Monday, August 23, 2010

El Paraiso Mexican Grill

I was recently in Everett at dinner time and stumbled upon El Pariaso Mexican Grill. I was initially a little skeptical about vegetarian options at a "grill" but a quick glance at the menu calmed my fears and excited my appetite.

While we waited for a table, the host encouraged us to go over to a corner of the restaurant that was occupied by a little old Mexican woman cranking out fresh hot tortillas. In an unexpected and totally awesome move, she pulled two off the hot griddle and slathered them in butter and fresh salsa, rolled them up and handed them to us. Off to a great start!

Goodness gracious the fresh tortillas were delicious

The next excellent move was the presentation of the hot tortilla chips with good homemade salsa AND a dish of refried beans. We were giddy with pleasure and surprise.

The vegetarian portion of the menu was varied and had nearly a dozen options on it. I was stoked to have the unusual (for a vegetarian) dilemma of having to choose between multiple excellent looking dishes. I ended up getting a combo that included a Gordita (also called Sope), an extra thick corn patty covered in beans and other delicious toppings, and a spinach enchilada in tomatillo sauce.

The Sope was outstanding. I've had versions of these in the past that were pretty lame due to an excessively greasy deep fried flavor, but the sope at El Paraiso was just a thick version of their super fresh, super delicious tortillas. The spinach enchilada, also made with the fresh tortillas, was fantastic as well.

This style of non-region specific Mexican food can really be hit or miss, and El Paraiso is really a hit. Everything that came our way was super delicious and fresh, and all of the tortilla based dishes especially really shone.

It's also worth mentioning that the wait staff is exceptionally friendly, seamless and fast. So good in fact that I felt compelled to tip way over normal just they were doing their job so well.

Great place!

El Paraiso Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 16, 2010

Qwest Field

I recently went to a football game at the surprisingly lovely Quest Field. It was a gorgeous warm evening and the views from the stadium were awesome. There were some particularly poignant moments in the game:
  1. When a live hawk flew from one handler to the next amidst fireworks as the Seahawks entered the field
  2. When a member of the Army sang the Star Spangled Banner
  3. When the SeaGalls first entered the field in their tiny sailor suits
However, I have a personal message to Quest Field: You suck for vegetarians!! I was all set to eat myself an expensive, junky but still somewhat complete dinner and walked every level of the stadium looking for something satisfying to fit the bill.

What I found that I could eat:
  1. Garlic Fries
  2. Pretzels
  3. Popcorn
  4. Crappy small, pre-packaged cheese pizza slice
  5. Nachos with just chips and cheese sauce
  6. Pre-assembled veggie burger with JUST bbq sauce and a whole wheat bun. Gross.
This list might look like a lot of options to a vegetarian in a small town someplace, but for Seattle, for a new stadium with slew of *restaurant* type food establishments, it is dismal.

Some suggestions (because I'm sure Quest food officials are big Tofu Hunter readers):
  1. Kid Valley: Put a tasty veggie burger on your menu! You have one at your restaurants, why not at the stadium?
  2. Mexican Place: Make bean burritos! Make bean tacos! Beans are cheaper than the chicken you have in everything you make.
  3. Thai Place: Make something, anything, without fish sauce. Ideally have a few veggies in it and some tofu if you're feeling crazy.
  4. BBQ Place: This is actually where the veggie burger is. My suggestion: Put something on the veggie burger other than BBQ sauce. Some tomatoes? Salsa? Cheese? Lettuce?
  5. Sausage/Hot dog places: VEGGIE DOGS. The vendors outside the stadium all have them! I would have gone apeshit for a veggie dog covered in cream cheese and sauerkraut.
  6. Noodles of the World Place: How about Italian style vegetarian pasta? Spaghetti with marinara? Fettuccine Alfredo with steamed veggies? How about Chinese style noodles stir fried with veggies? Pasta is the go-to-item for vegetarians in a non-accommodating meat world, why does every pasta dish you make need to have meat in it???
  7. Stadium Fare: Add veggie dogs to your hot dog list, and add some beans to your nachos.
I realize that the typical football crowd might not be especially interested in tofu and beans, but we are a progressive, diverse city and I am pretty sure that of the 60,000 people in the stadium not every single one was a meat chomping tofuphobe.

