Four Vegan Dishes to Tempt a Meat Eater


The vegan juk at Spoon. - STEPHEN LOEWINSOHN
  • Stephen Loewinsohn
  • The vegan juk at Spoon.
It’s a well-documented fact that, even here in the vegetable-loving Bay Area, finding a restaurant that will please a mixed group of vegans and omnivores isn’t always an easy task. And, even as “Meatless Mondays” gain traction, trying to convince the dedicated meat eater to willingly choose a vegetarian entrée (or restaurant) can often seem like an exercise in futility. That said, here are four vegan dishes, served at non-vegetarian restaurants, that just might do the trick. Note: Some of these restaurants aren’t open on Mondays, but when vegan food tastes this good, it might inspire you to keep Tuesdays or Wednesdays meatless, too.

1. Vegetable Porridge at Spoon (933 Ashby Ave., Berkeley)
The vegetarian version of Spoon’s signature dish, juk (a Korean rice porridge that’s often made with milk), is dairy- and gluten-free. It’s also delicious — loaded with the natural sweetness of minced carrots. Enjoy your juk with complimentary banchan (side dishes) for a light lunch, or add an order of glazed, deep-fried potatoes if you’re feeling decadent. As an added bonus, Spoon’s excellent kimchi (whose che base builds flavor through the use of oranges, apples, and pears — no salted shrimp) is also vegan.

2. Vada Pav at Juhu Beach Club (5179 Telegraph Ave., Oakland)
Juhu is best known for its pavs, or Indian street-food-inspired “sliders,” which chef Preeti Mistry serves on custom-made Starter Bakery buns. The vada pav, which I once declared a “starch-on-starch masterpiece,” features an airy, deep-fried potato fritter, pickled red onions, and a fiery ghost-pepper-spiked tamarind chutney. I might like the vada more than any of Juhu’s meat-centered pavs, and, given that one of those is filled with braised short rib, that’s saying a lot.

3. Karaage-style Fried Tofu at Abura-ya (380 15th St., Oakland)
Abura-ya is the most vegan-friendly fried-chicken pop-up that I’m aware of, and, as good as the chicken is, I sometimes get a specific hankering for the organic tofu — thick, dense cubes that are dredged in cornstarch, fried, and then tossed in the sauce or spice mix of your choice. Order one of the excellent izakaya-style vegetable side dishes, too, and you’ve got the makings of a hearty meal.

4. Vegetable Paella at Venga Paella (229 Brush St., Oakland)
Venga’s seasonal vegan paella, made with vegetable stock and — gasp — basmati rice, is about as non-traditional as paella gets. But if what you’re in the mood for is a rice dish that’s loaded with fresh produce (sugar pie pumpkin, dino kale, persimmon, and chiles de arbol during one late-autumn visit), this should hit the spot. Plus, as far as paella goes, the $10 price tag is tough to beat.