Editor's note: Dallas resident Stacy Breen is an intrepid explorer of local culture with an instinct for making nifty discoveries. She's contributing a weekly column on her cool finds.
I haven't eaten meat in 26 years. The last time I ate it was in September 1991. It was a chicken strip from Burger King, I remember it very vividly because it was horrible. I had already given up red meat and beef the year before. But I was still holding on to chicken and turkey. I still eat seafood, but land animals, not so much. After that Burger King chicken strip, I said "That's it."
Back in the early '90s, eating this way was a little tricky. Fortunately, we have options now. Here are five of my Dallas favorites:
Chennai Cafe. It's an Indian restaurant in Frisco, and I like to go there when I go to Ikea. I plan my Ikea trips knowing I will be going to Chennai for lunch. It was originally in Plano, and there's now also a location in Richardson. They have a lunch buffet which is half meat and half vegetarian. So if you're vegetarian, you can go, "Where's my half? Right here." It also has a fresh dosa station, which is something you don't see everywhere. One of the things I really like is that, if you don't know what something is, the people who work there are kind and patient and will explain it to you.
Monkey King Noodle Co. I have always loved this Deep Ellum restaurant, especially since they moved to a new space. Now they have an actual dining room, with red picnic tables, so I don't have to sit and eat noodles in my car. I always get the spicy garlic peanut noodles. Everybody else can get the spicy beef noodle soup or the chicken soup, I'm getting those peanut noodles. They are killer. I’ve tried to figure out how to make them at home. It's not peanut sauce, but ground-up actual peanuts, mixed with a hot chili oil and a bunch of scallions and it coats all of the noodles. If there's any of that mixture left after I finish my noodles, I'll take it home and put it on something I cook. They also do a spicy cucumber salad that's so refreshing.
Nam Hua. It's this family-run Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall and it's very popular, but a lot of people don't realize that they have a completely separate vegetarian menu. You tell them you want the vegetarian menu, and that way, you can just order everything on there. One thing I like to get in winter is the Bun Bo Hue, which is a red spicy soup with round rice noodles. They do a vegan version of that. A lot of people like pho, but I prefer the Hue-style soup. But the thing that made me fall in love with Vietnamese food is the banh xeo — they're like rice pancakes, which are usually done with fish and pork and stuffed with bean sprouts. But at Nam Hua, they're made with strips of tofu and king trumpet mushrooms. Sometimes I’ll get both dishes and bring half home.
Spiral Diner. Anyone who's vegetarian or vegan knows about Spiral Diner. Lately I've been obsessed with their bacon-ranch cheeseburger. They have three veggie-burger options, but I always get the one that's the quinoa cashew patty. It has more of a falafel texture. It's firm, but delicate once you bite it. The bacon is not a processed fake meat, which I don't like. It's a mixture they make themselves out of seeds and nuts, and it's seasoned so it has a smokiness. Even way back 20-plus years ago when I still ate meat, I would never have eaten a bacon-ranch cheeseburger in real life, but I love this vegan one. I only wish Spiral had French fries; they do not. You need fries with your burger.
Taco Joint. I've been a customer of Taco Joint since they first opened on Peak Street in East Dallas. I used to live nearby, and it was so wonderful to have them open. Now they have four locations. Sometimes you just have to get a breakfast taco. I always get the "M.T.": the migas taco with egg, chiles, onions, tomatoes, serrano pepper, and tortilla strips, scrambled together. I don't like migas in most places; they're usually too tomato-y. But I like the migas at Taco Joint. It's nicely seasoned. If it's not breakfast, I like to get the bean chalupa, like a tostada with refried beans, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes. I ask for it without cheese. It doesn't sound like that much, but the beans are really flavorful.