Watch out California. Your reign as the vegan-friendly food capital of the world may be coming to an end, as Arizona is now home to some of the best vegan/vegetarian eateries I’ve tried in the past year. After my food warrior pal Ali and I returned from our weekend at the Raw Living Expo, we were ready to put on our comfy pants and start eating our way through the Grand Canyon State.
I’ll get to the all-vegan eateries in a quick second, but let me tell you about Postino Wine Bar for just a moment. The ritual of Sunday brunch is my favorite way to embrace the weekend. Gathering a bunch of friends, sharing a nosh and listening to some live music feeds my soul.
There are three locations for Postino, but we love the Arcadia vibe. It’s an unpretentious mix of hipsters,lovey-dovey couples and groups celebrating birthdays/showers/what-evs.
The menu is not vegan/vegetarian, but there’s an ample selection of panini,salads and bruschetta that can all be veganized. My only caveat will be to those trying to stick to a gluten-free diet, this is not your joint. Ali raved that they served the best bruschetta she’d ever had, and she wasn’t lying. Four big, crusty slices of bread with sweet or savory toppings are served on a cutting board and sliced into four smaller,pieces that can be negotiated from hand to mouth in about three bites. Try the white bean spread as a base for the toppings to keep it vegan. Check out your wine selection on Barnivore to verify that it’s vegan-friendly. The cost: Five people had two drinks each (10 adult beverages),we ordered one bruschetta board, one salad, one bowl of soup and a panini for $97+tip. I was actually shocked that our bill was less than $100 but then again, I’ve lived and eaten out in some of the most expensive cities like New York, San Francisco,Los Angeles and my hometown of Honolulu.
Pomegranate Cafe is everything I’d want a vegan cafe to be. An inventive mix of raw offerings,cooked comfort foods, fresh juices/elixirs and ridiculously divine desserts.
We got down to business and Ali ordered the Breakfast Chimichanga. She could barely finish this monster wrap filled with a well-seasoned tofu scramble, topped with fresh salsa and guacamole.I’ve had more breakfast burrito type things than I can count but this is the one I will remember.
The New Yaw-kah in me craves a simple bagel and caw-fee.Then I spy a raw “everything” bagel on the menu and order it despite my apprehension that I’ll get a flax cracker with Tofutti cream cheese on it. I don’t know how they did it, but the texture of the bagel was moist and kinda chewy, my mouth approved. The bagel is schmeared with a flavorful vegan herbed cream cheese and piled high with a gorgeous mix of sprouts,peppers, carrots,tomato,cucumber,onions and lettuce. I demolished the whole thing, leaving only a faint trace of the red bell pepper hummus on the plate. Go here and eat this, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re trying to end your relationship with gluten like I am.
The only thing I’m sad about is that we didn’t sit outside, because the fluorescent lighting cast on these photos does not do the food justice. The food and juices are beautiful and vibrant. The upside to indoor seating is you can watch the bustling open kitchen and see your food being prepared.
I should have taken another photo after I cut open these chocolate lover’s dream balls. My eyes rolled back in my head, my toes curled, I had to stop myself before creating a”When Harry Met Sally” type scene- it’s a family-friendly restaurant for Pete’s sake.
The cost: Brunch for two- Two entrees,two juices,two desserts,two big thumbs up,full bellies and happy tastebuds $43+tip. When I return to Arizona, I want to eat my way through the entire menu.
Next stop- Chef Sara’s Raw Organic Vegan. We made a special trip out to Cave Creek after seeing Chef Sara’s cooking demo at the Raw Living Expo. During the demo, she made high-antioxidant soups and I was intrigued enough to want to visit
We rolled in on Saturday at about 4:00pm, as the website states they are open from 11a-9p and does not specify that they are closed between lunch and dinner service. As we walked in, Chef Sara greeted us with “I’m sorry girls, we are closed! The lunch service wiped us out and we are out of food!” We’re always expecting that good karma-ching-ching-ching-la-la-lah vibe when we eat at vegan establishments,but we didn’t get it here.”Oh no!” we gasped and debated on whether we could kill two hours or if our appetites would get the best of us. Just as we were backing out the door, Sara said she might be able to put something together for us to-go. Since we had driven all the way out just for this raw dining experience, we were agreeable to any morsel we could get.
Sara boxed up a couple of slices of “quiche”.I’m still not sure what was in this besides a heavy dose of cumin and a sh*t ton of garlic that made my teeth feel fuzzy afterwards. There was a side of kale salad with nuts, seeds and sprouts that Ali enjoyed a lot. For me, the salad was palatable, but nothing special and the quiche missed the mark in terms of flavor balancing and texture. I probably should’ve taken a gander at the Yelp reviews- one reviewer wrote : “Mushroom ‘quiche’ was like a mushroom puree/pudding poured in pie pan… it was raw, weird and not really tasty.” As we were sitting outside with our box lunch, a few more patrons attempted to enter the cafe. The couple right after us was able to get the same “service” we did. Then another small group walked up to the door, and I said to Ali, “I feel bad for them because all they’re getting is the boot!” I could hear Sara and her helper bemoaning the fact that people kept coming in as they were trying to prep for dinner. Perhaps a sign saying “Closed until 6pm” would have been helpful? We grabbed three desserts, took all of it to-go and didn’t try the desserts until later that evening.
The fig pie tasted like a Fig Newton, the apple pie was probably the best thing we sampled but the chocolate mint cup was my biggest disappointment. I LOVE anything chocolate mint but I took one bite of this and spat it out into the garbage. It may be the worst raw “treat” I’ve ever tasted. My guess is that someone forgot to add sweetener. The taste of straight raw cacao powder is terribly bitter and gritty and not something I would want to experience again. Alison thought I was being dramatic, took a bite and had the exact same reaction. The cost: Two slices of quiche+kale salad, two desserts, one inedible chocolate mint cup, no beverages- $64+tip. No, that’s not a typo.
