd better give it a try, since it's not as easy to find vegan Mexican food as you might expect. What could possibly be more vegan than beans, rice, and tortillas, for example? But if the beans and tortillas are made with lard, or if the rice is made with chicken broth, there goes your nice vegan meal.

But El Papagayo has a separate vegetarian menu (be sure to ask for it) that lists numerous dishes that are either vegan or can be made vegan. So I had lots of choices when I stopped in for lunch one day last week. I decided to go with the first item on the menu -- the two Baja Style Tofu Tacos, described as fried tofu topped with fresh cabbage salsa and homemade diabla cream, which wasn't actually cream or any type of dairy product at all. Rather, it was a spicy red sauce. The salty fried tofu chunks and the cabbage salsa, which contained refreshing bits of mango, were served on soft corn tortillas. It was a tasty and filling meal.

On my next trip to El Papagayo, I'm going to try the two Mexican Style Tacos, which are street tacos filled with a choice of soy chorizo, nopales verdes (cactus), potatoes, or mushrooms. These tacos are topped with onions, cilantro, and salsa. Other items on the vegetarian menu include burritos, enchiladas, salads, and fajitas, most of which appear to be capable of being made vegan. Be sure to tell your server that you are vegan so that he or she can warn you about any unexpected non-vegan ingredients.

Complimentary tortilla chips are served with your meal, and there is a salsa bar with several different salsa choices to go with your chips.

El Papagayo is located at 5804 Marconi Avenue in Carmichael, near the corner of Marconi and Fair Oaks. Their phone number is 916-487-7742, and their website address is They are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Article in Table Talk at Larry's

My article, "A Vegan in a World of Omnivores," has just been published in the online cooking and food magazine Table Talk at Larry's. The article can be found at the following link:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tuk Tuk Restaurant

I had a delicious lunch last week at Tuk Tuk Restaurant in Natomas, which serves Thai cuisine in a serene and elegant setting.

As with many Thai restaurants, the menu at Tuk Tuk includes a section that allows you to add a choice of meat to any of the numerous listed dishes, and the "meat" choices include tofu. On the Tuk Tuk menu, this is the wok section, and it includes a nice variety of stir fry options. Many of these options include curry, so I asked whether there is fish sauce in the curry at Tuk Tuk, and the server told me that they do not put fish sauce in their curries.

That was great news, so I decided to order the Prik King, which consists of string beans, roasted red curry paste, ground peanuts, and the tofu that I added as my "meat" choice. It was served with jasmine rice, but brown rice is also available for an extra 50 cents. I asked for a spice level of mild to medium, which was a little more mild than medium, but very flavorful. The lunch portion was a little on the large side, but I was up to the task and finished every bite of this tasty dish.

Tuk Tuk is located at 4630 Natomas Boulevard, #150. Their phone number is 916-575-7957, and their website address is They are open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.


When I began this blog, I didn't know how long it would take before I ran out of restaurants to write about. I'm afraid I'm starting to reach that point. I still have a few local restaurants that I want to visit and blog about, and I'm sure I'll find out about others. But beginning this week, I am going to move to a once-a-week posting schedule. New blog articles will appear every Monday, which will give me an opportunity to share information with you about all the really great vegan restaurant meals I hope to have every weekend. If you have suggestions for restaurants that I haven't blogged about yet, please let me know.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Pluto's is another one of those restaurants that makes it so easy to be a vegan, serving create-your-own salads and sandwiches. If you're ordering a salad, you line up at the salad counter, choose your greens (mixed greens, Romaine, or baby spinach), pick seven toppings, add grilled portobello mushroom if you'd like, for an additional cost, pick your dressing, and head to the cashier.

If you would rather have a vegan sandwich, the main ingredient would be portobello mushroom. You would let the person at the sandwich counter know which type of bread you'd like, which sandwich toppings you want included (hold the lowfat roasted garlic mayo), and which other items you would like added at an extra cost. I sent a couple of e-mails to Pluto's a while back asking which of their breads and side dishes are vegan, but they never replied. Generally, sourdough bread is a safe bet.

The Pluto's restaurant in Sacramento is located at the Market Square at Arden Fair in the area between Barnes & Noble and the UA Arden Fair 6 movie theater. It's a great place to catch a bite to eat before the movie since service is fairly quick. The address is 1735 Arden Way, and the phone number is 916-921-2500. There is also a Pluto's at the Galleria shopping center in Roseville, in Davis at 500 First Street, and at a few other locations in Northern California. The website address, which provides hours of operation and other information for each location, is

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chinois City Cafe

I stopped in at Chinois City Cafe at the Arden Town Shopping Center yesterday to pick up some lunch to go. Chinois has several vegan specialties on their menu, so it's very easy to be a vegan there.

I ordered the Ma Po Spicy Beancake, which consisted of braised tofu with a mixture of vegetables (three varieties of mushrooms, carrots, peas, water chestnuts, onions, bamboo, baby corn, and probably some others that I can't remember) in a sweet and mildly spicy chili sauce. I also ordered the Stir Fried Spicy Asian Eggplant, which also included green bell pepper and celery. Steamed jasmine rice was included with the order, but brown rice can be substituted for an extra dollar. Altogether, it made for a very tasty and satisfying lunch.

Other vegan specialties on the Chinois City Cafe menu include the Seasonal Medley Vegetable Stirfry, Tofu Garden Vegetables, Fragrant Orientale Mushroom Special, East/West Curried Vegetables, and General or Sweet and Sour Tofu.

