I love downtown New West. I’ve been working and playing here for more than two years, and even in that short time I have seen it become an increasingly attractive, modern, and hip area that is luring droves of young people and families to its friendly streets. Yet even with the growing number of new shops, restaurants, and amenities popping up around downtown, I still face the daily struggle of finding a decent vegetarian meal when lunch or dinner time rolls around. Considering how well-stocked the area is with cafes, restaurants, markets, and food trucks, this is a surprising (and frustrating) problem.
I’ve been fully vegetarian for years, and these days it’s dead easy to shop and eat out in most places. Grocery stores are well-stocked with meat and dairy alternatives, and most restaurants worth their salt offer at least a few intentionally vegetarian items. What do I mean by “intentionally vegetarian”? This refers to options that were crafted to be vegetarian from conception, not a meat-based meal with the animal products removed upon request (which can often be of inferior quality). With vegetarianism, veganism, dairy-free, and other alternative diets at an all-time high, there is simply no excuse for a modern restaurant not to have a few solid veggie entrées.
That’s why I’m consistently surprised and disappointed by how few great vegetarian and vegan options there are in downtown New West. At the River Market on New West Quay, most of the restaurants have limited vegetarian entrées, and many have no vegan choices. Wally’s Burgers‘ only “meatless” option is a fried egg on a bun (off-limits to vegans and egg-free vegetarians), and some establishments are actually reducing their vegetarian options rather than beefing them up (pun intended). In fact, my initial inspiration for this post stemmed from a recent depressing lunch break in which I was informed by a staff member at Re-Up BBQ that their delicious vegetarian chilli is now made with bacon fat. Ignorance is bliss… (Editor’s note: Re-Up BBQ responded via Twitter after this was published to say that the veggie chilli with bacon fat was a test item on the menu, but the chilli now on the menu “and for the foreseeable future” is vegetarian – BT)
The Shops at New West have a somewhat better selection of vegetarian fare, mostly because the establishments tend to be larger regional or national chains. Yet even the gastropub Hub, where I enjoyed a relaxing patio dinner with my S/O recently, offers only 2 vegetarian options out of their 12 entrées, and 2 of their 5 salads have meat ( sorry vegans – all of them have cheese). For a large restaurant with a seemingly hip and modern vibe, I was once again disappointed.
So where can a hungry veggie get a tasty and reasonably-priced meal in downtown New West? In the River Market, Pamola has a delicious mushroom burrito (although with a generous helping of cheese it’s not vegan-friendly), and the spinach and feta quiche at Tre Galli is a lunchtime staple of mine. Downtown also has several Japanese restaurants with vegetarian options, but my personal standby is Togo Sushi with their tasty wakame salad and yam tempura rolls.
At this point you might be thinking that us vegetarians are too demanding – after all, nobody forced me to go meat-free. Why should everyone have to cater to my personal choice? Yet there are so many more reasons why restaurants ought to offer good vegetarian and vegan options. Firstly, not everyone is meat-free by choice; many people need to be for medical or religious reasons. Secondly, vegetarian and vegan entrées can be great healthy alternatives for those looking to watch their salt, fat, or calorie intake, or those simply looking to boost their daily servings of fruit and veg. Thirdly, intentionally veggie dishes are delicious and unique. Removing protein staples such as chicken, beef, or fish from the kitchen arsenal can inspire chefs and home cooks alike to think outside the box and create exciting new flavours. Finally, vegetarian and vegan dishes are inclusive; they are usually more affordable, and are suitable for most diets, from the most restrictive, to the diehard carnivore. As a vibrant, multicultural, and forward-thinking neighbourhood, I think downtown New West deserves more vegetarian options.
What are your favourite vegetarian/vegan spots in New West? We would love to hear your suggestions!