Monday, November 5, 2012

El Camión

I had long heard about the mystical "best taco truck in Seattle" taco truck in the Home Depot parking lot in the far north (hinterland, from my native perspective) of Seattle. The truck is El Camión, and I am pleased to report that it was indeed fantastic.

If a taco truck can be judged by its salsas (and it can, IMHO), El Camión is in a very special league. In addition to the usual roasty red, and tomatillo green, and creamy thin avocado sauce, El Camión has a handfull of other hard to describe but fantastically delicious homemade salsas, all available on a "take as much as you desire" salsa bar (YES!).

I was hungry, and never fully knowing how large a taco truck taco is going to be, ordered four vegetarian tacos. I was shocked at the heft of the food I received. The hearty (vegan?) tacos were covered in stewed black beans, grilled veggies, and pico de gayo. I added a generous amount of salsa and pickled onions and found that two tacos made a filling meal.

El Camión is totally going to be a requisite stop any time I find myself in that neck of the woods! (An internet search indicates that there are additional locations in SODO and Ballard... got to investigate.)

El Camión on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 29, 2012

Empire Espresso

It has been years since I first reviewed Empire Espresso, the now thriving Columbia City coffee shop and neighborhood hangout. In that time, I more or less transitioned out of my previous line of work (the work that brought me and my laptop to coffee shops for hours at a time), and I sort of forgot about many of my favorite old haunts, including Empire.

That is, until recently, when some neighborhood friends rented the space (including the outside courtyard) for their absolutely gorgeous wedding reception. And at a point at this reception, late in the evening when the guests were euphoric with good wine and the stars of the late summer night, the ever handsome Tino came through the crowd with his fresh, hot, cornmeal waffles.

I don't usually get excited about standard breakfast foods, but the taste I had the night of the reception inspired a recent Saturday morning return. The waffles are a delightful dimension of the evolution of Empire Espresso. Now, in addition to doughnuts and freshly pressed paninis, Empire cranks out slightly sweet, slightly salty, cornmeal waffles all day long. On the weekdays, they have a standard menu with both sweet and savory toppings. On the weekends, diners dress the waffles themselves from a high quality topping bar (butter, strawberries, syrup, cinnamon and sugar, shredded coconut, bananas, etc).

Empire Espresso also continues to make one of my favorite coffee drinks, the cayenne mocha. It is made with good chocolate and includes just enough heat to create a slowly building warmth.

How wonderful!

Empire Espresso on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 22, 2012


There is a new fine dining option on Vashon Island: Nirvana (recently revamped with new decor and a new global menu to replace its previous Indian menu). I had the recent pleasure of dining out here with two lovely family members who live on the island. We began with drinks. The two ordered white wine and I ordered a rose mojito, which was a beautiful shade of pink and had the not-too-sweet flavor of a cocktail made with fresh lime juice and real mint. Also on the table was this unusual appetizer of hard bread sticks in a small stemmed glass of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

True to my standard tendency, I ordered contrary to every instinct I had and ultimately chose poorly. The reason for this poor choice was that, while there were many tasty sounding vegetarian dishes on the menu (pasta with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella, curries, veggie burger, tabbouleh, salads), the vegan, gluten-free, roasted vegetable tamale with homemade mole just sounded like the vegetarian pièce de résistance. And even though I wasn't in the mood, and I often don't like restaurant mole, and every ounce of my being protested, I ordered it.

And it was not so great. Unfortunately, the tamale itself was a rather large and dense role of polenta that, rather than encasing a delicious interior filling, was simply speckled with small bits of what I presume to have been the roasted vegetables. The mole itself spared itself my usual complaint of "too sweet," and had a rich and relatively balanced flavor (though a bit heavy on the salt). The salsa on top was tasty, but the avocado promised on the menu was absent.  For the price of this meal ($14), I would have really appreciated a small pile of beans (also for a little added protein), and maybe some sauteed greens or veggies or something to break up the monotony of the polenta log.

