Roadtripping across the United States, CA to MA. The Southern route. Highway 10. The sun splashes the evening sky with an appetizing palette of color, and after a long day’s drive through the desert, my girlfriend, Gina, and I are getting hungry.
Entering the megalopolis of Phoenix, AZ, we scour the internet for local vegan options but our initial searches come up short; Phoenix seems not to be much of a vegan-friendly town. Nearly giving up, I follow a seemingly disconnected path of links into a remote area of the interwebs and come upon a little place called Green Vegetarian, technically in the city of Tempe. Perhaps a good sign. Confused as to whether that was a description of the restaurant or its actual name, we decide to try it. It’s right off the 202, in true megalopolis fashion.
Passing a few corner-strip-malls in a low-lit neighborhood we initially drive right past it; turning back around, we see how easy it is to miss, tucked away in the far corner of a little shopping plaza. The sign, in green, says “green RESTAURANT.” Kinda funky, but our rumbling stomachs cannot be questioned.
Walking in is a pleasant surprise. Warm, low-hanging lamps lit the deserty color scheme. Rows of dynamic black and white photos line the walls, an installment from a local artist. Small racks and shelves sell independent, eco-friendly foods, wares and local art, a touch of the corner store vibe but healthier. The space is open and lively, filled with people of all ages and social persuasions. And an extensive, ALL-VEGAN menu. Not just vegetarian. We can choose anything. Amazing. And the menu shows a dude on a bike. Points.
The place bills itself as “New American Vegetarian.” Perfect description. The list of starters has dishes like Artichoke Gratine, Samosas, Spicy Peanut Tofu and Buffalo “Wings.” Salads like Jerk Tofu and Ranchero. Flatbread pizzas, pan-genre noodle/ricebowls and po-boy sammies. A little something for everyone, or any mood you might be in. They thought of everything.
We decide to start with the Crab Puffs, curious to see how they might approach a vegan crab imitation. Delivered shortly by a friendly server, the flaky, crispy dough wraps artfully around the warm crabbiness inside. I dip one in the sweetish red sauce provided and take a bite. Very good; the mock crab meat and vegan cream cheese are perfectly melted together and deliver a mellow, satisfying taste without too much “fishiness.” The dish only comes with four puffs; we could have eaten fourteen.
No sooner have we finished than our entrees are on hand. We decide to stick with the sandwiches: Mum’s Meatball Po-boy with a side of fries and The Mexicali Burger (already missing home a bit) with a side of slaw. Slightly lacking in fixings (lettuce, tomato, etc.), the Mexicali is decently sized and super tasty. On paper, the combo of vegan mayo, spicy chipotle sauce, nacho cheese and hummus seemed like condiment overkill, but the result further confirms that Green Veg has a plan, and that plan is to destroy your tongue with flavor. The slaw is made with tahini instead of mayo, which prevents it from being drippy and adds a complimentary tang. Onto the Meatball: probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. The soy cheese melts perfectly over the tangy marinara, the ample, sandwich-size mock meatballs spiced perfectly with a proper consitency that stick together without being gummy, all on a soft sourdough roll. It isn’t difficult to savor every single bite. The fries are shoestring style, crispy and seasoned well; not my favorite kind of fry but great for those who prefer them that way.
Perhaps the most interesting and exciting course is our meal follow-up: the strange and beautiful Tsoynami dessert shake. Essentially a large cup of vegan soft-serve ice cream with ingredients added, the Tsoynami menu is extensive and creative, combining a number of sweet toppings that blend together to make something between a milkshake and a sundae. There are a number of scrumptious options, including a S’more and a wacky Captain Crunch concoction. We decide on the PB&J, which is peanut butter, sugary whole strawberries and graham cracker chunks, all whipped together with the soft serve. Yikes, it was satisfying. We thought the price was a tad steep until we tried it and totally forgot the $4.50.
Our meal is so good from beginning to end that, even though full and finished, we linger at the table for awhile, not wanting to give up the welcoming atmosphere and secretly hoping we will impossibly get hungry again and try more of the offerings. But alas, it is time to move on; we must make it to New Mexico before midnight. The temperature is dropping and we’ll be pitching the tent by the light of the full moon. Fortunately, Green Vegetarian is on our side, keeping our bellies comfy and our spirits high for the rest of the evening.