Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Buddhist-Vegetarian Restaurants

Vegetarian options are getting easier and easier to find these days, but restaurants that can also accommodate Buddhist practitioners wishing to avoid the "five pungent plants" (onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives) is still a rarity to find. As such, I thought it might be a good idea for me to start a list of restaurants I've found that are "Buddhist-Vegetarian" and also restaurants that are "Buddhist-vegetarian" friendly (meaning you have to specifically tell them not to put onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, or chives). I'll also add restaurants that have some (very limited) Buddhist-vegetarian menu items.


BV = Buddhist-Vegetarian (onion/garlic not used at restaurant)
BVF = Buddhist-Vegetarian Friendly (dishes regularly have onion/garlic but many of them can be requested to be onion-garlic free)
BVF* = Buddhist-Vegetarian Friendly but risky. Same as BVF but they sometimes get sloppy and accidentally forget to follow orders or forget to check the soup-bases for garlic/onion powder.
LBV = Limited Buddhist-Vegetarian options (a limited set of items that can be made without onion-garlic at customer's request)

San Jose/Sunnyvale/Bay Area California

(BVF) Chaat Bhavan [Sunnyvale and Fremont] - This is an Indian restaurant with locations in Sunnyvale and Fremont. They are entirely vegetarian and have a good selection of "jain friendly" (no onion, no garlic) dishes. Look for the Jain-friendly star icon next to the menu items. Note that this restaurant defines "Jain vegetarian" as no onion, no garlic. They are not truly Jain since true Jain diet excludes all plants grown in the ground (such as potatoes).

(BV) Great Vegi Land (main site here, but may lag)  [Sunnyvale] - This is a traditional Chinese vegetarian restaurant that is Buddhist friendly. The food is delicious! They are located in Sunnyvale. Remember to bring cash as they are CASH ONLY.

(BVF*) Merit Vegetarian Restaurant [Sunnyvale] - This is an Asian vegetarian restaurant. The cooking style is Asian fusion as they use Indian and Chinese spices but I consider them mainly Vietnamese-Chinese (with a bias towards Vietnamese style). It has ties to the Ching Hai group. The food is great! A lot of the items can be made without onion/garlic. I personally like the Indian Fried Rice. Some notes: You'll need to ask them which menu items are onion-garlic free, and for soups, to have them confirm the soup-base is also onion-garlic free. When you get your dish, make sure they didn't overlook your order (as they have added onions to my dish by mistake several times).

(LBV) Pasta Pomodoro [Santa Clara / San Jose / Santana Row] - This is an Italian restaurant chain. One of the restaurants is located in Santana Row. The ravioli dishes can be made without onion/garlic. I'm not certain whether the ravioli skin has eggs or not (so you will need to call in advance to double check). Also, some of the pastas can be made without onion/garlic. My wife had the siciliane. It was good, though, I believe they used cooking wine since the eggplant had a bit of the taste. Call in advance to check.

(LBV) Dosa & Curry Cafe [Downtown San Jose] - This is a hole-in-the-wall place to go to for late-night Indian food. They have very late hours and are popular among college students. They have some of the best freshly-made naans I've ever tasted. You can ask for Mattar Paneer to be made without onion or garlic. For drinks, you can order a mango lassi. That's pretty much all you can order that is Buddhist friendly. Oh, also, one of the spring dosas can be made without onion or garlic. You'll have to ask, but we didn't like it since it was way too spicy. [They seemed to have changed management. All items have onion/garlic now :(]

(LBV) Pizza Antica [Santa Clara / San Jose / Santana Row] - This is a pizza/Italian restaurant. They have some of the best thin-crust pizzas I've ever eaten. Only the margherita pizza was safe to order.

(LBV) Little Hot Pot [Fremont] - Chinese hotpot (huo guo) where you can definitely order a vegetarian soup-base without onion/garlic. Call in advance to find out what you can order. My wife ordered a milk-soup base and got the vegetable set. The sauces at the sauce bar might be a bit trickier to figure out which are without onion/garlic, but you can always inquire.

