El Chupacabra: authentic vegan Mexican

Up until a few weeks ago, I’d had yet to experience the vegan-friendly Mexican food of El Chupacabra. Anika has raved about this place for years, but for some reason, every time we’d visit from Tacoma we’d end up at another one of our standby vegan or vegan-friendly joints. What were we doing all this time?!

I love Mexican food more than I can properly articulate. My ethnic background is part-Mexican, so I grew up eating tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tamales, and everything else delicious made in authentic style, and it was glorious. When I transitioned to veganism, (and especially after I moved to the PNW), I’d resigned myself to the fact that the only good Mexican food I’d experience would be in my kitchen. Thankfully, I now know that’s not the case, and I have a spot to visit whenever we’re jonesing for vegan Mexican eats and are too lazy to cook!

Located in Phinney Ridge/Greenwood, this Mexican restaurant/bar is adorable. Decorated in reds/oranges and Dia de Los Muertos style, I almost felt like I was at a restaurant back home for a second once inside. More things that makes me love this place: Christmas lights, board games, a working jukebox, front patio – prime for this season, and a full bar.

We’ve only happened to go on Friday nights (date night, etc.) and both times we’ve visited it hasn’t been longer than 15 minutes for a table. Not bad for a place that’s extremely popular with both the herbivorous and carnivorous types. For us vegans, El Chupacabra offers Gardein meats (chicken with green or red sauce – verde or rojo – and steak) and Daiya cheese, which means that lunch, dinner or happy hour meal options are endless.

The first time we visited, we started out with their chips, salsa and guac and I grabbed the Bartender’s Margarita, (all pictured above). Because, you know, Mexican food.

The guac – fantastic. Chips – warm, okay. Salsa – a little watery in my opinion, but doable. The marg – not my bag. It had a splash of cranberry and was made with Jose Cuervo, and while drinking it I was wishing I’d had the house one. C’est la vie.

In what seemed like no time at all, our food arrived. I went for a vegan enchilada with daiya and “chicken,” and R went for three tacos with the “steak” and rice and beans. See here:

The server warned me that the enchiladas were huge, and hence I got one instead of two. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had them and they’ve always been a fave. Chupacabra’s did not disappoint. All the flavors were there, the red sauce fantastic, and the combo of daiya and faux chicken was through the roof delicious. Goodness gracious.

R loved his tacos and sides and devoured them quickly too. We left no stone unturned.

On top of this, our server was wonderful: sweet, delivering excellent service and chatted with us about their vegan food. I’ve read reviews of their service as being spotty, but we experienced no such thing – not even on a busy Friday night.

About a week after we first visited, we headed back, because we both couldn’t get this food out of our minds. This is what happens when El Chupacabra gets to you.

This time we started out with the same apps, and I went for the pomegranate margarita – our server’s choice. Usually this isn’t something I’d go for, but I loved it. The flavor was sweet but not too much so, and like last time, it was strong. I’d order this again, easily. And for food, I chose the large vegan burrito with daiya and vegan “steak,” (don’t judge, I wanted leftovers!) and Rick went for the taco salad.

My burrito was indeed huge, so I halved it down the middle to look at the delicious inside.

I loved this, loved all the flavors at play again, and doused at it with their homemade sauces. I was in delicious Mexican food heaven by the end of this evening.

Comes fully loaded.

R is a sort of connoisseur of taco salads, and he gave this one two enthusiastic thumbs up. It was huge, had rice/beans, “steak,” salsa, guac, lettuce, etc., and looked like a great, filling meal option. His only gripe was that the shell was overcooked, (guessing that it was baked then cooked again with filling). Despite that, he loved it.

This place is ridiculously popular, so I feel like it’s a fluke that both times we’ve gone we hadn’t had to wait too long for a table, inside or out. If you go, I recommend either going early, going later (which is what we did), bringing a friend to catch up with or hanging out at the bar. Believe me, whatever the wait, it will be more than worth your while.

If you’ve been, what are your favorite vegan menu items? And if you haven’t been, what are you waiting for?

El Chupacabra
6711 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA, USA
(206) 706-4889

 

Bearded Lady Food Company review on CakeSpy

Habanero brownie from Bearded Lady Food Company.

I love me some sweet treats. A lot. Probably too much. But this has been a part of me since I was little. Growing up I loved ice cream, and as I got older it turned to cookies. Soon came my cupcake phase, then pie, and now I’m way into cookies again. I hold firmly to the belief that life is too short to not enjoy something sweet every once in a while, (you know, especially if you’re eating your kale and fruits too) and thankfully, my friend Roxanne gets that. It’s one of the many things we have in common.

