Let’s face it. If you’re a vegan like me, we’re not exactly the easiest people to dine with. But thankfully, I live in a city where there are a slew of delicious vegan options that even my carnivore friends can enjoy. And I’m not talking about a skimpy salad or boring pasta noodles. I’m talking meals so flavorful you’ll scratch your head wondering how they taste so good.
Since I switched to a vegetarian diet almost seven years ago (vegan earlier this year), I’ve never enjoyed food so much in my life. I’m not trying to convert you, but simply letting you know plant-based food can be just as exciting and fun as anything else. Veggie heads can rejoice in a variety of restaurants both off and on the Las Vegas Strip without settling for anything bland. Besides, you’re in Vegas! Everything in this town is far from ordinary.
Off the Strip: Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro
Close to downtown’s Arts District on 1236 Western Avenue, Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro is a Vegas experience you don’t want to pass up. This restaurant is not only vegan-friendly, but the kitchen is also 100 percent cruelty-free. Not to mention, the colorful and beautifully-presented entrees are packed with more flavor and flair than you’ll know what to do with. You’ll definitely ask yourself – Could this really be vegan?
“People get seriously excited,” said Chef Mayra Trabulse, owner of Pura Vida. “As a vegan, I felt it has to have that zing. I have too many cultures in me not to be able to do the punch in my food. It can’t be boring. You, as a vegan, can bring your friend or mate and still have a great meal because it has so much flavor.”
And it’s no wonder why her food has so much character: Not only does Chef Mayra come from a Lebanese and Cuban background, her cuisine is inspired by Caribbean and Southwestern flavors. The first time I visited with my husband (who’s also vegan), I instantly fell for with My Love, a wrap stuffed with sundried tomatoes, Cuban black beans, Daiya (a cheese alternative made from cassava root), roasted garlic potatoes, avocado and peppers. My taste buds were dancing. Chef Mayra said that a customer came in and said this had more flavor than a carne asada burrito.
“People think meat gives you flavor,” she said. “I have people who come with a vegan friend — you can tell they’re not vegan because they sit there like they’re at the doctor’s appointment, their hands are crossed, [looking] like, ‘What am I about to eat?’ Then they get blown away.”
She is constantly experimenting with the menu, so that means you’ll have to keep coming back. On my next mission, I definitely want to try the tofu scramble-filled breakfast pastry puff, drizzled with Daiya cheese sauce and served with guacamole and potatoes.
If you’re into sweets, the chocolate pancakes and the Pura Vida Frenchie with Chef Mayra’s signature maple berry (pictured on top) are sure to satisfy your cravings. If you come on the weekend, the Frenchie comes with berries and a side of sausage for only $12.99 — a great deal considering the plate can easily feed two to three people. Last but certainly not least, the cupcakes – available in a variety of flavors including chocolate and vanilla – are so tasty you’ll be shocked these little bits of heaven contain no eggs or dairy.
The restaurant gets really packed, especially since it’s only open for breakfast and lunch at the moment. With food so delicious, I’m positive Pura Vida will soar to new heights.
“I think the community wants to see us go to a bigger location, better parking because they can see the potential of the food,” she said. ”And I know that once I’m able to go to a bigger place and have a bigger kitchen, that’s going to make an amazing difference.”
(Photos courtesy of Hardy Nance.)
On the Strip: Country Club, Wynn Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Strip may have a number of restaurants and buffets but as a vegan, sometimes it’s hard to order something when you’re out with your non-vegan friends and truly enjoy your food. I don’t know how many times I settled for a veggie burger or a pasta dish I could have easily made at home. A lot of times I would sit there and fantasize about what I’d eat afterwards, just so I could have my tasty vegan fix.
Fortunately in 2010, Steve Wynn started a vegan program for his Wynn Las Vegas and Encore properties since he made the lifestyle change himself. Every single restaurant (including the buffets!) features its very own vegan selection. My husband and I can’t wait to try them all.
Last week, we had the pleasure of dining at The Country Club inside Wynn Las Vegas. I was really curious about how creative a steakhouse could get with vegan options.
“Most of them are variations of dishes I have on the menu already,” said Carlos Guía, executive chef at The Country Club. “That’s a good starting point – not change the experience for the guests, but just enhance it. The dishes we have, we think of how [we] can make them vegan or switch things around. That way, if two people are having the crab cake and one’s vegan and one’s not, the presentation and flavor is going to be similar.”
The vegan tempeh crab cake (made up of fermented soybeans, pictured right) was one of the highlights for us that evening. It tasted so believable, that you just might fool your non-vegan friends into thinking it’s the real deal.
“The tempeh crab cake is one of my favorites,” said Guía. “We go for the texture and flavor. We use kombu [seaweed] and nori to give it a little bit of that ocean-y flavor without adding the crab.”
The bread rolls with vegan butter, along with the watermelon gazpacho soup and creamy corn chowder, were a great way to start the meal.
Our dinner (pictured right ) was tasty indeed and looked like pieces of art. In fact, I was hesitant to dig into them at first because I didn’t want to mess them up.
“My main goals - it’s got to look presentable and beautiful, but the flavor has to be powerful,” said Guía. ”The major part is seasoning the food properly.”
The feast consisted of Gardein “Chick’n” Chimichurri with purple yams and mango salsa; black quinoa-roasted red pepper polenta cakes with grilled asparagus; sesame-seared tofu with a shaved vegetable salad, cilantro and a soy glaze; creamed spinach and the restaurant’s signature fries. We even asked for a side of vegan bleu cheese as to dip our fries in. We ended our dinner with a satisfying scoop of creamy, chocolate coconut ice cream. I need to snag this recipe.
Guía said he has heard nothing but positive feedback from vegan diners.
“People love it, the vegan community is very excited about it,” Guía said. “We had people take stuff to go, buy extra just so they can have it on the way home or for the next day. They’re excited they can choose different things and go from there.”
While the vegan dishes are prepared in the same kitchen as the non-vegan items on the menu, fret not. “We make sure [there's] no cross contamination,” he said. “[We] make sure nothing comes in contact with it, that’s the main part.”
The Country Club is just one of the many restaurants between the two properties with a vegan selection. If you’re staying on the Strip, at least you know you’ll have plenty of choices, from American and Asian to Italian. Decisions, decisions!
Other vegan-friendly spots in Vegas
In addition to Pura Vida and the restaurants inside Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, there are other spots worth checking out while you’re in town. These are a few of my personal favorites:
- Red Velvet Cafe: 7875 W. Sahara Ave., Suite 103 (Northwest. Note: There is a smaller location inside Fashion Show mall.)
- Veggie Delight: 3054 Wynn Road (Chinatown)
- Ronald’s Donuts: 4600 W. Spring Mountain Road (West)
- Sunrise Coffee House: 3130 E. Sunset Road, Unit A (Southeast)
- Miko’s Izakaya Sushi & Tapanese: 500 E. Windmill Lane, Suite 165 (Southeast)
Whether you’re vegan or looking to try something different, you’ll gain serious health benefits and much more. “It’s the most logical, ethical and compassionate thing you can do if you want a change – a global change,” said Chef Mayra.
Even if you or your friends aren’t not ready to take the vegan leap, at least you know you have options. Vegas truly has something for everyone.