All that said, both of my dining companions ordered the Tandoori chicken, and graciously shared the vegetarian bits (roasted potatoes, broccolini) with me and they were deliciously roasted and spiced. I suffered felt meal envy throughout the entire meal, and suspect that the rest of the menu at Nirvana is actually quite delicious.

The new decor was classy, and the entire staff was beautiful and entirely friendly. I am excited for new and varied dining options on the island, and I hope that these guys work out the kinks and thrive!

Nirvana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Samurai Noodles

I have rediscovered Samurai Noodles near Uwajimaya. Last time I reviewed it, I was pleased with the presence of a vegetarian option (Tounyu), but turned off at the intensely seaweed-y, ocean-y flavor of the broth. I recently gave it another try, and was delighted to taste that the presence of seaweed has been knocked down to a couple of benign strips of dried nori. 

I also discovered that the key here to a *really* tasty bowl of ramen is to order a side of Samurai's homemade roasted chili sauce and stir that into the broth. My order of choice is now Tounyu with a side of chili sauce, and a ton of bright pink ginger slices added at the table.

As before, the restaurant itself is tiny and totally appropriate for a solo diner or a date, but probably not good for a big crowd.

Samurai Noodle on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bi Rite Creamery

Living in Seattle, I am somewhat spoiled by the phenomenon of small batch, locally sourced, fancy pants ice cream. I appreciate the interesting flavors, and the artistry and the small creamery mentality for sure, but sometimes, in a land so flooded with high quality, amazing ice cream, I come to *expect* these things as they've become almost commonplace. An ice cream cone that really STANDS out seems to be a rarer and rarer occurrence, but my mouth waters now reflecting on a transcendental cone that I ate in San Francisco.

In a similar fashion to our local beloved creameries, the Bi Rite Creamery in the Mission had a line out the door and snaking down the block when I paid a call. I waited in the lovely balmy afternoon (summer seemed to have hit San Francisco before we got ours!), watching cone after delicious cone emerge from the shop.
Photo from

Bi Rite has plenty of interesting indie-shop style flavors: browned butter pecan, toasted banana, peanut butter malt, Mexican chocolate, ginger, etc, but I chose my old standard: salted caramel. One lick nearly brought me to my knees. This was not the excessively salty, cloyingly caramely salted caramel that we know around home. This ice cream was mildly sweet, mildly salty, and nearly bitter with the rich deep brown flavor of burned sugar. I hadn't tasted salted caramel ice cream like this since I first ate it (Dulce de Leche) in Argentina. I have to admit, I stopped walking and focused every ounce of my being around this ice cream cone, tasting it with full awareness to the very last melty drop.

A scoop of Bi Rite Salted Caramel ice cream.  Photo from

Bi-Rite Creamery and Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Green Chile Kitchen

One eating goal in San Francisco was to find some interesting Mexican style food. I discovered the Green Chile Kitchen by way of their really enticing website, and was excited to visit and sample some of their plentiful and intriguing vegetarian options. 

There is the potential for some confusion upon entering the restaurant (which, btw, is lovely, light, and with a rustic modern artsy feel), because one is supposed to first peruse the menu, then order, then seat oneself. This order wasn't immediately clear to me and I caused a little kerfuffle but ultimately all  was well. 

Sat at one of the large communal tables and started with some drinks. I had a sangria, and my dining companion had a beet margarita that stole the show.  The slight hint of earthiness paired exquisitely with the tequila and citrus and the color was spectacular. If you are a guest at my house this summer, you will likely be served a copycat as I attempt to perfect the recipe.

The rest of my meal sounded awesome but was slightly disappointing. I ordered a plate of three soft tacos on homemade blue corn tortillas, one of which was tofu in red chili sauce, two of which were filled with mixed vegetables. My general complaints were that the tortillas were single ply, fell apart immediately, and lacked any of that warm, chewy pliability that a corn tortilla generally has. Also, that the veggie filling consisted of just zucchini/summer squash chunks, the same as the veggie side that came with my tacos. I felt that, for the price, I was served an excessive amount of relatively plain squash.