Since she became a vegetarian, we often head out to places to eat veg meals together and sometimes, those dinners turn into dinner and dessert – much to our mutual happiness. That’s how we first ventured to Beaded Lady Food Company with a few other friends. One of our dining companions suggested we mosey on over to the very vegan-friendly bakery post-dinner, and we never looked back.

Roxanne asked me to visit again (after dinner together, natch) and if I’d like to help her review this magical sweet factory in the heart of downtown Oly. Naturally, I said yes.

Our review is now up on the adorable, all sweets, all the time blog CakeSpy, so check it out. If you’re in the Seattle metro area, I highly suggest you make a trip to Beaded Lady a priority on your next visit south. You will not regret it. I mean, just check out their amazing logo! Make sure to bring cash and check the hours beforehand, too.

And now I’m craving a habanero brownie.

Welcome to Seattle, Veggie Grill

Dear Veggie Grill, I’m so happy you’ve finally arrived in Washington state!

I’m lucky to have visited Veggie Grill in So Cal on visits home, and have long envied friends who text me with: “Guess who’s going to lunch at Veggie Grill today? THIS GUY!” ever since. I vividly remember the first time I went before heading to LAX to head back to Seattle. I grabbed the All Hail Kale salad with added Blackened Chick’n and the chocolate chip walnut cookie for my flight dinner home, and I reveled in every bite of both on the plane while nearby passengers looked on jealously (or so I imagined).

It seems like many months have passed since news first broke that the chain would be moving further north after landing in Portland, and I knew that I’d have to visit opening day. So the bf and I walked down to South Lake Union Wednesday night to check out the digs and 100% plant-based eats.

First off,  location. I walk through South Lake Union constantly but rarely stop to hang there. Due to Amazon taking over the ‘hood with their campus, there’s a lot of cool new options available and this definitely makes the area bustling and perfect for an outfit like Veggie Grill.

When we stepped inside, what I was blown away by was how much larger this location seemed than those I’d been to in CA. It also had a variety of seating available: a few bar seats to watch the food orders come up, private two person tables, booth + chair tables for groups and one long row table situated near the window – perfect for a group outing. I loved this and the options it opens for gatherings and meetings. Bright, modern and oh so clean, this location was definitely visually appealing.

Veggie Grill offers beer and wine options (yay!), as well as iced teas, juices and other beverages. They’ve also got some killer dessert options, which I’ll get to later.

Most assuredly due to the fact that this was opening day, our food came out in mere minutes.  In addition to the service being lightning fast, we were approached by no less than four employees (including the general manager) asking if we’d heard of VG before, if we had questions, and how we’d heard of them. I personally appreciated this, and thought it would be especially helpful for noobs and non-vegans. Every individual we interacted with was incredibly sweet and helpful, so kudos Veggie Grill on your impeccable hiring process!

Okay, let’s get to the stuff you really want to read about. We tried a few things for some variety (things we hadn’t tried in the past), but our stomachs are only capable of so much. Thankfully, they’ve added a few new items to the menu that caught our eyes.

Sweetheart Fries

I’m surprised that we hadn’t had these in past visits. We’re both huge sweet potato fries fans, and these were good, but not the best we’d ever had. They were nice and crisp and covered in a vegan parmesan cheese-esque topping when they arrived at the table, but the flavor was okay. I would order these again, but I am eager to try some of the other appetizers on future visits.

Buffalo Bomber

This was my main meal choice. Everyone has been begging me to try the buffalo wings but it wasn’t in the cards last night, so I thought this a nice compromise. This sandwich was composed of Veggie Grill’s signature crispy chickin’ (made of soy, wheat and pea proteins), which is eerily similar to the real thing in both texture and taste. Covered in vinegary, spicy buffalo sauce, a smooth and savory ranch dressing and lettuce/tomato/onion, it was a treat. The texture was substantial with a great (I hate this word) mouthfeel, and all of the elements of this burger worked together well. I opted for the main side – red cabbage ‘slaw – and it was a nice cooling option. Red cabbage + onion + carrot all melded well with a vinegary dressing (as opposed to heavy mayo), and it was a nice counterbalance to the heartiness of the sandwich. I respect and stand by my choice.