For now, I'd advise a vegetarian who is going to the stadium and wants to partake in the food culture of the game to get yourself a veggie dog from one of the dozens of well appointed hotdog stands in the streets outside the stadium. I wish I had. Instead I worked my way through a beer and a 3 foot long bag of kettle corn and went famished to my late night savior, Rancho Bravo on Capital hill, after the game to eat a burrito.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mae Phim

I had heard good things about Mae Phim, the inexpensive hole in the wall Thai place near the viaduct downtown, and went recently for lunch.

The restaurant is small but cute, and my dining companion and I ordered tofu Phad Prik King, green beans in chili sauce, and Phad Kee Mao. We ordered it all vegan, with soft tofu.

And therein, I believe, lay a problem. The dishes we ordered were supposed to be, by nature, spicy and chili pepper oriented. The waiter didn't ask for a spice preference, and I forgot to mention it. What arrived was incredibly bland and totally void of nearly any interesting spice or flavor. I think the waiter made a common assumption: A picky vegan who comes into a Thai restaurant and removes all sorts of elements of Thai food (fish sauce, egg, etc), and then special requests their tofu unfried, is probably going to be a big complainer baby who doesn't like spicy or complex tasting food. I understand why that assumption is often made, but it just isn't always true.

Phad prik king before

I had to gather chili sauces from all corners of the restaurant to add some much needed heat and flavor to this dish: Sriracha, chili garlic paste, and my favorite dry roasted chilis in oil.

Phad prik king after, ahhh, much better

Similar story with the Phad Kee Mao.

I really don't feel like I got a fair assessment of this place. I would like to go back and tell the waiter to make my food good and spicy. I would also like to go back with a meat eater and hear what they say about the un-veganized dishes. If you've been there and have an opinion, I'd love to hear it!

Mae Phim Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 2, 2010

Papaya Vietnamese Cafe

My dining companion recently rode his bike around Mt Rainier, and as we were driving back home to Seattle he had some pretty specific food desires to balance his calorie deficit and the fact that he had been chowing down carbs all day: fresh, simple, hearty, vegetarian. I also had some pretty specific desires to balance the fact that I had also been chowing down on carbs all day, but had had about zero exercise: fresh, healthy, vegetables.

Vietnamese food is my favorite standby for food that is both fresh and light but also filling and savory. We decided to stop at The Landing in Renton and give Papaya Vietnamese Cafe a try.

We started with some tofu coconut salad rolls. They were awesome... tofu, strips of fresh young coconut, and some bits of crunchy fried something that really gave the rolls some nice texture.

For a main dish, I ordered something I've never seen anywhere before: Vegetarian Tofu Pho, with shredded zucchini and enoki mushrooms substituted for the noodles. It was the PERFECT solution to my desire for a bunch of veggies, and was a pretty dang impressive bowl:

Look at those beautiful shredded zuke/enoki "noodles"!

The quantity was huge, the broth was vegan and highly flavored (described on the menu as a "fruit and veggie broth") there were tons of herbs and they have the option (upon request) of fresh tofu instead of fried.

My dining companion ordered spicy lemongrass tofu bun. If you order this, be sure to specify that you'd like vegan sauce, or else you'll get fish sauce. If they say they don't have a vegetarian sauce, request a bowl of the vegan pho broth to dump on top.

The downside was that it wasn't exactly a cheap meal, especially since we're kind of spoiled on cheap Vietnamese food around here. Mine was $8 for veggie pho, plus $2 for the substitution of the vegetables for noodles (they call it the "DLite" option), and then an additional $1 for "spicy". All said, it was an $11 bowl of soup minus tax or tip.

But wow, what a nice thing to get such a huge and tasty vegetable hit!

The Landing has the very definite feel of a manufactured, new, planned by executives, "community hangout." That said, it was successful at being that and was a super pleasant place to eat... very clean and safe feeling and with tons of families and well behaved folks strolling around, eating, shopping, etc.

Papaya - Vietnamese Cafe on Urbanspoon