A Long Way to Mango

In the mood for something light, I made a trip over to the newly-reopened Mango's at lunch to try their new all-vegetarian menu firsthand.

The freshly-painted exterior with its charming patio and the sunny interior seemed like they'd be the perfect day-brightener.  Sadly, the food at Mango's has a ways to go before it charms as well.

To be fair, Mango's is still in its reopening infancy. It was the waitress' first day on the job, so she was unfamiliar with the menu or the pricing.  The fryers haven't yet arrived, so many items aren't yet available (such as fries or onion rings).  And the cooks are still learning the menu, a fact to which I'm cautiously attributing the lackluster food.

The foundation of Mango's is good: their menu is intriguing and features unusual pizzas like butternut squash with blue goat cheese, caramelized onions and thyme and a highlighted item simply called "The Burger."  The somewhat limited menu is supplemented by a good beer selection that is discounted for happy hours ($1.50 Lone Stars on Wednesday nights, for example) and a small selection of non-alcoholic beverages like coffees and glass-bottled Cokes.

Intrigued by The Burger, I asked the manager (as the poor waitress was at a loss) if it was simply a veggie burger or if it included anything else.  She proudly proclaimed that it was 100% made from vegetables, created and hand-formed fresh in-house every day.  "There isn't anyone else in town making their own veggie burgers, that I know of," she exclaimed.  I also ordered the butternut squash pizza just to round things out.

The food arrived quickly and I tore into it.  The pizza was deceptive: the crust looked like downy naan bread, but had a texture more similar to tanned leather.  It was nearly impossible to cut or even tear with my teeth, nevermind chew.  I worked my way through it primarily because the toppings were so good.  Instead of a tomato sauce base, Mango's uses pureed butternut squash, upon which are placed salty, sharp pieces of blue goat cheese and sweet caramelized onion.  A mound of fresh arugula on top was dressed lightly in white balsamic vinegar and made a crisp contrast to the densely-flavored pizza.

The burger, however, verged on entirely tasteless.  It wasn't at all visually compelling, the patty looking like nothing as much as, well, stool.  Fortunately, the taste didn't match the visual.  As promised, the patty was indeed formed entirely of vegetables -- I spotted carrots, spinach and lentils, with what seemed like pureed squash or pumpkin as the binding agent.  Although the patty held together well, the overall effect was that of baby food on a bun.

This may sound harsh, but I do recognize that Mango's still has a long way to go before they get a solid menu and work out their opening kinks.  What I like about them is that they're taking chances on inventive items and taking pride in their food.  Houston could use another vegetarian restaurant, especially one that is honestly vegetarian -- Mango's didn't have a single meat or fish item on the menu.

If they'll only focus less on their live music acts and more on the food, I feel like Mango's could become another gem on Westheimer's restaurant row.

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