Tag Archives: austin restaurants

Elizabeth St. Cafe, a Vietnamese French cafe in South Austin

Traditionally, if you want quality Vietnamese food in Austin you have to be in the part of town where it’s hard to tell if you are in Pflugerville, Round Rock, or Austin. In South Austin we mostly have the standard Chinese-takeout-style Vietnamese places where you can get a ton of edible food for five dollars. When LuLu B’s trailer opened I loved that I could get a vegetarian bánh mì for 4 and I have long been obsessed with their 6 dollar bún. When the prices on each went up a while back, I stopped going so much. So at first I wasn’t so sure about how often I would go to the even more expensive Elizabeth St. Cafe which is even getting flack from foodies about the 22 dollar pho. But, unlike Lulu B’s it is open at night, has excellent service and has a super cute ambiance so I can see myself returning. It is kind of mind boggling that they could have made the old Bouldin Creek, certainly the cafe I have spent the most time in probably in my life, into such a elegant little place. Someone should make a “Where Have all the Hippies Gone” parody video. Or not.

The menu is definitely happy meat focused but I was gladdened to see that vegan options abound as well. We started with the Ginger Marinated Tofu Spring rolls. Since the peanut sauce wasn’t vegan we stuck with just the sweet chile vinegar and ginger jalapeno for dipping. Even with those sauces, I thought the spring rolls were a little dry, too heavy on the noodles and without enough herbs and vegetables. 

I think that the reason I was most excited to try the Elizabeth St. Cafe was in anticipation of their pho. I kind of became obsessed with pho when I lived in Washington and for years I was disappointed by every version in Austin that I tried. Recently I tried a recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s upcoming internationally themed cookbook and I it reawakened all the pho desire inside me. Elizabeth St has two different pho varieties and we went with the miso cauliflower version. It was delicious and I think would be perfect for someone that like the idea of pho but maybe not the Vietnamese version. We’ll call them fusion pho lovers. Next time I will try the tofu, mushroom, radish traditional version for sure. One thing I loved about this version was that it was completely packed with tofu and vegetables. A lot of times it seems like places skimp on all that stuff and just give you a ton of sprouts and herbs.

We skipped the bánh mì since they didn’t have vegan mayo and went onwards to the bún. The grilled tofu was a highlight for sure and there was plenty of vegetables in the bowl, in fact I think there were more vegetables than vermicelli. Everything was fresh and delicious and the vegan fish sauce was good enough, maybe a little tame. 

My favorite part of the meal was undoubtedly the bánh xèo (aka the Vietnamese crêpe) even thought it wasn’t on the menu and we had to special order it. Don’t you just love when restaurants are accommodating? The service, overall was great, our waitress was easily able to tell us what was vegan and what we could do special and when she wasn’t sure about the crêpe she checked with the kitchen staff. When the waitress returned to tell us they would make a special vegan version I was, in a word, stoked. This is the best bánh xèo I have ever had, although truthfully it was also only the second. It was coconutty, light and delicious and definitely what I will return for. 

We rounded out the meal with a delicious Lemongrass tea, although they do have a wide assortment of wine, saki, Vietnamese coffee, and drinks. 

It is a fantastic little spot, more expensive, no doubt then, a standard Vietnamese restaurant but with a charming atmosphere and excellent service.


Sunflower Vietnamese Restaurant- a boon for North Austin’s Vegans

A river runs through Austin; it marks the south border of downtown. I guess it used to be that anything south of the river was considered isolated and less “sophisticated” then the north, well, by the people that lived north anyway. I recently learned that there used to be a giant tug-o-war between the yuppies on the north and the hippies and bikers in the south.  That was like 30 years ago and there still seems to be some animosity between south and north Austin. People in South Austin stay in South Austin and vice-versa, especially if they are really lazy and hate driving and don’t have any mirrors on their car. For one thing, south Austin is better and North Austin always seems SO FAR and I avoid going up there at all costs which is probably why the north section of my Austin guide is somewhat lacking (but recently I have been adding more!!!).