(BV) Dong Phuong Tofu [San Jose] - Vietnamese. The owners are Buddhist, so their stuff is without meat/garlic/onion by default. Very very cheap food and probably busy during lunch. The last time I went, it was still $5-$6 for a giant to-go box. Bring cash. They don't accept credit cards. In case you don't find it, it's in the Kohl's shopping plaza. (Comment: A reviewer on Yelp claims they served real shrimp... not so sure about this, but just in case, always ask).

(LBV) Veggie Grill [San Jose/Santa Clara/California - lots of locations] - American-style vegetarian restaurant. They have a limited selection of no-onion and no-garlic menu.  (See Veggie Grill under Los Angeles Area)

(BVF) Sogo Tofu [West San Jose/Cupertino] - Chinese vegetarian. TO GO lunch box only. Cash only for under $15. Expensive, but almost all of their items have no onion, no garlic. But double check just in case. Some items have eggs, so you need to ask.

(BVF) Veggie Garden [Mountain View] - Chinese Vegetarian. They have many items you can ask to make without onion/garlic. Moderately pricey, but it's Mountain View and has a good setting. Great for dates.

(BV or BVF)  Royal Greens Vegetarian [San Jose/Cupertino] - Tawainese vegetarian. By default Taiwanese vegetarian is Buddhist vegetarian (but always double check and ask). They have many options. Pricey compared to other restaurants and service can be slow. I only went their once because they took so long to prepare the menu. But, the food is delicious if you have the patience to wait.

(BVF) Loving Hut [Milpitas (other locations not friendly)] - Asian fusion vegetarian. Their menu has indicators for no-onion no-garlic items and there's quite a few to choose from. Loving Hut has other franchises, but it seems only the Milpitas location is Buddhist vegetarian friendly.

(LBVF) The Ace of Sandwiches [Palo Alto] - Sandwich shop which can make pretty good sandwiches without onion or garlic. Ask to leave out pesto, ketchup, pickles, garlic, or onions. Since you can ask to leave stuff out of your sandwich, it's pretty easy to order a hot sandwich that is Buddhist vegetarian. You just have to know beforehand what items typically have onion/garlic.

(BVF) Go Chaatz [Fremont] - Vegetarian Indian restaurant. Not as good as Chaat Bhavan, but has a decent selection of Indian food that can be made without onion/garlic. The food is spicy, but if you like variety, this is a place to go.

(BV) Veggie Lee [Hayward] - I've only been here once several days after they opened and they have a plethora of options to order from. I will forewarn that the place is slightly pricey. Expect paying about $15 per person. I've had one bad dish and one really good dish, but yelp reviews seem to be positive.

(BVF*) Mint & Basil [Milpitas/Fremont] - Vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant. Yes, they are vegetarian and use mock meat. They do use onion/eggs in some of their menu items, so you need to tell them no onion/garlic/eggs when you order. They do sometimes mistakenly put onion in dishes you tell them no onion. As usual, avoid sriracha sauce and ketchup (they have garlic powder). Expect prices to be around $10-$12 per dish. I did get a chance to provide feedback to the manager and mentioned that some of the sauces have garlic/onion powder. He mentioned he'll tell his cooking staff to be more aware of the ingredients when mentioning no onion/garlic.
After visiting this place several times, our favorite and safe dishes are:
- hot pots: tofu dumpling hot pot (request no onion or garlic). The other hot pots seem safe too.
- for kids: mac soup  (cheese sauce in mac & cheese tastes like it has onion/garlic powder)
- dishes: (still trying to figure out which dishes are safe here)

(BV) Veggieland [Cupertino/Santa Clara] - Buddhist Vegetarian restaurant food vendor inside a mall. It's a Vietnamese/Taiwanese style with interesting additions to make it unique in its own flavor. The owner/chef is Buddhist and I got a chance to speak to him. Everything they use abides by the Buddhist diet (no onion, no garlic, no shallots, no eggs, no chives). It's inside the Valco mall in Cupertino, situated in the food court next to JC Penny and Benihana. The food is delicious and very well priced ($7-9 per dish). Seaweed fried rice is my favorite dish so far. I will definitely be going back for more food since I've discovered this place.

(BVF) Green Lotus [San Jose] - Buddhist Vegetarian friendly restaurant. Vietnamese style. This is similar to Mint & Basil but there seems to be more variety. This is currently our new favorite place.

