The Creek Cafe | Vegan Omakase

This past weekend, the sunlit and cozy interiors of The Creek Cafe welcomed a trickling but steadily increasing stream of curious diners, all eager to get a taste of the cafe’s new vegan Omakase menu. Nestled in the historic Lakewood neighborhood in Dallas, the spot describes itself as Americana with a Tokyo twist. On a normal day, they serve breakfast, pastries, French toast, and Japanese-style fluffy pancakes. Their special two-night vegan event saw such a popular demand that reservations sold out! My dear friend Christina and I were among the lucky attendees, and I’m excited to share our experience with you.

First Photo

Omakase (お任せ): a Japanese phrase meaning “respectfully leaving another to decide what is best.” In this case, the diner is entrusting the chef to make the decision about the dishes to be served. This gives the chef creative flexibility, and also provides the diner with a unique experience.

I love this concept, and learning more about it helped me appreciate the food in a different way. Life is less heavy, when we savor small spontaneities. The tradition of omakase invites us to embrace the artful act of being open to new experiences.

My friend Nick Ammon, who helped The Creek Cafe develop their new vegan menu, told me that it was inspired by traditional Japanese Buddhist cuisine. As someone whose family is rooted in Vietnamese Buddhism, I very much appreciated this concept! My lifestyle as a vegan is absolutely aligned with my spiritual philosophy and family upbringing. Please see below to learn about the meaning behind this kind of food. It will give you a better understanding of the meal and the tradition behind it.

Shojin Ryori (精進料理):  traditional Japanese Buddhist cuisine. Also known as temple food, based on the rightful thought and action in food. “By consuming a diet free of animal flesh, [practitioners] are abstaining from violence against living beings.

Sho (精) means “to focus.”

Jin (進) means “to go forward” or “to advance along the way.”

Shojin (精進) implies a procedure of constant reflection.

Ryori (料理) is the word for cooking or cuisine.

I love that this mindset was the driving concept behind their vegan items. The carefree spirit of mindfulness and minimalism definitely came to mind with each carefully crafted plate. Eating temple food can be a meditative experience, if one slows down, and takes care to appreciate the various textures and the subtle flavors in front of them.

The Creek Cafe | Vegan Menu Review |

course no. 1 

chilled edamame soup | creamy + refreshing | perfect for summer | reminiscent of matcha at first

homemade Japanese pickles | homemade using Texas veggies | adds a nice bite of acidity between the other bites

caponata | made with sweet bell peppers

ume plum vinegar sauce | fragrant, tart + a sweet contrast with everything else.
I dipped the other bites in this sauce and loved it all!

Mixing and matching the bites with each other and the sauce was recommended! I love doing that anyway, because contrasting various flavors usually make for a more satisfying dining experience.

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I particularly loved and appreciated that the lotus root was included in this dish, as it has held great spiritual meaning for many Asian cultures, including my own Vietnamese culture, in which it is held up as a symbol of divine beauty and spiritual enlightenment.

The lotus flower is revered in Japan for its ability to rise from the dirty, murky waters to bloom into a beautiful pure flower. This process symbolizes attaining enlightenment. The idea is that we can rise above human suffering in the same way as the lotus by moving from the lowest to the highest state of consciousness.

course no. 2 

inari + steamed veggies | sweet + savory + chewy | super satisfying

wasabi potato salad | creamy, with a clean sharpness that tingles + lingers

agedashi taro | crispy + packed with flavor | this taro croquette was my favorite!

mushroom pesto | rich flavors all around | this was also my favorite | ok, it’s a tie | this goes very well with the agedashi taro!

salisbury shiitake tofu | great textures, note that shiitake has a really subtle flavor. I enjoyed mixing these bites with some of the mushroom pesto.

stir-fried tubers + 16 grain rice | gorgeous presentation + flavors, just needed some sauce, or maybe I’m just a saucy person!

Once again, I found that the best way to experience this was to mix and match different bites with each other for various flavor combinations.


course no. 3

strawberry white chia pudding + cashew cream | creamy, refreshing + enjoyable | not too sweet + fun to swirl!


Starting this week, The Creek Cafe will be serving several vegan options on its permanent menu, served all day (their hours are 7 am – 3 pm). These options include two omakase plates, onigri, Japanese curry, wasabi potato salad, three bean taco rice, and a panini featuring their salisbury shiitake tofu. All their vegan fare will be clearly marked with a simple vegan logo. The omakase plates will reflect the seasons, and they will also vary according to what the chefs are feeling.

This summer, if you’re in the mood for a light and refreshing breakfast or lunch that doubles as a unique experience, The Creek Cafe is worth checking out.

