Top 5 Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants

After listening to The Smith's Meat is Murder album one too many times, I was a vegetarian for many years. And actually when I'm not setting out to sample a restaurant's most popular or signature dishes, I generally prefer to stick to the vegetarian menu options. When I'm going veggie, these are my top five picks: 5. Quan Yin

This Bellaire restaurant is the place to go if you're craving your favorite meat-based dishes but still wanting to maintain your cruelty-free diet. Everything is completely meat, seafood, egg, and dairy free. Soy-based products are used to recreate traditional meat dishes like barbecue "pork" and shrimp spring rolls that contain cute little shrimp-shaped soy patties. The place is a trip.

4. Ruggles Green

Though at peak times the noise can be deafening at the tiny Alabama location, lazy afternoons on the sunny patio make up for it. With items like Honey Fried Goat Cheese Salad with almonds and mangos, Veggie Nut Burgers, and Wood-Fired Quinoa Mac n' Cheese, there's a plethora of menu choices. Finish it up with a slice of their signature Pink Velvet Cake, and you've got yourself a good meal.

3. Brasil

As I write this, I realize that there seems to be something about vegetarian dining and patios that go hand in hand, because here is another case of a restaurant serving up great veggie options on a sunny patio that is ideal for wiling away an afternoon. A late lunch consisting of a steaming cup of jasmine tea, a roasted beet, goat cheese and walnut sandwich on freshly baked ciabatta bread, and a small serving of velvety chocolate mousse will make you forget about that roast beef in no time.

2. Hobbit Café

When I became a vegetarian at 14, this was the first place my mother took me to eat. New to the veggie thing and being a surly teenager, I was pretty opposed to actually eating vegetables. I loved to get the platters of beans and rice and tortillas and assemble them into tacos using various condiments. The Black Bean burger was another favorite, as were the veggie enchiladas, which had enough flavor to let me forget that I was eating plants. Now that I love vegetables, I still enjoy going and having a leisurely brunch on the patio or ordering a sizzling platter of Portobello fajitas.

1. Madras Pavilion Let's face it: Indians know how to put together a vegetarian dish that will knock your socks off. I'm lucky enough to work across the street from Madras, so I can go down and feast on their purely vegetarian buffet almost any time I want. And as much I enjoy the various spiced chickpea, spinach, and potato dishes that fill the buffet line, the made-to-order dosai are the real treat. A crispy, crepe-like dish made from lentil or rice flour, it's available a dozen different ways -- all delicious, satisfying and completely vegetarian.

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Geri Maria Harris