Hot dogs, sandwiches and burgers, and all completely meatless?
Yes, it’s possible. And the results are often delicious.
This story is aimed squarely at vegans who find themselves at odds with restaurant menus favoring a meat-filled world.
Would you believe that some of the city’s best vegan options are at — gulp — bars?
Bars might seem the unlikeliest of places, but it’s a trend I’ve seen brewing for at least two years.
The phrase “vegan bar food” might strike as much fear and confusion in a food lover’s heart as the phrase “gas station sushi.” While vegan food isn’t everyone’s idea of great eating, the bars featured here serve vegan dishes that are pretty tasty if you can wrap your palate around vegetable-and-soy based dishes.
For those new to the word “vegan,” that just means someone who eschews all meat and animal products. It’s a strict form of vegetarianism, which generally allows animal products, such as cheese and eggs.
Take a look here at bars friendly to vegans. Know of a vegan-friendly bar in Pierce County not mentioned here? Contact me at email@example.com.
TOP OF TACOMA
3529 McKinley Ave. E., Tacoma; 253-272-1502; topoftacoma.com. 21 and older only.
Hey, vegans, the blue icon’s just for you.
Top of Tacoma owner Jaime Kay Jones makes hunting for vegan cuisine an easy sport. Just look for the blue “VO” icon, which appears on her bar’s menu 10 times, designating that an item can be made vegan. The icons take the guessing out of the verbal dance vegans often play tableside with all kinds of questions determining if the item truly is vegan.
“I learned a lot from Marrow,” said Jones, who opened that Sixth Avenue fine dining restaurant, with a menu built for meat eaters and vegetarians, in 2011 with chef and co-owner Kyle Wnuk. They sold it in 2014, but Jones’ education in vegetarian and vegan cooking spilled over to Top of Tacoma’s menu.
The McKinley neighborhood bar, which Jones opened in 2007, always has served food that’s far better than average neighborhood bar fare. Top of Tacoma serves some of the best sandwiches in town – for meat eaters and vegans alike.
“As a business owner, I think (vegan food) is a big area of opportunity,” said Jones. “It might take a little research and effort to establish your recipes, but really people are paying more and more attention to what they’re putting in their body.”
Because every dish is made to order in separate pans, and all sauces and dressings are made from scratch, cross contamination isn’t a worry.
Vegan specials commonly appear on her fresh board. She serves a vegan tofu scramble at the bar’s weekend brunch.
“I make sure there’s a lot of texture. Just like any recipe, you want that balance of salty, sweet, bitter and umami, all of those,” said Jones of her formula for her vegan bar menu. “I want it to be a complete meal and nutritious, and I don’t want people walking away hungry. It’s also a lot of trial and error.”
Try the: White bean and chickpea hummus ($9), a dish of feathery-textured dip with a glimmer of heat from the spicy North African condiment harissa. The hummus is served with a showy spread of halved grape tomatoes, sliced red onions, pepperoncinis and artichoke hearts.
The Mediterranean tofu gyro wrap ($9.50, with chips) used the same harissa-spiked hummus with garlic-tinged seared tofu, shredded lettuce, red onion and halved grape tomatoes in warm flatbread. The Buddha wrap ($9, with chips) was the star of the vegan menu with shredded carrots and a piquant seaweed salad wrapped up with peanut sauce, chopped cilantro and jalapenos in warm flatbread.
Pro tip: When ordering, be sure to specify vegan because most vegan items also come vegetarian.
THE RED HOT
2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-779-0229; redhottacoma.com. 21 and older only.
Co-owner Stu Miller, who runs the craft beer and hot dog tavern Red Hot with his brother Chris, was a vegan for 18 months. That gave him an appreciation for how miserable dining out can be for someone who skips all meat and animal products.
The lack of options is a complaint he hears from patrons and friends.
“I think what happens a lot is that people want to go out, but they have a vegan friend, and they say, ‘There’s nothing for me on this menu.’ Well, having something for everybody is why we added the vegan dogs, and people liked it. We didn’t want anybody left out, we’re an everybody tavern. Being in the Northwest, there’s definitely a lot more vegan and vegetarian folks in this area than other areas in the United States,” said Miller.
