Sacramento’s top 25 vegetarian dishes

No camera trickery: Diner Gyan Parmar proves Kaveri Madras Cuisine’s Mysore Masala Dosa really is a hefty dose of Indian fare.

No camera trickery: Diner Gyan Parmar proves Kaveri Madras Cuisine’s Mysore Masala Dosa really is a hefty dose of Indian fare.

Photo By Shoka

Kaveri Madras Cuisine

1148 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825
Ste. A

(916) 481-9970

It used to be that finding a good vegetarian meal in Sacramento was no easy feat. Sure, we’re nestled in one of the nation’s most fertile agricultural regions, but try telling that to the restaurant owners, who were once content to just nuke a frostbitten veggie burger or serve up an unappetizing plate of pasta and zucchini to those looking for a meat-free option.

These days, however, the region’s growing foodie culture—as well as an increasing tendency to rethink menu options based on such factors as health, the environment, and, of course, animal rights—means that diners are more discerning. And why not? According to a 2008 study conducted by Vegetarian Times magazine, approximately 7 million Americans follows a vegetarian diet, while 1 million are vegan, meaning they consume no animal products at all. Similarly, approximately 22.8 million people say they follow a plant-based, vegetarian-inclined diet.

Whatever your reasons for going meatless, the region boasts myriad options these days. Members of SN&R’s crack editorial team (made up of two vegans, one vegetarian and one former vegetarian, with more than 70 years of vegetarianism between them) hunkered down to select their favorite dishes including Sacramento’s top five (based on a totally unscientific five-point ranking system, of course) as well as another 20 dishes we swear you have to try now.

And while there were a few heated debates—fake meat vs. no fake meat?—all the options on the resulting list fit the most important set of criteria: animal friendly and totally yummy.

No. 1: You’ve never had it so good

Mysore Masala Dosa at Kaveri Madras Cuisine

Never heard of a dosa? Without hyperbole, the Mysore Masala Dosa at Kaveri Madras Cuisine will amaze your mouth—and eyes. For first-timers, when the waitress brings you your order, eyes will bulge: The dosa, a South Indian specialty, is a crispy, savory golden crepe made from fermented lentil flour, and here it’s rolled into 2-foot-long cylinder. Once you’ve composed yourself and realize that you are actually going to eat this thing, you tear off of a piece from an end and—that’s right, silverware be damned, it’s OK to eat with your hands—discover the mélange of spices in the Mysore chutney that coats the interior of this tasty tunnel. You dig deeper, along the way, dipping pieces into the accompanying mint, red pepper and coconut chutneys, as well as the sambar, a spicy lentil soup. And then, pay dirt: In the center, you find the masala—golden potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, mustard seeds. And for just eight bucks, this dish is a treasure. 1148 Fulton Avenue, Suite A; (916) 481-9970; S.S.

Cost: It’s a relative bargain at $7.95.
Creativity: 5—It’s a traditional South Indian dish, but one executed with aplomb.
Health: 4—The lentil dosa and lentil soup provide plenty of filling protein.

No. 2: Put this between your buns
East African Veggie Burger at Tower Cafe

Listen, normally we’d be totally loathe to suggest you dip your toes into the world of vegan eating by noshing on, of all things, a veggie burger. How horribly cliché and predictable, right? Tower Cafe’s East African Veggie Burger, however, completely redefines the notion of what to put between two buns. Chomp down on a vegan patty made up of ground peas, sweet potato, garbanzo beans, and corn mixed with African spices and then coated with sesame and sunflower seeds and topped with super yummy roasted red pepper. Bonus: The burger is accompanied by the most delicious peanut sauce ever to grace the planet. For reals. 1518 Broadway, (916) 441-0222, R.L.

Shoki Ramen House’s Spicy Vegan Ramen has Ietetsu Ueyama loosing his noodle.

Photo By Shoka

Cost: 4—At $11.95, this burger may seem bit pricey, but you’ll be really full, guaranteed.
Creativity: 5—Where else can you find this flavor combo on a vegan burger?
Health: 3.5—Or 4.5 if you sub a salad for the fries. But those fries are super tasty with the peanut sauce.

No. 3: King of the soups
Spicy Vegan Ramen at Shoki Ramen House

There’s usually a wait at this tiny hot spot, and with good reason. Shoki’s Ramen House’s ramen is healthfully constructed to be low in sodium and artificial additives, and filled with slow-cooked flavor. The Spicy Vegan Ramen bowl comes loaded with spinach, noodles, bamboo shoots, seaweed, scallions and more. Customize your soup with additional toppings. We recommended adding corn and fresh tofu from the Sacramento Tofu Company, plus a healthy spoonful of pureed garlic from the jar on your table. 1201 R Street, (916) 441-0011; 2675 24th Street, (916) 454-2411; B.C.

