By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor
Being vegetarian or vegan is a lifestyle that doesn’t just end when you travel. But finding satisfying options (i.e. something more than just a salad bar) in an unfamiliar state or country can sometimes be challenging. Moreso if you’re traveling with meat eaters.
True, these days most dining establishments offer vegetarian options alongside their “regular” menu items. But if you want to step outside the safe zone and try some places that are perhaps under-the-radar and that satisfy both non-meat eaters as well as the carnivores in your life, then read on. These are my picks for places to get your fix of plant-based cuisine that won’t leave carnivores feeling short-changed.
(Full disclosure: I am an avowed carnivore. My significant other is a vegetarian. There have been adjustments, to say the least. But there have also been many learning opportunities. I write this while comfortably straddling both sides of the fence).
Downbeat Diner & Lounge
42 N. Hotel St., Chinatown
There’s tons to love about Downbeat, from their no-nonsense punk rock vibe, to their pleasing take on comforting diner foods, to their cocktails and afterhours activities. Arguably the best thing about Downbeat is that their full menu is also offered with a vegan option. So if you were to order their Hot Wings, you can ask for that to be made with real chicken or vegan meat substitute. Same goes for their Pesto Chicken Sandwich, Chili and Rice, or their tasty hamburgers and loco mocos. Yes, everything on their menu has a vegan analogue.
And I have to say that the meatless versions are good enough to almost fool this carnivore. Delicious and satisfying, which is what youʻd expect for any meal, anywhere. Plus having the full menu available with a vegan option settles so many debates about where to eat!
3585 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
At first glance, the minimalist stylings and gourmet menu at Vegan Hills may seem a bit out of peopleʻs reach, but their food food is very accessible, affordable and delicious. Their brunch, lunch and dinner menu items are 100% plant-based, but carnivores wonʻt miss a thing. My personal favorite is the Mexican Breakfast with black bean chili, avocado, tofu scramble, roasted tomatoes and brown rice, but their entire breakfast menu is commendable.
Specialty dinner and lunch items like their Avocado Sushi Boat, Lasagna De Amarfi or Cauli-Wings keep things fancy and fun. Vegan Hills also offers a full wine bar and a selection of cocktails and beers, all organic and/or locally sources, when possible.
‘Ai Love Nalo
41-1025 Kalaniana‘ole Hwy., Waimanalo
Vegans and vegetarians will think they’ve found heaven. From their Buddha Bowl, with kabocha, wakame, mushrooms and kale, or the Tofu Poke Bowl, with local organic tofu, sweet onion, avocado, furikake on a bed of greens and brown rice or millet, there’s plenty of goodness to savor.
Carnivores might need to keep a more open mind, but there are satisfying options for them to be found including a Roasted Veg Sandwich (slow roasted vegetables with avocado on a bun, with mushroom gravy for dipping) or their vegan twists on local favorites, like the Oh Wow Laulau or the Kaukau Lū‘au, substituting local vegetables and starches like taro and ‘ulu (breadfruit) for meat.
And donʻt miss out on their beverages! They’re most known for their kambuchas but their smoothies, coffees and teas are more than worth your time!
Big City Diner
Six locations islandwide
Now hold on, hear me out! Yes, BCD is best known for their burgers and other local diner classics, BUT… they do have a healthy breakfast menu which includes one of the heartiest, most delicious vegetarian dishes you’ll encounter: their Tofu-Veggie Omlette. This dish is made with egg whites that are generously stuffed with tofu, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, sweet onions, and cheese, and served with brown rice. This buggah is filling!
Also try their Fire-Roasted Portobello Mushroom & Avocado Benedict for a vegetarian take on an breakfast time favorite.
Be sure to read our picks for best vegetarian and vegan options on Maui!