With the continuing pandemic and new Omicron variant, there has never been a more important time for Americans to eat healthier and more thoughtfully. For some, resolutions have been made to lose weight. Others may be determined to eat less meat or no meat at all for ethical, health or budgetary reasons.
Many people have discovered that their bodies require certain dietary restrictions such as avoiding gluten, dairy, nuts or soy. It would be rare to find anyone in Houston who isn’t looking to cut back on something, whether it’s sugar, fat or alcohol. With all the burger joints and steakhouses opening up, we Houstonians need a little balance in our options. We have a list of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, shops and farmers markets where the guesswork has been taken out of the menu choices and customers can feel good about ordering a nutritious meal or a healthier version of a treat.
Cascabel Mexican Vegan
1415 Murray Bay
Houston has no shortage of Mexican restaurants and it only makes sense that the vegan trend would find its way into the world of Mexican cuisine. Cascabel isn’t the only Mexican vegan restaurant in Houston but it was most likely the first. It offers some great deals all week including its Taco Tuesday special which offers $1.99 street tacos with a choice of al pastor, tinga, bistec, piccadillo, chorizo, barbacoa, pollo en salsa, fajita, papa guisado and Mexican brisket. With those choices, vegans and non-vegans will be satisfied. On Tuesday it also offers the Street-style Platter for $9.99.
Cascabel also has a two-for-$30 special on Wednesday with appetizers, two entrees and a dessert. Vegans with a sweet tooth can take advantage of its pan dulce (sweet bread) BOGO deal on Tuesday and Thursday. The restaurant also has Sunday brunch and each week there is a new special dish like this week’s Fettucine Alfredo Pasta.
This cafe offers coffee drinks, vegan food and a vinyl playlist for a cozy, family-friendly spot to grab breakfast or lunch or linger over a weekend brunch. While many of its dishes look like fare from an over-the-top eatery, the ingredients here are 100 percent plant-based so guests can be assured that the Chik’n Fried Shrooms are a bit healthier than the fried chicken dishes with gravy at the local diner. Even vegans need a little naughty food sometimes and the Shrooms Flight lets diners sample three different versions on top of creamy grits. The three flavors include traditional, hot honey and creamy Cajun. Some of the dishes are not necessarily low calorie but they are more nutritious versions of homey comfort food.
There are, however, plenty of items that pack a vitamin punch like the Johnny Nash Sweet Potato Hash ($12). It’s a dish of sweet potato hash, kale, quinoa and black beans drizzled with cilantro-lemon vinaigrette. There’s also an Acai Bowl ($10) with berries, granola and almond milk plus everyone’s favorite brunch treat, Avocado Toast ($9). The cafe offers coffee drinks, Chai Tea Lattes and mimosas with some unique flavors such as Elderberry Blast, Hibiscus, Pineapple and its signature Black Mimosa, made with charcoal-activated lemonade.
Jesse Hernandez first began the Veegos concept as a pop-up before the business opened a brick and mortar in February 2019. It serves vegan tacos al pastor, jackfruit flautas, burritos, quesadillas and more, all 100 percent vegan. There’s even its own version of chili cheese fries with plant-based chili.
The single tacos ($3.50) are available in al pastor or jackfruit so it’s a good way to see which protein option is your favorite before committing to a whole platter. For kids, there’s a $6 taco plate or quesadilla plate which includes rice and beans or fries. For drinks, there’s agua frescas and Mexican Coca-Cola. Guests should not miss its Cheesecake Sopapillas for dessert.
Veegos is shooting to open a second location in mid to late February at Blodgett Food Hall, 2616 Blodgett.
449 W. 19th
Dog owners tend to be healthier and live longer and Verdine is a vegan restaurant that also offers a dog-friendly patio. Its menu gets creative with vegan ingredients and offers starters like Thai Meatballs and Magic Mushroom Miso Soup. There are meaty non-meat dishes like the Bistro Burger and a nutrient-packed Butternut Squash Quesadilla. The Godfather Pizza is gluten-free.
The restaurant is counter service for lunch and table service at dinner. It serves brunch exclusively Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is online ordering available for take-out or customers can order by phone. Delivery is available through UberEats.
Vegetarian and Healthy
Ember & Greens
9403B Katy Freeway
This contemporary American restaurant’s menu is globally-inspired with Mediterranean influences making much of the fare here heart-healthy and nutritious. Owned by mother and son duo, Nadereh Ahly and Iman Yarjani, there are dishes that will please vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. Appetizers such as Sriracha Cauliflower Bites ($11) and Spinach and Cilantro Hummus ($10) won’t throw healthy eaters off their game while the Winter Greens Soup ($9) or Spinach and Beet Salad ($12) provide immunity-boosting greens and vegetables.
There are heartier items such as the Chipotle Chickpea Wrap ($13) with sauteed mushrooms, onions, arugula, romaine, avocado, carrots cucumbers and tahinii, served with cucumber-yogurt sauce and fresh fruit. For pescatarians, there are dishes like the Blackened Salmon with avocado salsa. The menu also has some gluten-free offerings including a side of Cilantro Green Pea Quinoa which is also vegan.
Ember and Greens has a weekday happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with $5 house wines, $6 select cocktails and half-price beers. It also has a deal on bar bites such as $6 E&G Veggie Samosas.