I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the glorious day when they come out with vegan versions of their decadent French toast and Japanese fluffy pancakes! And I am forever dreaming of vegan croissants.

A big thanks to our friends Nick Ammon and Sarah Fun for all their work helping The Creek Cafe rebrand and add more vegan options to their menu! The cafe’s next event will be a cosplay event—stay posted by following them on Facebook or Instagram!


Light appetizer bites! Photo courtesy of the incredible Sarah Fun.

Omakase is considered a request for a wonderful meal. If you’re looking to save money, omakase isn’t the way to go. Nevertheless, it usually represents an excellent value.

Also keep in mind that Japanese portions tend to be smaller than the hefty Western portions that Texans may be accustomed to. The food reminded me of my time spent at various meditation retreats in Taiwan, in which the fare was quite light and the flavors are usually more subtle, because the focus was spiritual cultivation and inner reflection. That said, this place is definitely must-try if you’re wanting to treat yourself to a different experience, and it would also make unique date spot!



V Eats Modern Vegan at Trinity Groves | Preview Dinner Thoughts

Last weekend, I had the chance to attend a wonderful menu preview dinner at V Eats Modern Vegan–Troy Gardner’s new vegan restaurant at Trinity Groves in Dallas. The event was hosted by none other than my friends The Harvest Hands. Thank you, Courtney and Zak, for inviting me to this stellar menu tasting!

salisbury-steak-by-v-eats-plantcrush-co Continue reading

Smiling Moose Deli | sandwiches + soup + studying

Last December, I adopted College Park’s Smiling Moose Deli as my study abode for an afternoon. At first, I came to grab food, but when I realized that they had free wifi and outlets available, I set up my materials and wrote my final paper there. The place offered a nice, warm atmosphere for studying and several vegan options to choose from. I ended up ordering a few dishes to keep myself satiated while working.

This place is very clear about labels and friendly about answering questions. Any of the vegetarian dishes can be ordered vegan if you ask them to hold the dairy products. Here’s my full review, originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, published on October 2, 2013.

Before closing, they offered me free coffee (plus soymilk!) since it was the end of the day. Sweet. I had other study plans that night, so the caffeine came in handy.

Pictured above: Build-Your-Own salad, the Veggie Mo, and Vegan Vegetable Soup. The soup was hearty, and the sandwich was filling, but it was not my favorite. I loved the salad I had a few weeks ago–I tend not to order salads, but I was really craving fresh veggies and this hit the spot. I loaded it with all the toppings I could think of (they do not charge extra for extra toppings). College Park has several other vegan options too–check out my reviews here.

Good luck with finals! Load up on healthy snacks! 😉

Veggie Victories at UTA

photo 1 (2)Vegan brownies at UT Arlington! This is a big deal for UTA vegans. Yes, they are real.

Last week, my friend tipped me off about these vegan brownies on campus, so I decided to have lunch at UTA’s Connection Cafe.

I was excited to find Thai coconut curry noodles in the international line, with a clear “vegan” label. Also, I have since learned that any desserts placed at the vegetarian line will be vegan from now on. Yay!

While there is always room for improvement, I have been previously impressed with the increased availability of vegan options at UTA, thanks to the Vegan Club‘s work with Student Congress and the cooking staff’s cooperation and hospitality. A vegan line has been in place for about a year, but this semester it changed to a vegetarian line. Some vegetarian dishes are veganizeable if students ask for no cheese. Vegan desserts, plus a completely vegan entree in a non-vegan line, were not going to on my list of expectations for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised during this visit.

It’s exciting to have an increase in vegan options all around, even if it doesn’t seem like a lot, it means a great deal to students who rely on the meal plans.

photo (2)

While UTA is surely improving, UNT’s vegan dining hall is a truly dream come true–UTA’s Vegan Club and I paid them a visit recently, to meet up with UNT’s vegan group. It was a worthwhile trek for good company and good food. We were met with more than enough vegan options to choose from, including fresh focaccia bread sandwiches, tostadas, soft serve ice cream and adorable tapioca pudding shots.

It was heavenly, and my first time having tapioca pudding! Special thanks to Ken Botts, the special projects manager for UNT’s Dining Services, for welcoming us so warmly, and for giving us advice on how to improve vegan options at UTA!

For those who may not know, the vegan cafeteria at UNT inspired UTA students to push for more vegan options on our own campus. We probably won’t have an all vegan cafeteria at UTA, but we appreciate the progress and we are grateful for the cooking staff’s efforts here.