Crispy Chickin’ Plate

If I picked well, my dude friend hit a home run. This was one of three new homestyle plates and it is very much a hearty meal option: fried chickin’, cauliflower mashed potatoes, porcini mushroom gravy and steamed kale. I had a few bites of all of this and I was blown away by all the flavors at play. It was a very home cooked meal kind of meal, with the vegan chicken fried steak, smooth and flavorful potatoes, and all of it covered in rich mushroom-based gravy and lightened with the addition of kale. I would totally order this myself and plan on doing so.

Chocolate Pudding Parfait

One. Thousand. Times. Yes. What I loved about this dessert is that is sounds unassuming, but your taste buds have no idea what’s about to hit them. A velvety chocolate pudding is topped with a richer chocolate sauce, crushed cookies, walnuts and walnut crema. Just typing this out is making me want another. The walnut crema really stood out to me with its fantastic flavor and its ability to tie this all together. This was especially perfect on a warm summer evening.

Aftermath.

 

Carrot Cake and Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

Full disclosure: these weren’t items that we purchased, but rather were extra treats offered to us on behalf of Veggie Grill.

Let me be frank: I hate carrot cake, and have since I was about five years old. Usually the carrot/nut combo is too overpowering to be considered a dessert and the frosting has never been quite right with the cake. I’ve tried some since to no avail, but when the manager of the restaurant suggested that we try it, I figured why not? I’m so glad we did. The cake portion of this dessert was decadently rich: screaming of vegan butter and the right amount of sweetness, I could’ve eaten this dessert without the frosting. Carrot flavor was present but melded well with actual cake, and when combined with the smooth cream cheese frosting, forget it. Sold. I’m now a carrot cake lover.

I’m really impressed by our ability to have picked all winners this evening. Usually there’s one dud in the bunch, but not so. I highly recommend all of the aforementioned items. Though Veggie Grill is part of a chain restaurant it is an all-vegan one that boasts non-GMO food, and that’s something I can stand behind. Our first trip was a success and I was pleased with how packed it was on opening day, but I look forward to future lunches and dinners once the dust has settled and every vegan in Seattle has made their way over to check out the new spot, (and tells me about all their dining choices).

Veggie Grill
446 Terry Ave. North
Hours: Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
206.623.0336

 

Get your vegan pho on in Tacoma

Growing up in warm, season-less Southern California, I was never introduced to Vietnamese food – particularly the popular meal soup, pho. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest and saw a pho joint on practically every corner that I learned what it was. When I realized that many places in Seattle created totally vegan options for the traditionally meat-laden dish, I knew I had to try it. Soon after, my pho love was born. When you’re sick, it’s rainy and cold out, or you’re feeling too lazy to cook, a steaming bowl of take-out pho is truly a wondrous sight.

When I moved to Tacoma, I didn’t know any other vegans, and thus avoided Vietnamese restaurants. I presumed that there wouldn’t be any phoptions (get it?) for me, and quick Yelp searches didn’t yield anything to prove me wrong. Eventually, I got the courage to start asking at restaurants that I knew served pho. I think my requests were lost in translation, and on a few occasions I realized that I’d received pho that was in meaty broth, an awful feeling for any vegan.

Disappointed and honestly grossed out, I quit my search again. That was, until I discovered a few places a year or so later.

People on Yelp finally started dishing out the good news that yes, animal-free pho does exist in the city, and I went to all the places I could find that cooked 100% vegan pho. I know I’ve heard from a few others that there are other places that serve veg-friendly pho, but I’m so smitten with my staples that I have yet to try them. With all that said, here are my top four recommendations (in order) on where to grab you vegan pho in Tacoma.

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Photo borrowed from Anika at Seattle Vegan Score: tofu pho at Than Bros. in Seattle.

4) Pho Than Bros. – Full disclosure: I’ve yet to eat at either the Than. Bros. location on Pacific Ave. in Tacoma or on S. Tacoma Way in Lakewood. Despite that, I’ve eaten at four Seattle-based locations of the family-owned chain, and thus feel qualified to comment on their South Sound locations. Pho Than Bros. keeps things simple: they just serve tasty pho (and their free cream puffs – but pass these to a friend, they’re not vegan), minimal ambiance and they only accept cash. The pho broth is salty sweet and filled with veggies, but there’s a trick to ordering your pho vegan here: even if you ask for the vegetarian tofu pho, make sure to specify vegetarian broth. It doesn’t always come with the order. They definitely use MSG here, but it’s tasty enough if you need a quick, cheap dinner with leftovers to spare.

