It happens every weekend in Oklahoma City – the curse of the Midwest vegan. You’re
at a restaurant, perusing the menu. Maybe it’s someone’s birthday, or just a Friday night
out. You debate between ordering the salad – without chevre and bacon bits, or the
portabella mushroom burger – sans cheese and chipotle aioli. Or maybe you’ll try your
luck with the unseasoned seasonal vegetable plate. Meanwhile, your friends order steak
with a balsamic reduction, duck confit with peach chutney, or the chicken tikka masala.
After the meal, while your friends are loosening their pants and licking their ice cream
spoons, you’re still hungry.
It’s tough to be a vegan in Oklahoma City, but it’s getting better. In recent years, the
number of restaurants offering vegan fare – as well as the quality of their offerings – are
on the rise. By carefully picking your restaurant you can now ensure that you will get a
tasty, filling meal without having to interrogate the waiter, or ordering a dish with only
half its ingredients. In the hopes that you will never again have to order a “salad and
french fries” meal, I present to you this guide to vegan dining in the OKC metro:
First, let’s start with the obvious: Matthew Kinney at Classen Curve. All of their food is
raw and vegan and they serve a variety of alcoholic beverages, smoothies, tea and coffee.
It’s a bit pricey – more suited to a birthday or anniversary dinner than a quick weeknight
meal – but the relaxed, modern ambiance and the sheer novelty of being able to order
anything on the menu makes up for it. If you’re going for the first time, start with the
Mediterranean Mezze sampler, and end with the gianduja tasting (an amazing plate of six
chocolate and hazelnut concoctions). Whatever you eat in between is up to you.
Picasso’s Cafe in the Paseo is another relatively new restaurant with a penchant for
serving vegan-friendly meals, though they have plenty for omnivores as well. You can
order a vegan pizza with dairy-free cheese that actually melts! They also make a chicken-
fried portabello steak with soy gravy, and an eggplant lasagna. Still hungry? Their
beignet can be veganized for dessert. Or, just go and eat their fragrant, chewy, freshly-
baked soft pretzels. That’s usually why I’m there.
The Saturn Grill on N. Western or W. Memorial is also a good compromise when dining
with omnivores. They carry a vegan soup almost every day of the week, and a variety of
salads. (Hint: Get the Thai broccoli salad.) You can order a portabello sandwich on their
vegan flatbread, or if you’re really lucky, they’ll be making falafel that day.
Also in the Nichols Hills area (but expanding to new locations soon), Coolgreens is the
place for salads that go far beyond your average wedge of iceberg lettuce. They also
serve soups, a vegan pizza, and an ever-changing side of couscous. Their website also
has surprisingly detailed nutritional information so you can be sure to avoid the eggs or
honey that are hidden in some of their dressings and soups. Forewarned is forearmed!
Would you like some great coffee with that vegan meal? Then look no further than the
Red Cup off of N. Classen. All of their soups and the chili are vegan, and you can order
the red beans and rice, or the chili Frito pie without dairy. They also offer several salads,
and you can substitute hummus for the cheese on many of their sandwiches, as long as you
order the garlic rosemary bread, or the jalapeño bun. Plus, the friendly man I talked to on
the phone seemed both highly knowledgeable and very excited when I asked him about
their vegan options, which is always refreshing.
If you’re looking for vegan food on the run or on the cheap, then check out Lee’s
Sandwiches at Classen and NW 33rd. Lee’s Sandwiches is an international chain with
locations in China, Vietnam, California and Oklahoma City. They serve bahn mi
sandwiches – French baguettes with Vietnamese sandwich fillings – as well as American
style sandwiches, smoothies and coffee. The Asian veggie sandwich (#12) is a tasty,
foot-long baguette with a fried tofu-yam filling, pickled carrots and parsnip, cilantro
and jalapeno slices, drizzled with soy sauce. It sounds weird, but trust me, it’s giant,
delicious, and less than $3. They also sell veggie spring rolls with the same tofu-yam
filling, along with lettuce, noodles and mint. If you get the timing right, you’ll even get to
see their glass-encased baguette factory in action.
Another quick, affordable option is Chipotle on Northwest Expressway. Though
Chipotle is a national chain, it’s chain food done well. They are committed to putting
naturally raised animal products in their tacos and burritos, and buy organic and local
produce when available. Their food is also quite tasty and servings are generous. Avoid
the pinto beans, but otherwise, if it looks vegan, it is vegan. Plus, if you get a vegetarian
bowl or burrito, it comes with free guacamole!
For hungry vegans looking for local Mexican food, there are many options. If you can
find parking at their well-patronized restaurant, vegan offerings abound at Big Truck
Tacos on NW 23rd St. Try the sautéed veggie “Wojo” taco without queso fresco, or
the “Crispy’cado” taco with no cheese, and with a fresh avocado. (Sadly the fried
avocado has buttermilk.) They also carry vegan black beans and scallion rice, and a
variety of sauces and salsas that more than make up for the missing cheese. Co-owner
Kathryn Mathis promised that in honor of her vegetarian sister, they make every effort to
fry the chips separately from the meat, and clean the grill between dishes, but not being a
vegan restaurant they can’t promise 100% integrity.
Iguana Mexican Grill on NW 9th has a tasty taco salad with grilled veggies, and serves
a fascinating corn soup that is a beautiful marriage of Mexican and Thai flavors (you’ll
have to ask them to hold the shitake dumpling, however). All the sides are vegetarian,
except for the green beans, and you can even order the sorbet for dessert! Sadly, they fry
their tortilla chips in the same oil as everything else, so in the future I will have to rethink
my usual strategy of filling up on chips and salsa so that I can save my entrée for lunch
the next day.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for Asian food then head to Lido’s on 25th and N. Military.
The fresh vegetable spring rolls with peanut sauce are a delightful way to start your meal,
and they offer several vegetarian dishes. This place also has the lightest fried tofu I have
ever eaten. You may not be able to eat the fortune cookie, but you can still enjoy the fortune.
So the next time you’re out on the town with your friends, steer them towards one of
these restaurants for a satisfying, vegan-friendly meal. As Oklahoma City wakes up to
the vegan and natural food trends that are engulfing other parts of the country, the vegan
options can only increase. Of course, if your friends are dead-set on Cattleman’s, then I
cannot not help you. Godspeed. Or maybe it’s time to make new friends.
Disclaimer: This list is far from all-inclusive and subject to change. Information on vegan
meals was obtained by calling the restaurants, consulting their webpages and from personal
experience. If you know of a restaurant – or you are a restaurant – that offers tasty,
satisfying vegan food, then please let me know (email@example.com). The
vegan food explosion that has occurred over the past few years in the metro area has been
truly heartening, and I look forward to trying new places.