“When we first started at our old location (next door), we got a veggie dog, and you could sub it on any hot dog,” said Miller. That’s now expanded to four dogs with complicated toppers that are as well designed as the rest of the menu of gourmet hot dogs and house-made sausages.
Because vegan dogs are made to order in pans, there’s no worry about cross-contamination. The restaurant’s manager is a vegan, which Miller said keeps all staffers honest in their pursuit of meat-free cooking.
In addition to the four-item vegan dog menu, the restaurant offers a vegan scramble at its weekend brunch, and when the baseball season begins for the Tacoma Rainiers, The Red Hot’s booth at Cheney Stadium will offer vegan options.
The Red Hot uses the Tofurkey brand for vegan dogs. While they lack the snap of dogs and sausages made with natural casings (an animal product), the softer vegan dogs get a texture boost from thoughtful toppers.
Try the: Veganerwurst ($5), a vegan brat, a healthy handful of onions, housemade curry ketchup made with equal kicks of heat and pucker, and a top heavy layer of sauerkraut threaded with dill.
The M.L.K. ($5), a meatless kielbasa, also carried a big helping of sauerkraut, sweet relish, onions, lots of stone ground mustard and sliced sweet hot peppers.
The North End Not Dog ($4.50) held everything to love about a classic Chicago dog – yellow mustard, sport peppers, a pickle spear, tomato slice, celery salt, onions and sweet relish.
Don’t miss the barbecue baked beans ($2.50), all vegan and baked with a splash of beer, a fitting touch for the city’s finest selection of craft beer.
PETERSON BROS./ELEVEN ELEVEN
1111 S. 11th St., Tacoma; 253-284-1111; elevenelevenbar.com. 21 and older only.
You gotta love a tavern that usually has one television tuned to the Food Network. Owned by twins Robbie and Justin Peterson, the Hilltop neighborhood bar is known for its excellent sandwiches built on hoagie buns.
While two vegan sandwiches are listed on the menu, there’s a tip servers frequently hand out: Any sandwich can be made vegan with a substitution of vegan meatloaf and cheese. Just ask.
Try the: Vegan melt ($9.59, with chips), a warm and gooey sandwich built on a toasted sourdough baguette with thinly sliced house-made seitan, Daiya brand pepper jack cheese, a spicy housemade chimichurri sauce (a parsley-and-chile based condiment) and shredded lettuce, tomato and onion.
That same spicy chimichurri showed up on the veggie deli sandwich ($8.59), served cold on a sourdough hoagie, layered with artichokes, peppered cucumbers, lettuce, tomato and shredded carrot with a tasty layer of smashed avocado.
The tomato soup ($2.75 cup-$4.75 bowl) is housemade — and vegan.
1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma; 253-248-4265; thevalleytacoma.com. 21 and older only.
The menu here lists one vegan sandwich — a melt — but servers will tell you a secret if you ask about vegan options: Anything can be made vegan, and there’s an off-menu vegan Reuben.
This Tacoma Dome-area bar is known for its weekend brunches and terrific sandwiches similar to those offered at Peterson Bros./Eleven Eleven. In fact, the bar shares ownership between Robbie and Justin Peterson, owners of Eleven Eleven, and X Group Restaurants, which owns Asado and Engine House No. 9.
Try the: Vegan melt ($9.49) made with vegan Field Roast, herb Vegenaise, soy pepper jack cheese, shredded romaine, red onions and tomato on a toasted sourdough hoagie.
2705 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-4177; crownbartacoma.com. 21 and older only.
Christina Smyre bought Crown Bar in December and launched her new menu in January. But don’t worry, vegans, she kept the falafel burger intact.
Although they don’t advertise other items as vegan, servers were extremely helpful in navigating menu substitutions.
Try the: Falafel burger ($13), minus the Swiss cheese (it’s not vegan), made with a tasty, soft chickpea-based vegan patty, a spicy mustard sauce and grilled mushrooms with house-made bread-and-butter style pickles, sliced red onions, lettuce and tomatoes. Burgers come with house-made fries, which are fried in a separate fryer using sunflower seed-based oil.