Cost: 5—$7.90, additional ingredients extra.
Creativity: 4—The ramen is traditional, but you can get as creative as you want with your order.
Health: 4.5—The ramen can be modified for gluten-free and other special diets.

No. 4: Do it family style
Vegetarian Combination plate at Queen Sheba

Ethiopian cuisine is meant to be eaten with the hands and shared with friends. A Vegetarian Combination plate provides a meal with plenty to spare, since every savory bite is wrapped in injera, the sourdough flatbread used to scoop up the food. The combo arrives on a large platter; the dishes laid side by side in a colorful wheel of African delicacies. Spicy lentils, chunky potatoes, greens, crisp salad, smoky yellow peas and other vegetables are sautéed and stewed into a medley of tastes you won’t find anywhere else in Sacramento. 1704 Broadway, (916) 446-1223, B.C.

Cost: 4.5—$9.50 for lunch, $10.99 for dinner.
Creativity: 4—The Queen Sheba experience is unique.
Health: 3.5—Injera adds carbs fast.

No. 5: Maximum Mexican food
All-you-can-eat vegan taco night at El Papagayo

All-you-can-eat vegan anything is a restaurant rarity, which makes Wednesdays at El Papagayo extra exciting. For $8.99, diners can enjoy six varieties of vegan tacos: baja tofu, soy chorizo, nopales (cactus), spicy potato, grilled mushroom, and chayote squash. You can try to eat them all, but the unlimited vegan refried beans, Spanish rice, tortilla chips and salsa bar might fill you up first. 5804 Marconi Avenue in Carmichael, (916) 487-7742, B.C.

Cost: 5—$8.99 for all you can eat? Really? Really.
Creativity: 4—There are six varieties of tacos and at least as many fresh salsas.
Health: 3—Overeating is a danger.

The legacy veggie burger
Nutburger at Sunflower Drive In

When it comes to vegetarian food in the Sacramento area, there’s no arguing with the Sunflower Drive In. This tiny walk-up burger joint has been a staple since 1978. The classic nutburger ($5.69), topped with crisp vegetables and vegan special sauce, is perfect with an iced tea, vegan potato salad and the live chickens cruising the parking lot. Sunflower is one of only 30 restaurants in the country to receive a 29 food score from Zagat, the highest level the guide bestowed this year. 10344 Fair Oaks Boulevard, (916) 967-4331, B.C.

More than just slappin’ veggies
Sweet Potato & Avocado Panini at Sugar Plum Vegan

When it comes to meat-free sandwiches, most restaurants are content to slap some veggies (roasted, if you’re lucky) on a French roll and consider their work done. Thank goodness for Sugar Plum Vegan. Not only does it boast an extensive vegan menu (as the name would imply, duh), but the dishes offer a fresh take on standard deli fare. The Sweet Potato & Avocado Panini ($9), for example, may seem like an unusual combination on the page, but here the two starring ingredients are complemented by roasted onions, tomatoes, vegan cheese and a poppy-seed aioli for a filling meal rich in texture and insane taste. 2315 K Street, (916) 706-3309, R.L.

Awesome sauce
Spicy Noodles at Thai Paradise

There’s some kind of magic in Thai Paradise’s Spicy Noodles entree. Maybe it’s something the chef slipped into the garlic-chili sauce—though it’s certainly not fish sauce. Whatever it is, it made this excellently spiced dish of rice noodles, tofu, onions and bean sprouts memorable, as did the vegan-friendly staff. 2770 E. Bidwell Street, Suite 100 in Folsom; (916) 984-8988; S.S.

Fondue, hold the cheese
Vegetarian shabu at Heat Shabu Baru

As much fun to make as it is to eat! A $10 order of vegetarian shabu (Japanese fondue) comes with an array of raw vegetables, tofu, noodles, herbs and rice—all to be cooked at your table in your own personal pots of broth. Not all broth choices are vegetarian, so be sure to get the rundown from your waiter (we recommend the spicy miso and the tom yum). The atmosphere is sleek and modern, and the interactive nature of shabu makes this a fun meal to share with friends. 2416 18th Street, (916) 930-9888, B.C.

You’re gonna get so fat
Mint-chip bon bons at Here’s the Scoop!

Upon the first bite of a chocolate-covered mint-chip soy ice-cream bon bon from Here’s the Scoop!, you will realize that you have may have just found the food that will make you so fat that you’ll have to start wearing jeans with elastic waistbands—and you’re totally OK with that. This dreamy dessert is made in house without a stolen drop of milk from another species. Six bon bons will only set you back $3.50, thereby making the temptation even more difficult to resist. 3051 Freeport Boulevard, (916) 446-4478. S.S.

