Remember all those nights of overcooked vegetables taunting you on an otherwise empty plate? Well, you’ve come a long way and now you’re as cool as a cucumber in obtaining your five a day of tasty produce. On the Menu presents you with the best in vegetarian and vegan fare at these local restaurants, so you’ll be sure to get your apple a day.

Dishing It Out

Dish Café
5722 Calle Real
(805) 964-5755
Price: Under $10

Nestled in a busy strip mall, the Dish Café is a rare gem for vegetarians or anyone else looking to enjoy a flavorful, healthy and unique dining experience.

Owner Bill Evick said the eatery combines flavors and foods from around the world.

“Dish Café is cuisine that can best be described as global fusion,” Evick said. “We believe that gourmet dining can be done in healthy, environmentally friendly food.”

The menu offers a diverse selection of pizzas, salads, enchiladas, burgers and wraps, using almost all organic ingredients from local farmers and no refined flour.

Although most of their entrees come with meat or fish, cashier Stephanie Philson said any item can be easily altered to fit the needs of a vegetarian or vegan diet and are sure to blow away your average vegetarian meal in the culinary creativity.

“There are vegetarian choices in every section of the menu,” Philson said. “We have soy cheese and most of the fruits and vegetables we use are organic.”

The eclectic elements, which make up the décor of the Dish serve to relax and to inspire. Large paintings of colorful artwork from Hawaii light up the walls and give the restaurant a vibrant energy, perfectly complementing the bright flavors and colors in their exotic food. With a candle on every table and the sounds of jazz permeating the air, this restaurant is a tranquil oasis to ease the mind and replenish the body.

It should come as no shock that the most popular items on this vegetarian-friendly restaurant are their salads. However, these innovative salads are nothing to yawn at. Even someone who has tried just about every kind vegetable combination is sure to find these salads, made with an exotic variety of fresh ingredients and tossed with a wide selection of handcrafted dressings, anything but average.

“Probably our most popular salad is out Thai Papaya Salad,” Evick said.

This mountain of flavor and crunch is made up of succulent green and orange papaya, raw beets, bean sprouts, cucumber, jicama, carrots, basil scallions, a sweet and zesty cilantro roasted Thai peanut dressing and comes with your choice of chicken, or for a completely vegan meal, sautéed tofu.

Another popular item is the Vegetarian Egg Rolls. Served warm and slightly crispy on the outside with fresh vegetable flavor on the inside, these appetizers are perfectly accompanied by coconut apricot mustard and sweet and sour dipping sauces for a unique twist on a usual favorite.

For a seasonal favorite that is perfect for a winter night’s meal, the restaurant’s comforting homemade soups include the vegan yellow split pea and cream of carrot.

Dish Cafe’s sandwiches include the Vegetarian, made with fresh hummus, tabbouleh, lettuce, tomato, cheese, a generous amount of guacamole, cucumber, onions, sprouts and tzatziki (cucumber yogurt) sauce. Just order it without the dressing and cheese if you’re vegan. For a South American spin on the standard sandwich, the eatery serves Puerto Rican Plantain sandwiches, or Tostones as they’re known in Puerto Rico. They flatten and flash fry a green plantain and use it in place of the bread.

“We’re trying to mix flavors from different continents,” Evick said.

Diners with diets of all kinds can find the sweet finish they’re looking for with their selection of homemade desserts. They have a delicious carrot cake with five moist layers piled high and topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting. The Vegan Bomb, one of their many shakes, is made with a winning combination of chocolate almond milk, peanut butter and a frozen banana.

“There is no ice cream in it or anything like that and it tastes just like a milkshake,” Evick said.

The Dish Café is not only concerned with keeping its customers healthy, but is environmentally conscious as well. It refrains from using Styrofoam and recycles used oil.

The eatery serves lunch and dinner specials daily and all of their pasta dishes, including the flavorful Asian Stir Fry with tofu, are served with organic brown rice pasta for an all-natural and satisfying meal.

This local’s favorite serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The diverse and delicious cuisine served at the Dish Café is sure to perk up the palate of anyone adventurous enough to see how the garden grows.

Stay Just a Bit Longer

Sojourner Cafe
134 E. Canon Perdido St.
(805) 965-7922
Price: $10 – $20

Walking up to Sojourner Cafe may feel as if you’ve just pulled up to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. The restaurant glows with warm lights lining the doors, which open up to friendly faces while the smell of fresh, wholesome food wafts through the air. That comforting and homey atmosphere makes this the perfect place to rest and enjoy a good meal no matter where you’ve journeyed from or what your dietary needs may be.

Owner Donna Mudge said while the cuisine is mostly vegetarian, there is something for everyone.

