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10 ways to steer clear of meat in Austin

Jane Sumner

In all my years covering Texas film and TV production for The Dallas Morning News, only one of the hundreds of writers, directors and actors I interviewed stopped talking, picked up the phone and ordered room service.

Shirley MacLaine ran her eyes down The Houstonian menu. "We'll have chicken vegetable soup," she announced. "But I'm vegetarian," I protested. "So am I," MacLaine shot back. "You can pick out the chicken."

So I picked out the chicken. Vegetarians learn early to cope. It's been more than 20 years since I stopped ingesting fellow planetarians and I've never gone hungry. The world is so full of edible plants, it's a shame to cause suffering to eat.

In a state where barbecue is a quasi-religion, steer statues are customer come-ons and mounted heads gustatory décor, eating out wasn't easy at first. But by the time I left in 2006, Richardson, with its busy Asian community, had three Buddhist vegetarian restaurants.

Austin, too, I soon learned, caters to those with a reverence for life. Not only are there more than a dozen no-meat eateries, but many local restaurants and food trailers make an effort to accommodate clientele on plant-based diets.

Even barbecue joints, especially Black's in nearby Lockhart, offer veggie sides, and most upscale chefs, if asked, will create artistic unadvertised plates sans animal protein. And from 11 to 2 weekdays, pleasant, atmospheric Taste of Ethiopia in Pflugerville serves up a splendid vegan buffet for $8.95.

Every vegetarian from Fiona Apple to Dweezil Zappa has pet eating places. What follows are my personal favorites, where a visiting or native vegetarian can find nourishment in Austin. Some are pure PETA; the others vegetarian- and/or vegan-friendly.

For a list of area restaurants offering all or some animal-free options, visit www.vegaustin.com/restaurants .

Bouldin Creek Cafe

1900 S. First St.

416-1601

Welcoming all-vegetarian South Austin hangout with vegan options, warm tattooed wait staff and indoor seating that feels al fresco. For $6.50, try The Renedict (two free-range eggs, spinach, local tomatoes, tofu "bacon" and homemade vegan Hollandaise on grilled ciabatta), the Wanna-BLT (tofu "bacon," green leaf, local tomatoes and basil aioli on grilled sourdough) or the Chick Pea "Chik'n" Salad Sammich. Organic coffee and 25 different hot teas.

Madras Pavilion

9025 Research Blvd., Suite 100

719-5575

Where else can you get mostly South Indian vegetarian cuisine that's strictly kosher? There's an a la carte menu at this North Austin restaurant, but go for the daily luncheon buffet with some 24 items including soups, breads, chutneys and dessert for $10.99. Comes with a spicy or mild dosa (a light, crispy crepe of fermented lentil and rice flour with potato-onion filling) delivered hot to your table. No additives or preservatives. And if lucky, you might get to watch a cricket match on Indian TV.

Casa De Luz

1701 Toomey Road

476-2535

Austin's only macrobiotic 100 percent vegan establishment. Mostly organic meals in blissful surroundings behind Barton Springs Road's Restaurant Row. Freshly prepared all-you-can-eat soup and salad with one fixed-price entrée of greens, grains, veggies, beans and pickled vegetables for $11.09. No refined oils, sugar or artificial ingredients. Breakfast ($6.47) and Sunday brunch ($12.94). Check the daily changing menu with theme nights at www.casadeluz.org.

Swad

9515 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 156

997-SWAD (7923)

The local Indian community flocks to this no-frills order-at-the-counter veggie restaurant tucked away in a North Austin strip mall. Swad's neon sign promises "vegifood," then delivers flavorful, authentic cuisine from North and South India and the state of Gujarati in West India. The $9.95 thali special (vegetables, rice, raita, pickle, dal, papad, salad and flatbreads) is enough for two. Closed Tuesday. Stop by the fascinating Indian grocery next door.

Karibu Restaurant & Bar

1209 E. Seventh St.

320-5454

The Ethiopian bistro Karibu (Swahili for "welcome" ) in East Austin offers a vegan plate that includes up to six vegetables with salad at lunch for $6.99. Three vegan plates available at dinner, each for $8.95. Eat with your hands using injera, the spongy, slightly tangy traditional Ethiopian flatbread made from the nutritious grain Maskal Teff, to scoop up a mouthful. Organic coffee from Ethiopia, the birthplace of java. South African wines. Closed Sunday.

El Azteca

2600 E. Seventh St.

477-4701

Old-timey pink-and-green Tex-Mex café in East Austin owned by la familia Durón Guerra, pioneers in veggie options, since 1963. The menu depicting buff Aztec warriors transporting voluptuous maidens has 12 Veggie Combos for less than $10. At lunch, $6.99 gets you the Vegetarian Special: one cheese enchilada, one bean burrito, a chalupa, iced tea and sherbert or polvorón (Mexican cinnamon cookie). Breakfast Saturday only but served all day. Closed Sunday.

Titaya's Thai Cuisine

5501 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite C101

458-1792

This veg-friendly eatery in a North Austin strip mall just south of the Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters packs 'em in for lunch and dinner. A broccoli stalk marks vegetarian items, such as the Pad Thai Lunch Special ($6.95). Most dishes can be made with tofu or a vegetable, and all vegetarian and tofu dishes are prepared vegan. Try the fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce ($3.50), spinach dumplings with black sweet and sour sauce ($4.50) and Thai fried rice with tofu ($7.95). Polite, attentive service in attractive setting. Worth the wait.

Hoover's Cooking

2002 Manor Road

479-5006

In East Austin, Hoover Alexander is as much loved for himself as for his down-home Southern dishes. Scan the blackboard or scroll down the menu to House Mates for nine vegetarian (sans gravy) sides. Choose succulent butter beans as one of a three-veggie plate ($7.99). On weekends, savor a sweet potato pancake with homemade sweet potato syrup ($2.99) for breakfast. Second location: 13376 Research Blvd. Watch for Hoover's "veggie-centric" Soular Food Trailer planned for 12th Street in East Austin.

Bartlett's

2408 W. Anderson Lane

451-7333

Formerly Houston's, this popular North Austin draw has hostesses dressed for a Federico García Lorca play, a crackerjack wait staff and one of the best veggie burgers in town. Homemade daily of brown rice, black beans and oat bran with sweet soy and melted jack, it comes with a choice of side for $13. The $16 seasonal vegetable plate is memorable. Last year, longtime owner Tim Bartlett changed the name but not the menu, service or inviting clublike atmosphere.

Eastside Café

2113 Manor Road

476-5858

Known for the veggies, herbs and flowers picked fresh from its on-site organic garden and urban HausBar Farms, the restaurant in this cozy 1920s East Austin house offers several vegetarian and vegan options. Try the garden vegetable enchiladas with verde or spicy roja sauce for $10.95. Or fashion a three-vegetable plate (acorn squash with soy ginger sauce is choice) with soup or salad for $9.50. And if Bootsie's luscious buttermilk chess pie ($8.50) topped with fresh strawberries and big enough for two isn't vegetarian, I don't want to know.