Tacoma
10435 Pacific Ave. S.
Tacoma, WA 98444
P: (253) 548-8886

Lakewood
8515 S. Tacoma Way
Lakewood, WA 98499
P: (253) 582-5120
http://www.thanbrothers.com/

Other resources: Seattle Vegan Score’s review of Than Bros. in her “Vegan Pho Tour of Seattle” post: http://www.veganscore.com/2010/12/vegan-pho-tour-of-seattle.html

 

Tofu vegetable pho at Pho 701.

3) Pho 701: Located on busy Pacific Ave. in downtown, Pho 701 has a lot going for it. Other pho places are a bit away and many downtown employees are constantly searching for a new place to run to on their lunch hour, (myself included!). I’ve been to the restaurant a few times now, and I’ve noticed a trend: dependably delicious food every time, sometimes spotty service. I’d say that I’m more patient than the average person when it comes to food service, but I’ve gotten back to work late a few times while eating at 701 for lunch. Maybe it’s just due to the time I go, but regardless, I will keep going back. All right, let’s focus on the good: employees are super sweet, and a regular-sized bowl of their tofu vegetable pho will run you $6.95. The broth is a little less flavorful than some other local places, but the abundance of fresh veggies used in the soup more than makes up for it. Their vegetable spring rolls are wonderful, and I’ve heard they have vegan bahn mi, but have yet to try it. Pho 701 was formerly a quaint bistro/bar called Seven-Oh-One, and thankfully, the new Vietnamese restaurant has kept up the inviting and modern decor that was left from the prior tenants. It’s a great spot to people watch and sit outside during the summer. Whether you dine in alone, with friends or on a date, you can’t go wrong. Added bonus: full bar (!), and a great happy hour: 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

701 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 627-9225
http://pho701.com/

Taken on a phate (pho date) with my lovely and talented friend Alicia at Pho King.

2) Pho King: Pho King caught my attention before their doors opened for two reasons: 1) the name, (yes, I am a 12-year-old) and 2) the fact that they placed a typed notice to their door that said: “we have 100% vegetarian pho!” Sign me up, pals.

Pho King’s vegan pho contains vegetables, but they’re minimal: just carrots and broccoli. Some are happy with the lesser veggie-filled bowls, but I prefer my pho teeming with ‘em. One thing Pho King’s soup really has going for it: an insanely flavorful broth. I think about their broth days after eating there. Gingery, spicy and perfectly rich, it has to be one of the best I’ve ever had. They also do not skimp on the tofu in their veggie pho! You can’t tell from the picture above, but every bowl I’ve had has been generously filled with their flavorful, tender tofu, and I love it. I sometimes get their spring rolls which are decent, but I have yet to try their tofu bahm mi, which I’ve heard friends rave about. Beware of the non-vegan cream puffs here as well. Pho King is really lacking in the atmosphere department, but that doesn’t sway me at all. My food has always been quick to arrive, they stay open later than most nearby Vietnamese restaurants, service is friendly and prices are just right. Eat in or to-go, Pho King is always an excellent choice.

1020 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Tacoma, WA 98405
(253) 272-6287
 

Other resources: Pho King’s Yelp page. Check out reviews by my friends Roxanne, Leah C. and Susan, (S.N.) for deets on their vegan experiences there: http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-king-tacoma

Pho V&V leftovers, doctored up the next day.

1) Pho V&V: The #1 winner for the best vegan pho in Tacoma for me will always be Pho V&V. Always. I can’t even recall how I first heard of them, but ever since that first visit, I’ve been one of their biggest supporters and tell everyone I know to go there – vegan or not. All of Pho V&Vs phos are MSG-free, the owner loves jazz music so there’s always some playing, their spring rolls (and peanut sauce) are my favorite around, and the proprietors are really nice, albeit quiet people. I had the pleasure of interviewing the owner for an article, (see below), and he has an interesting story. He used to teach music in Vietnam, and jazz has always been his favorite. Cooking was more of a hobby, but when he moved to the US, it became his livelihood. I’m so glad he did move here, because he and his wife understand that vegetarians and vegans need delicious Vietnamese food, too. As I mention in my Yelp review, the trick to optimizing your tofu pho experience at V&V is to order it with extra veggies. If you don’t say “extra veggies,” there won’t be any, so if you’re a purist go that route. I’ve ordered it with extra tofu, too, but found it to be a bit much and thus am fine with the traditional serving. I always have leftovers the next day, and dress it up with the leftover Thai basil, jalapeno, rice noodles, lime and of course, ample Sriracha. The decor is minimal, but the service has always been friendly, quick and the food is downright delicious.

