3.12.2011

Vegan Eating in Boston

I love the idea of going out to eat. It is such a treat to have a meal I didn't make myself, and I'm always intrigued to see what dishes professionals come up with. I don’t even think eating out while vegan is all that difficult, especially not in Boston. But the nightshade allergies make going out to restaurants really tricky; if it isn’t a vegan restaurant, non-vegan chefs and servers are dumbfounded by all my limitations (much more so than if I were "just" vegan) and at vegan restaurants, sauces, spice mixes, egg replacers, and fake meats/cheeses are still problematic. I’m always anxious about accidentally being poisoned because I wasn’t clear enough or because the server forgot to show my list to the cook or because the cook forgot that paprika comes from red peppers.

BUT because I like going out to eat in theory, and because the boyfriend likes it both in theory and in practice, we go out at least a couple times a month. I have two entries devoted to vegan, nightshade-free dining in NYC, but none for Boston, so I think it’s about time to do justice to my fair city.

There are plenty of great Asian, Ethiopian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian places in Boston that are great for vegans, and this list contains almost none of them; it’s just some personal highlights and lowlights. Each category is in approximate order of my favorite to least favorite.

All Vegan:

  • True Bistro--Tasty upscale vegan food, and they offer vegan cocktails and wine pairings. While there aren’t a lot of nightshade free options, they do have some, and the waitstaff has been really helpful when it comes figuring out what I could have. Dinners are quite pricy, but they charge average prices for lunch and brunch. (Website here.)
  • Pulse Cafe--Medium-range pricing for hearty, home-style food. The Pulse CafĂ© sources as many organic ingredients as possible. They used to change their menu every couple of weeks, but they’ve settled into a diner-style menu that’s been up for about 3 months now. The boyfriend and I considered this "our place" for a while--we were there when they first opened in their old location, there when they first opened in this new location, and for a while there we went almost once a week. But the new diner menu doesn’t have very many nightshade-free options. They used to be really accommodating with their old menus; they would customize almost everything--for example, they were able to make the nachos nightshade free and awesome. With their new menu, a lot of the ingredients are prepared in advance, and most of them have nightshades. Nightshade-free eaters are pretty much reduced to salad and grilled cheese, and there’s only so many times a person can eat a huge chunk of Daiya before her intestines start to hate her (TMI?). I like supporting this place, but we’re taking a break until the menu changes. If you can eat nightshades and like comfort food, it’s great. (Website here)
  • My Thai--Vegan Thai food in Chinatown. It’s okay. Their fake meats are apparently good, but I'm too wary of fake meats' ingredients to try--so much processing has to mean nightshades somewhere, right? They have some good basics, and I especially like the appetizers. The food is greasy, but the portions are large and the prices are low. Also, the desserts are AMAZING. (They may use powdered egg replacer, which is not nightshade free; I never asked and never had a reaction, but I haven't eaten any desserts there since a couple years ago, when I had a slightly higher tolerance.) (Menu here.)
  • Peace o' Pie--Boston’s best vegan pizza. If you can eat nightshades, I recommend Peace o' Pie. If you can't eat nightshades, they do have a white pizza, and they do allow you to build your own pizzas and calzones, but most of their yummier-sounding toppings have nightshades, and it would be cheaper to make a white veggie pizza at home. I also had a problem once with contamination; even though I made it very clear that I am allergic to tomatoes, they used a tomato-sauce-covered pizza cutter to cut my white pizza... which meant every piece had tomato sauce on the edges. (Website here.)
  • Grasshopper--Greasy vegan Chinese food. It's cheap, and the portions are enormous. They have some delicious signature dishes, but unfortunately most of them feature their sweet and sour sauce, which is not nightshade free. Nightshade free eaters are limited to simpler entrees, which are mostly stir-fried vegetables, so it's not that exciting a destination for me. Their appetizers are greasy, delicious, and mostly nightshade free, though. (Website here.)


Vegetarian:

