I used to be a bit more of an experiential eater. I wanted it all – innovative yet healthy cuisine, generous portions, served in a serene (or trendy, or upscale) atmosphere.
These days, eating out is more about avoiding cooking than it is about creating a memorable experience. It’s just the nature of having a life in which I pack in a lot to each and every day. But eating well and eating delicious things are still important to me, and fast food is barely an option as a vegan; even if I wanted it, it’s all meat and fried foods. Plus, I prefer to eat at locally-owned restaurants.
When I’m looking for a place that puts substance over style – generous servings, packs a nutritional punch, AND doesn’t leave a huge dent in my wallet – these are my top picks. Incidentally, they also take you on a bit of a world tour of culinary delights.
587 Bank Street
This adorable restaurant was recently “discovered” by Ottawa vegans and is loved for its authentic and delicious all you can eat vegan buffet. I am so enamoured that I’ve created a verb; we don’t eat at Hareg, we simply Hareg. It’s super healthy, but also incredibly delicious. The hot buffet alone has 16 different dishes. The redder they are, the spicier they are. My favourites are the spinach, the split peas, the green lentils, and the potatoes and carrots. The price is more than fair (about $10-11), and the all-vegan buffet is available every day of the week. For the uninitiated, you eat with your hands at Ethiopian restaurants, using sour injera bread.
Ceylonta (Sri Lankan)
403 Somerset Street W.
Ceylonta serves authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Much of the menu is vegan, or can be easily made vegan upon request including the veg thali, some dosai, the rotti, and many appetizers. The food is relatively inexpensive, and very filling. The veg thali is enough food for two moderately hungry people (like my husband and I) if you also have a couple of appetizers, and is one of Ceylonta’s signature dishes. Tamara who works there is especially knowledgeable about veganism. There is an all you can eat lunch buffet on weekdays for $12.99 that is about ⅔ vegan, and they’ll make you vegan rotti upon request. There’s also a location on Carling, but I’ve never been to it.
Flavours of the Caribbean (Caribbean)
259 York Street
Flavours of the Caribbean recently re-opened after nearly six years closed! It’s run by the charismatic Frederick and his two charming sons, and is currently open seven days a week. It is noted for its vegan roti, including tempeh, tofu, chana, vegetable, sweet potato and potato. You can also get the roti as a platter, and many of the sides (such as fried plantain) are vegan and delicious. There is limited seating available and it does fill up on a weekend evening. This place is not particularly fancy or modern, but it’s homey, and it has a chilled out ambience. I will sometimes buy a couple of tempeh rotis, and eat half of them at once for lunch along with a smoothie or fruit/veggies. The most expensive one is something like $11.
Asian Stars (Asian Fusion)
1380 Clyde Avenue
Tucked into the side of a business complex and a Denny’s, Asian Stars has a separate vegan menu with about 20 dishes, and daily vegan specials. It offers huge bowls of soup, delicious appetizers, and a range of stir fry and noodle dishes that include a choice of faux meat or tofu. The food is very fresh and beautifully presented. Don’t miss trying the pad thai, the kung pao tofu, and the Thai tomato soup. The spring rolls and summer rolls are also excellent, although leave them out if you’re trying to be on the cheap. The pad thai is enough for two small-ish lunches, much like Flavours’ roti. Its decor is efficient and clean, and the staff are very friendly. They are so cute and eager to please. Your meal is served with ice water or jasmine tea (when it’s cold out).
House of Targ (Polish)
1077 Bank Street
House of Targ is actually a basement pinball arcade. It’s dark and loud, and doesn’t have much ambience. BUT, they make special vegan “cheddar bacon” perogies, which are served with a side of cashew dill “sour cream.” Those are available on the evenings that HofT is open, but the real value can be found with their brunch. On weekends, House of Targ has a vegan brunch platter; for only $12 you get six perogies with the fixings, toast, a fruit cup, and unlimited coffee (juice or tea also available.) It’s super filling, and there are no additional drinks or desserts to tempt you and raise the bill. Plus, a scary dude announces your order through a megaphone when it’s ready.
What are your favourite vegan food value picks?