Chain Stores

These are places to go as a last resort if you can't find anywhere else to eat.

(LBV) Taco Bell: This is my very last option (if I can't find anywhere else to go). There's only 1 item you can order safely. Order a vegetarian Supreme Chalupa. You have to make sure that they get the "vegetarian" part as supreme chalupas normally have beef in it. They will substitute it with beans. This is my last resort since the Info and ingredients pages don't clarify what "natural flavors" are in the beans. *NOTE: Do NOT go to any TacoBells that are combined with KFC. They use the same oil they deep fry their chicken to fry their chalupa breads.

(LBV) In-N-Out: Two things you can safely order here:
  - Grilled cheese sandwich with no sauce. Only cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Tastes good when you're hungry, but otherwise, it's better to go elsewhere.
  - French fries

(LBV) Subway: You can check the ingredients page here. They sneak in garlic powder into a lot of the flavored breads. As such you're safe with ordering a "Veggie Delite" and choosing from the following options:
  - Bread: 9-Grain Wheat (NOTE: Contains honey), Flatbread, Hearty Italian Bread, Honey Oat Bread (NOTE: Contains honey), Monterey Cheddar Bread (available at limited stores)
  - You can pick any of the vegetables (except the onion). Not sure about pickles, or banana peppers.
  - Avocado spread is just avocado (extra cost), so it's safe.
  - Sauces: Only oil is safe. Everything else has onion/garlic/alcohol.
  - Spices: Oregano, salt, and pepper.

Oakland / Berkeley Area

(BV) Nature Vegetarian [Oakland] - This is a vegan Chinese restaurant (Cantonese style) that I've gone back to so many times that I can't count any more. They have such a large menu that you'll have to constantly go back to try something new. I haven't grown tired of the place and it's still the top pick for family outings. I've also seen monks there several times. It's good. You'll need to pay for parking. I recommend the Pacific Renaissance Plaza parking structure between Franklin St and Webster St on 9th street.

(BVF) Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant [Oakland] - This is a vietnamese vegetarian restaurant. You can ask them to leave out onion/garlic for many of the menu items. It's down the street from Nature Vegetarian. Not a bad place. I still prefer Nature Vegetarian over Golden Lotus.

(BVF) Cha-Ya [Berkeley] - This is a Japanese vegetarian restaurant where many of the dishes can be made onion-garlic free. Just inquire. Make sure they understand that no onion, no garlic also means no chives, no spring onions, no leeks, no scallions, and no shallots (as they can get confused).

Los Angeles Area

(BVF) Happy Veggie [Redondo Beach] - This is a Vietnamese style vegetarian restaurant. A good selection of dishes can be made without onion or garlic.

(LBV) Veggie Grill [Redondo Beach] - This is an American-style vegan burger place. Apparently, the cashiers have a booklet of allergies with "No Garlic" listed as a page in the book. There are several items that are order-able. You'll also have to request "No Onion" as well. The items we spotted that were order-able were the Papa's Portobello burger and the "Grillin' Chicken". You can add avocado to the Portobello burger (otherwise, it's just a boring mushroom burger with tomatoes). The fries are good to order too (just no ketchup or sauce).

(BV) Vege Paradise [San Gabriel] - This is Chinese/Taiwanese/Catonese-style vegetarian restaurant. It's been featured in the Chinese news as one of the best, and oh man, does it live up to that name. If I lived near by, this would probably be my place to go everyday. Only things to note: it's near Ranch 99, so the the large parking lot there was almost full. Restaurant has a $25-minimum for credit cards. I ended up shelling out $26 in cash (including tip) since pre-tip amount was shy of $25.

(LBV) Four Sea Restaurant [San Gabriel] - This is a Taiwanese breakfast/brunch place that has some Buddhist-vegetarian friendly options. I wasn't too impressed with the food, but my wife had a craving for traditional Taiwanese-style breakfast. The place definitely satisfied her cravings. I don't know the English names for the Buddhist-friendly items, but you can ask about the vegetarian items without onion or garlic. They are pretty friendly.

[List to be updated overtime as I recall more restaurants and places to share]