5434 S Tacoma Way
Tacoma, WA 98409
(253) 475-6165

Other resources: Pho V&V Yelp reviews, (including mine): http://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-v-and-v-vietnamese-restaurant-tacoma

My review of Pho V&V in the Tacoma Weekly, (printed March 31, 2010): http://www.tacomaweekly.com/news/view/get_your_pho_with_a_side_of_jazz/

Tacoma vegans: where are your favorite places in town to get pho? Have I been missing out on a spot that I should check out soon?

Getting our Ethiopian fix in Seattle: Lalibela Restaurant

While I love and constantly sing my praises of Tacoma, there are a few things that I wish existed in the city (food-wise) that currently do not. Exhibit 1: a vegan fine dining establishment, a la Portabello in Portland and Sutra or Carmelita north in Seattle. If someone built it, I believe we’d most assuredly come. Exhibit 2: a single Ethiopian restaurant. If you’ve never experienced Ethiopian food but have restaurants nearby in your city, I urge you to visit one on your next evening dining out. Not all of us are as fortunate to have one so nearby!

We Tacomans venture to Seattle for our vegan Ethiopian, because as to my knowledge, Olympia doesn’t have one either. This just makes it an every once in a while treat for us, and thankfully Seattle is teeming with Ethiopian restaurants of varying levels of hole-in-the-wall-ness. I haven’t been to all, (there are approximately one zillion) but our favorites, Queen Sheba and Kokeb, are both lovely in ambiance, service and delectable vegan options.

As we frequent both of those locations primarily for our Ethiopian fix, we wanted to try a new place while visiting this past weekend. Yelp is kind of hard to wade through for a suggestion on this, because almost all restaurants have the same ratings and all have veggie platter options. So I took a shot in the dark and picked a restaurant at random in Columbia City: Lalibela Restaurant.

Lalibela has a whole page dedicated to pure vegetarian/vegan dishes, and they should be pretty familiar to you if you’ve ever tried the cuisine. If not, Ethiopian food is mostly composed of staple ingredients such as potatoes, onions, greens and lentils that all different spicy flavors. Gomen, Foskua, Misir Wot, Fosolia and aptly named Cabbage all don the menu, and my favorite way to eat Ethiopian food at any restaurant, (the veggie combo platter) gives you a little bit of everything on the menu, save for a few dishes. When you share with a friend, you really get a lot of bang for your buck.

The boy and I split this monster veggie combo, complete with warm, soft, sour and delightfully spongy injera. His favorite was hands down the Fosolia, and I was the biggest fan of the Gomen, (collard greens), cooked down with onion, ginger, garlic and other spices. I don’t even want to tell you how fast we ate all of this, plus our injera, plus the injera that the food comes on. It’s that good, and/or we were just that hungry.

If you’re in the mood for Ethiopian and are near the Central District, I think you should definitely check out Lalibela. Though we did pass about five other Ethiopian restaurants on the way up, you can be assured that the food is tasty and vegan at this cozy spot.

Craving more Seattle-based restaurant reviews, event previews and all around vegan goodness? Hop on over to the Seattle Vegan Score blog for all the latest happenings!

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant (Central District)
2800 E. Cherry St.
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 322-8565

Still not tired of vegan Thai: Peanut Sauce

Hey guys! It’s high time I had a guest poster on the blog, and I couldn’t be luckier to have this particular first one.

Anika runs the uber informative, always funny and long-running Seattle Vegan Score blog, when she’s not volunteering at the wonderful Sidecar For Pigs Peace, putting on Chili Cook-Offs or just being a super awesome, sweet professional and vegan ambassador. She ventured down to Tacoma this weekend and hit up a new favorite of mine for this post. Enjoy, and please check out her blog if you somehow haven’t already! It’s been my go-to resource when visiting the Emerald City for years.

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I know my blog is called Seattle Vegan Score, but Tacoma is our littler sister city and it’s vegan-friendly dining scene is growing wildly these days. We should really hang out more often. With that spirit in mind, let me introduce you to a very unassuming joint for Thai-loving vegans in Tacoma: Peanut Sauce Thai Cuisine.

“Don’t judge a restaurant by its strip mall,” has always been my motto – and it came in handy on this recent trip. You’ll find this popular and packed Thai restaurant with a huge vegetarian menu hidden near the Tacoma Mall off of exit 130.


