Comfort foods don’t need to be meaty. Thanks to some culinary innovations from Valley chefs, traditional favorites like macaroni and cheese and chicken wings can be enjoyed with as much flavor as their carnivorous counterparts. Here are 11 of the best vegan comfort-food dishes around the Valley.
Green New American Vegetarian
In 2006, Green New American Vegetarian was the first Valley restaurant to offer wings that looked and tasted like real chicken wings. Fifteen years and countless other plant-based pollo imitations later, the wings at Green remain the best mock meat in metro Phoenix. Slathered in piquant Buffalo sauce and served with sticks of celery and carrots and a side of tasty house-made ranch dressing, Green’s wings can still make even the most carnivorous eater pass up processed nuggets in favor of fresh-fried alternatives.
Mac ‘n’ Cheez
Trash Panda Vegan
Some of the best vegan meals on wheels come from the Trash Panda Vegan food truck. Macaroni and cheese, the most ubiquitous of comfort foods, gets an extra cheesy schmooze in its mobile kitchen, oozing gooey layers of house-made “cheez” dappled with tiny chives over plump, perfectly cooked pasta. It’s a rich dish that will make you feel full and nap-ready, but that’s what makes it comfort food. You can frequently find the Trash Panda Vegan food truck parked outside its sister spot, Early Bird Vegan.
The Sheet Pan Nachos at GuacStar Kitchen and Cantina include pickled Fresno chili peppers.
Sheet Pan Nachos
GuacStar Kitchen and Cantina
920 East University Drive, #204, Tempe
If you can trust anyone to create eminently palatable plant-based versions of Mexican comfort food classics, it’s GuacStar chef Rene Andrade. This is the guy who won Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games on Food Network and caused mass salivation with his menu at Ghost Ranch in Tempe. There have been lines at GuacStar since it opened in January, and items like the sheet pan nachos are why. Picture a mountain of chips smothered in green chiles, pinto beans, cashew crema, and house-made cheese sauce, studded with chunks of avocado, green onion, pickled Fresno chili peppers, jalapeños, and pico de gallo. The line starts behind us.
7149 North 58th Drive, Glendale
Reciting the variety of tamales available at vegan Mexican hotspot Raul’s Cocina can start to sound a little like Bubba in Forrest Gump naming all the ways to cook shrimp: mushroom chorizo tamale, green chili bean and cheese tamale, red chili jackfruit tamale, green chili jackfruit tamale, green corn tamale… and it’s almost impossible to choose a favorite. Every single tamale tastes like divinity in a corn husk. But we’ll say the classic green corn tamale is a safe suggestion for all, and if you’re a fan of fungi, go for the mushroom chorizo iteration.
The Dr. J. breakfast sandwich is the No. 1 seller at Early Bird Vegan.
The Dr. J
Early Bird Vegan
1712 East Broadway Road, #3
Yes, breakfast sandwiches can be comfort foods, especially if you wake up hungry near Early Bird Vegan in south Phoenix. What warms the heart and kickstarts the metabolism more than a flavorful tofu “egg”-based sammie between two English muffin halves, topped with “cheese” sauce, “sausage,” avocado, spinach, and tomato, and finished with a dollop of spicy ranch? Nothing, that’s what.
Lumberjack Biscuits & Gravy
4025 East Chandler Boulevard, #28
Cut the cholesterol with these “buttermilk” biscuits at mom-and-daughter-owned Pomegranate Café in Ahwatukee. The country gravy packs protein from tofu and apple-sage “sausage” and comes with harvest hash (frequently sweet potatoes and sprouts). It’s also usually adorned with egg, so forgo that if you want a vegan version. If this dish isn’t comforting enough, grab one of the café’s delectable vegan brownies for a satisfying finish.
The vegan Tacos de Papa at Pachamama, with a side of almond-arbol salsa.
Tacos de Papa
4116 North 19th Avenue
We can barely get past the taco shells at mom-and-pop eatery Pachamama — perfectly crunchy, beautifully blistered, and capable of holding their ingredients without splits or spills. But once we get inside, we can’t get enough of these fillings — a slightly spicy garlic mash adorned with sliced cabbage, radish, almonds, and cilantro, with an almond-arbol salsa on the side. The hibiscus asada tacos are pretty comforting, too.
Earth Plant-Based Cuisine
1325 Grand Avenue, #7
Eating with our hands can be fun, especially if it’s a delectably messy proposition like the chorizo fries at family-owned Earth Plant-Based Cuisine. These French fries are smothered in a cheesy house-made sauce and mildly spicy chorizo and topped with an avocado salsa that provides a mellow contrast to the chorizo heat. (That tasty chorizo is also available in the tacos.)
Venezia’s pizza with plant-based vegan Italian sausage and Follow Your Heart pseudo-cheese.
There’s more to vegan pizza than just a cheese substitute, and Venezia’s clearly knows this. This local pizza chain not only uses one of the most popular plant-based brands for the pseudo-cheese — Follow Your Heart — but it also offers Morning Star Farms “sausage” as a topping. The pizza-makers here don’t skimp on the veggie toppings, either — expect some hefty slices if you load up on greens.
Black Bean Chipotle Chili
4810 North Seventh Street
Nothing’s quite as comforting as a big bowl of steaming chili topped with cornbread, and the black bean chipotle chili at Whyld Ass is extra consoling with smoky, Southwest flavors. This gluten-free, hearty dish is served with imitation sour cream and nutritional yeast.
The Verdura version of a po’boy.
I’m Just A Po’Boy
5555 North Seventh Street, #108
I’m Just A Po’Boy is a plant-based take on a po’boy sandwich, and if you’ve spent any amount of time on the Gulf Coast, you know a po’boy isn’t just any old handheld. With the Verdura version, a Noble baguette comes piled with flash-fried mushrooms and dressed with shredded iceberg, purple onions, tomato, pickle, tartar, and nori. It’s a mouthful, but the best part — as with any po’boy — is pinching up the fallen fried pieces to pop in your mouth.
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