With over 50 locations in some of the biggest cities in the United States and globally, this Japanese restaurant has iconic dishes like the Black Cod with Miso that can keep diners on track with their gut health and keep their cholesterol in check. Fermented miso is known to have such health benefits and it also shows up in the Baby Spinach Salad with Dry Miso. Nobu’s seafood-forward menu means guests have plenty of options rich in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D like the Tuna Tataki with Tozazu and the New-Style Salmon Sashimi.
The upscale sushi restaurant also has non-alcoholic cocktails that offer a flavorful alternative that can be enjoyed way beyond Dry January. The Yuzu Strawberry Calpico is made with Strawberry Calpico (a non-carbonated Japanese fruity soft drink), yuzu juice, lime and mint. The Spicy Lemonade uses serrano peppers for a little kick, along with lemon, muscavado sugar and honey syrup.
Paulie’s is known for its house-made pastas, pizza and panini but there are plenty of options for vegetarians, especially those who don’t mind a little cheese with their veg. Paulie’s Big Salad can actually be ordered small ($8) or large ($13) and starts with romaine lettuce then adds tomato, cucumbers celery, carrots, mushrooms and feta cheese. There’s also a fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil salad for $6/$10. The Portobello Mushroom Sandwich is made with grilled Portobello mushrooms which are a good meaty stand-in for steak and it’s made even more flavorful with the addition of red peppers and goat cheese. There’s also a Grilled Vegetable Platter ($10/$16).
The first non-alcoholic bottle shop in Texas is located in our very own Rice Village and its offerings are far beyond soft drinks and juices. They actually have bottles of alternative spirits made with botanicals and shrubs created with apple cider vinegar. There is a number of alcohol-free wines available and co-owner Danny Frounfelkner was born in the Napa Valley area of California and has a background in the beverage industry, including stints at local restaurants such as Indianola, Adair Kitchen and Tiny Boxwoods. Wife Helenita is an experienced marketing director and project manager, having fueled several successful businesses. The couple saw the interest in non-alcoholic cocktails and beverages as an opportunity to, as their motto says, shift the question “Why aren’t you drinking?” to “What are you drinking?”
In celebration of Dry January, the shop, which opened October 16, is holding tastings every Saturday this month from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. On January 15, there will be a beer tasting with Ceria Brewing, Well Being and Athletic Brewing. The next Saturday, January 22, there will be a launch for Tennyson Black Ginger, from a company out of Austin.
This local company just released its CBD Ranch Water made with nano-emulsified water soluble CBD. The canned drink is zero-proof, zero-calorie and zero-sugar sweetened with agave and flavored with lime. It includes 25 mg of CBD. It can be found online at its website and at Sipple.
The company will be releasing flavors such as Blackberry Bramble and Botanical Greyhound in the future.
Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith, is offering two off-the-menu zero-proof cocktails like the Blackberry Lemon Drop and its alcohol-free Mojito for $7. There are also beverages such as the Sweet Mercy, Simply Peachy and OJ Smash. Dish Society has six locations in which to sample its House Elixirs ($5.75) like the Lemonberry, a muddling of mint, lemon, strawberries, blackberries and cane sugar. There’s also a Virgin Mojito with lime juice, cane sugar, mint and club soda.
Tobiuo Sushi & Bar, 23501 Cinco Ranch Boulevard, has fruit-forward alcohol free options like its signature Strawberry Basil lemonade, Lavender Lychee, Orange Dreamsicle and Honey Ginger for $4 and an off-menu Prickly Pear mocktail ($8) which is also available in a margarita form with alcohol.
Houston Farmers Market
This market began its transformation in 2017 when it was acquired by MLB Capital Partners. The plans are to make it a destination location with market items but also dining spots like the newly-opened Underbelly Burger. In December, it added R-C Ranch Butcher Shop to its line up of vendors Those who are searching for pasture-raised proteins and sustainably-sourced meats can find them here but at a premium price. Much of the beef is Wagyu, so you get what you pay for.
The market also boasts a number of produce stalls, most of them family-owned. Some of them have been there for decades when it was previously owned by Farmers Cooperative Marketing Association. Most of the vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices are conventionally-grown but it’s still a great spot to get exotic items and hard-to-find ingredients, much of it from Mexico and Central America.
Urban Harvest Farmers Market
2752 Buffalo Speedway
This market opened in 2004 with just seven vendors. Now, the Saturday market, from 8 a.m. to noon, hosts over 100, with farmers, ranchers, restaurants, brewers, vintners, distillers and artisans selling local products that fit many diets and tastes. Atkinson Farms has been selling its local produce since the market’s inception and now there are a multitude of farms represented with conventional and organic fruits and vegetables. Pat Greer’s Kitchen was also one of the first vendors and the prepared vegan products, especially the Krackers, are big sellers. Besides local produce, customers will find grass-fed beef, farm-fresh eggs from free-ranging hens, pastured pork, homemade sausages and Gulf seafood.
There are plenty of sweet treats as well. Drop by The Baker’s Man for a traditional mini bundt cake or stroll up to Sinfull Bakery and see what vegan goodies are available. For gluten-free baked goods, there’s Bare Bakery with cakes and more. Many of the vendors also have their own storefronts and online ordering for those who can’t drag themselves out of bed on a Saturday morning.
Urban Harvest also has drive-thru markets on certain days and offers double up bucks for SNAP recipients.