Guest article by Colin Gray
Want to reduce or eliminate meat and animal products from your diet, but still love the junk food that makes Captain Planet sad?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, um, not all vegan alternatives are made equal (one of the fake meats I tried is best described as “squidgy”). The good news is there are plenty of vegan junk food options in Austin that delete the guilt, but keep the pleasure.
Here is a list of my top five favorites.
#1 Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcake at Sugar Circus
Editor’s Note: Sadly, Sugar Circus closed in April 2016.
Sugar Circus, a funky, sky-blue little place on East 5th Street offers a huge range of traditional and vegan cupcakes with dozens of rotating flavors. I recently tried the gluten-free vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcake.
The combo of gluten-free and vegan might inspire a little dread if this is new dietary territory for you, but this cupcake was pretty much great all around. The cake part was chocolate-y and cinnamon-y with just a touch of heat. Personally, I find that a lot of Mexican hot chocolate flavored food goes a little too crazy with the cayenne, but the balance here is right on. The frosting was perfect both in flavor and texture, and that’s hard to accomplish even with the full complement of dairy options at your disposal.
Consensus: Does it taste like the real thing? Yup!
2613 East 5th Street — Website
#2 Freeto Pie at The Vegan Yacht
The giant, mustache-wearing octopus on The Vegan Yacht’s trailer is unmistakable. The menu features burritos, tacos and even a chili dog.
I chose the Freeto Pie, a meat-free spin on a Texas classic. The chili is flavorful, but a little light on spice, although hot sauce is provided. Get it with the optional avocado and daiya cheese.
Consensus: Does it taste like the real thing? Kinda sorta not really, but it definitely hits enough of the right notes to be satisfying, with the added bonus that it won’t kill your afternoon energy like the meaty variety.
2324B East Cesar Chavez Street — Website
#3 Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower at Alamo Drafthouse
Funny story. The last time I was at Alamo Drafthouse, I was perusing the new vegan menu and (kind of loudly) questioned: How good could vegan buffalo cauliflower possibly be? (Not during the movie. I am not a monster.) The guy next to me assured me that it was really good.
I was skeptical, but he was right. The cauliflower was crunchy, the buffalo sauce was buffalo-y and it might be my favorite dish on this list. The bigger pieces get a little less love and it’s more obvious that they are, you know, vegetables. But overall, the buffalo cauliflower is a knockout.
Consensus: Does it taste like the real thing? Not really, but in this case, that’s irrelevant. It’s fried stuff tossed in hot stuff and that’s a winning combination every single time.
Various locations — Website
#4 Strawberry Ice Cream at Sweet Ritual
A million years ago, I tried a certain brand of tofu-based, dairy-free ice cream that was…not awesome. And that kept me far, far away from ice cream alternatives for a long time. But the ice cream at Sweet Ritual was highly recommended to me by several people on multiple occasions. I got the strawberry variety, which did not disappoint.
It’s cashew-based, which is new to me, but not a difficult adjustment. The texture is good, just not creamy in the same way dairy is. The strawberry flavor hits you first, and then just a little earthiness floats in the background, which I’m guessing comes from the beet juice. It’s a little unusual, but not distracting.
Consensus: Does it taste like the real thing? This is another “no,” but like the cauliflower, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t taste exactly like dairy-based strawberry ice cream, but it does taste really good. So everybody wins.
4500 Duval Street — Website
Dietary changes bring palate adjustments, so there will probably be a day when I’m less critical of veggie burgers. So far, my favorite options in town have not even attempted to taste like burgers and, instead, are their own thing. For instance, 24 Diner has an excellent veggie patty that’s mostly beet-based. It’s awesome and in no way tastes like a burger.
But the vegan burger at Arlo’s is a mysterious duplicate of the classic flat top burger, with a crunchy patty and realistic American “cheese.” The tempeh bacon on the Bac’n Cheeze Burger stands out a bit. Without pork fat to balance it out, the smoke flavor is aggressive. Having said that, the burger is still great and you can always get the BBQ version.
Consensus: Does it taste like the real thing? Skip the tempeh bacon, and the answer is a big yes.
900 Red River and 2001 East Cesar Chavez — Website
With so many vegan-friendly options in Austin, you’re sure to find something healthy and satisfying when your junk food cravings kick in.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What are your favorite vegan spots in town?