Restaurant Review: Vital Foods

Vital Foods Serves Up Gratifying Vegan Fare

Maggie Grimason
5 min read
Self-Love One Lunch Special at a Time
Vital Salad (Eric Williams)
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“Sometimes I think vegans hate themselves,” my roommate said pointedly from across the kitchen. Maybe I was ladling a particularly random selection of vegetables, half-cooked, into one of our hand-me-down china bowls again. Or perhaps it was on an evening in which we sat on the front porch with Tecates resting on the stone step between us and I refused to so much as taste the dumpster-dived guacamole, which had been triumphantly resurrected from a trash bin and had sour cream in it. Whatever the context, she had misconstrued the origins of my diet and, I assume, that of most people who have the privilege of eating based on their particular ethics. If the way my convictions manifest themselves on my dinner plate suggest self-loathing, it is only because I am inept in the kitchen. That’s why I was overjoyed when an explicitly vegan and organic restaurant opened just blocks from my home this summer.

With its bright, ever-variable menu of plant-based dishes, the offerings at Vital Foods, near Downtown on the Raynolds-Barelas dividing line, are clearly not for those performing self-flagellation. On a simple chalkboard menu over a small countertop, the shop lists its pared down fare—there are standard dishes of veggies and rice, soup and salads that can be order à la carte and a lunch selection that changes daily. I wandered in on a gray Thursday afternoon immediately after a rush and got the last of the lunch specials available, which speaks to the growing popularity of the place and the exclusive nature of some of its menu items. On this day that special was a garlic soy curl wrap with grilled red pepper, avocado and spring mix served on a thick, wheat tortilla. In addition to the wrap, I ordered the soup of the day, a curried potato and daikon medley, as well as the veggie and rice bowl which, on this day, was a blend of cauliflower, red onion, black beans and rice.

The wrap was a well proportioned composite of protein, vegetables and carbs. The tofu had an appreciable firm consistency and was marinated in a garlic sauce that gave it a robust flavor. The garlic heavy tofu was complimented by sweet grilled red pepper. These foundational elements of the wrap were accompanied by a generous helping of avocado, which is always an appropriate move in my eyes. I could have done with less of the weak and wilty spring mix, however, which felt more like a filler or an afterthought that didn’t add much to the meal and maybe even detracted from the other more thoughtfully crafted elements.

The hearty soup came out promptly with the main course and although served a little cool for my tastes, was delightfully spicy. To my surprise, I enjoyed the veggie and rice bowl more than the soup of the day. The rice was cooked to almost a glutinous texture and heaped atop it was lots of cauliflower and red onion. With condiments like salty Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and parmesan-like, amino acid rich nutritional yeast (I’m swooning), simple dishes like this are what I’d cook for myself in a scenario in which I had a little bit more time to spend preparing my meals. I finished off my meal with a cup of Cinnamon 5 tea, one of the nine loose teas available at Vital Foods.

I missed the regular Sunday brunch, which kicks off at 10am and offers foods that are very exciting novelties to me, like vegan biscuits and gravy and chilaquiles. Instead I returned again to Vital Foods to sample more of the lunch fare during the week. On that day the lunch special was a grilled and herbed eggplant sandwich with garlic spread and tomato jam. On the side instead of soup and vegetables, I decided to sample their tortilla chips—made at La Mexicana Tortilla Company—and the house-made pico de gallo.

I’m not much of a sandwich person, but the filling of the grilled eggplant sandwich was rich and the wheat bread made the meal satisfying. I couldn’t tell where the creamy garlic sauce ended and the eggplant began, and that is certainly not a criticism. Accompanying these elements was a tangy tomato jam that brought sweetness and complexity to the savory quality of the rest of the sandwich. The baked tortilla chips served on the side were equally satisfying, the kind of thick, unsalted, homemade chips that retain their strong corn flavor. The pico de gallo, served in a small porcelain dish with the chips was light and fresh, each bite conjuring sunlit tomatoes ripening on a green vine.

Following the meal I sipped a delicately flavored hot chocolate in the somewhat awkwardly intimate quiet that fell in the restaurant. The staff discussed putting Sepulchre on the radio and I watched through the window as passerby browsed the Little Free Library across the street. Lush oils floated to the top of the cocoa reacting with the cinnamon and light sweetness of the drink to make it rich without feeling heavy, an ideal dessert. I paid the reasonable bill—most lunch specials being in the $7-10 range—and walked home in the late fall afternoon light feeling buoyant and satisfied rather than weighted.

The foods showcased at Vital Foods are simple, smart and fresh, the kind of foods that I want to—and believe I could, even with my limited skills—prepare for myself. That might not necessarily be what everyone wants from a dining experience, but these healthy, robust dishes are elevated by the staff of Vital Foods, and are, at their core, what my diet aspires to. Simply put, it feels really good to eat there. Every meandering walk through my neighborhood to the plant-lined windows of Vital Foods feels like an act of self-love.

Vital Foods

926 Coal Ave SW


Hours: 7am to 7pm, Monday through Friday

10am-1pm Saturday and Sunday

Vibe: Greenhouse plus a Vitamix

Extras: Weekly Sunday brunch, 10am

Alibi recommends: Arriving early for lunch because when the specials are gone, they’re gone.

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