Not everything on the vegetarian menu is automatically vegan, but it is all made without fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste. The staff at Peanut Sauce is pretty veg-knowledgeable, super friendly, attentive, and happy to answer any questions about ingredients.

The menu is enormous, with separate sections for vegetarian curries, noodle dishes, general entrees, soups, salads, appetizers, and house specialties. And you won’t find just standard Thai fare here, you’ll get options like avocado curry, fried basil leaves, and all different types of lime, peanut, onion, garlic, and bean sauces.

I devoured a green papaya salad – where they replace the fish sauce with a fragrant tangy concoction of tamarind and soy sauce. Then I stuffed myself full of one of the house specialties, garlic tofu with crispy fried basil leaves. It really is a dish better shared, but who is complaining?

So friends, when you find yourself further south, or *gasp* shopping at the Tacoma Mall, find yourself at Peanut Sauce Thai Cuisine and you won’t be disappointed.

Peanut Sauce Thai
5003 Tacoma Mall Blvd
# 105
Tacoma, WA 98409-7120
(253) 475-4889

Caffe Dei: the quality coffee/vegan food champs of 6th Ave.

Caffe Dei is the only all-vegetarian/vegan coffee shop/cafe that exists in Tacoma and when it arrived last summer it was to the delight of many a local vegan. With a dual focus on providing some of the best coffee in Tacoma as well as making more vegan and vegetarian food available to the community, Caffe Dei quickly proved itself as an institution in the city.

Taken many moons ago, shortly after Caffe Dei opened. Their 'sammiches' are a definite staple of mine.

 

I’ve interviewed Shuanna Holt and Shane Siegfried (owners of the business) before but that article came out long ago and so much has changed since then. One of the elements of Caffe Dei that I’ve truly come to appreciate and value that you really don’t see everywhere in the city is the fact that the business is always changing, evolving and adding new elements to it for the better. And as a result of this, customers get to experience these great additions as they frequent the shop.

Let’s get one thing out in the open before I go any further: first and foremost, Caffe Dei is a coffee shop. Shuanna has been a barista, coffee shop manager and roaster, and thus has worked every possible job in coffee. Shane has worked in the food industry and in food management for many years as well. Holt’s wanted to own her own business for years, and now with Caffe Dei, she keeps her coffee roots and still is able to cater to local vegetarians, vegans, those who are gluten-free and now to raw foodists as well. The shop is constantly featuring a new coffee roaster, and only features what they feel are the finest beans they can offer their customers, both in espresso form inhouse or in bags of beans to be purchased and enjoyed later at home. The current batch available is from Barefoot in Santa Clara, CA.

I could go on for ages about both the food and drinks created in this place as I’ve tried almost everything they offer (that’s vegan), but for brevity’s sake, I’ll just review one item out of each major menu.

The selection of house drinks at Caffe Dei is rich and feature spins on traditional coffeehouse offerings. The Arancione Moka is a mocha that features dark chocolate, steamed milk and fresh orange zest, the Picante Mocha boasts steamed milk, Mexican chocolate and a healthy dose of cayenne pepper, but my hands down favorite is the Sasquatch. A love child of the Americano and cappuccino, the Sasquatch is the one that I order nearly every time. Composed of just the right amount of foam and milk of choice (they offer regular milk, hemp, rice and soy) and perfectly pulled espresso, the Sasquatch is the ideal espresso-laced beverage. Caffe Dei features loose, fragrant teas galore that are created locally for those who opt out of extreme caffeination, (all can be ordered traditionally or iced) and as of very recently offers a few carefully selected wine offerings available both by the glass and bottle.

Front and center near the register and espresso machine are an impressive spread of pastries. The cafe brings in Seattle-based Macrina Bakery harvest breads for sandwiches, cupcakes, muffins, macaroons and more, some of which are vegan, some aren’t. The other half of their baked goods come from Flying Apron Bakery based in Fremont, (vegan, gluten-free, sometimes sugar-free) and their offerings include scones, cookies, banana bread and others. The cinnamon roll (below) is huge, flavorful and definitely takes a spin on the classic in its gluten-free form, yet definitely exudes a rich, sweet and savory flavor that’s perfect with any cup of coffee, anytime the day.

A cinnamon roll and a Sasquatch.

A few sandwiches are offered daily and most appeal to vegans in multiple grilled forms. Though I’ve tried all of them, I’d have to say that the breakfast sandwich – ciabatta bread with a house-made tofu scramble, vegan sausage, onions, a creamy, savory sauce and Daiya cheese for a bit extra (so worth it) – is my favorite. I don’t just order it for breakfast, I’ve also been known to order it for lunch or dinner. It’s that versatile and downright tasty.