I think I might chock my slight dissatisfaction up to ordering poorly. My dining companion's meat dish was amazing, and I think the Green Chile Kitchen has more in store for vegetarians than what I sampled.

Green Chile Kitchen and Market on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dolores Park Cafe

While in San Francisco, I took a massive bike ride that took me to the Mission District at lunch time. My intention was to visit Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant, and I was incredibly dissapointed to find I had arrived between lunch and dinner and the restaurant was closed. I knew I was in a hotbed of San Francisco's interesting restaurants, and wanderered around trying to find something else to meet my high and excited expectations. What I found was a ton of attractive, hip young people sipping wine and drinking beers from maison jars, eating crepes and charcuterie that exceeded what I had hoped to spend on lunch.

My bike ride had left me deliriously hungry, and after reading a handful of menus that didn't quite fit the bill I stumbled into the Dolores Park Cafe feeling as though I had settled on mundane sustenance and had failed in uncovering a good mission experience.

It turned out the Dolores Park Cafe actually made a darn good sandwich. I ordered a surprisingly satisfying caprese like sandwich with thick slices of fresh mozzarella, hearty ripe tomato slices, and a big helping of greens dressed in a homemade balsamic dressing. It came with some potato chips that I devoured, and unlimited water flavored with orange slices, which I also gulped with heavenly abandon. The environment was modern without pretense, and the clientele included both the hip and the matronly (and that lovely combination of the two).

I would still like to return to the mission with a better plan, but this decently priced and tasty sandwich certainly powered me through the rest of my ride like a champ and I enjoyed sitting at my outside table watching the people come and go.

Dolores Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ramen Underground

The tofu hunter spent a short and delicious period in San Francisco, a city that never fails to provide interesting vegetarian fare! 

One of my favorite meals from this recent trip was at Ramen Underground, a teeny, tightly packed ramen house on the border of Chinatown and the financial district. I was seated with a bunch of strangers at a postage stamp of a table and ordered by filling out an ordering sheet. My order: vegetarian broth, tofu, veggies, and chili paste.

It was a nearly perfect bowl of ramen. The tofu was fresh and soft. The veggies were abundant and fresh. And the house-made chili paste was slightly spicy, deliciously roasty, and out of this world delicious (I was stoked to see that it wasn't just a blob of sambel olek).

My only complaint was that this amazing bowl eventually came to an end.

Ramen Underground on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Shanghai Garden

This is a small rant against the Shanghai Garden where I recently stopped for lunch. The Shanghai Garden has full-paged lunch menu, which includes a huge variety of entrees with rice and soup for a more "lunch friendly" price than the traditional dinner menu. After scouring this menu I found nothing with tofu. I asked the waitress if there was any dish in which tofu could be substituted for the meat. To this she rudely flipped my menu open to the "bean curd" section and pointed. Apparently these were my options.

I foolishly ordered the Szechuan bean curd (for some reason I had high hopes, even though I've eaten it before and it is excessively sweet and not very szechuan-y at all). It was as before... fantastically textured and fried custardy tofu in a cloyingly sweet cornstarch sauce. The obnoxious part of the story is when my bill came and I saw that I had been charged for a dinner entree (I was, after all, ordering from the Bean Curd section on the dinner menu), and that my humble lunch, with rice, was $15 (with tax and tip).

Let me be a little whiny for a minute: It really didn't feel fair that my lunch was significantly more expensive than the lunches of the people eating meat all around me. Tofu is cheaper than meat. Most of the lunch entrees could have easily subbed tofu for the meat. If I were prone to feeling sorry for myself as a vegetarian, I would have after this meal because there was an injustice done (minor as it is in the scope of the world) where I, as the vegetarian, got the short end of the stick.

Shanghai Garden on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Marination Station

I honestly don't know how it took me so long to visit the Marination Station (it is located upstairs in the QFC complex at Broadway and Pike). I had read about and heard about their "sexy tofu" tacos and finally stopped by to give them a try.

