In recent years, new vegetarian and vegan restaurants and food trucks have popped up all over Austin. Now that the benefits of a plant-based diet are more widely understood, even committed carnivores are becoming part-time vegetarians. It’s much easier to make healthier food choices when the food is delicious, and the following eateries consistently serve some of the tastiest vegetarian fare in town.
A casual all-vegan restaurant, Counter Culture is located on Austin’s hip east side. Among the restaurant’s many delectable creations, the Jerk Seitan Sandwich is a true signature dish. “I like to highlight it because there isn't another sandwich like it in Austin,” says owner Sue Davis. Served on grilled organic wheat bread, the sandwich includes house-made seitan (wheat gluten) marinated in jerk sauce, combined with coleslaw, pickles, onions, fresh mayonnaise, and chili butter.
Bouldin Creek Café has earned a loyal following due to creations such as the Veggie Royale, a masterful veggie-burger creation served on grilled ciabatta bread. Regulars also rave about the hummus—yes, hummus! If you don’t eat eggs, all the egg dishes can be made with Bouldin Creek’s “tofu scramble.” A re-imagining of Eggs Benedict, The Renedict consists of two eggs, tofu bacon, vegan Hollandaise and baby spinach resting atop grilled ciabatta bread.
Originally opened in 1998 on Guadalupe (aka The Drag), Veggie Heaven was a favorite spot for University of Texas students for many years. That location closed in 2014, and owner Stacy Chen and her family had no plans to reopen it. In response to overwhelming demand, the sleek new version opened in May 2017 on West 5th Street. As with any new (or new again) restaurant, there have been a few hiccups related to service, but many of the regulars are back and raving about the food. Chen says Protein 2000 and Protein Vader are the two most popular dishes. Protein Vader features battered and fried chicken-like nuggets with a spicy Sichuan sauce, green beans, garlic and onion. Protein 2000 also includes nuggets but with a mildly sweet sauce, onions, broccoli and garlic.
Just as homey as it sounds, Mother’s Cafe is the much-loved veteran of Austin’s vegetarian scene. In business since 1980, Mother’s cooks are masters at making healthy food that tastes like comfort food. The Bueno Burger has repeatedly earned recognition as the best veggie burger in town from several media outlets. The patty is a proprietary blend of tofu, bulgur wheat, fresh veggies and seeds. Another popular dish, the giant burrito is packed with brown rice, black beans, chipotle cashew sauce and jack cheese. The spinach mushroom enchiladas will also leave you feeling fat and happy.
Founded 26 years ago by Eduardo “Wayo” Loera, Casa de Luz aims to be much more than just a place to eat. Loera describes it as an “experiential educational community center.” In addition to the communal dining area, there are adjoining spaces for yoga classes, health and wellness practitioners and even a small private school.
But what about the food? Going well beyond the strictures of everyday veganism, the kitchen at Casa de Luz doesn’t even use olive oil—because it’s a processed product. “However, we get our essential fatty acids because our sauces are made from nuts and seeds,” says Loera. The strictness of this macrobiotic approach makes it all the more amazing that the food tastes so good.
Loera was hesitant to declare any one dish the most popular, but when pressed, he pointed out that regulars get particularly excited when sweet potato soup is on the daily menu. Unfortunately, you can’t order it because each day’s lunch and dinner menu includes the same soup and entrée for everyone. On the plus side, this is an excellent place to go with that coworker or friend who always takes forever to order. Fewer decisions, less stress. Consider this just one more benefit of the tranquil vibe at Casa de Luz.
Fo Guang Shan Xiang Yun Temple Tea Room
Located on the grounds of a beautiful Buddhist temple in northwest Austin, Xiang Yun Temple Tea Room offers a fascinating cultural experience to go along with a top-notch vegetarian lunch. The Perfection Rice Combo, made with tofu and fresh vegetables, is a crowd favorite, says temple volunteer Joyce Lin. For around $10 (cash only), you get soup, an entrée, dessert and tea. After lunch, you can enjoy a relaxing walk around the peaceful grounds. You may even hear chanting coming from inside the temple.
An eastside institution, Mr. Natural is known for its vegetarian barbecue sandwiches and Mexican breakfast plates. The Burger Boss is another standout dish, consisting of a house-made soy patty served with sautéed onions, mushrooms, avocado and cheese. The veggie tamales are also top-notch. Mr. Natural’s on-site bakery produces delightfully sweet Mexican pastries and empanadas.
This vegetarian Indian restaurant makes excellent paneer dosa, chaat and samosas. If you have a hard time remembering the names of Indian dishes, just order the sampler platter. The portions are generous, and you won’t be disappointed by any of the items. More adventurous diners might want to try the Indian pizza or the spicy tomato soup.
The food truck’s Warrior Taco was named one of the 10 best tacos in Austin in 2016 by Thrillist, and the category wasn’t even limited to vegetarian tacos. The heart of the Warrior Taco is homemade Q-rizo, a quinoa-based creation inspired by the chorizo recipe passed to owner Rolando Garza from his Mexican grandmother. The Q-rizo is combined with crispy skillet potatoes, Mexican pickled red onions and fresh cilantro. Regulars also heap praise upon the food truck’s spicy charro beans.
The best bet here is the Asiana Special Dinner, which is the ideal size for sharing with another person. It includes vegetable samosas, saag paneer, paneer tikka, aloo gobi curry, rice and nan. Another popular menu item is Dal Makani, an unusual yet wonderful blend of black lentils, tomatoes and cream. Finish off a spicy meal with pistachio or mango ice cream.
If you like to combine high-end shopping and healthy eating, head to Flower Child in the Domain Northside shopping center. The hearty Mother Earth Bowl will give you the strength to continue your retail adventure. The dish is a savory mix of ancient grains, sweet potato, portobello mushroom, avocado, cucumber, broccoli pesto, leafy greens, red pepper miso vinaigrette and hemp seed.
The Bac'n Cheeze Burger manages to delight both your taste buds and your eyes in this strictly plant-based burger spot. The burger looks just like a decadent, greasy, beefy burger. The food truck is also known for its tater tots, sweet potato fries, mac and cheese, and BBQ burger. Situated next to a lively bar, this is also a great spot for people watching.