03 May 2011

AAA goes veg: Inspectors choose 13 favorite vegetarian restaurants

Emergency towing, diamond ratings, TripTiks and glimmering bumper stickers usually come to mind when one thinks of America’s largest motoring club AAA. How about vegetarian dining suggestions?

Well considering the venerable top dogs of travel have dispatched inspectors to hotels and restaurants since 1937, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that veg friendly establishments would finally star in a set of recommendations.

AAA polled the aforementioned inspectors—most likely different individuals from the original crew in 1937—asking for their favorite places for vegetarian fare. The response included 13 eateries from the U.S. and Canada that feature varied plant-based cuisine from vegan philly “cheese steaks” to “No Meat Loaf.”

According to the AAA inspectors the following restaurants make their favorite list (now remember all of these establishments are not the epitome of compassionate dining):

3 Sisters Cafe, Indianapolis, Ind., AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
Locals and tourists alike flock to this slightly worn, yet charming Victorian house turned restaurant offering plenty of vegetarian and vegan options (beyond just "take off the cheese") in addition to standard fare. All-day breakfast is the main draw for patrons looking for a homey atmosphere. Vegan favorites include multigrain porridge with almond milk, grilled tofu scrambles and a homemade black bean burger.

Claire's Corner Copia, New Haven, Conn., AAA One Diamond Restaurant
Claire's appetizing vegetarian dishes include all-day breakfast items, bakery treats and distinctive kosher, Italian and Mexican creations featuring mostly organic ingredients. Join the Yale students and locals who have patronized this gourmet spot for more than 30 years. Checkered tile flooring and original artwork for sale on the walls add to the charm.

Commensal Vegetarian Restaurant, Toronto, Ontario, AAA/CAA Two Diamond Restaurant
The upscale self-service buffet, right in the city center, combines fast, delicious and good for you. Diners pay just for what they take. Creative, exclusively vegetarian options include eggplant in ginger sauce, meat-free sweet potato shepherd's pie and decadent desserts like walnut raisin caramel pie. The casual and contemporary setting includes a changing display of paintings.

Dragonfly Neo-V Cuisine, Columbus, Ohio, AAA Three Diamond Restaurant
This well-established vegetarian and vegan restaurant graces the older, urban University District neighborhood. Chef-owner Magdiale Wolmark draws his menu exclusively from plant-based foods, offering a full selection of courses from soup to dessert. Entrees include mock duck, a house-made gnocchi with barnier olives and confit garlic and a "mac and cheese" made with orzo pasta and a vegan cheese topped with cornmeal-encrusted broccoli.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe, Minneapolis, Minn., AAA Three Diamond Restaurant
The small cafe offers a full line of tempting baked goods including vegan breads. The brown rice bread is a AAA inspector favorite. The menu at this farm-to-table restaurant – it has partnered with a local farm to supply fresh produce – features organic, all-natural ingredients for casual breakfast and lunch options such as Cajun hash browns and free-range chicken wraps and more elegant dinner selections such as pumpkin risotto with morel mushrooms.

green vegetarian cuisine and coffee, San Antonio, Texas, AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
The colorful century-old brick structure, front-yard herb garden and patio dining provides a quiet, idyllic setting. Inside features framed original art and exposed brick walls. The recycled-paper menu offers a Reuben made of vegetarian ham, homemade sauerkraut and chipotle mayo and a variety of enchiladas, burgers, stroganoff and wraps. As part of a biweekly promotion for healthy eating at home, the restaurant loads a mobile food cart with its select "farm-to-table" produce for sale.

Horizons Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., AAA Three Diamond Restaurant
Fascinating, flavorful and romantic aren't associations typically conjured by vegan cuisine. But one taste from the seasonally changing menu satisfies the cravings of carnivores and vegans alike. Sample delicately crafted cocktails and savory delights like the succulent Jamaican BBQ seitan and Cuban paella. The airy, upscale setting makes this the perfect spot for a lingering date.

Komol Restaurant, Las Vegas, Nev., AAA One Diamond Restaurant
The small Thai restaurant, tucked away in a retail center, is known for its delicious family recipes and friendly service. The extensive menu includes authentic Thai cuisine with numerous vegetarian and vegan versions. Selections include seaweed soup, crispy spinach, fried corn served with cucumber salad, vegetarian satay and sweet and sour tofu.

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, Boulder, Colo., AAA Three Diamond Restaurant
Artistic food presentations and elegant decor create a sophisticated vegetarian dining experience. Entrees include huevos rancheros, Jamaican jerk tempeh and vegetarian alfredo. Its complex flavor and visual appeal makes the sweet onion tart a favorite of the AAA inspector, but the most memorable item was a ginger lemon nonalcoholic shrub — a zesty fruit beverage dating to colonial times.

Lovin' Spoonfuls, Tucson, Ariz., AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
This locally-owned, all-vegan restaurant offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu free of any animal products. Mouthwatering appetizers include an award-winning cashew mushroom pate, hummus dip and marinated grapevine leaves stuffed with seasoned rice. Entrees include veggie tofu scrambles, juicy soy burgers and savory meat-free pepper steak, along with organic wines and beers.

McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe, Omaha, Neb., AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
Friendly staff members strive to help guests become familiar with vegetarian and vegan dining. The quaint, well-worn restaurant is surrounded by gardens, yielding fresh herbs for use in delectable and nutritious dishes. Popular items include the huge salads, soups made with vegetable stock and entrees ranging from tofu dishes and eggplant parmesan to falafel and veggie burgers.

Sage's Cafe, Salt Lake City, Utah, AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
The cafe features international, organic vegetarian cuisine using locally grown foods. Specialties include carrot butter pate, raw pad Thai salad (an inspector favorite), vegan Philly "cheese steak," French toast dipped in tofu batter and a house-made root beer. The children's menu is extensive, and Tuesday is all-you-can-eat pizza night.

Tillie Gort's, Pacific Grove, Calif., AAA Two Diamond Restaurant
The small restaurant serves an incredible selection of vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The diverse menu includes Italian, Mexican, Indian and American entrees including tofu scrambles, pasta dishes, vegetarian paella, eggplant parmesan and a "No Meat Loaf."

I’ve said it before and I’ll said again, road trip anyone?

Eric Fortney | @elfortney | email
Eric is the co-founder and executive editor of the animal rights and eco-friendly news source, This Dish Is Veg. In addition to his work at TDIV, Eric is a father of three, runner, and lover of the outdoors.

Photo credit:AAA/PR NEWSWIRE