Two tacos ($9) were described as vegetarian, but the squash-poblano-arugula tacos were easily turned vegan by subtracting the crema sauce. The tacos were flavored with house-pickled radishes, snappy pieces of fresh poblano and smoky tomato salsa.
These bars offer at least one vegan item each:
Pacific Grill: Head to the bar at downtown Tacoma’s Pacific Grill for its happy hour offering of wild mushroom spread ($5.50 during happy hour), a savory tangle of wild mushrooms and chopped smoked almonds, served with house-made rice crackers. Other vegan items are listed. I appreciated a server who warned that deep-fried vegan items were cooked in the same fryer as meat items. Be sure to check out the vegan dinner menu items, too. 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-3535; pacificgrilltacoma.com.
Zodiac Supper Club: This newer St. Helens neighborhood bar frequently features vegan tacos on its weekly Tuesday specials sheet, as well as vegan desserts. Veggie skewers and garlic bread with a vegan garlic topping also are offered. 745 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1891; zodiacsupperclub.com. 21 and older only.
Engine House No. 9: You won’t find anything listed as vegan on the menu at this Sixth Avenue family-friendly brewery and restaurant, but a vegan Gardein burger can be substituted on any burger. No substitute vegan cheese or condiments offered. 611 N. Pine St., Tacoma; 253-272-3435; ehouse9.com. All ages.
10 MORE TO TRY
These aren’t bars, but for vegans, or the vegan in your life, these are cafes, restaurants and bakeries in the Tacoma area worth visiting.
Quickie Too: This vegan soul food/southern Hilltop diner is a no-brainer. No questions need to be asked about “what’s in this” because everything on the lengthy menu served is free of meat or animal byproducts. Vegan brunch every weekend. 1324 Martin Luther King Jr. Way; 253-572-4549; plumbistro.com/locations.
Viva Tacoma: This Proctor restaurant’s menu slips between vegan and raw, but everything here is always vegan — and usually all organic. Chef Francisco Hernandez makes food as tasty as it is beautiful. 2602 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 253-503-6498; viva4life.com.
Marrow: This Sixth Avenue restaurant’s menu appeals to vegetarians and meat eaters, but menu items can be customized to be vegan. Co-owner/chef Matthew Schweitzer is creating the most imaginative — and flavor drenched — vegetarian food in town. 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-267-5299; marrowtacoma.com.
Ice Cream Social: This Sixth Avenue scoop shop has a wide range of traditional ice cream, but also has four to five daily vegan offerings with interesting flavors, such as the mojito sorbet and coconut chai. 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1660; icecreamsocialtacoma.com.
Infinite Soups: Every day, this soup cafe’s two Tacoma locations offers the gamut of soups for meat eaters and vegetarians, but at least four to five vegan soups are offered daily. Flavor combinations are as imaginative as they are nutritious — from the coconut curried potato to the Moroccan lentil and spicy Szechuan tofu. 445 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-274-0232 or 1102 A St., Tacoma; 253-272-2598. infinitesoups.com.
Lumpia World: This Filipino food truck with a deli in Northeast Tacoma (serving dinner only on weekdays; lunch and dinner weekends) offers a full-range menu for meat eaters and vegetarians, but always has one special order vegan lumpia option. 1000 Town Center NE, Tacoma; 253-952-2550; lumpiaworld.com.
Corina Bakery: This Tacoma bakery specializes in the gamut of traditional baked goods and desserts, but with a few specialties. One is gluten-free bakery items. The other is vegan baked goods. 602 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-5070; corinabakery.com.
Marlene’s Natural Foods Market and Deli: This Tacoma natural foods store has a deli with vegan options, including soup, a salad bar and vegan sandwiches. 2951 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-472-4080; marlenesmarket-deli.com.
Ah Badabing: This pizza joint on South Tacoma Way recently introduced a vegan pizza with a hummus base. 5240 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma; 253-582-2170; ahbadabingpizzatacoma.com.
Happy Belly: This downtown Tacoma restaurant has a flexible menu for meat eaters and vegetarians, but most of the menu is vegetarian. It’s not a vegan restaurant, but vegan items are offered. 1122 Market St., Tacoma; 253-365-6706; facebook.com/happybellytacoma.