Chinois City Cafe is located at 3535A Fair Oaks Boulevard (corner of Watt and Fair Oaks). Their phone number is 916-485-8691, and their website address is They are open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and then again from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. On Saturday they're open from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Sunday, their hours are from 5:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bella Bru Cafe in Natomas

Even restaurants that have a vegan item or two on their lunch or dinner menus don't always have anything that a vegan can eat for breakfast. So I was happy to discover last month that Bella Bru Cafe in Natomas offers a tofu scramble on their breakfast menu. It's described as tofu and spices, and the spices turned out to be curry. It was served with country style potatoes and toast (be sure to ask them to not butter the toast). There are a couple of other breakfast items that could probably be made vegan: the oatmeal, which is mixed with cranberries and served with brown sugar, but ask them to skip the milk; and the veggie tofu scramble, which consists of tofu, spices, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, green onions, and the two things you'll want to ask them to omit -- provolone cheese and pesto.

Bella Bru in Natomas also has at least one vegan item on their lunch and dinner menu: the Oriental Veggie Stir Fry, which consists of sauteed shiitake mushrooms, ginger, seasonal vegetables, smoked tofu, and toasted sesame-soy sauce over udon noodles. I'll definitely give that a try the next time I'm there! The Mezza Plate looks like it could easily be made vegan by including the tabouleh, hummus, house-marinated olives, mango chutney, grape tomatoes, and house-made grilled flatbread but leaving out the tzatziki and the feta cheese.

Bella Bru has multiple locations, but the menu varies by location, so these items may not be offered at Bella Bru in Carmichael or El Dorado Hills. Bella Bru Cafe in Natomas is located at 4680 Natomas Boulevard. Their phone number is 916-928-1770 and their website address is They are open Sunday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cafe Bernardo R15

I generally avoid writing blog posts about restaurants that don't have any actual vegan menu items, as opposed to menu items that can possibly be made vegan by omitting or substituting ingredients. For this reason, I haven't written about (and don't generally bother to patronize) many of the more trendy restaurants in the area, such as Ella's, Mulvaney's, Cafeteria 15L, the Waterboy, the Grange, and all of the Paragary restaurants.

Today, however, I'm writing about Paragary Restaurant Group's Cafe Bernardo R15 because I had a lovely vegan Asian Cabbage and Tofu Salad when I ate lunch there last week with my friend Deborah. In addition to cabbage and tofu, the salad included carrots, mushrooms, and cashews, with a tangy soy-ginger vinaigrette. It's generally garnished with scallions, but I'm just not an onion person so I asked that they be left off my salad. I wasn't sure I liked this dish when I had my first couple of bites (it's a LOT of cabbage), but I quickly developed a taste for it and was astonished to look down at my plate during a break in the conversation and discover that I had eaten every shred of food. I ordered the large size, but the small serving is also a very generous portion.

The Portobello Mushroom Sandwich on the Cafe Bernardo R15 menu is also vegan, if you omit the mayonnaise. One item that seems like it should be vegan (without the Parmesan garnish) but apparently is not is the Grilled Polenta Triangles, which has butter in the polenta. On the breakfast menu, the Housemade Oatmeal is vegan (ask for soy milk instead of regular milk), as is the Seasonal Fresh Fruit.

There are several Cafe Bernardo locations, but the menus vary at each location and they also change seasonally. So if you're planning a visit to Cafe Bernardo, you'll want to check the menu on their website to make sure that they'll have something for you to eat.

Cafe Bernardo R15 is located at 1431 R Street. Their phone number is 916-930-9191, and their website address is They open at 7:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, and at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They close at 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and at 10:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Road Trip! Granzella's in Williams

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great holiday season.

I started 2012 by taking a drive up I-5 yesterday to see the snow geese and other waterfowl that winter at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. It was a wonderful outing, and after three hours of watching birds, I was starving. So I drove into the city of Williams and decided to check out Granzella's.

Since I was there at an odd time, I decided to get a sandwich in their delicatessen, rather than ordering a sit-down meal in their restaurant. But first, I checked out their olive bar, since the billboards for Granzella's advertise their olive tasting. And rightly so! I tried three different types: the Zesty Jalapeno Style Olives, the Spicy Greek Olives, and the Sicilian Style Olives. They were all wonderful, but the exceptionally flavorful Sicilian Style Olives were my favorite.

For lunch, I ordered the vegetarian sandwich on a sourdough roll, which consisted of marinated artichoke hearts, mustard, peppers, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. I asked them to hold the cheese, mayonnaise, and onions. They have hummus available for an extra charge, but I decided to skip the hummus this time. This turned out to be a pretty good sandwich, and I really enjoyed the flavor of the artichoke hearts, which must have had some extra garlic in the marinade.

It looks like there are some vegan options on Granzella's restaurant menu too. There's a lunch buffet that includes a salad bar, and there are vegan entrees such as spaghetti with marinara sauce, a vegetable pasta that consists of an assortment of vegetables tossed with black olives, tomatoes, and your choice of sauce (ask them to omit the Parmesan cheese), and a Boca burger. In addition, the vegetarian pizza could probably be made without the cheese.

Granzella's is located at 391 6th Street in Williams. Their phone number is 530-473-3310, and their website address is They are open seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Granzella's also has a motel and a gift shop, so it's a fun place to stop if you're traveling on I-5.