At 6:30 am, I stepped foot on my Austin-bound flight. I was excited at the thought of rekindling a sense of adventure in a new city while I explored vegan Austin. As eager as I was to take in the Austin cityscape, the driving question that shaped my trip wasn’t “What should I go see?” but rather “Where should I go eat?”
In recent years, Austin has evolved into a foodie hub. Vegan Austin is packed with food trucks and restaurants that offer options that are mouth-watering and palette-pleasuring to humans that live to eat (I mean, love to eat). What’s astonishing is the number of vegan food establishments that serve dishes that keep their patrons hooked. The food landscape seems to reflect a growing vegan-oriented consumer base, making Austin one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the US. With this in mind, I set an adjusted diet plan for the next few days: carry as much vegan food in my stomach as humanly possible. Read on for my dining adventures in vegan Austin!
1. Casa de Luz
The tall red entrance of Casa de Luz welcomes you to a place of mind-body nourishment. The restaurant is atypical as you pay first before you seat yourself. The menu of the day is displayed at the front desk. Soups and salads are self-serve and unlimited, and the entrée is brought to you (additional entrée plate costs extra). Serving 100% organic vegan meals, Casa de Luz is also a macrobiotic restaurant; they serve nutrient-rich foods with balanced yin and yang properties. Meals are whole, non-processed foods free of refined sugar, oil, and salt. By no means is the food insipid. The whole grains and fresh vegetables bring forth their own natural savor that you’ll be quick to appreciate.
They also get points for their cleanup and recycling system. Once you’ve finished your meal, you return the used cups and dishes including any uneaten food to the back. There are individually labeled receptacles to sort out the utensils, napkins, compost, and trash.
What I ate:
Green & Yellow Split peas with cilantro and vegetables (soup of the day);
Garden greens with almond-cilantro & parsley dressing (salad of the day);
Brown rice with quinoa; black beans with sun-cheese; soft veggie tacos with mushrooms, guacamole, and cilantro with side of greens (entrée of the day)
Blenders and Bowls was like a waterhole in the desert within the first hour of my walk as the sun furiously beat down my back. A café serving acai bowls appears to be a novelty in these parts of town. “Have you ever tried acai before?” the employee asked me. (Girl, don’t I look like I speak acai?) She explained that not many people in the area knew what it was. The café serves a host of refreshing smoothie drinks and smoothie bowls, and you can go with high fruits or heavy greens in either drink or bowl form. The selection of toppings is as generous as the portion size. Be prepared to make some hard life choices here. Speaking from experience it might help to sing to the tune of “Eenie meenie miney mo.”
What I ate:
Large Bowl of Paradise (without honey for which you can substitute agave)
Base was blended dragon fruit, mangos, pineapples, bananas, and coconut water topped with hemp granola, strawberries, goji berries, and coconut shreds.
Counter Culture is an attractive retro-fashioned diner that beckons you to drop in. (There’s wall space on the side of the entrance that makes a nice high-contrast backdrop for your next IG post.) Beyond looks, taste and quality matter at Counter Culture. They serve vegan comfort food made from scratch in their kitchen. My favorite part is that they do business with area farmers to procure organic, fair trade, locally sourced foods whenever possible. With an emphasis on nutritious, unprocessed foods, their menu includes a delicious range of appetizers, brunch, raw foods, beverages, and desserts.
What I ate:
Raw Butternut Squash Tacos with two sides: Jalapeno Cornbread and Caesar Salad
Note: The cornbread is out of this world. That slight piquant jalapeno kick does not go unnoticed.
Owner Blake Newman, a graduate of the world-class institute Le Cordon Bleu, brings in a culinary punch at the all-vegan food truck BBQ Revolution. What BBQ delivers is a bold contrast to the cattle ranching traditions of Texas by offering their barbecue brisket made of seitan (wheat gluten) and ribs made from tempeh (fermented soybeans). As someone utterly unversed in barbeque, I was impressed to learn that meat can be prepared on a smoker, which is what BBQ Revolution uses to serve their plant-based meats with sides like potato, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese. The BBQ sauce that coats the tempeh ribs is impossible to forget: irresistibly thick and tasty. It’s the finger-licking-lip-smacking kind of good.
What I ate:
$10 BBQ Plate with Tempeh Ribs (GF) with Cajun Corn Salad and Mac N’Cheeze
5. Vegan Noms
Around here, tacos seem to be as common as waffles, and Vegan Noms has the best ones. Located on E. Cesar Chavez (within walking distance to Counter Culture and Capital City Bakery), you will face the gates with the red “TACOS” sign. The specialty of this vegan food truck is purely tacos and they have a ton of them: breakfast, classic, and signature, as well as daily special tacos. They have three house-made hot sauces and two tortilla options to choose from: corn (GF) and flour. The outdoors sitting area is just as entertaining as the food they serve with a wall mural of the Vegan Noms logo and a hula hoop station.
