Fresh, Flavorful and Fully Plant-Based: A Taste of the Island’s Must-try Vegetarian and Vegan Delights

By Esther Davis McKenna
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Our country is experiencing a plant-based boom. According to a report by the National Library of Medicine, the number of Americans who follow a vegan diet increased 600 percent from 2014 to 2018 and this trend has shown no signs of slowing down. Reports indicate that plant-based foods are no longer a fad but the future of foods, with the rate of sales poised to surge by more than 12 percent in the next decade. 

 With vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based lifestyles on the rise in America, it makes sense that the number and variety of meatless meals offered in restaurants would also increase. 

 Patrons choose plant-based foods for many different reasons; some follow ethical and environmental causes, while others are making more health-conscious decisions. And, although the vegan demographics tend to fall between the ages of 20 and 40, more seniors are looking for healthier alternatives as well. 

 For some, eating vegetarian is not just a diet, but a lifestyle choice that promotes health, compassion, and sustainability in all aspects of life. Vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based are all different. Here’s how. 

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 Plant-based refers to any food or dish that is made exclusively from plant sources, according to EATcetera owner Veronica Newsome. Even though there is an overlap between vegan and vegetarian diets, there are some major differences. 

 A vegan will refrain from eating any animal product or by-product such as eggs, dairy, and honey, and a vegetarian usually only excludes meat, Newsome explained. 

 There is an incredible versatility of vegetarian ingredients and today’s chefs are creating plant-based dishes with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients and bold, imaginative flavors. 

 EATcetera also includes gluten-free options on its menu, ensuring there is something for everyone at the table. 

 “Today’s customer is savvier, more health-conscious, and requires more options,” Newsome said. 

 “Everyone is living with different dietary restrictions. We made our menu family-friendly so there is something for everyone. Folks no longer have to stop at different restaurants to accommodate each family member. We offer it all, ensuring the whole family can eat together,” she said. 

 EATcetera co-owner and executive chef Lena Pyles has developed a menu with an extensive list of vegan dishes. The Vegetable Stir Fry includes several cabbages, bell peppers, shitake mushrooms, soba (buckwheat) noodles, and a sesame soy sauce. 

 Their Jamaican Carrot soup incorporates ginger, habanero peppers, vegetable stock, onions, and other aromatics. All of their soups are vegan. 

 They also offer a poblano stuffed with black beans, cream made from corn, and vegan cheese, among many other vegetarian options.

 “Sometimes a customer won’t even realize the dish they ordered is vegetarian,” Pyles said, referring to what she calls the “accidental vegan.” 

 This was a theme prevalent in the childhood of Mr. Taco owner Ray Fuentes. “I grew up as an ‘accidental vegetarian’ on occasion,” he said. 

 “We ate a lot of vegetarian meals while growing up. I didn’t think much about them being comprised of vegetables and other plant-based ingredients. They were flavorful and filling and that’s how we interpret vegan meals at our restaurants,” he said. 

 There is an entire vegetarian section on the Mr. Taco menu including an option for their signature taco. 

 The vegan tacos feature deep-fried cauliflower (no eggs in the breading), bell peppers, onions, and red cabbage topped with a house-made jalapeno and avocado salsa and a fresh squeeze of lime. 

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 The Spanish rice is cooked with a vegetable base rather than the standard chicken. The vegetarian quesadilla incorporates vegan chorizo and cheese. Sopas, flautas, refried beans made without lard, and a house-made vegan crema are all examples of additional vegetarian options. 

 Other Galveston restauranteurs have become more flexible with substitutions as well. 

 “If you don’t see it on the menu, please ask your server,” said Richard Franco, owner of Tequila Rock Kitchen & Cantina. “If we can accommodate a customer’s request for the gluten-free option of a corn tortilla or grilled vegetables on the side to replace another item, we are happy to do it.”

 Franco and his business partners Allen Flores and William Neumann also own Shark Shack and Playground Patio Bar & Grill. Franco said they offer vegetarian-friendly entrees at their eateries because their customer base asked for them. 

 “Folks are seeking out healthier options all the time. It just made good business sense to accommodate their requests.” 

 The avocado taco is a favorite at Tequila Rock, Franco said, as is the vegetable quesadillas made with green and yellow squash and red and green bell peppers that are grilled on the flat top, combined with a Mexican cheese blend, and folded inside a flour tortilla. 

 These items are offered on the lunch menu but if you’d like them for dinner, Franco says to check availability with your waitperson. 

 Everyone loves a good burger, even vegetarians, said Blaine Lunz, executive chef of Brews Brothers on Strand Street. He created the house-made, lentil-based veggie burger and tacos to accommodate the ever-increasing requests from customers. 

 “I definitely see a trend toward more plant-based food items in the industry,” said Lunz, who also worked with EATcetera’s chef Pyles over the years and shares her belief in sustainability and responsible food sourcing. 

 “The tech side of the production of vegan items has gone crazy,” he said. “The options in the production of vegan cheeses alone are staggering. The restaurant industry is creating new options every day to accommodate a growing market and we, as chefs, are being challenged to creatively meet these needs.” 

 The lentil patty at Brews Brothers incorporates cremini mushrooms and a mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onions with a house-blend spice mix. Toppings include house-made pickles, red onion, spring mix, Roma tomatoes, freshly made ale mustard, and mayo. 

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 The bun is a locally sourced egg twist roll with a buttery flavor. Side options include avocado “fries” or house-made potato chips. Their vegan tacos are made from the same patty and served in corn or flour tortillas. 

 The Sunflower Bakery & Cafe also makes a wildly popular veggie burger. “Our patty is made from a black bean base,” said general manager Frank Perez. 

 “We add minced chipotle and poblano peppers, onion, pecans, garlic, salt, and pepper. It is one of our most popular dishes and is available every day.” 

 Their Black Bean Burger is served with hand-cut, house-seasoned fries and house-made coleslaw, and topped with shredded lettuce, purple onions, tomato, dill pickle, and guacamole. This vegetarian-friendly burger can also be ordered without the cheese or bun to better accommodate a vegan diet. 

 Like all of the Sunflower Bakery bread, the sesame seed hamburger bun served with this veggie burger is made in-house. 

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 Mediterranean food has long been lauded for its healthy approach to food. As the sign says above Kritikos Olympia Grill, they’ve been “serving healthy food for centuries.” 

 General Manager Wendy Hartman has been working for the Kriticos family since 2009 and remembers the day one of the owners came in to request new vegetarian options on the menu. 

 “Roxanne was making lifestyle changes of her own and realized that her customers might be looking for the same options,” Hartman said. 

 “She asked our chef to implement a vegetarian pasta dish with a choice of fettuccine or angel hair noodle. It remains a popular choice on our menu.” 

 The vegetarian platter is also popular and includes a myriad of vegetables with lentil soup and falafel bites. The meatless moussaka is so good, “you won’t miss the meat,” Hartman said, although a carnivorous version is available for those who want it. 

 Moussaka is an eggplant lasagna-like casserole comprising layers of pan-fried potatoes and eggplant, a rich tomato sauce, and a topping of creamy bechamel sauce. 

 Whether you are a seasoned vegetarian or incorporating one meatless day a week into your diet, a wide variety of options are available at local restaurants. 

There are too many vegetarian options at Galveston eateries to include them all here and hopefully, you will enjoy these unique menu items recommended by our staff and readers. If you have specific dietary restrictions, we suggest checking online menus or calling in advance to check specials and availability of items.