  • Life Alive--Healthy, mostly macrobiotic salads, bowls, wraps, and smoothies. I find them a little pricy for their portions, but the food is always good, and GOOD NEWS: because they keep things macrobiotic, there are (almost) no nightshades! The only nightshades in the whole place are sun-dried tomatoes, which are in one dish, clearly labeled, and a jar of hot sauce on the condiment stand. I feel very safe here. Website here.
  • Veggie Planet--Flatbread pizzas, tasty salads, good brunch options. Everything on the menu can be made vegan. The food is good and the prices are reasonable, but it's really hard for someone with food allergies; they have a tiny kitchen and cross-contamination seems almost unavoidable. I've had tiny chunks of tomato in dishes that aren’t even supposed to contain tomato, drizzles of sauce on the edge of my plate from where they were putting sauce on someone else's plate, etc. If you can eat nightshades, it is a great place for lunch; if you can't, proceed with caution. (Website here.)
  • Red Lentil--I have heard good things about this place, but the two times I went were bad, so I don't like it. If you are nightshade free, you are going to have some problems. The first time we went was a couple weeks after they opened, and our server recommended a seitan appetizer that, while delicious, turned out not to be nightshade free (I only found this out later, when I had a reaction to it). At the time there was nothing nightshade free there but salad, but the server said I could customize one of the entrees. So I did that; when my entree came out, it had red pepper sauce on it. The server took it back to have another one made for me. The second one came back with tomato sauce on it, but I couldn’t return it because our server never returned. She was there, in the restaurant, but she ignored us. We sat for an hour, me unable to eat my entree, with a stomachache that I thought was from nerves but turned out to be from the appetizer, until we finally flagged another waitress to bring us the check. It was a disaster. We figured it was just bad luck, so we tried again a couple months later. I called ahead of time and spoke to the chef, who said he’d make something special for me. He made vegan nightshade-free quesadillas and grilled some vegetables for me for dinner, which was fine but not exciting. Later that night both the boyfriend and I had terrible, awful stomachaches. And the boyfriend doesn't even have weird food allergies! I am never going back. (Website here.)


Omni restaurants with good vegan options:

  • Genki Ya--Organic sushi! They have some of the most interesting veggie rolls I’ve ever seen, including a tasty "fruit roll:" banana, mango, avocado. Some of their veggie rolls have cream cheese, but I assure you they are all still incredibly tasty if you ask to leave the cream cheese out. You can sub in brown or multi-grain rice on any roll. Omnivore friends we've brought here say that the non-veggie sushi is good, too, so this is a good place to go if you’re eating with one of those people who can't have a fleshless meal. (Website here.)
  • Elephant Walk--Upscale Cambodian/French cuisine. They have a very limited number of vegan options, and the nightshade-free options are even more limited (you're pretty much stuck with the lemongrass tofu entree), but the food is so good it doesn’t really matter. (Website here.)
  • The Middle East--A great music venue, an okay restaurant, and a cruddy bar, wrapped up in one. All the vegetarian options here are vegan. (Some have a side of yogurt, which you can request to leave off or replace with tahini sauce.) Their whipped garlic is seriously addicting; it's so good you won’t mind having the longest-lasting garlic breath of your life. Also, I have two words for you: vegan baklava. (Website here.
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  • Koreana--Good Korean food. Specify that you don't eat fish, because some of the condiments can have fish flakes. The Tofu Bi Bim Bop here is great, and the ginger-persimmon-cinnamon tea that they give you at the end of each meal is THE BEST. (Website here.)
  • Chinatown--Okay, so "Chinatown" isn't unto itself a restaurant, but Boston’s Chinatown has a fantastic selection of surprisingly vegan-friendly places. The only caveat is that at basically every place you have to let them know before you order or while you're ordering that you’re vegetarian and don't eat fish. There’s a fantastic shabu place called Shabu-Zen, where they only have one veggie plate but it’s humungous and they will make any of their broths vegan if you specify no fish broth, a Korean place called Suishaya that has great food and service, a couple good Vietnamese places, and I hear there's a sandwich shop on Washington that offers vegan banh mi. Also My Thai, which I mentioned above, is here.
  • The Other Side--Decent prices, decent food, loud music, hipster crowd. Everyone there knows what "vegan" is. The boyfriend and I like to head down there for brunch on summer weekends, because our place is too hot to cook and they have nice outdoor seating. You can get $50 in gift cards for this place for only $25 through the Weekly Dig's Dig Deals. (Website here.)
  • Moody's Falafel Palace-- Moody's is open until 3am on weekends and has the best falafel sandwich I've ever had. They also have hummus and a platter of middle-easterny things, but a lot of those things aren’t nightshade free. The men who work there are awesome; super efficient when it's really busy, and apt to joke around with you if there's no one there. Once the boyfriend and I went on a slow afternoon and they gave us extra falafel because they liked us. Nightshade-free people: you have to specify no tomatoes, and I think they change up the recipe sometimes, because once in a while I have a reaction to the falafel. But it’s maaaaybe 1/3 times I go, and I love the falafel so much and we go so rarely that for me it’s worth the risk. (Website here.)
  • Dado Tea--Vegan Bubble Tea! Everyone always praises My Thai's bubble tea, but that kind is blended flavor powder, coconut milk, and ice, so it's really rich and thick and cloying. At Dado, almost all of their bubble tea flavors are from house-made ice tea, not from powders (except their cucumber and taro teas), and you can opt for straight bubble tea or bubble tea with soymilk. I also like that you can specify not to add sugar. I’ve never actually eaten here, but they have some pre-made vegan salads and sandwiches behind the counter; I don’t know if they’re nightshade free. (Website here.)
  • Picco--"PICCO" stands for "Pizza and Ice Cream CO." It does not SOUND like it would be vegan-friendly, I know, but you can build your own pizzas or calzones, and they have high-quality ingredients. If you get roasted garlic, for example, it is mashed up to a creamy cheese-like texture that works well inside calzones. Their homemade sorbets are all vegan, including the dark chocolate sorbet, which is the best ice cream I have had since going vegan. A warning for nightshade free people: they use one big oven for their baking, so cross-contamination can happen. For example, I once found some tomato sauce baked onto the bottom of my calzone. I scraped it off and it was fine, but be warned. (Website here.)
  • Cafe Pamplona--This place looks like a cramped hole in the wall, but has fantastic coffee and teas, always has soymilk as an option, and has vegan-friendly sandwiches, entrees and snacks. It's Spanish food, though, which means none of it is nightshade free. Still, the iced soy lattes alone are worth going for. (Wikipedia page here.)
  • The Friendly Toast-- All-day brunch, with kitschy thrift-store figurines and paintings everywhere. I wanted to like this place, but the vegan options are limited to tofu scramble and bagels (none of their famous homemade bread is vegan), both of which are pretty lackluster. Also, when we went there, I told my server that I am allergic to potatoes, so please leave off the hash browns (they are a standard side). When my plate came, a couple bites into my meal I discovered that someone had originally put hash browns on my plate and scraped them off, then tried to cover up the tiny leftover pieces of potato with the tofu. Which meant my entire tofu scrambled was touching potato scrapings. Poisoned! That’s enough to stop me from going back, but the food also wasn’t worth giving them a second chance. (Website here.)