Within the past month, Caffe Dei has extended their menu to be four pages, and two new sections added to it are the quinoa bowls and the raw salads. I sat down not long ago and was treated to a veritable “sampler platter” if you will of a mix of both of these new offerings, and out of them, a couple stood out to my taste buds.

A spread of samples of three new menu items. I ate like a queen this day.

The Kickin’ Cowboy Quinoa Salad combines greens, carrots, cucumber, fluffy quinoa, faux chicken strips, a homemade barbecue sauce, bell peppers and a nice surprise of black beans. Another sauce created for this dish is composed of tahini and garlic and has a thick, creamy texture that gives an even greater depth of flavor to the meal. I thought this bowl delicious, spicy and something that I could see myself consuming often. Though it’s composed of many elements, everything is evenly distributed, offering a filling meal filled with fresh ingredients.

My favorite of the new raw additions was hands down the Diamond Dragon Eye bowl. Filled with greens, cabbage, lightly steamed broccoli, grated carrot, sesame seeds, spiralized zucchini noodles, a tamari/sesame/ginger sauce with a kick and the centerpiece – kelp noodles – this bowl has got a lot of great things going on. This was my first time trying kelp noodles and though they have a unique texture, don’t let them scare you away as they add to the dish. Every element is crunchy, light and all is balanced with the signature savory strong sauce. You have to try it, and soon. Even if you rarely eat raw, this will make you want to try your hand at experimenting with it more. I consider this and the other additions to the raw side of the menu to be some of Shuanna’s most creative and inspired dishes offered at her cafe, and you can truly tell that these are a labor of love and dedication to her own raw foodism.

Last but not least, is an item that I actually have yet to try, but have heard some already rave about: the new dessert item, affagato. Composed of organic ice cream (vegan options available) with fresh shots of espresso pulled directly over them and topped off with a 100% dark Dutch chocolate, the affagato is a coffee + chocolate lover’s dream come true. While some may have coffee and a dessert post-meal, this new item allows you to combine both into one decadently sweet dish.

Caffe Dei also prides itself on being a true green business, and it recycles, composts and tries to create as little waste as possible. And they’re always looking to improve in this arena. On top of this, Shuanna has started some in-shop raw food prep courses (a two-day Raw 101 class and a 4-week intermediate raw course) to teach others how they can create delicious raw meals right in their own homes. As these types of classes are generally only offered north in Seattle, anyone interested in learning more about the raw lifestyle truly has an inspiration and generous resource here in Shuanna.

After reading all of this, you still won’t fully comprehend how wonderful Caffe Dei is until you go yourself. I’m not just talking about the drinks and the food either. The knowledgeable and friendly owners and baristas, the comfortable, open and inviting space, the art that changes monthly on the walls and the regulars who have taken up residence in their chairs also make it worth experiencing. I’m so glad that Caffe Dei is a part of the neighborhood and the community and that they are definitely helping Tacomans realize that vegan food can taste amazing and be served up in an inviting and welcoming fashion.

Caffe Dei is located at 2607 6th Ave. and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call the shop at (253) 572-2550 or check out their Facebook page.

Tacoma’s first vegan restaurant + first restaurant review

I figured that it’d only be right for my first Tacoma restaurant review to be of Tacoma’s first vegan restaurant, Quickie Too. I’ve been to Quickie Too too many times, and for as long as I’ve lived in Tacoma I’ve always lived within walking distance of the building. I’ve written about Quickie Too a few times, but my most detailed account happens to be on my very barren (in terms of number of reviews) Yelp page, and thus I am posting it here, too, ever so slightly updated and modified.

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I love Quickie Too for many reasons, but one of them is because it’s not what anyone expects out of a vegan restaurant. It’s not teeming with salads, brown rice or something seaweed-based. It’s not about vegan fads, being super healthy or exemplifying stereotypes. Quickie Too is vegan soul food at its best, and Tacoma’s so lucky to have it in its backyard.

Prior to visiting QT, I’d experienced Hillside Quickies in Seattle (both locations, one in the U-District and one on Capitol Hill, before it was its current self, Sage Cafe) prior to moving to Tacoma. I would grab to-go sandwiches while on my lunch break near the University and revel in every bite when I got back to the break room. Their sandwiches made me blissful due to their substantial size, abundance of vegan proteins and vegetables and carby rolls. Most were Jamaican-spice laced and came with sides of authentically spicy rice and beans. Some even came with their signature potato salad on them, which affirms that this is not your standard ultra-healthy vegan fare, but is rather soul food in one of its best forms and so rich in flavor.