The Marination Station is the brick and mortar sister of the Marination truck, which drive around town selling items from an unusual Korean/Mexican fused menu. The truly vegetarian choices are a little scant (they use shrimp paste in their often used kim chee, so if you don't mind shrimp paste the menu expands). I ordered two sexy tofu tacos (at $2.50 a piece, not quite in the realm of super inexpensive taco truck prices, but they really are in a whole different league), and am here to say that the hype was warrented!

The tofu was well marinated, lightly seared (not deep fried, awesome!), and on fresh warm tortillas with vinegary slaw, pickled jalapenos, onions and a creamy, garlicky, gingery sauce. I could have easilly doubled the size of this order and finished my plate.

The meat menu looked amazing too.

Marination Station on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Taqueria El Asadero

This is the long-existing taco bus near the Genesee area Safeway on Rainier Ave. This place has its perks. To begin with, they will make vegetarian versions of most of their menu (and even have vegetarian tamales!) I ordered 3 vegetarian tacos and they were packed with rice, refried beans (likely including lard), cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. They tacos were very inexpensive.
Once you get your order, there are a few awesome things in the bus. For starters, Taqueria El Asadero still manages their salsa old-school style: in squeeze bottles scattered around the bus and on the outside tables where you help yourself to all you want. For a salsa lover such as myself, this is a real bonus. Second, the radishes, limes, and pickled jalapenos and carrots also exist in a "serve yourself" style dispensary. I love these additions to the taco, and it is very satisfying to have full access!
Taqueria El Asadero on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 7, 2012


This post is going to be kind of a tease, and I apologize for that. But this huge delicious pizza, with a thin chewy crust and tasty toppings, came from a secret pizza lair (appartment) where a dedicated pizza chef spends the weekends cranking out pizzas and selling them for a good price (cash only) to people who ring his doorbell. I love the fact that there is a person spending their Friday nights in their tiny steamy kitchen, perfecting their pizza-making passion by cranking out high quality pizza, selling it for a reasonable price, and making a few bucks in the process. 

Of course it makes me wonder what else is out there! No doubt in a city as full of food-oriented, creative, discerning, adventurous eaters as Seattle there must exist many little pseudo businesses where passionate cooks are experimenting and sharing the fruits of their labors.

(I would love to share the details of this delightful little pizza source, but am not going to at this point because I don't want to cause them any trouble.)

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Homegrown is one of the delightful sandwich shops that makes an effort to have some interesting, unusual, delicious vegetarian options (no "lettuce, cucumber, sprouts" here!). I went to  the Homegrown on Capital Hill one recent stormy night and was thrilled to see the following sandwich on the menu: roasted beets, pickled onions, wild greens and cheese (menu says goat cheese, but they substituted Beechers flagship cheddar at my request). It was a perfect mix of sweet and juicy beets, the sharp vinegary tang of the onions, spicy peppery freshness from the greens, and salty, savory cheese. 

I also indulged in some tasty, fresh homemade fries liberally sprinkled with dill. They came with homemade tarter sauce.

In addition to making an awesome sandwich, Homegrown is dedicated to doing things as sustainably as possible, and is happy to accommodate vegan and gluten free diners. Definitely worth a visit!

Homegrown on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Open Water Swim Classes!

It's the time of year when I do a little cross advertising for Seattle Open Water!
Lots of classes offered this year, including some morning sessions. We love new triathletes and folks just transitioning into the open water, so please pass it on!, and we also have a facebook page:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ok Noodles

I have been chasing the restaurants at this location on the Ave for years (starting with Veggie Veggie, then What da Phad, and now Ok Noodles) and seemed to always arrive when the restaurant was closed and transitioning. So one recent evening, after seeing the bursting at the seams, super line spilled onto the street at our intended Thai Tom, my dining companion and I decided to instead sate our appetites a few doors down at Ok Noodles.

Ok Noodles now serves meat, but maintains a huge menu of vegetarian options (including not only tofu, but many fake meats).

We ordered garlic tofu and phad kee mao. The garlic tofu had a tasty pile of crunchy browned garlic bits on top, but this was really the only interesting thing about the dish.