Lately I am starting to change my to tune,I keep finding so many reasons to go way up there including the recently reopened Sunflower Restaurant. Sunflower is almost a mythical place for me that I have heard of for years because they have a very vegan friendly menu and they have Vietnamese Crêpes (aka bánh xèo) on the menu but somehow the stars never aligned until last week.Suffice to say I finally tried it and was thoroughly satisfied. I couldn’t believe how much the Vietnamese crêpes looked like egg crêpes since they are made out of rice flour, turmeric, and coconut milk. The inside was almost eggy in its texture.  The French influence of Vietnam at least had very positive impacts on their cuisine between this and the Bánh mì sandwich it is the perfect fusion. The crêpe was stuffed with everything you could hope for at a Vietnamese restaurant, mung bean sprouts, tofu, mushrooms, and other vegetables. The sauce it was served with, by the way, was not vegan but there were other friendly options. The menu is rounded out with delectable spring rolls, Bánh mì, tofu salad,  veggie fried rice with tofu and mushrooms and they also have a few soups that are definitely vegetarian but I didn’t ask on my one trip there if they were vegan. There was also several different noodle dishes but I wasn’t a fan in my dining partners tofu in her noodle dish. They didn’t press it or do anything special so I probably wouldn’t go that I route. Actually I will most likely never try anything else here because the crêpe was just so good and extremely filling. Overall I found the vegetables crisp and fresh which is always a huge plus since many places in town overcook their vegetables or don’t use fresh ones and there were lots of mushrooms in my crêpe that were well seasoned and delightful.

The restaurant itself was looking pretty good considering that it recently burned down but still it is not the kind of place you would go if you were looking for candlelight ambiance and fine dining service, it is in a strip mall with a smattering of other Vietnames places right off research boulevard. Or is it 183. I don’t know what’s what in North Austin, we avoided the highway entirely and went on a very circular route using a map because that is how I roll.  And I will do it all again.

I’ll still feel a little more comfortable when I safely cross the river back to South Austin.

Austin Vegan Top 10 for 2010

2010 was a great year to be a vegan in Austin. We went from having one vegan restaurant a couple years ago to having at least 3 trailers and 4 restaurants not to mention new options all around town at non vegan restaurants and vegan cheese everywhere. Last year, for veganmofo, I made a top ten list for my favorite dishes to eat in Austin and almost my whole list has changed since then! So, in honor of the calendar rolling around to another year here is my favorites vegan dishes for this year.

1. Whatever is on special at Counter Culture

This all vegan trailer on North Loop is one of the most beloved spots in town for a reason. The regular menu is great but the specials like tempeh reubans, quesadillas made with cashew cheese, or meatloaf sandwiches that change every week are what keep us coming back day after day. My favorite is the holiday sandwich; Salisbury Seitan, Cranberry Sauce & Gravy all on a toasted loaf. Delicious.

2. A Hot Wrap from Conscious Cravings

It is hard to say which is my favorite, the spicy chickpea wrap is out of sight. The Bella has olives, daiya cheese, and Portobello mushrooms and I adore it even though I don’t even like daiya cheese. But, I almost always get the Chimichurri Seitan which has the most amazing sauce. All of the wraps are on an amazing toasted pita/tortilla and they are reasonably priced, even with a side of baked rosemary fries. You can try the cold sandwiches, salads, smoothies and specials, they are all great too, but for me, the hot wraps are one of my most favorite things to eat in town.

3. The Lemongrass Tofu Bowl at LuLu B’s

This little trailer on South Lamar isn’t known for their service. Sometimes you have to wait for an hour. Sometimes you try to call in your order for an hour before they pick up the phone. Sometimes they give you fish sauce even though you ordered the tofu and they have a delightful veggie sauce. Luckily the food is so good that none of this matters to me. Well I’m willing to put up with it anyway. I love the Bánh mì, the smoothies, and the spring rolls. But, the lemongrass tofu bowl is amazing. I don’t know how the make such fantasic tofu, it is pressed so thin and then marinated and grilled in a way that I have never replicated at home. The texture is lovely. Everything in the bowl is so fresh, the herbs and greens always taste like they were just picked and the sauce is really amazing, just make sure you say no fish!

