Eating in restaurants has been a challenge for me since I went vegan more than nine years ago. Most of my friends and family members are still happily eating all manner of meat, eggs, and dairy products, and there aren't all that many local restaurants that cater to vegans. So I decided to write this blog to help other vegans figure out what menu options are available to them in local non-vegan restaurants.
But Sacramento does have some notable restaurants that are either completely vegan, a combination of vegan and vegetarian, or non-vegan but with a variety of vegan options that are clearly identified on the menu. So for vegan visitors to Sacramento or for new local vegans who want to easily find things they can eat without having to interrogate the restaurant staff, here's a list of ten restaurants (in no particular order) where a vegan should feel right at home.
1. Andy Nguyen has been a popular destination for Vietnamese food since 1984. When it opened, its menu included animal products, but in 2005, the restaurant switched to an all vegetarian menu, which was more in keeping with the family's Buddhist beliefs. I love the names they've given their menu items, such as Peaceful Curry (tofu, potatoes, carrots, button mushrooms, soy ham and mixed vegetables in yellow curry) or Supreme Wisdom (mixed vegetables, tofu, and button mushrooms in spicy coconut peanut sauce with mint, cilantro, and crushed peanuts). Almost everything on the menu is vegan, although a few vegetarian dishes contain egg. Andy Nguyen is located at 2007 Broadway. More information is available on their website at http://www.andynguyenvegetarianrestaurant.com/.
2. The menu at the Green Boheme is all organic, all vegan, and all raw. So while the names on the menu sound like food you've been eating all your life, the ingredients and the preparation process will be significantly different from what you're used to. "Raw" means either uncooked entirely or not heated beyond 105 degrees, so it's always an adventure to see what something like a No Sea Tuna Sandwich or a Pesto Pizza will taste like. The Green Boheme also offers a pre-paid food plan and raw food preparation classes, where you can learn to make your own raw vegan delicacies. They are located at 1825 Del Paso Boulevard, and their website can be found at http://thegreenboheme2.blogspot.com/.
3. Any of the restaurants featuring the cuisine of the incomparable Mai Pham are vegan gold, as far as I'm concerned. While her Lemon Grass and Star Ginger restaurants fall into the non-vegan category, they offer a significant number of vegan options (the Ginger Sesame Tofu Salad and the Jungle Curry are my favorites), all of which are clearly marked on the menu. She has also made her distinctive cuisine available to a larger segment of the population by sending a Star Ginger Asian Grill mobile food truck to the UC Davis campus, establishing a Lemon Grass Asian Grill and Noodle Bar in Terminal A at the Sacramento International Airport, and partnering with the La Bou Bakery chain to include a Lemon Grass Asian Grill and Noodle Bar in a La Bou cafe on Howe Avenue. I always know that if I'm dining at a Mai Pham restaurant, I'm going to be eating well. More information about all of the Lemon Grass and Star Ginger restaurants is available at http://www.starginger.com/.
4. No listing of vegan or vegetarian restaurants in the Sacramento area would be complete without a mention of the venerable Sunflower Drive-In in Old Town Fair Oaks, which has been a mecca for local vegetarians since 1978. They offer a variety of burgers, sandwiches, tacos, burritos, smoothies, and other items, all of which are vegetarian and many of which are vegan or can be made vegan upon request. Their nutburger is legendary. While there is one long table inside the restaurant and some outdoor seating, this is basically a take-out restaurant. And as a bonus, maybe some of the famous Old Fair Oaks chickens will wander through the parking lot while you're waiting for your order. Sunflower Drive-In is located at 10344 Fair Oaks Boulevard in Fair Oaks, and their website address is http://www.sunflowernaturalrestaurant.com/.
5. Sacramento has a nice variety of Indian restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan menu choices. I don't know if Mati's Indian Eats offers more vegan options than the other restaurants, or if they're just better about identifying them, but Mati's makes it very easy to be a vegan. It's nice to be able to eat Indian food without having to ask about hidden ingredients, such as ghee (clarified butter) in the curries. Mati's always has several clearly-marked vegan offerings, and even their naan is vegan, which doesn't seem to be the case in most of the Indian restaurants in town. Mati's Indian Eats is located at 1501 16th Street, and their website address is http://www.matisindianeats.com/.
6. Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe opened in 2010 and quickly became a popular destination for vegan diners. They serve salads, sandwiches, burgers, and many other all-vegan items in a two-story Victorian house that offers ample indoor or outdoor seating. The best part of any visit to Sugar Plum is choosing from among the amazing baked goods in their display case. They offer a wide variety of vegan cookies, cupcakes, pies, muffins and, my personal favorite, whoopie pies, that will keep you coming back for more. Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe is located at 2315 K Street, and their website address is http://sugarplumvegan.com/.
7. Malabar in Natomas offers the types of menu items you would expect to find in any non-vegan restaurant serving American cuisine, but they also have something that most other restaurants don't have: a separate menu listing their vegan and vegetarian offerings. Salads, risottos, and rice noodle dishes are among the entrées available for vegans at Malabar, which is located at 2960 Del Paso Road. Their website address is http://www.malabaramericancooking.com/.
8. A surprising place to find vegan menu options is at Downtown's Kitchen, located in the Round Corner bar. Downtown's Kitchen bills their food choices as "BBQ vs. VEGAN" and they take their vegan menu seriously, even having a separate deep fat fryer so the vegan food won't be fried in the same oil as the non-vegan food. They have items like potato tacos, a grilled cheese sandwich that can be made using vegan cheese, and a tofu rice bowl, but I order the same thing every time I go there -- the Vegan Boca Bacon Cheese Burger Combo. I can't get over how much like real bacon their veggie bacon tastes. A couple of caveats, though. First, since Downtown's Kitchen is located inside a bar, you have to be at least 21 to dine on the premises. And my second caveat is that the Vegan Boca Bacon Cheese Burger Combo must be really, really popular, because they seem to run out of Boca burgers fairly often. So if you have your heart set on this particular item, you might want to call ahead and make sure they have it. Downtown's Kitchen is located at 2333 S Street, and their website address is http://downtownskitchenbbqvsvegan.com/.
9. There are several restaurants in Sacramento that offer Mediterranean cuisine, but what I love about Pita Kitchen (in addition to their excellent food!) is that they have a "Vegan" symbol printed on their menu next to each of their numerous vegan items. They offer all the items you'd expect -- hummus, falafel, dolma -- as well as a variety of salads, soups, and grilled or sautéed vegetable combinations. They even have vegan baklava, which is made without butter and with a sugar syrup instead of honey. Pita Kitchen is located at 2989 Arden Way. They don't appear to have a website, but if you need further information, their telephone number is 916-480-0560.
10. Loving Hut is part of an international vegan restaurant chain. We are fortunate to have two of these restaurants serving Asian cuisine in the Sacramento area: one is located in the Oak Park neighborhood and the other is in Elk Grove. I think I could eat their fried tofu appetizer every day. The menu relies rather heavily on mock meats, but it's a relief to go out to a restaurant where I don't have to ask any questions about the ingredients. The Sacramento Loving Hut restaurant is located at 3500 Stockton Boulevard, and their website address is http://lovinghut.us/sacramento_01/about.html. The Elk Grove Loving Hut restaurant is located at 8355 Elk Grove Boulevard, and their website address is http://lovinghut.us/elk_grove_01/.