Don’t forget to take the next bite
Mushroom Reuben at Fat Face

The first time I bit into the Mushroom Reuben ($9) served at the Fat Face cafe tucked away inside Bows and Arrows, I just about zoned out in pure bliss. The sandwich seems simple enough: sautéed portobello mushrooms, tangy sauerkraut and gooey Swiss cheese (for a vegan version, order without), all slathered in a housemade Russian dressing and grilled on hearty walnut bread. Seriously, this sammie is so good, I found myself staring at it, lovingly, between bites, which meant it took a long, long time to finish. And that’s a good thing, 1815 19th Street inside Bows & Arrows, (916) 822-5668, R.L.

Anti-street cred
Veggie tacos special at Chando’s Tacos

Chando’s are kind of the anti-street tacos. The small-plate sized corn tortillas are always warm and never stale. The ranchero-style mushrooms belie any signs of mush. Ditto the green peppers and onions. The tomatillo salsa provides the sweetness, the avocado salsa proffers the punch, and the (upon request) habanero sauce wields the punishment. Garnish with peppery radish and lime wedges, and the three tacos and horchata special at Chando’s sets vegetarians back only $6. The lunch-rush line, however, will cost you at least 15 minutes. But like all Sacramento lines—Gunther’s Ice Cream Shop, La Bonne Soupe Café—there’s a damn good reason. 863 Arden Way, (916) 641-8226, N.M.

Takeout &8212; and kindness &8212; rules
Vegetarian Meal for 2 at Mati’s Indian Eats

Takeout rules at this modest Midtown spot: two generous portions of naan cooked to order (choose garlic); three sides, including palak paneer (spinach and Indian cheese) every other day; rice and veggie samosas; plus some of the spiciest chutneys you’ll ever continue dousing. All for $16.99, which is practically free when it comes to Indian food bartering. And this is not to mention more than one—read: generous—vegan and gluten-free option, such as Mati’s interesting take on aloo gobi. Worth noting: The young guys manning the counter are supremely kind. Also worth noting: I wish they wouldn’t use plastic wrap in the dish trays. 1501 16th Street, (916) 341-0532, N.M.

Hella falafel
Falafel sandwich at Pita Kitchen Plus

Before you roll your eyes because another sandwich landed on the list, remember two things: No. 1, sandwiches are rad; and No. 2, every veg-head needs a reliable falafel dispensary in their mental Rolodex. Thus, the falafel sandwich at Pita Kitchen Plus. It’s perfectly fulfilling with its crispy chickpea-and-herb deep-fried balls nestled in a pita with bits of cucumber and tomato, all drizzled with creamy tahini sauce, and for just five bucks. Hella beats a similarly priced ubiquitous franchise sub. 2989 Arden Way, (916) 480-0560, S.S.

Tofu worth the wait
Curry Tofu Scramble at Fox & Goose

While more restaurants now offer a tofu-scramble option, the resulting dishes tend to be boring—chunks of tofu stir-fried with some sort of dry seasoning mix. Blech. Not at the Fox & Goose, however. Not only does this British pub defy vegetarian menu expectations, it does so with verve. In particular, the Curry Tofu Scramble ($7.95), served with a pickle (!) on the side borrows liberally from the U.K.’s Indian influences for a dish that won’t make you feel like a vegan kid left out of the fun at the adult meat-eaters’ table. Order a side of the tempeh bacon, slather that side of toast with some tangy marmalade, and you’ve got a breakfast worth the Goose’s legendarily long waits. 1001 R Street, (916) 443-8825, R.L.

Death by avocado
Chocolate avocado mousse at Magpie Cafe

Not only does Magpie Cafe’s chocolate avocado mousse not have butter, there’s no cream or eggs, either. Instead, this inventive take on the classic dessert relies on the creaminess of avocado, blended with dark chocolate for a treat that’s at once elegant and sinfully satisfying ($6.50). Too full for dessert? That’s what take-out containers were invented for, silly. 1409 R Street, (916) 452-7594, R.L.

Now, that’s Italian!
Vegetarian moussaka at Latitudes

There’s a giant statue of a 49er panning for gold just off Interstate 80 in Auburn, and I don’t think “vegetarian Greek lasagna” is what a miner would expect just a block away at the beloved-by-locals Latitudes restaurant. Known for its reliable world-food eats, owners Pete and Pat Enoch also have a flair for vegetarian options. Such as this standout: tempeh, instead of minced meat, sautéed in wine, then layered between grilled eggplant, topped with the requisite béchamel sauce. Bake it till the top is crispy gold, then top with seasonal tomatoes, feta and garnish. The earthiness of the tempeh doesn’t detract from moussaka’s traditional richness; you’ll hardly know you’re vegetarian. 130 Maple Street in Auburn, (530) 885-9535, N.M.

