There may not have been too many good things about 2020, but there were a number of epic vegetarian dishes concocted by our local chefs this year. This annual piece is my favorite of every year – a look back at the best and brightest vegetarian dishes I was lucky enough to sample throughout the year. Make it your goal to try each and every one of these in the coming year!
- Punjab Grill’s Tandoori Phool
As a vegetarian, I sometimes get tired of cauliflower, an ingredient that many chefs rely on heavily as their go-to vegetarian option. But I could never get tired of the tandoori cauliflower at Punjab Grill. A whole purple cauliflower, cooked with spices like turmeric and garam masala, arrives in a pool classic Indian mint chutney. Warm spices with the cool sauce provides for the ultimate flavor juxtaposition, making this one of the best cauliflower dish in town. Interesting fact: phool means flower in Hindi; when you see the picture of this dish below you can understand why they named this dish tandoori flower!
- Uzu’s Japanese Curry
I wish Japanese curry was available at all Japanese restaurants. Especially Chef Hiro Mitsui’s version. His Japanese curry features a thick, curry-infused sweet and spicy gravy spooned over rice and crowned with Brussels sprouts, eggplant, bell peppers and pickled lotus. Luscious and full of different textures and flavors, there is nothing not to love in this dish.
- Indochen’s Vegetable Manchurian
The dish consists of veggie dumplings made of cauliflower, carrots and onions, molded into spheres and fried, then soaked in a sweet and slightly spicy Manchurian sauce which is a blend of soy sauce, red chili sauce, and garlic. Hearty and dense, these nuggets are addictively good.
- Albi’s Hummus
Albi’s beiruti style hummus is silky smooth and bursting with flavor. The best hummus I have ever had was in Beirut, Lebanon, and this one comes close to the ones I tasted there. Made with tahini and olive oil, it is wonderfully nutty and fruity, and comes topped with seasonal toppings like fresh peas in the summer and charred broccoli in the winter.
- Brasserie Liberte’s Mushroom Bourguignon
Although I sampled many delicious dishes at Brasserie Liberte, it was the mushroom bourguignon that really blew me away. The mushrooms are super meaty, and come swirled in a rich vegetarian demi-glace along with fingerling potatoes and pearl onions. The dish has a distinct umami flavor to it; the textures and flavors will stay with you long after you are done dining.
- Pappe’s Vegetarian Thali
A thali is a platter that features a variety of Indian dishes. The one at Pappe is particularly fabulous, with savory spinach paneer, velvety daal makhani, smoky and garlicky eggplant, tangy yogurt, Indian pickle, and garlic naan. It is a boatload of food and you will love every bite. The aroma of the all the dishes alone will have you drooling.
- Komi’s Vegetarian Gyro
In 2020, Komi transformed into Happy Gyro, a mostly vegetarian take-out restaurant serving innovative dishes like black walnut tacos and freekeh cheeseburgers. My favorite dish on Happy Gyro’s menu has to be the dish the pop-up is named after – the vegetarian gyro. Made with thinly sliced crispy tofu, pickled peppers and garlickly tzatziki, all stuffed into a warm, pillowy house made pita, it is the best invention to come out of 2020.
- E-Life’s Restaurant’s Macaroni & Cheese
Elife is famous for their mac n cheese. The silky, thick sauce enrobes each and every macaroni noodle, so each bite is a dream. It is hands down the best mac n cheese in town. I sometimes get it as an entrée and a side…seriously. Amazingly, this mac n cheese is vegan. Made with chickpea milk, nutritional yeast, and garlic, you will be amazed at how decadent it tastes.
- Fancy Radish’s Dan Dan Noodles
A web of curly, springy noodles come swirled in a spicy, luscious sesame sauce topped with five spice glazed mushrooms. These noodles are heady and comforting; the pinnacle of vegan dining satisfaction. I usually get two orders!
- La Famosa’s Mofongo
Chef’s mofongo is the pinnacle of this Puerto Rican restaurant’s menu. Plantains, fried and then mashed with impossible meat, garlic and salt, is the ultimate combination of sweet and savory, with a chewy texture and so much umami.
- Convivial’s Quiche
One of the most divine dishes I ate this year was a quiche from Convivial made with heaps of creamy and tangy goat cheese, fresh tomatoes and fragrant basil, all baked into a buttery, house-made crust.
- Nina May’s Stewed Marrowfat Beans
I love everything at Nina May, but I especially love the stewed marrowfat beans. The beans are super meaty and dense, and come served in a pool of earthy rutabaga puree. The combination of the beans with smoked portabella mushrooms and the rutabaga makes for the ultimate cozy, wintery dish. A few dollops of whipped chevre cheese lightens and brightens everything, and like the puree, brings in a creamy note to contrast with the chewy mushrooms.
- Equinox’s Tomato Focaccia
Freshly baked and served warm, this focaccia is truly divine. Topped with wheels of tomatoes that are baked into the bread, dollops of fresh basil pesto, and loads of crunchy pine nuts, it is savory and delicious. The bread is crisp at the edges, and the pine nuts add just the right amount of additional crunch. Get multiple orders for your table; these hunks of bread go fast.
- Stable’s Spaetzle
This dish is my current obsession. The egg dumplings are so chewy, and the combined flavors of melted, nutty gruyere cheese, sweet apple, and crunchy fried onions, is wildly indulgent and delicious.
- Makan’s Sate Keju
Makan’s satay features hunks of smoky skewered paneer accompanied by a peanut sauce. Chewy, with salty and nutty notes, this is the only way to start your meal at Makan.
- Centrolina’s Funghi
The pasta is always the showstopper at Centrolina, but this year I fell in love with Chef’s parmesan creme brulee. A marvelous parmesan custard comes crowned with chewy and meaty chanterelle mushrooms, making for an impossibly woodsy and decadent antipasti to your meal.
- Tabla’s Ajaruli Kachapuri
Tabla’s gorgeous classic Georgian kachapuri, featuring a thick, oval dough smothered in stretchy, melted sulguni cheese, squares of butter and a golden egg, is the comfort dish of your dreams.
- Sababa’s Halumi
Sababa’s halumi is no ordinary halumi dish. Hunks of the chewy cheese are grilled to just the right level of crispiness, and then served in a puddle of charred lemon marmalade. Chef Ryan Moore runs a no-waste kitchen, and he uses the skins of the lemons he juices to make this marmalade. Thick, smooth and providing the ultimate dichotomy of a bold, bright, acidic flavor with a deep, dark color from the charring, this marmalade may be the most unique you will ever have. Dates and a bit of honey add an element of sweetness, completing the flavor profile of the dish. I order this every single time I visit Sababa, and I leave wanting even more!
- Modena’s Gnocchi
It is true, I have featured Chef John Melfi’s gnocchi before on my annual list of best vegetarian dishes. I am including it again, but this year the dish features delicate potato gnocchi served drenched in a satiny butter sauce, adorned with black trumpet mushrooms and sprinkled with wisps of pecorino cheese. It is the most luxurious dish in town and you will swoon with every bite.
- Muchas Gracias’ Camote Tatemado
I finally have a favorite Mexican restaurant. Muchas Gracias has all kinds of delectable vegetarian options, but I find myself coming back again and again for the camote tatemado. Muchas Gracias serves deconstructed tacos, and the camote tatemado features charred sweet potato served with a heady, succulent negro mole and an intoxicating chipotle butter. All I really need is this sweet potato with the duo of sauces, but wrapped in warm, fragrant tortilla it’s even better. And you will want to bathe in the mole sauce it is so divine.