We were delighted to find this vegetarian restaurant in the Mariscal district of Quito, Ecuador.
El Maple has a vegetarian/vegan menu but also offers a prix fixe menu that, if not already vegan, can easily be adjusted; the staff is lovely and accommodating (especially so given our limited Spanish and their limited English).
The restaurant was empty when we arrived at 12:30 for lunch (Ecuadorians eat a bit later, and lunch is their main meal of the day), but it quickly filled up. It is an inviting space, with several rooms …
… and a beautiful, open-air courtyard.
Our meal began with crema de esparragos, a vegan asparagus soup, which was light and delicious.
The next course was a gulash de gluten, a lovely plate of seitan with vegetables in a light, tomato-based sauce. The seitan was chewy, with a different texture than anything I’ve had before, but it was well seasoned and very good. The papas, mashed potatoes, had been prepared with butter, so the kitchen whipped up a special batch of vegan papas just for us. On the side was half an avocado, ubiquitous on plates in Ecuador.
For dessert, we had flan vegano, a mango-infused flan drizzled with a chocolate-strawberry sauce, which was rich, creamy, and absolutely delicious.
El Maple is tucked away on Joaquín Pinto, between Reina Victoria and Avenida 6 de Diciembre, in a traveler’s section of Mariscal that hosts many more restaurants, nightclubs, and hostels. It is well worth a visit for its fresh, tasty food and wonderful and helpful and welcoming staff.
Not that I’m about to rush out and buy one anytime soon (you can get a leather-free Subaru for quite a bit less). But it’s gratifying to see people with means pressuring luxury automakers to rethink “luxury” automobiles. Kudos to Leilani Münter (pictured above) for using her sway as professional racecar driver to ask Elon Musk to offer this option. Before her, Mark and Elizabeth Peters, shareholders of Tesla, presented their request for a vegan model at a shareholders meeting. These voices made a difference. Not that leather-free Teslas are going to singlehandedly put an end to the horrific leather industry, but this positive action might get people thinking about how they view leather — something we don’t usually think about.
Leather has long been synonymous with luxury — whereas in reality, it is synonymous with cruelty. And the leather industry is notoriously rough on the environment. So while I’d love to see Tesla, as an environmentally friendly company, remove the leather option entirely, these things take time — and this is an important first step.
What will the world look like when leather is no longer viewed as a luxury material but as something tragic and sad? When environmentalists realize that wearing leather (or getting this option in your electric car) is anything but helpful to the environment?
That day will come. For more and more of us, it has already arrived — and the more we see positive actions like this, the more awareness will spread.
It’s been years since I’ve been to Café Gratitude, the last time in Berkeley, California, and so when visiting San Diego recently, I was thrilled to learn that this small, plant-based chain has opened a new restaurant in San Diego’s Little Italy.
This brand-new Café Gratitude opened just a couple of weeks before I visited, and it was packed. Yet already things were running smoothly; we were seated quickly, the service was great, and the food was delicious.
For anyone who doesn’t know about Café Gratitude, it’s a bit of a quirky experience. The menu items are affirmations (for example, if you want an eggplant parmesan panini, you order it by saying, “I Am Awesome”). This San Diego location is pretty mellow about this; in Berkeley, we were asked, “What are you grateful for today?” as soon as we were seated, and when I ordered a dish called “I Am Whole,” the server said to me with great joy, “You are whole.” Here in San Diego, the server just took our order and went on his way … so they’ve localized well for this customer base.
We began with “I Am Celebrating,” an order of two collard-wrapped spring rolls filled with daikon and wakame, carrots, sunflower sprouts, avocado, pickled vegetables. The rolls were spectacularly flavorful and came with two sauces, sesame wasabi and Thai almond, which added even more flavor.
We both had wraps as entrees … I was “Glorious” and enjoyed the caesar salad tempeh wrap, which featured blackened jerk tempeh, avocado, romaine, coconut bacon, tomato, capers, brazil nut parmesan, and cashew caesar dressing, all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. On the side was mixed greens with goji chipotle vinaigrette.
My friend was “Extraordinary,” and said her meal was the same: a vegan BLT wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, with coconut bacon, romaine, tomato, avocado, chipotle cashew aioli, and a lovely wild rice summer bean salad on the side.
There is also a long list of beverages, from wines, beers, and cocktails to juices, elixirs, and smoothies. My friend tried the “I Am Immortal” coffee (a blend of three mushroom powders along with coffee, steamed almond milk, and cinnamon) — warm, earthy, and delicious. I had the vitamin-C shot otherwise known as “I Am Beaming,” a tangy and invigorating blend of orange juice, carrot juice, goji berry, camu camu, astragalus, acerola berry, and amla berry, served in a very tiny glass.
We were too stuffed for dessert but didn’t want to miss out, so we picked a few items to go. Among them: “I Am Mighty,” a superfood energy bar made of hemp, flax, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds; almonds; goji berries; coconut butter; and cacao nibs. Half dipped in raw chocolate, it’s so decadent I’m glad it’s called a “superfood,” which makes me feel a little better about gobbling it.
I also took home “I Am Kind,” a rice/quinoa crispy treat drizzled with raw chocolate.
It’s equally decadent, and not at all fluffy like many crispy rice treats.
I’d highly recommend this light, airy cafe for its fresh, delicious food and abundant choices. Based on its early popularity — as well as our chat with fellow diners who work in the neighborhood and are on a mission to try everything on the menu — reservations might be a good idea. And while this location may not have quite the same vibe as Berkeley, you’ll still likely be grateful for having been here.
One of the best things about traveling is trying out new vegan places…or, in this case, returning to an old favorite.
We tend to get the same things every time we visit Veggie Grill, but these dishes are so delicious (and we don’t get there very often), so we had, again, the same wonderful dishes.
The Santa Fe Crispy Chickin‘ with Yukon Gold fries is nothing short of amazing. Veggie Grill’s chickin’ (a wonderful meat-free patty with 31 grams of vegan protein) is crisp and hearty … and it’s served on a wheat bun (you could also choose a wrap or bread-free kale version) with tomato, lettuce, onion, and a scoop of fresh and flavorful guacamole, as well as spicy mayo. (Healthier people might choose the coleslaw or soup as a side, but the Yukon fries are terrific — perfectly crisped and seasoned.)
This lovely Caesar has savory dressing and vegan parmesan. In addition to the romaine, it also has marinated kale, bits of tempeh bacon, avocado, cucumber, and croutons. It’s everything you could want in a salad.
But let’s talk about the Mac-n-Cheese.
This Mac-n-Cheese is one of the biggest treats, as it’s hard to find good vegan versions of this comfort-food dish. This one is rich, creamy, and covered with baked bread crumbs (and it’s made with organic, non-GMO pasta). On the menu, this dish appears in the “Shares & Sides” category, since it comes in a small dish (this is its only problem) — so be sure you don’t miss it.
If you haven’t been to a Veggie Grill, give this plant-based chain a try — and if you don’t yet have one nearby, keep an eye out for locations that may be opening near you.