Certainly no one would ever dub Houston the vegetarian capital of the U.S., yet there is a surprising number of ways to eat creative, meatless meals thanks to the diverse restaurant options in Houston. The following restaurants not only offer quality vegan and vegetarian options, but they often offer dishes that capture the spirit of the cuisine without making anyone feel deprived by a lack of meat.
Local Foods: The fact that Local Foods is a hotspot for healthy salads, sandwiches and veg-happy sides may be old news, but don't let that discount the fact that the four (yes, four) locations in Houston offer some of the most inventive vegan and vegetarian sandwiches and salads in town. Try the veggie bacon sandwich at the Tanglewood location, dressed with marinated tempeh, vegan aioli and avocado on wheat bread, the vegan power bowl (available at most locations), stuffed with kidney beans, kale, curried tofu, quinoa and almonds or the vegan "meat" ball sandwich—with meatballs composed of mushrooms and pecans—at the Kirby location. The nut-based vegan Caesar salad sprinkled with crispy sweet potato bits, crunchy pecans and cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast at the Kirby location is the best vegan imitation of cheese you'll find this side of Westheimer.
Govinda's: This all-vegetarian haven is tucked away just off 610 in the Greater Heights next to the gorgeous Hare Krishna Temple & Cultural Center temple. Serving a wide and varied buffet daily, Govinda's offers rotating Indian classics in its daily buffet like saag paneer, mixed vegetable curry, aromatic basmati rice, papadum, samosas and roti alongside an extensive salad bar and the occasional off-the-beaten-path protein-forward item like hearty BBQ tofu. The chefs avoid using onions, garlic, mushrooms, eggs, or chocolate in the dishes and the buffet is entirely vegan on Sundays. The lunch buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner buffet is served from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Caracol: While Caracol is known for its excellent seafood dishes, ask for the vegetarian menu and you'll gain access to a long list of intriguing-sounding starters, hot plates and sides. Starters vary from the mushroom, pepper and caramelized onion-studded white queso served with tortillas to a large masa pancake topped with beans, mushrooms and cheese, to a salad with a pumpkin seed Caesar dressing. For your entree, try a rare version of vegetarian mole (composed of a yellow mole over wild mushrooms and roasted cauliflower), vegetable enchiladas, fried avocado tostadas, or a rice dish studded with baby carrots, butternut squash, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and corn. For a similar option closer to Montrose, Hugo's also offers a slightly more abbreviated vegetarian menu.
Gusto Gourmet: While it's not the best option for cheese-shunning vegans, this compact Venezuelan shop is actually great for vegetarians. The menu is heavy on a variety of Venezuelan cheeses, plantains and beans. Pretty much anywhere you might otherwise eat meat, you can often sub black beans—try the breakfast combo of scrambled eggs with sauteed onions, tomato, black beans, Venezuelan white cheese and 3 arepas for $8.50. For lunch or dinner, you can start with a variety of cheese sticks, yucca fritters, a sweet and savory mandoca (cornmeal mixed with mashed plantains, sugar and cheese), grilled white cheese or an eggplant antipasto. Then move onto one of the many gluten-free arepas, which is like a thick corn-based tortilla stuffed with fillings—sample the Gusto (white cheese with eggplant antipasto tomato and balsamic glaze) to the Domino (black beans and salty white cheese) to the vegan (eggplant antipasto, avocado, tomato and balsamic glaze). Falafel, eggplant lasagna, or a Mediterranean veggie burger are also on offer.
San San Tofu: This vegetarian spot in Chinatown serves up house made tofu that's silky and uber-fresh. Come here for the extremely cheap combo lunches (three items, noodles and soup for $6) or for a variety of hot vegan and vegetarian dim sum dishes available daily between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. You won't find MSG, garlic, leeks or eggs in any of the vegetarian dishes and both iced and hot tea are available for free (though you should shell out a couple bucks to try the smooth, freshly made soy milk). Try the bun rieu, which is a traditional Vietnamese vermicelli soup typically topped with crab—but San San uses cloud-shaped clumps of tofu instead. Customers can also buy the bulky fried blocks of housemade tofu in larger packages to cook at home (throwing strips of the tofu in homemade pad thai is highly recommended).
Fajitas A Go Go: Fajitas A Go Go stands out for its inventive mixes of seasonal grilled vegetables that you'll find in the vegetable fajita meals. You might find oyster mushrooms, asparagus, seasonal squash or scallions alongside the expected onions and peppers. The delicious vegetable mix can also be found tucked into a quesadilla made with hand-made flour tortillas, or you can give the grilled vegetable taco salad or cheese enchiladas a try. The green crack salsa and guacamole are solid vegetarian options that you can definitely indulge in.
Bombay Pizza Co.: These days, you don't have to look far to find a good vegetable-driven pizza— but at Bombay Pizza, they've been serving up a menu of wafer-thin crust pizzas, almost half of which are vegetarian options, for years. The concept of Indian food on top of pizza is never more tasty than when indulging in the rich saag paneer accompanied by more mozzarella, fontina and goat cheese. For a lighter option, the Munshi is a medley of grilled vegetables on a mozzarella and fontina base. The Sonu's Rita departs from your typical Margherita pizza with a sweet-leaning pizza sauce base simmered with strawberries. For other vegetarian options, you can try the spinach, chickpea and spinach or Indian-spiced potato wrap, or a duo of veggie sliders with outstanding sweet potato fries.
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True Food Kitchen: TFK wins the prize for having the best-labeled menu—vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu items are specially denoted. It has perhaps one of the widest selections for vegetarians—you can choose from veggie sides like the Chioggia Beet Bruschetta made with vegan almond ricotta and pomegranate molasses, starters like edamame dumplings, a brussels sprout and wild mushroom pizza, a variety of vegetable-packed salads, a vegan tempeh sandwich or a spaghetti squash casserole with caramelized onion and fresh mozzarella. Even better, the selection of bowls are all vegan or vegetarian, with flavors ranging from spicy panang curry to teriyaki to red chili noodles.
Aladdin: While vegetarians will often make out at most Mediterranean restaurants with falafel, hummus, tabouli and pita bread, Aladdin multiplies these typical offerings with more than 30 side options that can be combined from a cafeteria-style display for one of its veggie plates (3 veggie sides for $9.49 or 4 for $10.99). Start with a dip or two—traditional, spicy, spinach or caramelized onion hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki or more—then one of the many vibrant, herb-filled salads, some grilled vegetables, deeply roasted cauliflower or potatoes, a mashed potato ball or pomegranate eggplant or saffron rice.
Huynh: While Cafe TH has long been recognized by Houston Press and remains a fantastic vegetarian spot, Huynh is another restaurant to add to your vegetarian Rolodex. The official vegetarian section of Huynh's menu is 8 items deep, though you can bulk it up with an order of the vegetarian spring rolls to start. The Banh Cuon Tranh Tri, or fried onions enveloped in fresh, thick rice paper noodles, is a treat when doused in soy sauce, and the Dau Hu Xao Lan, tofu stir-fried in a coconut curry and topped with peanuts, is one of the most flavor-packed tofu dishes in Houston.