It's possible that we had our expectations set too high by way of our initial anticipation of Thai Tom, but the food at Ok Noodles seemed mostly unnoteworthy.

Of course it is always a welcome thing when a restaurant makes a large accommodation to vegetarian and vegans, but Ok Noodles was kind of a ho-hum disappointment. If I had been in a small town or shopping mall or some other culinary desperate situation, I would have probably been really stoked to find this place with their large vegetarian menu, but just steps from some pretty danged good Thai food, it was a little harder to appreciate.

Ok Noodles on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bar del Corso

I have long been eager to eat at Bar del Corso on Beacon Hill, and recently had the chance for a celebratory dinner.

We started with fried risotto balls. They were every bit as scrumptious as that sounds... creamy, pink risotto with a mozzarella center fried in a crisp cornmeal crust. I could have eaten a whole lot of these!

Bar del Corso has a frequently changing seasonal menu, and it was unfortunate that the menu for our visit was a little heavy on the meat (for example, a salad with tuna heart), and I did not feel inclined to pay for a somewhat pricy salad made to order without all of its expensive and interesting components ($9 plate of just radicchio? no thanks). None the less, managed a fantastic meal, and there was a fully vegetarian spinach dish on the menu. It was exquisite.

The dish was a huge mound of lightly sauteed spinach with roasted hazelnuts, golden raisins and browned garlic.

We ordered two pizzas, one with braising greens, tomatoes and smoked mozzarella (copa on the side).

And another with fresh mozzarella, spicy peppers and rapini (hold the anchovies).

Both were outstanding Napoleon style pizzas. I am sometimes unsatisfied with this style of pizza because the center tends to disintegrate into a pile of mush and the toppings are often extremely scant (leaving some slices with nothing but melting crust and a smear tomato sauce), but the toppings here were plentiful and well distributed. I was especially taken by the presence of green veggies on both of these pizzas. Both the greens and the rapini got a tasty brown char in the hot pizza oven that was really special.

The pizzas were quite a bit larger than we had expected, and we had ample leftovers (always a treat!).

My main advice for visiting this place as a vegetarian or vegan would be to check in ahead of time and make sure that either the daily menu was to your liking, or that you were prepared to pay full price for a dish that had been modified to remove its expensive (animal) parts.

Bar del Corso on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 11, 2012


I recently visited "Spiced, Truly Chinese Cuisine," a Chinese restaurant in Bellevue where I finally got a taste of ma la, the spicy, numbing sauce made from the Sichuanese peppercorn. My dining companion and I arrived just before 8pm, and the mid-sized restaurant was packed to the gills with Chinese people eating big bowls and plates mounded with spicy looking delights. The air in the restaurant was so thick with chilis that I could feel it in my lungs.

We started with Dan Dan Sichuan noodles, which I am sad to say came with a big pile of ground beef on top (I didn't bother taking a picture of these, but admit that I brought them home, washed them in a colander then ate them the next day). 

Next we had green beans, which  were oily and blistered and heavily flavored with garlic, fried green onion and small briny bits of seaweed.

The vegetarian dishes were somewhat limited, but there was both a tofu hot pot and a tofu dry pot. We ordered the tofu dry pot, and it was a huge bowl atop a butane burner overflowing with fried tofu, dried roasted chili peppers, sliced jalapenos, Chinese celery, sprouts, sliced ginger and a spicy (duh) oily red sauce full of the bizaare numbing, tingling, fizzy spice of the Sichuanese peppercorn.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the stuff  lower in the bowl where the bulk of the action was.

The food was all gratuitously oily, but that was to be expected. It was also delicious and deeply flavored. The spice level was enough that my dining companion sweated his hair into a damp clump on his glistening forehead, but (perhaps it was the effect of the numbing Sichuanese peppercorn?) nothing ever felt unbearably spicy to the mouth.

The quantities of food were staggering. We could have easily stuffed another two people with our order. If you're looking for a delicious wacky taste of the numbing spice, look no further!

