Dallas has a reputation: Southern drawls, women with bleached blond highly hair sprayed coiffures, JR Ewing, Urban Cowboy and the Dallas Cowgirls in high boots and almost-not-there skirts.
My first trip to Dallas was more than 25 years ago. It was a business trip, and I felt some culture shock when at a business dinner, one of the men ordered the food for all of us at the table. I felt like I was a woman living in the ‘40s. The worst part about it was he ordered an array of meats I wouldn’t touch. Back then, the word vegetarian was not heard much, and certainly the guys at my dinner table would have been clueless about a meat free diet. I can’t recall, but I’m guessing I ate a small side salad, as I was so used to doing at establishments that didn’t offer vegetarian options. Back in those days, I was even used to going without any food, as the choices often were dismal.
Now in 2011, I had another business trip to Dallas. I was determined to try to work in as many of the vegan spots. A vegan friend gave me some pointers, and I also consulted dallasvegan.com
The first place I stopped into made me want to return for more. Spiral Diner looks like a funky chrome-laden diner with plenty of your traditional comfort foods like hot dogs and frito pies and milk shakes and ice cream – all vegan of course. Since I gave up comfort foods more than 35 years ago, those menu items didn’t appeal to me. However, Spiral Diner has a vast selection of wraps, sandwiches, and hot plates to choose from. They also have agave-sweetened caffeine-free sodas.
While I would have enjoyed ordering an appetizer, main plate and dessert or soda, I kept it simple with a wrap. My selection was a whole wheat tortilla filled with sweet potato, avocado, hummus, greens, candied walnuts and tahini dressing. I’ve mixed black beans with sweet potatoes before, and beans and avocado are a natural combo, but this was very different, tasty, crunchy, healthy and filling.
Next stop on the vegan express, Bliss Raw Cafe. I know all the benefits of raw foods, but let’s face it, raw foods aren’t always as comforting as cooked dishes. Wrong. I ordered Vietnamese noodles. This raw version was made out of kelp with an almond paste dressing. I splurged on a dessert. Since I don’t consume any sweeteners except agave, I was in heaven with this agave-sweetened cacao brownie. The next day I returned and the owner suggested their coconut kale enchiladas, which are apparently a best seller. The tortilla was a reddish paper thin sheet made out of coconut. The enchiladas were stuffed with kale and other greens, and topped with white and orange creamy dairy-free sauces. Now I know why they call this restaurant Bliss.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) opened Dallas’ first vegetarian restaurant 28 years ago. Over the years, it has won many awards for the best vegetarian place in town. What impressed me most, beyond the good food that I was expecting, was the atmosphere.
ISKON’s spiritual leader decided Dallas was the place to build a special temple. Set in a fairly poor working class neighborhood, the Krishna temple, ashram and Kalachandjis restaurant are housed in a palace.
The restaurant has a lovely patio and gift shop. Kalachandji’s offers lunch and dinner buffets for under ten dollars. I tried to avoid overdoing it and ate only barbecued tofu, spinach, and a cauliflower zucchini curry. No soup, no salad, no dessert, no drink, even though they were all included, and I left feeling stuffed. For the picky eater, you can see the daily buffet items online before you visit, at kalachandjis.com
I actually spent more on books than I spent on my meal. One of the books I bought as a gift, The Higher Taste, is chock full of rationale why people should adopt a karma-free diet. The first half of the book talks through scientific and spiritual reasons to be vegetarian and includes many quotes from notables such as Paul McCartney, “if anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat.” The latter half of the book provides vegetarian (not all vegan) recipes in accordance with ayurvedic practices.
To round out the circle of plenty, I tried Cosmic Café, a funky place located not far from downtown. On the second floor, the café has a community space for yoga and meditation classes. The first floor looks a bit like a 60’s style yoga pad. Most the menu items have a taste of India. Even the hummus platter is served with Indian sides like flatbread and mango. This is an all vegetarian restaurant, and most the items can be ordered without cheese or other dairy ingredients.
There are also plenty of other vegan or vegan-friendly options outside Dallas in Fort Worth, Plano and Richardson, several of which specialize in Asian fare.
So while ranch-hands still may work in Texas there’s plenty of eats beyond Cowboy breakfasts here.