Turn over a new leaf this year - eat more veggies, less meat

Turn over a new leaf this year - eat more veggies, less meat

Most of us vow to eat healthier at the start of a new year. Upping your veggie intake is a huge part of that goal, so how about going vegetarian part-time? Your body will thank you (and so will the environment) for having a meatless day once or twice a week.

And if you think going veggie means you’re stuck with only a few boring salad options, think again. Here's something full-time vegetarians already know:

Vancouver has more and more vegetarian restaurants opening every year, and their menu offerings, from casual to upscale, are inspiring. Instead of getting the short end of the stick on the menu, vegetarians are the main focus at these spots with an abundance of delicious choices. Give some of these restaurant-made, plant-focussed dishes a try; they might encourage creativity in your own kitchen for future meatless Mondays.

Bandidas Taqueria
Credit: Flickr / Jennifer

Bandidas Taqueria

The Mexican-inspired food at this charming spot on the Drive may make you forget about all the meat-filled tacos and burritos you're used to. One bite of the Ronny Russell taco (roasted yams and onions, guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage and pumpkin seeds) or a taste of the Birdy (eggs, kale, hummus, apple salsa, red cabbage, Mexican rice in a tortilla) and you likely won’t miss their meaty cousins.

Not only are all the ingredients fresh (with almost everything made in-house, including the tortillas), the prices are affordable too: four tacos will only set you back $10. Bandidas is open 9:00 a.m. till midnight every day and serves breakfast until 3:00 p.m.

2781 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
 

Loving Hut Express
Credit: Flickr / Jennifer

Loving Hut Express

This little yellow food truck serves up yummy 100 per cent vegan burgers, sandwiches and sides and is converting one meat eater at a time to the veg side. Loving Hut Express was the first vegan truck in Vancouver, and there are regular lineups every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the truck's usual spot near The Roundhouse in Yaletown.

At first glance, most of the items on the Loving Hut Express menu sound like usual barbecue grub, but a closer look (and taste) reveals that the Philly cheesesteak sandwich, bacon mushroom burger, and crispy chick’n burger are all made with meat substitutes, vegan cheese and veg-based sauces like guacamole and jalapeño relish. They also offer gluten-free buns, onion rings, yam fries, cheese fries and chocolate tiramisu.

The menu changes each week, but you can follow Loving Hut Express on Twitter and Facebook to get menu and location updates.

Davie St and Pacific St, Vancouver

The Parker
Credit: The Parker

The Parker

There is no meat in sight at this upscale dinner-only restaurant that has a creative veggie-based menu as well as vegan and gluten-free options. The Parker aims to be as sustainable as possible and as a result changes their small menu often to showcase the best in local and seasonal ingredients.

Former Top Chef Canada season one competitor Curtis Luk is the one responsible for the beautiful and very original plant-based dishes that come out of the kitchen. Recent menus have included a tartine made with brussel sprouts, lentil purée with a poached egg, and a dish titled “root chaat” crafted with roasted yam, black chickpeas, mint chutney and pomegranate molasses.

While the menu is small, many of the dishes have names that may be unfamiliar to you. To make it easy on yourself, past diners recommend ordering “the degustation” for your table:  a unique tasting menu crafted by the chef to give you a chance to try a variety of items for $29 per person.

237 Union Street, Vancouver
 

The Naam
Credit: Flickr / Derek Reeve

The Naam

Ask around for vegetarian fare in the city, chances are you'll hear about this institution. The laid-back Naam has been around for over 30 years in Kitsilano. Best of all it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all those veggie-fueled cravings whether its at breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Everyone, even carnivores, will likely be able to find something appealing on the menu as you can expect to find many casual favourites, minus the meat, including quesadillas, nachos, pizza, and Asian noodle bowls. Their breakfast items are always a big hit, and are served 6:00 a.m. till 11:30 a.m. during the week, and till 1:00 p.m. on the weekend. Regulars recommend the tofu and veggie scramble or vegan banana pancakes with blueberry syrup.

2724 W 4th Ave, Vancouver

Caffè Brixton
Credit: Flickr / bmann

Caffè Brixton

This little gem is slightly off the beaten path near Main Street in Chinatown, but it definitely deserves a look. Caffè Brixton is a casual spot with a cosy vibe thanks to the exposed brick walls and distressed wooden tables and chairs. It’s a great place to meet a friend for coffee, a drink and even a quick bite. And while it is not an all-vegetarian menu, a large portion of the offerings are meat-free.

Breakfast is served til 5:00 p.m. and highlights include the wild mushroom and brie omelette, and the gluten-free breakfast falafel wrap. Later in the day there are quinoa cakes, onion and goat cheese tarts and even vegetarian poutine (with miso gravy) available.

For those that like a sweet deal, on Thursday nights, $11 will get you a veggie burger and a beer. And while its name may imply it’s a coffee joint, this spot stays open till 2:00 a.m. on the weekend and has an extensive drink menu, including a rum and root beer float.

212 E Georgia St, Vancouver
 

The Acorn
Credit: Flickr / Are you gonna eat that

The Acorn

While it's only been open a short time (since summer 2012), upscale vegetarian and vegan eatery The Acorn has already made a mark on the restaurant scene.

Inventive chef Brian Skinner surprised many when his seared king oyster mushrooms dish with confit potatoes, sherry gel, carrot meringue and mushroom jus won first place over several meat dishes at Victoria's Gold Medal Plates competition in November 2013.

That stand-out mushroom dish is still on the menu for diners to try, alongside an abundance of other imaginative dishes including raw beet ravioli with macadamia cheese, pickled green strawberries, sorrel and a cider glaze.

The Acorn opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m., and doesn't take reservations so plan accordingly.

3995 Main St, Vancouver

Graze
Credit: Graze

Graze

This might be the vegetarian restaurant for omnivores who don't want to venture too far from from the beaten path. The menu at Graze covers a number of popular comfort foods, but has given them a veggie makeover. There’s mac and cheese (brown rice pasta, coconut cheddar, with eggplant, mushroom), yam and eggplant perogies with shaved beets, and the waffle sandwich with seitan used to imitate bbq pulled pork. In addition to dedicating their restaurant to plant-based fare, Graze is green in other ways: they grow their own herbs and vegetables using collected rainwater, support local suppliers as much as possible, solar heat their water and compost regularly. Graze is open for dinner starting at 5:00 p.m. during the week, and additionally opens at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays for brunch.

3980 Fraser St., Vancouver, BC

Heirloom
Credit: Heirloom

Heirloom

An unlikely pair owns this beautiful South Granville vegetarian restaurant: Yogi Johl, a former Olympic wrestler, and Gus Greer, owner of local dive bars the Bourbon and Johnny Foxes.

Not exactly who you`d expect to put together a light and airy room that serves only plant-based dishes, but both men had recently made the decision to cut down on meat for health reasons, and partnered up to share the veggie message with the rest of Vancouver.

Expect to find a little of everything on the menu, from chilli and curries and to salads, pastas and burgers, most for under $18. There's a little something for everyone here, including breakfast, as Heirloom is open from 9:00 a.m. until midnight every day. If you do stop in, the deep fried avocado frites are a must, and there's an extensive drink list, so why not try the blue green algae lemonade just for kicks? You may turn over a new leaf.

1509 West 12th Ave, Vancouver