Tasty, veg-filled wraps are always a good choice. Credit: hillsidequickie.com

Fast forward to three-ish years ago and I’m a deer in headlights in Tacoma. But I always knew that Quickie Too was here. I came with my boyfriend and I got the Crazy Jamaican burger, and he picked the burrito. My burger came piled high with pieces of grilled plaintains, (this sandwich solidified my love for them), sauteed tofu, more of that magical potato salad and another side of rice and beans. His was filled with marinated tofu, heirloom tomatoes, house salsa and other veggies. We also shared a plate of fries, which come piled high and were generously sprinkled with seasoning salt. Every bite was amazing, and solidified our mutual love for the place in this first visit.

Their walls are covered with homages to their favorite reggae artists in the form of old posters, and on most days (I think except Sunday when their staple is jazz via KPLU radio), you will hear some of their favorite reggae joints coming through on the tape player. They’ve also framed many articles written about their restaurant and the owners proudly, so that all who come in can see and read them. As they should. Tables have cloths on them and water and bottled beverages are self-serve. The ambiance isn’t going to blow you away when you walk through the door but it is causal, and doesn’t really matter when you see how well they execute their handiwork. You just come in, grab a menu, sit and the server will take your order when he can.

Since I first visited, I think I’ve tried nearly everything on the menu, and have never once been disappointed…except for a bout of a bad stomachache after some mac n’ yease, but that was just on one occasion. That first Crazy Jamaican burger, along with the BBQ and Big Fish burgers are now my favorites. You can also never go wrong with sides of chili, greens or soup. In all the times I’ve visited I’ve never tried their fresh baked cookies/muffins/cupcakes but that must be alleviated sometime soon.

I’ve brought other vegans, vegetarians and meat-loving carnivores here and all of them have left in a happy state: full, impressed and content. You really can’t go wrong with a meal at Quickie Too, be it lunch, dinner or a Sunday brunch.

The signature brunch plate from last weekend.

A few tips/recommendations from someone who has visited many times:

1) Don’t come here for lunch (or order take-out lunch) unless you have a lot of time for the meal and you and your dining companions are in no hurry. They usually are slammed at this time and food takes a little longer than their already relaxed service style. If you do, be patient, bring a friend you haven’t chatted with in a while or a good book. I promise it’s worth the wait.

2) As stated, yes the service is sometimes slow, but that fact doesn’t affect my review of this restaurant whatsoever. This restaurant focuses most on its excellent quality food and the customer’s experience when they receive the food, so do not judge it based on how quickly your food comes out or the amount of times the server passes when you want to ask something. They’re nice people when you chat with and get to know them, they are just small staffed and trying to help everyone out as best as they can.

3) Do try the Sunday Jazz Brunch. It’s perfect for lazy Sunday mornings when all you want to do is stuff your face with amazing, large-portioned plates of vegan food then crawl back home and lapse into a food coma. Almost every item on the menu comes with a beverage (tea, coffee, orange juice or my personal fave, agave lemonade), a blueberry muffin (sometimes changes if they run out – on one occasion we got some phenomenal banana bread), and there are so many plates to choose from that will satisfy anyone’s tastes. For savory lovers, there are combinations of their mac n’ yease, greens, hush puppies, biscuits and gravy, tempeh bacon and tofu scrambles, and for sweet breakfast types, there are plates of pancakes, French toast and even healthful smoothies filled with fruit. The prices are a bit higher for this occasion, but it’s because you receive so much food for your buck and is entirely worth it.

4) Do bring all of your friends here once you’ve experienced it. More people need to find out about this place, and realize that vegan food is (/can be) amazing.

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This review was written a year ago, but I went back to Quickie Too this past Sunday for brunch and yes, pretty much all of this stands the test of time. I would only add that the signature brunch is my now my Sunday staple, as it’s difficult to choose between all the great dishes I want whenever I go and this plate conveniently has them all. I love seeing the same faces every time I go on a Sunday and also love that it always seems to be crowded on these days. If you have yet to visit, you should. It’s a Tacoma gem and we should treat it as such.

Quickie Too

1324 MLK Jr. Way
Tacoma, WA 98405

(253) 572-4549

website

Look out for my next review of Caffe Dei next week!