Yes, I understand that raw cuisine can be very expensive due to how labor intensive it is to prepare. Yes, I understand that organic ingredients drive up food costs. No, I do not think the cost of this meal is justified. To be honest, I found the price to be cat-fucking obscene. At $30+/person, I would expect food executed at the level of Matthew Kenney. I am not the type of person that is willing to eat something just because it’s healthy. It has to appeal to me in terms of flavor profiles, texture and presentation; this meal did not. I told Ali that I’m still glad we gave it a shot but we don’t have to fall in love with every vegan restaurant we try.
I ate at True Food Kitchen twice during my two-week stay in Arizona. Not necessarily because I loved it so much, but this restaurant concept is a great bridge between omnivores and vegetarians. Dr. Andrew Weil and Sam Fox have created a brand that ingratiates healthy eating into mainstream dining out. So when our carnivore friends wanted to meet up for happy hour, this spot was an easy compromise.
I could enjoy my frou-frou cocktails and the most gorgeous crudités I’ve seen in a restaurant, while my carnivorous guys ate grass-fed bison burgers. The crudités are served with a tzatziki (not vegan) and black olive dip but they didn’t make it into the frame.
I had the Shiitake+Tofu Lettuce Cups (yum!), Gluten-free Pita+Crudités+Hummus (after scraping off the feta) and the Teriyaki Brown Rice Bowl(forgot to snap a pic) on a separate visit, which were all vegan-friendly.The cost: four appetizers, three cocktails($9/ea)-$63+tip. This restaurant is part of a chain with locations in Arizona,California and Colorado. My preference is always to support local, 100% vegan/vegetarian joints but if you don’t have a True Food Kitchen in your home state, it may be worth checking out.
One of the best parts about being a food blogger is all of the cool people I get to connect with. I met Nicole after she emailed me about an okonomiyaki recipe. When she found out I was visiting her state, she offered to meet up with me for lunch. We headed over to the Phoenix outpost of Green Vegetarian (100% vegan). I was incredibly excited to dig into the “New American Cuisine” after perusing the menu online.
I wanted to taste everything, so I made a lunch out of the “Crab” Puffs, Spicy Buffalo “Wings” and the Artichoke Gratine. This food begs for an ice cold beer, so I was glad to see that they’re in the process of getting their liquor license. The crab puffs were tasty, basically cream cheese filled wonton wrappers, but I didn’t find anything particularly “crabby” about them. The buffalo wings are spicy & salty nuggets of seitan served with a cucumber ranch dressing and the usual accoutrements of celery sticks and such. I happily dipped corn chips into the artichoke gratin which is also very spicy/salty and then realized I should have ordered a salad to balance out all the salt and heat.
Nicole’s adorable daughter,Emi,chose the Mac’n Cheese.
Nicole had the Big Wac, which she said was dee-lish and I’d have to say it looked convincingly like it’s McD’s counterpart.
Save room for dessert and head next door to Nami for the awesome vegan soy soft serve. There’s a menu of signature flavors like the Chai+ Tiramisu (pictured below), Fluffernutter (yumster!) or the Black & Tan or you can have them mix up whatever flavor combo you can dream up. If you’re not down for a frozen treat, choose from the selection of vegan/gluten-free cookies,pastries and other delectable sweet bites.
I didn’t get my fill the first time at Green Vegetarian, so I went back with Ali on my last night in AZ for dinner. Samosas filled with curried potatoes, peas, carrots and fresh garlic wrapped in a thin fried samosa with tamarind dipping sauce were our starter of choice. Fried to perfection!
After I posted a pic of my first visit to Instagram, I got tons of comments saying I haaaaaaad to try the Secret BBQ “Chicken” Sandwich. The sammie is mock chicken with caramelized onions and peppers in espresso bbq sauce with vegan mayo. The bbq sauce is to die for! I was clever enough to order the thyme fries AND a side of tahini coleslaw for a taste/texture balancing sensation. Seriously, the last time I macked down on a sandwich this hard was at Homegrown Smoker in PDX.
My apologies for this crappy photo, but it was dark at dinner and I only had my iPhone. My food warrior pal went for the Kung Pao Bowl which was both exploding with flavor and pretty darn spicy but I still saw the hipsters topping it with more Sriracha to turn up the tasty firestorm.
No, this ain’t that sprouts’n granola-stereotypical-hippie-dippy-vegan place. No, it’s not necessarily “healthy” vegan food. Yes, you will do the happy dance when you eat here. The cost: (First visit) Three starters,one sandwich,one mac’n cheese,two non-alcoholic drinks- $37+tip (Second visit) One starter,one sandwich,one bowl,one bottled soft drink- $28+tip.
And then there was Nourish. The minimalist restaurant is nestled on the ground floor of a live/work complex near Old Town Scottsdale. I loved the overgrown greenery trellising down the balconies that faced the courtyard.
Nourish has something for everyone. Whether you’re raw,vegan,vegetarian, gluten-free or paleo, they’ve got you covered. Order from the enticing list of organic cocktails and pair it with a couple of tapas platters to share.
Any eatery that offers an affordable way for me to nosh on a variety of dishes wins me over every time . Each side dish had a unique flavor and was extremely satisfying. My favorites were the veggie pasta and quinoa tabouli. The black bean hummus could have used a tiny pinch of salt but overall, this was a winner. The cost: Two tapas platters, two cocktails-$45+tip.
Arizona: I love your raw desert energy, the food and all I have experienced on this part of the journey. I’ll be back very soon, that’s a promise.
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