“We are mostly vegetarian but you can be a vegan and bring a meat-and-potatoes type person in and they can find something they like,” Mudge said.

Many vegan or dairy-free dishes are available. All of the grains and legumes are organic and the eatery serves organic free-range chicken. Mudge said the eatery has specials for lunch and dinner.

“We have our regular menu then we do specials at lunch and dinner,” Mudge said. “We post our specials for lunch and dinner every day on our Web site. A lot of our specials are repeated. We have probably 30 to 40 regular-type specials,”

The popular Briyani Stew special consists of vegetables and garbanzos sautéed in a garam curry blend served over rice with mango chutney, curry and toasted walnuts for a soothing yet stimulating mix of flavors and textures, which can be made vegan upon request.

Another must-try vegetarian item is the Gingered Tofu Wonton Pillows. These pillows are assuredly something to dream about. They consist of lightly fried tofu, served in a sweet and succulent pineapple coconut milk sauce with napa cabbage kimchi and steamed vegetables.

Vegan soups such as the Turkish Lentil with Mint and the Tomato Pesto with Rice are sure to both warm you up on a winter’s night and wake you up with their innovative combinations of flavors.

As a perfect mushroom cap to a great meal, the cafe employs two in-house bakers who whip up different vegan and non-vegan desserts daily for lunch and dinner.

They boast a wide variety of non-dairy desserts including the vegan German chocolate cake and a vegan fruit-sweet apple apricot crumble tart, served warm and topped with rice or soy vanilla ice cream.

Server Rebecca Allison said that an original and decadent dessert is their Lavender Pots de Crème.

“It’s a ramekin full of really rich, wonderful chocolate frosting and this variation has a lavender infusion,” Allison said.

The Sojourner Cafe is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

With a welcoming atmosphere, hearty food and an abundance of awe-inspiring desserts made daily, you may enter the cafe as a sojourner but will probably end up a settler in this territory of tremendous taste.

Back to Basics

Natural Cafe
508 State St.
(805) 962-9494
Price: Under $10

Living up to its name, The Natural Cafe offers healthy fare to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike that both your taste buds and your body will appreciate. Owner Kelly Brown said she wanted to create a restaurant that provided vegetarian fare that was also tasty.

“My goal was always how to make veggies taste good,” Brown said.

The cafe achieves this goal in many ways, producing a variety of flavorful vegetarian takes on standard menu options. In the Portabella Mushroom Burger, a marinated, grilled Portabella mushroom topped with jack cheese, grilled onions, juicy tomato, sprouts, pesto and garlic mayonnaise on seven-grain bread serves a savory alternative to your traditional hamburger patty.

Another veggie-infused update on classic comfort food is the Veggie Lasagna, which includes spinach pasta smothered in a blanket of ricotta cheese, fresh vegetables and marinara sauce with garlic bread on the side.

To those who may have assumed that veggie burgers were bland, the Zen Burger is sure to enlighten you with its surprisingly flavorful taste.

“The Zen Burger is a vegetable and grain patty charbroiled, served on a whole wheat bun with garlic mayo, shredded lettuce, sprouts and a nice slice of tomato and it comes with blue corn chips and homemade salsa,” Brown said.

Another popular vegetarian item is the Stuffed Veggie Quesadilla, which is made with fresh sautéed vegetables and cheese, wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and complemented by a confection of condiments including guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Non-dairy products such as soy cheese, soymilk and veganase are available upon request.

“The whole menu can be modified vegan,” Brown said. “Every day over half the menu is organic.”

The eatery prepares two soups daily, one vegetable and one cream-based, which are served with hearty seven-grain bread. The eatery also has dinner specials to please both veggie- and meat-loving patrons.

“We have a fish special and a pasta special every night,” Brown said.

For those looking to end a healthy meal with a satisfying dessert, the restaurant has a variety of creamy shakes, which can be made with soymilk upon request, baked goods such as brownies and carrot cake and a wide selection of smoothies.

“Our smoothies are fruit and fruit juice only, no fillers, and we have great vegetable juice that we squeeze fresh to order,” Brown said.

If the catchy names don’t entice you, the ingredients in smoothies such as Strawberry Fields, made with strawberry, banana and apple juice or the Michelle My Belle made with peach, pineapple, and pineapple-coconut juice, should convince you to end your meal on the right note.

If you are looking for a meal that is naturally nourishing, head on over to the Natural Cafe, which is open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m, and you won’t be disappointed in your quest for wholesome and scrumptious cuisine.

Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore or curious carnivore, these local restaurants are sure to satisfy your organic tastes with eclectic menus and surprisingly delicious dishes.