BY ALEX SUNDSTROM
It’s not easy being a vegetarian in Cambridge these days. For one, the market for vegetarian food is soft: the much-heralded Life and Light in Boston suburbs closed recently. The fact that it’s winter also makes eating out tough – everyone wants a hearty, comforting roast chunk of lamb, not some humane gruel, and restaurant menus reflect that. While your friends pay $20 for some delicious preparation of venison or rabbit, you pay $19.50 for a plate of grilled beets or whatever else happens to be in season. Or, worse, you can stay in and try the food prepared by vegan activists – you probably saw the presentation with anti-chicken-farming posters and free Tofu Scramble in the Hark recently, which showed that with a tiny bit of effort, you can make an egg substitute that will allow you to sympathize with the legions of poorly-fed chickens out there.
There are obvious solutions to the problem of vegetarian dining out, such as Indian food, but there aren’t that many Indian restaurants close by, and presumably vegetarians are lazy too. With that in mind, here are a few nearby vegetarian options you may have overlooked:
Qingdao Garden (617-492-7540 for delivery, this site for an online menu) is probably the best source for delivered vegan or vegetarian food. The vegetarian spinach and vegetarian leek dumplings ($4.75 for a dozen) have soft skins that aren’t the least bit gummy and fresh, garlicky fillings. The vegetable lo mein is also excellent, compared to the greasy Happy Garden disaster that all HLS students inevitably experience when they order Chinese food. Yu Hsiang eggplant is less oily and therefore less delicious than Chinatown versions, but has a hearty quality lacking in most non-meat dishes.
Zoe’s Gourmet Chinese Cuisine (289 Beacon St., 11a.m.-10p.m.) serves more Sichuan food, and is unique in its offering of food designed to simulate meat. This is the same strategy employed by Morningstar Farms in their tofu-based Boca Burgers or quasi-hot dogs. Zoe’s has the advantages of serving dishes that have had hundreds of years to develop, and their vegetarian duck ($4.50), when it’s not too tough, is a fun facsimile of actual duck – crispy fried tofu mirrors duck skin, and the mushroom and carrot filling is a fun homage to the real thing. It won’t fool you, of course, but how could it? The tofu with hundred years egg (preserved duck egg) ($3.45) is a delicious protein source – the tofu is very soft and clean-tasting, quite unlike the Tofu Scramble stuff you’re probably used to, and the duck egg is like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, but with a saltier, meatier flavor.
The vegetarian Cuban sandwich at Chez Henri’s bar ($10.95 1 Shepard St., 6pm-11pm), in addition to being about a 5-minute jaunt from HLS, will satisfy the craving for really fatty food that vegetarians must get from time to time. Although it replaces the two types of pork found in the standard Cuban with mere grilled eggplant, red peppers, zucchini and the like, it retains the gooey gruyere cheese, red pepper aioli (which is basically mayo), and is still brushed with butter before being lovingly grilled. It’s only served at the bar, so you have to get there before 6:30 or so or order it to go.
The pizzas at Cambridge 1 (27 Church St., 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.) offer a pretty good meatless selection given their proximity to campus. Their crust borders on cracker-thin, but the ingredients all taste fresh and seem like distinct pizza elements rather than part of a murky whole. The sliced potato, mashed potato and rosemary version is good for a carbohydrate orgy, and the portobello mushroom, green onion and grilled onion pizza is just acidic enough to delight you. None of the food mentioned here is a tenth as good as your average piece of beef, of course, but mere vegetarianism doesn’t make you deserve the Hark salad bar.
2382 Mass AveCambridge
Su,M,W,Th: 11:30 – 10:30F, Sa: 11:30 – 11:00
zoe’s gourmet chinese cuisine
289 Beacon St.Somerville
11:00am – 10:00pm
1 Shepard St.Cambridge
6pm – 11pm
27 Church St.Cambridge
11:30am – 1:00am