As the plant-based dining trend heats up, don't forget about these international mom-and-pop restaurants.
Among many in the vegetarian community, it’s long been understood that some of the most satisfying plant-based dishes come from immigrant kitchens. From Indian to Chinese to a wide array of African cuisines, global fare provides an exciting alternative to the well-worn roster of American meat-free standards.
Increasingly, these immigrant-owned restaurants are recognizing the broad interest in plant-based dining and are stepping up their response to the demand. Perhaps the most striking example is Ye’s Asian Vegan Kitchen, which opened in Hilliard this fall. Looking to cater to the many vegetarian and vegan customers who frequent its sister restaurants, Ye Asian Bistro and Wild Ginger Asian Fusion, Ye’s satisfies visitors with conspicuously fresh, meat-free Chinese dishes such as string beans with garlic sauce and vegetable dumplings. Ye’s Asian Vegan also offers a wide variety of well-known sauces (like General Tso’s, teriyaki or kung pao) offered with either tofu or soy protein.
Though Ye’s is perhaps the most committed to the concept, it’s far from the only Chinese restaurant known for its vegetarian options. Helen Jiao, owner of Helen’s Asian Kitchen, has developed a devoted cult following for her spicy Sichuan stir-fried cauliflower, and Peking Dynasty’s crispy baked pumpkin with egg yolk dish is exceptional. NE Chinese Restaurant’s cumin potatoes are also a crave-worthy vegetarian favorite. All of these restaurants offer delicious and fresh Chinese greens such as choy sum, gai lan (Chinese broccoli) or dau miu (pea shoots) stir-fried in a garlic sauce.
Few cuisines have a greater emphasis on meat-free dining than Indian. Almost every Indian restaurant will carry staple dishes such as dal (a savory lentil stew) and chana masala (chickpeas in sauce). Worthington’s Indo-Nepali restaurant Everest is a favorite for dal, and Dosa Corner in Northwest Columbus is my pick for chana masala. As its name suggests, Dosa Corner is also an excellent spot for South Indian dosas—savory crêpes made from rice and lentil flour filled with a wide variety of meat-free fillings. The piquant onion chili rava masala dosa is a standout. Other South Indian restaurants featuring exclusively plant-based menus include Banana Leaf and Gokul Café.
Finally, several African restaurants offer a tremendous variety of vegetarian options. As part of religious practice, many Ethiopians adhere to periods of fasting throughout the year, during which they abstain from eating animal products. Ethiopian cuisine therefore offers a rich tradition of vegetable-based dishes. North Linden’s Addis Restaurant offers handsomely arranged vegetarian injera platters that include zesty preparations of lentils, beets, cabbage, spinach and more. Somali restaurants, such as Hoyo’s Kitchen, offer similar dishes—sometimes referred to as “sport plates”—with comparable components but slightly milder spicing. Meanwhile, the Kenyan restaurant Wycliff’s Kitchen carries a vegetarian entrée known as chapati madondo that includes Peruano beans in coconut milk with chapati flatbread and your choice of three sides: sukuma wiki (collard greens or kale with onions), kabeji (fried cabbage with onions) or fresh spinach sautéed with onions.