Let’s face it. Even though it’s 2019, vegetarians—and especially vegans—get the short end of the stick at most restaurants. Sure, there are plenty of vegetarian appetizers and side dishes, but well-executed, complex and thoughtful main courses that go beyond standard meatless pastas, plates of steamed vegetables, or side dishes cobbled together and called entrees aren’t so easy to find. So, we found them for you. Here are 10 vegetarian or vegan dishes in the Bethesda area that pique our interest and palates.
Vegetarian Tacos at Casa Oaxaca
Mexican restaurant Casa Oaxaca opened in the former TacoArepa space in Bethesda in May. It’s owned by Raquel and Marco Zavala, who have a home improvement business, and husband-and-wife chefs Ismael Galguera and Maria Barragan, who hail from Oaxaca, a city in central Mexico. The menu includes dishes such as fajitas, Oaxacan mole (nut-based Mexican chocolate sauce) and quesadillas, but the tacos, made with delicate, flaky house-made tortillas, are a main attraction. Order these three to make a perfect vegetarian meal: nopal (lime- and garlic-laced grilled cactus), vegetable (sauteed carrots and onions, and grilled yellow squash and zucchini), and sauteed corn and mushrooms in chipotle (smoked dried jalapeno) sauce. Make lavish use of lime wedges for acid, and for heat, a trio of homemade salsas: mild tomatillo and avocado; medium heat tomato and red pepper; and fiery tomato and chile de arbol. The tacos come with rice and stewed black beans topped with cotija cheese. (Vegans can nix the cheese.)
Casa Oaxaca, 4905 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, 240-858-6181, casaoaxacamd.com
Chili and Onion Oothappam at Bethesda Curry Kitchen
Indian food is celebrated for its emphasis on vegetarian cooking, so you can find plenty of options in that category at Indian restaurants, including dals (pulse stews), curries, biryanis (baked rice casseroles) and side dishes. At Bethesda Curry Kitchen, chef Anil Sustarwar offers all those things and more in unfancy surroundings. Notably, he doesn’t use ghee, a form of clarified butter often found in Indian meals. He cooks with canola or vegetable oil, which he says makes his restaurant even more appealing to vegan customers. (The menu does include meat and fish dishes.)
Oothappam, a griddled pancake made with a fermented batter of rice and urad dal, a husked dried black pulse, is a specialty of southern India, particularly the Tamil Nadu region. Sustarwar’s version—crispy on the bottom and topped with chopped onions and lots of sliced and fiery hot chili peppers—grabs our taste buds by the collar. On the side are a chutney of grated coconut, roasted lentils, Thai chiles and curry leaves, along with a bowl of sambar. Sambar is a stew of lentils, urad dal, roasted chickpeas, cumin, coriander, fenugreek seeds, tamarind and curry leaves topped with hot oil infused with asafetida (a sulfuric onion-flavored powder), mustard seeds and cumin seeds. This dish is a glorious roller coaster ride of heat, coolness, flavor and texture.
Bethesda Curry Kitchen, 4860 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 301-656-0062, bethesdacurrykitchen.com
Quinoa Pilaf with Vegetables and Poached Egg at Buck’s Fishing & Camping
Many restaurants serve quinoa bowls, but the one at Buck’s Fishing & Camping in Upper Northwest D.C. stands out as more than just a random collection of vegetables piled on top of grains. Chef James Rexroad toasts golden quinoa, then cooks it in house-made vegetable stock and sautes it with leeks and onions. That gets topped with seasonal greens, such as Swiss chard or spinach, which are dipped in rosemary, thyme and garlic-infused olive oil and then grilled. He perches grilled vegetables, such as squash and sugar snaps, and a pile of house-pickled red onions on the quinoa. In the center goes a local farm egg, poached and sprinkled with smoked salt. “We always have elements of the wood grill in this dish,” says owner James Alefantis. “It adds complexity.”
Buck’s Fishing & Camping, 5031 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-364-0777, bucksfishingandcamping.com