Mediterranean feeding frenzy
Happy hour at Kasbah Lounge

We’re not even talking about the drinks. Kasbah is on this list purely on the strength of its delicious and unbelievably cheap happy-hour appetizers. Two dollars buys a generous selection of gourmet olives, a dish of hummus with warm pita bread, or a plate of spicy chickpeas. Big spenders can shell out $3 for a large serving of crisp french fries or fresh-cooked falafel balls with green tahini sauce. Happy hour prices are available Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., and Sundays through Thursdays after 10 p.m. 2115 J Street, (916) 442-4388, B.C.

The fish will thank you
Aden Roll at Kru Restaurant

Yes, vegetarian sushi makes as much sense as decaf coffee. But if you, vegetarian, do happen to find yourself stuck at a sushi spot sans options, hope for the best. Namely, seated in front of Billy Ngo at Midtown’s Kru. For popular chef Ngo or his able staff will certainly not complain to whip up an Aden Roll: tempura vegetables, such as asparagus or sweet potato, folded into mildly sweet sushi rice and soy wrap, topped with thinly sliced, chilled avocado, generous micro greens and a spicy-sweet, chili-glaze sauce. Only $8, so order two. 2616 J Street, N.M.

One of everything
Vegan thali at Kathmandu Kitchen

The rich selection of plant-based dishes at Nepalese and Indian restaurants can paralyze vegetarians with indecision. How to pick just one entree? Kathmandu’s vegan thali provides the solution. For $11.95, you get samosas, Tibetan momos, chana masala, vegetable curry, rice, puri, and an assortment of chutneys and dipping sauces. Everything is served thali-style, on a neatly compartmentalized steel tray. 1728 Broadway, (916) 441-2172,; 234 G Street in Davis, (530) 756-3507, B.C.

Waitress Rachel Wilens shows off how to make your own breakfast burrito at Orphan Breakfast House with the Papas Loco.

Photo By Shoka

The carbo-load breakfast
Papas Loco at Orphan Breakfast House

Sometimes, all you want for breakfast is potatoes. Orphan Breakfast House will never judge. For $8.25, it’ll serve up a plate of Papas Loco, the rosemary-grilled spuds so crazy they’re covered with black beans, fresh salsa, jalapeños, avocado and cilantro. (Plus jack cheese and sour cream, if that’s your thing.) Fresh-made tortillas are rolled up alongside, so you can make your own breakfast burritos. 3440 C Street, (916) 442-7370, B.C.

A holey blast
Lemon-lavender vegan doughnut at Doughbot Donuts

It’s totally unnecessary to go dunking doughnuts by Doughbot Donuts, because these golden rings are gourmet, wholly—or holey, whatever—created from scratch vs. a premade mix. Ranging from $1.50 to $2 a pop, the slew of vegan flavors include the classic (maple) and the unusual (malasada), but the superstars are the seasonal fruit flavors, particularly, the lemon lavender: It will embrace your taste buds with tender sweetness and then deploy its tart blast. 2226 10th Street, (916) 444-5157, S.S.

Damn, that’s hot
Vegetarian wonton soup at Noodle City

The bowl size is troughlike, the soup is the hottest you’ll ever be served, and the wontons don’t fall apart immediately—all reasons to adore the vegetarian wonton soup at Noodle City. This charming little eatery with its equally charming name also includes house-made noodles in the bowl for $6.50—just make sure to order it with vegetable broth. These wontons rule the 916 and 530. 129 E Street, Suite D1 in Davis; (530) 757-2618. S.S.

Endless sweetness
Thai ice tea at Andy Nguyen Vegetarian

For the record, there are plenty of items at Andy Nguyen Vegetarian—downtown Sacramento’s longest standing veg eatery—that are fulfilling and lovely and have enlightened names such as Awakening Mind Chow Fun, to boot. But to its Thai ice tea, let us bow in praise. The beverage is often off-limits to strict vegetarians, since it’s usually made with condensed milk, but Andy’s version of the black-tea beverage is made with either soy or coconut cream. This iced treat is only $3.50 with—wait for it—endless refills. Endless! 2007 Broadway, (916) 736-1157, S.S.

Ain’t no paltry pastry
Raspberry-lemon scone at Azna Gluten Free

A well-made scone is, unfortunately, a rarity for herbivores to find. Azna Gluten Free’s raspberry-lemon scone, fortunately, is both well-made and, now, found. Its patent-pending gluten-free flour mix yields a perfectly palatable texture. The bakery may be located a bit out of the way, but this tasty pastry won’t have you missing the wheat or the dairy of a conventional scone. 2647 Cameron Park Drive in Cameron Park, (530) 677-5810, S.S.