A vegan, a vegetarian and a carnivore walk into a restaurant…

It’s no joke: Sacramentans with disparate eating philosophies can dine on common ground

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

Vegetarians and vegans will tell you that raising animals for food takes a heavy toll on the animals, the environment and human health, and that they refuse to support such an industry. Carnivores will tell you they’re not giving up their steak. So where shall the twain meet? Often, over lunch or dinner, despite their disparate philosophies on food.

But dining together introduces a host of other obstacles. Carnivores often grant “veggies,” with our constant questions about ingredients and cooking methods, a level of impatience akin to that of a parent for a child who eats only one particular brand of peanut butter. Likewise, a veggie can easily become offended, even judgmental, when a friend waves a forkful of beef in her face.

To make tensions even thicker, the number of choices available to vegetarians and especially vegans, who avoid all animal products including milk, eggs and cheese, is sadly limited at most restaurants. On the contrary, being a carnivore is like walking into the culinary equivalent of Costco. The options are limitless, unless the carnivore in question has a trendy new food allergy or a history of bad chicken experiences.

Luckily, we’ve identified places in Sacramento where vegans, vegetarians and carnivores all can dine happily together. We followed certain criteria in making these selections. First, the restaurant must offer at least three obviously vegan dishes that can be ordered without grilling the staff about the ingredients or asking them to omit the sour cream or replace the cheese with avocado—vegans have to do that all the time and it gets tiresome. So we want them to be able to walk into a restaurant and order something straight off the menu, no questions asked. Second, the meat must be real. We’re not kidding. A couple of restaurants in the Sacramento area serve soy or wheat-based mock meat—which is heaven for veggies, but can be nauseating for carnivores.

Keeping these criteria in mind, we’re pleased to announce Sacramento’s top five vegan/vegetarian/carnivore-friendly restaurants.

5. Hamburger Mary’s

Many people erroneously think that vegetarians and vegans dislike greasy, unhealthy food like French fries and burgers. But we crave pub grub just as much as the average meat-eater. That’s why Mary’s is a good choice for all eating attitudes. All of the special burgers can be ordered with a veggie burger instead. Most veggie burgers are made with egg, milk and/or cheese and are not vegan, but Mary’s offers a version that is vegan and clearly says so. The meatless chili is vegetarian and can be vegan without the cheese. There’s also a cheese sandwich for vegetarians and a veggie sandwich and garden-variety green salad for vegans. To say nothing of the French fries, which can be ordered regular or extra-garlicky. Granted, we may be relaxing our first criteria, but we’re willing to compromise when there is grease and French fries for all. 1630 J Street, (916) 441-4340.

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

4. Tapa the World

Two words: vegetarian paella. You need a minimum of two people to order it, but assuming a vegan, a vegetarian and a carnivore walk into Tapa the World, it shouldn’t be a problem. Be sure to ask for the vegetable stock, as the dish is oddly offered with chicken stock. Other fine vegan choices are the vegetable pasta with tomato sauce, the flavorful champiñones al ajillo (mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic, parsley and white wine) and the pimientos de padrón (a grab bag of green peppers with olive oil and Kosher salt) or the mixed salad with Spanish olive oil and aged sherry vinegar. Cheese and egg-eating vegetarians have a few more options with the “poor man’s” potato cake, roasted veggie sandwich with Idiazabal cheese and the delicious pimientos del piquillo rellenos—roasted red peppers stuffed with grilled eggplant, zucchini caramelized onions and Manchego cheese. Tapa the World offers a variety of meat options, including braised tri-tip; leg of lamb; a Kobe beef sandwich; and paella with seafood, chicken and chorizo. Several of the meats at Tapa the World are described as “free-range” or “naturally raised” giving carnivores the opportunity to make a more animal-friendly choice. The dessert menu includes sorbet for vegans and impossible-to-ignore fruit empanadas with ice cream for everyone else. 2115 J Street, (916) 442-4353.

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

3. Dragonfly

Even the most passionate carnivore might consider going veggie once in a while after eating the grilled organic tofu appetizer at this popular Asian-fusion restaurant. Firm in consistency and drizzled with a sake soy glaze, the tofu appetizer is truly delectable both in flavor and texture. Salted edamame and vegetable spring rolls are other universal appetizers. On the entrée menu, several noodle choices are vegan and the organic tofu tempura stack with sautéed vegetables is okay for vegetarians (and vegans if you break rule #2 and ask them to hold the pesto sauce). The sushi menu even offers a veggie roll with avocado and cucumber. Assuming the tofu wasn’t enough to convince your carnivorous friends to sway their allegiances, they will find a variety of meat options from Bombay beef to grilled seabass to Thai chicken to a dozen sushi rolls. 1809 Capitol Avenue, (916) 498-9200.

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

2. Celestin’s

The Celestin’s menu contains five words that make the .2 percent of the population that are vegan jump with joy: “All vegetarian entrees are vegan.” Even more important, there are three such entrees, and all are distinctive and delicious. Vegetarian gumbo is a spicy and filling mixture of fresh veggies topped with fluffy white rice. Curry vegetables and Creole vegetables are mildly spicy variations of one another served with rice and black beans. Other sides and appetizers that appeal to all eaters include the tomato-avocado salad, sweet potato fries and organic green salad. Vegetarians can enjoy the corn cakes topped with black beans or the black bean soup with green onions and sour cream. There’s plenty for meat eaters too. The variety of gumbos appears endless with combinations of kielbasa, andouille sausage, fish, shellfish and chicken, and entrees like grilled rib-eye steak, crio (marinated, deep-fried pork) and the Cuban sandwich provide other options. There is no vegan dessert option at Caribbean-themed Celestin’s, but trust us when we say nobody will care if you order sweet potato fries as your final course. 1815 K Street, (916) 444-2423.

Photo By Jeremy Sykes

1. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

If we veggies ever meet P.F. Chang we’ll slap him on the back, repeatedly. Here you’ll find a panoply of vegan entrees and appetizers, all with the ingredients listed so there is never a doubt about what you’re eating. The appetizer section features four delicious vegan choices: spring rolls, lettuce wraps, and steamed or pan-friend vegetable dumplings. The vegetarian entrée section contains nine mostly-vegan entrees, among which the coconut-curry vegetables and the ma po tofu are standouts. The meat entrees on the extensive menu are too many to name, but carnivores will find dozens of familiar dishes like chicken chow mein, kung pai shrimp and mu shu chicken. The menu lacks any vegan dessert options, but we consider this a small price to pay for a place where a vegan, a vegetarian and a carnivore can enjoy the blissful silence of three friends deciding what to order. 1180 Galleria Boulevard, Roseville, (916) 788-2800; 1530 J Street, (916) 288-0970.