Just Outside of Boston:

  • Julian's--(Providence, RI). We’ve been here twice for brunch, but they have a bunch of different vegan brunch options, and appear to be vegan-friendly for all other meals. Prices were decent, food was tasty, and our servers have been really nice about talking with the kitchen to figure out what I can't have. (Website here.)
  • Rawbert's Organic Garden--(Beverly, MA). Not 100% raw, as they also serve hot soups, teas, and hot cocoa/carob (I am an avowed chocolate lover, but their hot carob is so good!). They do raw comfort food really well; their "pasta" dishes and sprouted pizzas are great. It's a little expensive, but you will leave totally stuffed. Go with a group so you can try everyone's food. I've been three times and found them really allergy-aware and attentive/nice about finding things you can eat if you have weird allergies. (Website here.)
  • Garden Grille--(Pawtucket, RI). This is the boyfriend's favorite restaurant; he’s been going there since it was a hippy juice bar like ten years ago. It's vegetarian, mid-to-high-priced food, and it's pretty good quality. This is one of the few restaurants where I actually like ordering salads; they do a great job with them. There are one or two dinner/lunch entrees that are nightshade-free at any given time (I recommend the Buddha Bowl), but if you can't eat nightshades, you’re out of luck for brunch. The desserts are fantastic. They use egg replacer in some of them, so be sure to ask. (Website here.)
  • Wildflour Bakery--(Pawtucket, RI). All vegan bakery. When I went, the workers there knew that some of the products contained egg replacer (nightshades), but didn’t know which ones. It always bothers me when employees at an eatery don’t know the ingredients in their products. They did know that the raw foods were safe, so I ended up with a raw chocolate tart that was FANTASTIC. They have large cases full of tasty-looking baked goods. (Website here.)

6 comments:

frederic said... Best Blogger Tips

Check out Udupi Bhavan in Lowell -- all vegetarian Indian food. We used to go to the one in Framingham (which closed) and we finally made it up to Lowell. Just as good (although the ambiance of the other place which was in an old train station was pretty cool)! They seemed receptive to my asking questions (I was trying to figure out what I had ordered a long time ago) so they could probably give you good answers to any ingredients questions you have.

panda with cookie said... Best Blogger Tips

I am a fan of the Grasshopper.

Ginny said... Best Blogger Tips

I've been meaning to check out the Grasshopper

dazedandinfused said... Best Blogger Tips

If you want to go a little more upscale, 10 Tables and Craigge on Main are both really great and would likely prepare special tasting menus if you called ahead of time and explained the restrictions. Neither menu would look friendly, but both places have great and creative chefs who enjoy a challenge!

Also, for Elephant Walk, I believe a very large number of their entrees can be made vegan. (I realize it's not the same when a shrimp dish just uses tofu instead)

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi!

This is so astoundingly useful, thank you. I'm a nightshade-free vegan as well (and also used to be a tech writer in Boston, though I'm currently a grad student in Indiana, but I visit often) and I had not heard of all of these places! I'm glad you liked Julian's --- it's one of my favorites, and they have so far not screwed up the allergies thing.

Thanks again!

-r.

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

R., I am glad to hear this is helpful! I hope you stick around my blog. Nightshade-free-and-vegan is such a small niche, we should stick together! Let me know if there's anything else you have questions about (or, even better, if you have any tips of your own)!