Ever since Radical Eats (my beloved vegan Tex Mex restaurant) closed, I've felt an essential gap in the Houston dining scene. It wasn't until April of this year when Verdine, formerly the Ripe Cuisine food truck, finally opened its brick and mortar in the Heights that I felt the void of a dedicated plant-based restaurant with offerings spanning more than salads or veggie burgers start to close.
I've been following along on Instagram as as chef and owner Stephanie Hoban documented the journey from a bare bones construction zone to the fully fledged restaurant, and still I couldn't believe it when I finally stepped foot on the premises. The space is gorgeous, airy and light-filled, filled with powder-blue statement booths and punctuated with thoughtful details like hanging potted succulents and seed packets lining the restroom entryway.
Being in a brick-and-mortar finally gives Verdine the flexibility to expand the menu beyond the abbreviated food truck offerings (the truck still lives, by the way!) along with a full beer and wine menu. I was excited to see new offerings like a spinach dosa with cilantro-peanut chutney and a completely non-dairy cheese board with gluten free crackers. Perennials like the krabby patty and jackfruit carnitas remain on the menu, possibly due to passionate feedback from longtime fans.
We fell deeply for the sesame orange cauliflower, battered and fried and covered in a tangy-sweet orange sauce (it's currently a small plate offering, but you may see it as an entree someday soon—Hoban said she's had multiple customer comments that one could happily eat that cauliflower with rice as a meal, and I echo this sentiment).
The Nachos de Mayo was on special when we visited, a satisfying pile of thin local chips dressed with a drippy vegetable-based queso, creamy black beans, crunchy pickled onion and tiny salty nubs of cauliflower "chorizo." The chips do get soggy easily, so eat fast.
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Equally colorful and no less filling, the Kung Fu bowl heaps spinach on top of a bounty of slippery rice noodles, roasted vegetables, herbs, coconut flakes and—my favorite part—small cubes of savory, chewy baked tofu. It's a small thing, but the proportion of protein, vegetables and carbs can often be thrown off in bowl situations—this particular scenario contained my ideal ratios, with plenty of tofu to crown each forkful of noodles.
The only thing we didn't fall as hard for was the nut/soy/gluten-free mac 'n cheese, which was a little bland underneath the top layer sprinkled with a savory quinoa crumble. But that won't stop me from coming back to try that cheese board, to eat some of their perfect sweet potato fries, kale salad and a bistro burger in the comfort of air conditioning, and consume as much of that orange cauliflower as I can possibly fit into my body.