Repress the flesh
A roundup of vegetarian-friendly restaurants with full flavor
Published: June 1, 2011
$=$5-$10; $$=$10-$25; $$$=$25-$50; $$$$=$50+
Aladdin Sweets & Cafe 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; Last year, this was just a small neighborhood place, lacking cloth doilies and polished steel cutlery, serving food on plastic plates and beverages in polystyrene cups. But what Aladdin lacked in china and stainless steel it more than makes up for in flavor and authenticity. And now, after an expansion last year that doubled the dining area and added an outdoor patio, it's bigger and better than ever.
The Blue Nile 221 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, 734-998-4746; 545 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, 248-547-6699; $$: A big part of the draw of this kind of dining is that you get to eat with your hands. You get only two all-you-can-eat choices: four meats and seven vegetables for $17.90 (which, obviously, ain't veg), or all-veg for $15.90 (kids 12 and under eat for half price, and kids 5 and younger eat free). Diners use small pieces of bread to scoop up the food, and the juices soak in. Closed Mondays.
BTB Burrito 810 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4822; 1140 S. University, Ann Arbor; 734-222-3715; 1906 Packard St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-9940: A friend of ours says it's "the best burrito joint in town," and it's always open nice and late, 11-4 a.m. at their smallish State Street spot, and 11-3 a.m. most days at their "cantina" location on South University (Packard Store is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. every day). A regular vegetarian burrito sets you back just $3.75, $4.75 with sour cream and guac, or $7.25 for a big, two-tortilla burrito with the trimmings. And it's that simple. What's more, the tax-inclusive prices mean you never have to fumble for anything smaller than a quarter at 2 a.m.
Byblos Cafe and Grill 87 W. Palmer St., Detroit; 313-831-4420; $: Located near Wayne State, this busy shop has held its own for several years, being all things to all people. Their massive menu offers more than 90 dishes, including vegetable-intensive Lebanese and Middle Eastern fare. Go meat-free while your friends can eat American food, even quesadillas, Cajun salmon, fettucine Alfredo, and fish and chips! All this, and even orange Crush to wash it down. Also has bargain prices of $3.75-$5 for wraps and sandwiches. Closed Sundays.
Cass Cafe 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400: A fixture on Cass Avenue for years now, this hip eatery's big-room bistro has really kicked up the kitchen in the last few years. And everything's prepared and plated consistently better than the old kitchen ever could. But nothing ever costs more than $15, most things are less, and what hasn't changed is that trusty lentil burger, a low-rent Cass Corridor classic itself. It seems to have been only $6.50 forever. Snag one of those on a night with a PBR special ($5 pitchers Sunday, $1 shell glasses Tuesday) and you have a pretty cheap night out with a pal or two. Heck, even a night alone at the bar can be fun, as there's usually a nice mix of neighborhood fixtures, old and young, white and black, poor and less-poor. The only thing they all seem to share is an unbeatable knack for chatter that ranks the joint among the best places to eavesdrop on conversations.
Earthen Jar 311 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, 734-327-9464; $: Earthen Jar's buffet-style eat-by-the-pound cuisine is cheap; most of it's vegan. They have everything from Indian specialties to vegan mac 'n' "cheese" to scrambled tofu. And, in the spirit of keeping it local, the dairy they use comes from legendary Calder's. You get a pound of food (literally — it's weighed by the pound) for less than six bucks, which is great for these times, with the R-word always looming over us.
Fly Trap 22950 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-399-5150; $: You can get a burger and fries or just plain eggs at this "finer diner," but don't expect the menu to be cliché side-of-the-highway fare. Vegetarians can find plenty to nosh on, from the tempeh burger to the lemongrass pho bowl (or perhaps some "three-cheese and mac," with its caramelized onions and herbs, or something called a "fettuccine bomb"), and their omnivore friends will delight in the copious-and-never-boring meaty options.
Good Girls go to Paris 15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-664-0490: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this miniature downtown eatery. Each crepe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. Certainly the "savories" run more toward meats. But among sweet crepes, which are the majority, customers like the "Fay," similar to a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster, plus pecans. Don't call ahead. Your crepe does need to be made to order, and it'll be much better if you eat it right then. Sometimes eating is about more than protein and calories; it's about flavor. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Goodwell's Natural Foods Market 418 W. Willis St., Detroit, 313-831-2130; This health-food store serves good, cheap vegetarian pita sandwiches. Though it's takeout only, you can usually find a place to sit on Willis, right next to Avalon Bakery. On a warm afternoon, you'll likely see more than one college student taking in the open atmosphere outside.
Inn Season Café 500 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak, 248-547-7916; $$: As we keep saying, Inn Season Café — a rare provider of vegetarian cuisine in metro Detroit — has gotten better as it has gotten older. Fine, organic ingredients have always been its hallmark, but it's so much more than "health food." With great effort, they comb farmers' markets and community supported farms to ensure only the freshest, best and most local food makes it to your plate. Very open to diners with dietary restrictions.
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