Eatin’ Vegan in Hill Country. Yee Haw!

Being vegan and traveling can sometimes be a beautiful thing. My recent trip to Austin, TX, was one of those times. VegNews wrote up Austin a couple of years ago, and Happy Cow lists many vegan and veg-friendly restaurants in the area. Armed with this vital info, my boyfriend and I hopped a plane to Austin to escape what seemed like a never-ending Chicago winter. Our flight departed on schedule and once we landed on-time (yes, on-time — practically a miracle in my opinion.), we took a 50 cent bus ride into town. (Seriously, the bus fare is only 50 cents. Is it really 2008 in Austin?) We dropped our bags at a 4-star hotel (where we landed a great deal on priceline.com) and headed out for margaritas.

The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and temps rising to a near perfect 78 degrees by the afternoon. Our first trip together was going swell. I began thinking our luck was about to run out, but it had only just begun. We headed out to rent bicycles. We decided to forgo a car so we could ride bikes all weekend on the bike path around Town Lake. Plus, it turns out Austin has a good public transportation system with local buses and trolleys. (No car necessary. It turned out to be a very “green” trip.) We rode bikes all day and took buses to dinner at night — one vegan feast after another.

Recommendations:

Town Lake Hike and Bike Path: It’s not really a lake, but a 10-mile loop bike and running path. It’s just as crowded on the weekends as the Chicago Lakefront path, but still worth it. If you take a break and sit by the water, you will see turtles, ducks, swans, and other wildlife enjoying life in Austin.

Rent bicycles at the Bicycle Sport Shop. You’ll be in and out in a jiff, so you can have more time for riding.

Visit Casa de Luz for a macrobiotic vegan brunch, lunch, or dinner buffet. The menu is healthy and delicious. We went for lunch and then back again for Saturday brunch. You will leave full and very satisfied, but not feeling guilty because all the food was truly healthy. While you’re there you can check out their tiny macrobiotic store or even take a yoga class.

From downtonwn Jump on the #7 bus and head to Mother’s Cafe and Garden, a vegetarian restaurant with a lot of vegan options. This restaurant reminds me of Blind Faith in Evanston but with more vegan choices. (Did you hear that Blind Faith? We want more vegan options.) We enjoyed two meals at Mother’s: dinner and Easter brunch. Very tasty.

The Whole Foods market in downtown Austin is unlike any Whole Foods I have ever seen. They have an entire prepared foods counter of just vegan foods: half are cooked, half are raw. We had some amazing raw “tuna” that I pray they bring to a Chicago location very soon. I tried to take a picture of the sign above the counter as proof of this vegan wonderland but was stopped by an employee who asked me if I had a permit. Please! If I was trying to steal secrets, I know better tactics than whipping out my camera in broad daylight. Haven’t they heard about the vegans who go around with hidden cameras in their bags filming animal cruelty at factory farms? Nonetheless, you must go visit when you’re in town. It’s a huge store — 80,000 square feet! We stopped by to pick up goods for a picnic in Pease Park. Yet another nice bike ride and much quieter except for all the people playing Frisbee-golf. Never knew such a sport existed.

We met non-vegan friends at Manuel’s for a very good dinner where we ate vegan enchiladas filled with spinach and mushrooms, topped with a verde sauce. I was prepared to just eat chips and gauc and call it a day, so it was a nice surprise to to enjoy a good meal at a non-veg restaurant.

Austin is the live music capital of the world, so we set out to hear some acoustic guitar at the Cactus Cafe in the student union on the University of Texas campus. I’m no expert on music but it was good. Probably a little more subdued then other options around town, but right up our alley.

Saving the very best for last…
Dhaba Joy is this tiny little cafe near U of T. It’s connected to a cool toy store, where I picked up a fun book, Porn For Women. (Hold on…it’s not what you think! It’s a very silly book. Check it out.) It’s not really a place you would think of for dinner, but that’s when we went and it turned out to be my very favorite. I had a tempeh “chicken” salad sandwich with a side of mac and “cheese”. I couldn’t have been happier, but I love sandwiches and a side of somethin’ yummy. As we ate dinner, I stared longingly at the baked goods on display at the counter. Hmmmm. (I know I should have been staring longingly into my boyfriend’s eyes, being our first trip and all, but how could I when there were cupcakes calling out to me.) I knew there was no way I had room for a cupcake right then. I also knew we would be back. How could we not? They had a cupcake called Love, and that’s just how I feel about cupcakes. So off we went to the Cactus Cafe to listen to music. As soon as the music stopped, we were on our way back for cupcakes and Oatscreme (soft-served “ice cream”). The Love cupcake was like a Hostess cupcake except better because it was vegan. Yum. Yum. Yum. The Oatscreme was also very good, but my heart was with the cupcake. It’s a good thing we didn’t go there until our last night in Austin, because I would have wanted to eat every meal here.

If you ever go to Austin, you must go to Quack’s for vegan chocolate truffles. The chocolatiest vegan goodness I may have ever had. Whenever I eat something unbelievably good, my thought process go likes this, “Damn, this is good. How is this possible?” This was one of those moments. Eat one there. Take one to go. You will be glad you did.

I don’t know yet where the next trip will be, but I can’t wait to discover another vegan wonderland.

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