4. Southern Comfort Food at Wheatsville Co-op

The number one thing that vegetarians recommend to people traveling to our fair city is the popcorn tofu at the Wheatsville Deli. It is battered with spices and nutritional yeast and deep fried and they always have a big pile that you can box up and take home or eat on the spot in a popcorn tofu po’boy.

the sandwich comes with all the regular toppings that you choose along with some cashew tamari dressing that you can also buy there, and then put it on everything. It makes white rice taste like a rainbow. All of their southern food on the hot bar is great. I love their vegan mac & cheese, spicy greens, and tempeh chili, the latter especially when it is in a frito pie with nutrtional yeast sprinkled on top.

5. The Tofu Scramble at Bouldin Creek

My most favorite spot in town, Bouldin Creek moved to a new location this year and though I will miss the old spot immensely I am happy to report that the tofu scramble is as good as it ever was. It is probably the greatest tofu scramble in the world. Although Bouldin isn’t a strictly vegan place, everything on the menu can (and should) be made vegan because their tofu scramble is better than any egg ever could be, trust me. You can get the scamble in place of egg in any of the omelets or the breakfast sandwich or the breakfast tacos. And they are open until late at night.

6. Breakfast Tacos from Whole Foods

The Whole Foods chain started in Austin and we have the flagship store just a couple of blocks away from my office which can be a good thing and a bad thing. If you are visiting Austin for the first time it is a great place to check out even if you go to Whole Foods all the time. My favorite part is the breakfast taco. I have blogged about it probably more than any other topic because, like I said, it is a couple blocks away from my office and my coworkers and I have a rule that if you are going to be really late you must bring tacos. Sometimes they are cold and sometimes they have too much turmeric. Sometimes you have to wait in line for twenty minutes (tip: get your coffee first) but when they are on the whole foods taco is the highlight of my day. If you don’t enjoy it the first time, try try again. They have vegan chorizo, tofu scramble, roasted vegetables, lime rice, refried beans, black beans, and all sorts of toppings like vegan cheese and pico de gallo.

7. Tater Tots at Dog Almighty

Dog Almighty is one of my favorite places when I am craving fast food. They have vegan hot dogs and burgers but I keep going back for their chili and especially their tater tots. There is just something special about these tots, they are so crispy and fried and perfect every single time. If you are sick of salads and raw restaurants this is the place to go. If you are looking for something healthy in the neighborhood the Juicebox (the soup peddler and daily juice combo) is right on the other side of the parking lot.

8. Veggie Meshi – at the Eastside King

the Eastside King is a tiny little trailer in the back of a bar called the Liberty on the east side of town. They have beet fries and all sorts of other Asian fusion type stuff at this fabulous late night spot. There are only a few vegan options but the veggie meshi is one of my favorites. It is a huge portion of brussels sprouts and cabbage stir fried in a delicious sauce on top of rice noodles and they are open pretty late. I love it.

9. The Freeto Burrito at the Vegan Yacht

Another great trailer on the east side. This one is all vegan and everything I have had has been great.

they have taken frito pie to the next level by adding avocado and sticking it in a grilled burrito. The perfect late night food.

10 Vegan Empanadas at the Fair Bean

The Fair Bean is probably my favorite coffee shop in town they have a great selection of roasted beans to buy along with chocolate chip cookies and other vegan treats. The breakfast emapanadas are like a dream come true. The crust is so buttery and flakey and the vegan sausage and potatoes inside hit the spot when you dream of a toasty breakfast, if they don’t have any on hand they can always add more to the hot plate, you just have to wait a while.

Best Austin Product

The new queso from Food For Lovers is so good that the jar of it can easily become a single serving. And they serve it at Guero’s if you want queso out in the world! (ps ask for the vegan menu their)

Gone but not forgotten

We also lost quite a few places that I loved this year like TaKorea sailed off into the sunset and Fete Accompli went back to catering only. Hopefully someone will take their place soon for best vegetables in town 😦

If you think I missed something I probably did. There are only ten slots! I couldn’t even add my favorite ice cream at Toy Joy or avocado margaritas at Curras or the hot wings at Iggi’s Texitarian this year! If you are traveling to Austin I have a complete list of vegan options over here.