What vegan things have you tried at UTA’s Connection Cafe? Have you been to UNT’s vegan cafeteria? If so, what elements would you like UTA to incorporate from UNT’s practices? Please share your experiences with me below, and feel free to contact UTA’s Dining Services to let them know what you think.

Vegan Options at GRIP Mediterranean Grill + Beirut Cafe

I love Mediterranean food because it includes a great variety of vegan dishes. My favorite Mediterranean place is Beirut Cafe, down the street from UT Arlington. It is a great place for vegans, because all of the vegetarian dishes on the menu are vegan-friendly (except for those that obviously contain dairy, such as cheese pies or the yogurt dipping sauce). When I go with friends, we often like to share the vegetarian mezzeh, which has an amazing number of dishes to choose from. I am obsessed with the spinach pies (as pictured below).


As a Beirut Cafe regular, I have been very curious to see how College Park’s new GRIP location compares to my favorite hummus and falafel joint. About a week ago, I finally got the chance to go check out GRIP’s vegan options.

Update (10/8/13): GRIP’s vegan items are now clearly indicated with a “V”. For those sensitive to gluten, gluten-free items are clearly marked “GF”. I LOVE them for this–it makes things so much easier! 

Unfortunately, GRIP’s vegan offerings were not as abundant as I would have guessed, but they had a decent amount. The first thing I found out was that both their hummus and baba ganoush contain dairy. I was both saddened and surprised. From my personal experience, these dishes are usually vegan by default, because their creaminess comes from the use of tahini. I really appreciated the staff informing me, because I never would have guessed it. I’ll just stick to getting my hummus and baba ganoush fix at Beirut Cafe.


The falafel wrap is the only vegan entree, but it’s pretty excellent! For those of you who have not tried it, falafel is a deep-fried patty made with chickpeas and/or fava beans. Beirut’s falafel wrap is similar, as both places use tabouli and tahini, but GRIP’s wrap is different, with its inclusion of mint and pickled turnips. In trying their wrap, I especially enjoyed the addition of fresh mint leaves. GRIP’s falafel is crunchy on the outside, with a soft, savory interior. Beirut’s falafel is well-flavored, but sometimes it’s a little too crunchy for me.

Besides falafel, GRIP’s menu also has fries, fried cauliflower (comes with tahini for dipping), pita chips, tabouli and dolmas. Tabouli is a colorful salad made with parsley, tomatoes, bulgar, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Dolmas are stuffed grapeleaves that usually contain rice, but they sometimes have ground beef. The dolmas at GRIP are vegan-friendly, but I found that I much prefer Beirut’s veggie dolmas, because I think their rice is better seasoned. GRIP also has a Mediterranean salad that is very filling.

Fried CauliflowerIt’s pretty obvious that Beirut Cafe will always have my heart, as long as they keep up with their vegan variety and continue to carry my favorite spinach pies and fattoush. However, I will still visit GRIP once in a while for their falafel wraps!

If you get the chance to go to GRIP, try the falafel wrap and bring a friend! Their wrap is pretty big, so I split it with my sister. Please let me know your thoughts about GRIP in the comments!

Update, 12/10/13: GRIP’s Arlington location is now closed! Students will have to get their Mediterranean fixes at Beirut Cafe, Prince Lebanese Grill, or Narah Cafe.

Vegans Digg In

IMG_0305I think I can say with confidence that I frequent Digg’s Tacos more than any other place in College Park. The place offers several vegan options, but I always end up ordering my favorite: a veggie burrito bowl with no cheese. I don’t think I could ever get tired of it, and I personally think it is a better value than Chipotle or Freebird’s.  Continue reading

Vegan options at PhoXpress are available and expanding

6/10/13: Dear readers, the vegan options at PhoXpress are somewhat limited now, as of late Spring 2013–please scroll all the way down for the detailed update!

I must say that I am extremely picky about my phở, and most Vietnamese dishes in general. I blame the fact that I grew up in a Aulacese (Vietnamese) household full of food enthusiasts. 

I have heard horror stories about vegan phở at non-vegan establishments. The worst case scenarios recounted to me often resembled the following description, more or less: a bowl of rice noodles in salty broth, laden with MSG and some lettuce. To call that sad scene “phở” is a culinary crime and an insult to the taste-buds. I can’t even process the lack of effort–a complex, aromatic broth is the key to any phở, vegan or not.

PhoXpress set up

Phở condiments!

Based on such descriptions alone, let alone my Viet foodie background, I decided long ago that I would avoid eating phở outside my own home altogether. However, in the past month, I have tiptoed, quite warily, might I add, into giving a couple of places a chance.

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