What I ate:
Potato and Organic Tofu Scramble (breakfast taco)
Rockin’ Vegan Migas (classic taco)
Capital City Bakery is a charming vegan bakery that is like the candy house in the Hansel and Gretel story except there is no witch. Unless you count the bakers who only deliver benevolent baked goods that are made fresh and from scratch. When you take a bite of their pastries, you not only taste the supreme quality ingredients but also the sweet, fluffy invitation to better our food choices and environmental stewardship. This may be too deep for those just looking for a damn good cupcake. Seriously though, you’ll feel like you’re saving the world just by eating one. The bakery prides itself in the passion, love, and community it builds around its mission. Capital City Bakery truly “bakes a difference” while you taste the difference.
What I ate:
Apple Pie cupcake
Arlo’s might be a crowned jewel for vegan eatery as it had been recommended to me by three people, one of whom isn’t even vegan. My first taste of their Bac’N Cheeze burger stunned me in mid-bite. I thought, “This is a sick joke. Someone must have slipped in a McDonald’s bacon cheeseburger instead of serving me the house-made plant-based patty that was advertised.” I reexamined my burger but continued to chew cautiously. Though it had been over 18 years since I last ate a fast food burger, the meat texture and grease of Arlo’s version were indistinguishable. It was also motherfreaking delicious. The works include the quintessential melted cheese, ketchup, and pickles on house-made seitan bacon and soy-free and gluten free patties slid between a buttery brioche bun. This is a perfect place for anyone looking to get their cruelty-free meat fix, especially for transitioning vegans.
What I ate:
Bac’N Cheeze Burger
Voodoo Doughnuts is like the eccentric, bauble-wearing, fringe-clothed aunt of Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s hard to see how customers aren’t drawn to the unusual donut flavors, pink boxes, and eclectic décor that Voodoo Doughnuts offer. As if controlled by actual voodoo craft, customers waited patiently and congenially despite the long wait line. As the line inches up, I see more people walk out with a whole pink box of doughnuts than those with just one. What kind of dark magic did these donuts hold? Inside the shop are assorted artworks on the walls, glass display cases with store merchandise, and the American flag lit patriotically in neon lights. What’s also unusual about this place is their cash only policy. Though the shop is not exclusively vegan, what is appreciated is the sign that reads “This Shelf is Vegan” in a revolving display case that points to some of the baddest vegan doughnuts in town.
What I ate:
Chico Stick donut (topped with Chick-o-Stick, a locally produced peanut butter and coconut candy in Texas);
Toasted Coconut donut
Eating at Mother’s Café was like eating at my own mother’s house for one last home-cooked meal. The café opened their doors serving customers vegetarian meals since 1980. Its tremendous space invites you to fill a part of it with your welcomed stay. The menu showcases an extensive catalog of pretty much any typical American dish you can think of. Banana walnut pancakes? Check. Lasagna? Check. Sloppy Mama Joes? Check. Many of their vegetarian meals can be prepared vegan, which is indicated on the menu. From brunch to second dinners to I-woke-up-from-a-nap-and-now-I-want-cake, Mother will hook you up. In fact, I had my second meal (a blueberry pancake) right after my first (Vegetable Medley) in one sitting. On top of it all, I ordered a Mom’s Reuben sandwich to-go for dinner on my flight home. I love you, Mother.
What I ate:
Vegetable Medley: organic brown rice with steamed vegetables served with mashed potatoes and black beans
A side of blueberry pancake
Mom’s Reuben: grilled Vegan rye poppy seed bun served open-faced topped with sauerkraut, sliced tomato, cheese, green onions, pickles, and wheat meat
10. Sweet Ritual
After eating at Mother’s, my gastronomical expedition culminated in Sweet Ritual, which symbolized a sweet parting with the city. This small, artisanal vegan ice cream shop offers some memorable flavors. One such flavor is Unicorn Poop, a coconut milk concoction that includes crushed Skittles and rainbow sprinkles; its pink color comes from beet juice. The Cherry Blood Orange sorbet has whole cherries mixed that bring about a satisfying burst of the fruit.
Sweet Ritual will build your dream ice cream in front of you. Order one to three scoops and dress them in various toppings, which include unique ones like Lavender Simple Syrup and Edible Glitter. You’d be pleased to know that their marshmallow and gummy worm toppings are vegan as well. Also, a nice surprise is that their waffles cones are sourced from our local (NYC) The Konery in Brooklyn. What’s more lovable about this shop that they’re sweet to both our palate and the environment: all of their to-go items (spoons, taster spoons, straw, lids, napkins, cups) are compostable.
What I ate: Unicorn Poop (Skittles and sprinkles in beet-pink vanilla), Cherry Blood Orange Sorbet on Red Velvet Konery waffle cone
Have you checked out vegan Austin? What are your favorite spots?
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Photo: Vivian Lee