  Spiced - Truly Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Flair Tacos

I have a new favorite in the Seattle taco truck department: Flair Tacos in Fremont. This is vegetarian's taco truck dream with two awesome, intentional, distinct types of vegetarian (appear to be vegan) tacos: a grilled veggie version, and a tofu adobado version. Both of them are delicious. 

Two grilled veggie, two tofu adobado.

In addition, Flair makes tasty salsa and adds plenty of radishes and limes to your order. It is also open late, something that I have benefitted from after a celebratory night in Fremont, but the tacos are equally delicious in the sober light of day.

It's not hard to find a decent vegetarian taco around town, but the Flair Taco truck has really taken the prize for creating an intentional, healthy option for vegetarians that looks and tastes every bit as satisfying as the meaty counterparts. As a general indication of taco size, if I'm super hungry, I can probably eat around 5 tacos. A typical light meal might be 3-4 tacos. One taco makes a perfect little snack.

Prices are typical taco truck cheap.

Flair Taco on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ChuMinh Tofu & Veggie Deli

I have finally located the antidote for Maruta's and other vegan un-friendly Asian delis all over Seattle: the ChuMinh deli at 12th and Jackson where the staff is lovely and everything is animal-free!
The vegan deli has a well stocked hot case full of various curries, veggies and tofu dishes. There is also an impressive selection of various deep fried things and both sweet and savory rice flour pastries. The prices were inexpensive and my dining companion and I tried a bunch of different dishes:
In the above picture we have stewed greens and tofu (with two different types of greens- this was my favorite!), some kind of fresh, lightly steamed veggie and tofu, an egg roll, an interesting and delicious shishkabob with grilled pineapple and various savory sweet and sour flavors, and a coconut bamboo shoot curry.

We also ordered a bahn mi and it was large, fresh and spicy!
It was such a treat to be able to order freely from the plentiful options and not worry too hard about the potential for meat/fish ingredients. My only complaint is that all of the tofu had been fried, while I would have preferred it to have been steamed, and as a result the various dishes all felt a little greasy.

ChuMinh Tofu & Veggie Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Sunflower Cafe

While in the Methow, we made our own breakfasts and lunches with the exception of the last lunch on the way back home. As we left Winthrop, hungry and soaked from a wet morning ski, we scratched our heads about where to grab a reasonably priced, vegetarian friendly, tasty lunch, and were stoked to notice the Sunflower Cafe. It appeared to be what I affectionately call a hippie cafe; a ripe haven of tofu scrambles and yogurt etc.

Indeed it was a cozy place, though it seemed most of the savory vegetarian options were centered around eggs. As far as non-eggy vegetarian options go, there was a hummus wrap and a veggie wrap (and possibly some soup, but it wasn't ready yet when we were there).

Now the ladies in the cafe were lovely, the place itself was warm and inviting, but I have a gripe against "wraps". I think wraps are one of the worst culinary inventions of recent time and I wish they would disappear. As far as I can tell, a "wrap" is anything stuffed into a cold (often whole wheat or some other aberration) tortilla. A cold, splitting, dry whole-wheat tortilla is one of the last things (in the context of our modern, 1st world, food variety explosion) I would choose to put in my mouth. Lightly smear it with few streaks of hummus and stuff it with lettuce, cucumbers and olives? Not much better.

As I said before, I appreciate the aesthetic of this place, and the workers were so sweet and friendly, and I feel a little bit reluctant to make them the target of my wrap rant. And I should say that my dining companion had a tasty spicy chicken sandwich that came with a huge salad with some amazing homemade lemon-honey-herb dressing. The folks eating around us seemed happy and satisfied. I bet the soup would have been delicious.

But seriously, it is time for the wrap craze to move along. What happened to burritos? A burrito has a warm, supple, soft tortilla and you can stuff it with all kinds of stuff, including (cheap to make, warm, please!) beans and it makes a wonderfully satisfying vegetarian lunch.

Are vegetarians so culturally misunderstood that people really believe that a cold, hard, cracking whole wheat tortilla stuffed with undressed lettuce is what we DESIRE? Or maybe it IS what we desire as a group and I am way off-base??

Sunflower Cafe on Urbanspoon