UT Arlington gets Down to Earth | Finally, a vegan place on campus + a giveaway!

“The best feeling is when my customers tell me they feel the love I put into my cooking. The mission of Down to Earth is to bring you good food that’s good for you!”

— Alma Rangel, founder of Down to Earth

My university, UT Arlington, hasn’t always been the best place for vegans, vegetarians, or earth and health conscious folks. Having been a student there for almost a decade (yes, I’m in grad school now), I’ve seen it all–the struggle of choosing a bruised banana or a greasy hashbrown for morning fuel was real. I remember at orientation, I made my first friend over a sad/hilarious vegan bonding experience over the slim pickings at the salad bar. We rallied with other forward thinkers (veg and non-veg!), advocating for more plant-based options on campus in various ways, earning unanimous support from Student Congress.

resolution

Photo courtesy of Richard Hoang (The Shorthorn).

Options got better overall, but they weren’t particularly amazing or consistent. La Blue Casa had a great run at College Park, until it went down in an unfortunate turn. If you wanted vegan tacos, your best bet would be to make your own (which we did). Now, with the arrival of Down to Earth at College Park, students can get a variety of vegan tacos and other authentic, plant-based Mexican fare on demand. Read to the end to find out how you can win a free meal at Down to Earth!

Tacos and Lime.jpg

Down to Earth offers a variety of taco fillings, including nopalitos (cactus), calabacitas (Mexican squash), spicy sweet potato and black beans, and aguacate a la Mexicana (avocado fans rejoice)!

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.

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.

Continue reading

Pie Five Pizza Crust Controversy Resolved!

When Pie Five Pizza opened at College Park last semester, all the crust varieties were vegan–meaning vegan students (and lactose-intolerant students) could order the specialty Treehugger pie, or any custom veggie pizza sans cheese. However, this semester, there has been some discussion that the company has changed their crust recipes to include dairy.

Saddened by the sudden cutoff from my only source of vegan pizza on campus, I immediately contacted the company in hopes of hearing otherwise. They were quite helpful in their response and I was reassured to learn that vegan students can still go to Pie Five for all their pizza needs on campus. Continue reading