In January, I pledged to eat vegetarian for the month. No agenda, no resolution; I was feeling “overserved” from the holidays and thought a plant-based diet was in order.
Cliché though it might be, New Orleans is not often thought of as a great place for vegetarian dining … but it is. Red beans and rice are iconic; okra, tomatoes, corn and greens are meal staples. But vegetable dishes without meat as a support mechanism have not been the norm. This is changing. Gone are tired steamed veg plates or ho-hum salads, thank you. Our chefs are now more creative, composing mighty meatless main courses.
That 31 days eating meatless was a cinch; it felt and tasted great. Now it’s your turn. Dig in.
Boucherie, the Uptown meat Mecca, offers a monthly vegetarian special, which was recently General Tso’s Cauliflower-Stuffed Beet with toasted chickpeas, fried onions and torn herbs.
Chef Alon Shaya has had his way with so many veg-only dishes at his award-winning restaurant Shaya, it’s difficult to hone in on just one. But it would have to be the roasted cabbage with muhammara, tahini and hazelnuts … or maybe the roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato Lutenitsa … or ....
Café Carmo is another place where the chef's care is evidenced in an array of dishes that make choosing is a task. That said, the Broken Noodle Salad—rice noodles, bean sprouts and cabbage with tofu, cucumber, peas, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, scallions, cilantro and peanuts, tossed with citrus-ginger-chili vinaigrette—wins almost every time.
With great eye-appeal, a fascinating mix of textures, colors and spices, Nile Ethiopian Restaurant's vegetarian platter with stewed lentils (yellow, red and brown), carrots, cabbage, stewed greens, beets and potatoes atop injera (spongy, sourdough-ish, pancake bread) is utterly satisfying.
Known for his raucous Kung Pao Pastrami, Red’s Chinese chef Tobias Womack also wok-tosses aromatic rice and big chunks of local vegetables with big flavors including kaffir lime leaves, basil and lemongrass in the kaleidoscopic Buddha’s Fried Rice.
Noted for nodding hard to local dishes with a twist, Tableau offers a delectable Roasted Stuffed Eggplant that’s packed with vegetables, Parmesan and bulgur pilaf (ancient grain) over spicy Creole sauce.
Surrounded by tiki ephemera, sipping on drinks from a bygone era (try the Espresso Bongo), you’ll find modern Polynesian food riffs at Latitude 29 and veg happiness in the sumac-dusted charred cauliflower with chickpeas, carrots, mushrooms and sweet potato-studded rice over a husky green curry sauce.
In a city with its own brand of Italian cuisine lovingly dubbed "New Orleans Italian," finding more mainstream (i.e., less sweet) red sauce is quite a chore. Call it obvious but, the must-have at Red Gravy is the signature handmade pasta with red gravy (made exclusively by owners Ro and Lou)—a simple and beautiful blend of tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil.