Hope for Monterey County Vegetarians (at Least a Little)
February 26, 2013
A robust vegetarian dinner, it seemed, would be hopeless.
The line at Hula's (655-4852)—land of the vaunted Big Sur veggie burger ($13), jungle tofu bowl ($13) and wasabi mashed potatoes ($3)—was bumping against the door.
The lightly panicked voice at Julia's Vegetarian (656-9533)—where a fresh set meatless menu descends every weekend—told us even a very easy two-top (Jam us in the corner! By the kitchen! On the sidewalk!), after checking for several minutes, was simply an impossibility.
The chaos at Ambrosia Indian (641-0610)—while smells of samosas, chutneys and pakoras attacked our noses—made 7 minutes of waiting for a host while the bar area overflowed feel like 15.
We wanted for good, sturdy, crunchy greens. And now we were desperate, not just because it was the first time in memory we struck out three pitches straight, but because we were ravenous for some fresh solid food after a week on the "Lemonade Diet," itself an adventure worth 3,000 words.
So we abandoned ship for Turtle Bay Taqueria (333-1500) and tucked into salads and rice bowls.
But the wash of people at places strong on vegetarian food opened several questions: Is that simply Saturday night? Is good veg fare merely part of wider successful operations in each place? Or is there really a massive pent-up demand for more veggie fare?
Probably a little bit from column A, B and C.
After my rant about the pathetic absence of quality vegetarian food earlier this month, "Veg Outhouse: Diagnosing why Monterey County is so embarrassingly bad when it comes to creative vegetarian fare," we turned to readers to share spots on who's got what good green-centric eats, even dangling four tickets to Out of Thin Air at Sunset Center for an inspired answer on the Weekly Facebook.
I don't think local DJ and veteran vegetarian Arden Eaton, who I've featured in this space for her enthusiastic artichoke recipes in the past, needed much incentive. She just needed a platform.
First she laid out the credentials, and her own hopes: "I have been a vegetarian for more than 42 years, and I have lived on the Peninsula since 1977. I would be VERY interested in people’s response to this question, because other than ethnic foods, (such as you have pictured here) I feel the choices on the Peninsula are very limited indeed."
Then the jump list: "For Japanese, I like Crystal Fish. For Chinese, I like Great Wall. For Mediterranean, I like Dametra Café. For Thai, I like Thai Bistro and Pacific Thai. For Indian, I like Ambrosia and Indian Summer. There are a myriad of Mexican places to choose from; some of our regular haunts include Michaels, Turtle Bay, Pico de Gallo, Lopez Cantina, Haute Enchilada. Wild Thyme and Wild Plum are both great for casual, deli style food, and the cheese plate at the Corkscrew is fabulous. Whole Foods has the best salad bar in town."
Finally, the dagger, which echoed George Z. Peterson's complaints in my original Weekly piece: "But if you simply want to go out for a nice meal, and eat 'American' or 'California Cuisine,' or dine at any of the myriad of Italian/seafood places our area is so well known for, you will either have a 'choice' of one lone, token vegetarian entree (and woe be to you if you just don’t happen to care for eggplant or whatever the chef had deigned to be the solitary vegetarian plate), or you will have no option whatsoever."
Other solid ideas from the Weekly F Bookers:
Melanie Bretz: Won Ju Korean Restaurant on Lighthouse in New Monterey is a great place for veggie lovers. The majority of their offerings are meat-free and come with a huge variety of side dishes. This family run place really knows how to pack in the spice and flavor!
Julie Cason: Happy Girl Kitchen for lunch!
Sara Fletcher Rivera: Amir's Grill and Bar on Lighthouse in Monterey has lots of vegetarian options (including this incredible potato pancake called bulani), and almost all of their vegetarian options can be prepared for vegans.
Kathleen Bailey: Julia's in Pacific Grove is fantastic food. The Sunday pre-fixe dinner is amazing. Ambrosia is great for vegetarians, as is Thai Bistro II will do anything without fish sauce and the service is great. Crystal Fish, Peppers Mexican, Paprika Cafe, and Tommy's Wok in Carmel. I absolutely love Dharma's in Capitola and Saturn Cafe in Santa Cruz. I've lived in Monterey for almost 10 years now and was vegetarian before I moved from Cleveland. I honestly thought the selection would be better here.
Ashley Burke: The #10 veggie bagel sandwich at Marina Bagels & Donuts is vegan and AMAZING.
Camille Western: Stone Creek Kitchen on Hwy 68 offers a great selection of ready made dishes. The 3 beans salad and the mushroom gnocchi are my favorite.
Hahn's Brian Overhauser, with a touch of savvy self-promotion: We do amazing vegetarian 4 course wine and food pairings at the Chefs Table out at Hahn Estate. Just call in advance for times and pricing.
The Weekly's own Greg Tomascheski, with a little fishy slant: My favorite every-day type meal on the peninsula would probably be a Papa Chevo's potato egg and cheese breakfast burrito on a whole wheat tortilla with sour cream and red salsa. Cheap, enormous and delicious and works for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Papa Chano's has a good chili relleno dish that I like as well. Erik's Deli has good veggie sandwiches but they are kind of small for the price you pay, but very tasty, where as Mal's Market and Jerseys will make a proper sized sub (avocado is a must on sandwiches for me). Another good choice for pescatarians like myself is Yama Sushi or Harumi in Seaside. Sea Harvest Fish Market is also great for everything on the menu basically, and The Crown and Anchor makes the best shrimp/crab sandwich in town.
Congrats Kathleen Bailey and, yes, Arden Eaton for your impassioned communication and helpful information. We'll be in touch with tickets!