- Alex Springer
I've long been of the opinion that those intimidated by or otherwise biased against a plant-based food might need to start with a cuisine that isn't very meat-centric to begin with. There are plenty of options to choose from, but you can't go wrong with a bit of vegan Vietnamese, for both its flavor profile and its alliterative charms. Vietnamese food has been making bean curd and soy proteins tasty for hundreds of years, so it's not much of a stretch for a place like Vegan Bowl (8672 S. Redwood Road, 801-692-7237, facebook.com/VietnameseVeganBowl) to create plant-based magic.
This West Jordan restaurant has made a name for itself by serving up everything from piping hot pho to overstuffed banh mi with soy-based beef, chicken and pork substitutes that don't skimp on flavor. While I'll always be impressed when a restaurant can actually pull off plant-based shrimp from both a visual and victual perspective, I have to give Vegan Bowl props for its dedication to texture. The thin slices of soy beef marinated in their pho's delicious veggie broth look and taste the part, but the chewy texture is what really sells it. I wouldn't have to gush this much about the attention Vegan Bowl pays to its plant-based proteins, but the pork and chicken have equally impressive textural similarities to their carnivorous cousins.
For a dish that puts them all on display, try out the ramen stir-fry combo ($10). It's a hefty pile of stir-fried noodles, caramelized to perfection, tossed with veggies and soy-based beef, pork and shrimp. Considering these proteins are all made from the same plant protein, you still get the sense that you're devouring a multi-meat stir-fry feast. It's a seemingly small achievement, but it speaks to Vegan Bowl's ability to wield the flavors at their disposal. Making soybeans taste like the entire surf-and-turf protein pantheon is a testament to the versatility of this meat alternative.
Even when Vegan Bowl isn't disguising their bean curd as meat—like the five spices bean curd banh mi ($6.50)—their creativity is undeniable. The tender slices of bean curd get sauteed in Vegan Bowl's house special sauce, which imparts a savory richness that ties this sandwich together. I'm also a fan of the thin slices of apple that make an appearance; the sweet crunchiness here is a great complement to the acidic pickled carrot and daikon. As tasty as the banh mi fillings are, the baguettes can be hit and miss—I like a good crunch on the outside, and sometimes Vegan Bowl makes them a bit blond.
With winter fast approaching, a visit to Vegan Bowl should include a bowl of their excellent pho. The House Special ($11) is always a safe bet, with its slices of soy beef and pork swimming around with generous cubes of fried tofu. I'm always one to enjoy a nice showing of meatballs or brisket in my pho, but let's not take the pleasure of silky tofu soaked in broth for granted. It's also worth noting that most pho places treat their vegetarian options less kindly than their meat-based options, but that's not the case at Vegan Bowl. Regardless of what pho goes home with you, you'll be getting something aromatic, flavorful and comforting to get you through this bitter winter.
It's hard to go wrong with an entrée from Vegan Bowl, but don't overlook the place for some quick snacks. The veggie eggrolls ($5) are exactly what you'd expect—thin, crispy exterior with a nice soft interior wrapped around crunchy cabbage and carrots. I also went for an order of crispy nuggets ($5) for my daughter's sake; she's in a serious chicken nugget phase, and these panko-crusted bites of soy chicken were right up her alley. They come with some sweet chili sauce, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying these crispy little morsels regardless of your age.
If you're after something to drink, Vegan Bowl's got a surprisingly vast selection of boba tea and smoothies to go with your meal. I'm not usually one to pay close attention to a boba drink of any stripe—they're usually overwhelmingly mediocre—but Vegan Bowl has a few bangers on the list. I rolled the dice and went with the mango boba green tea ($5) which is citrusy, sweet and herbaceous all at once, and the Purple Rain ($5) is a refreshing hit of berry flavor that does indeed taste like you're drinking a Prince song.
With takeout dominating the foodie spectrum at the moment, it can be tricky to mix things up and get outside your burger-and-taco comfort zone. Allow me to submit Vegan Bowl as both an excellent takeout destination, and a great way to dip your toe into the wonders of plant-based cuisine.