I often hear from Dining Out readers who are vegetarian and want to know about more places to find absolutely delicious dishes they can enjoy. This is definitely a topic worth highlighting, as there is a growing number of people who fall into this category — according to Vegetarian Times, upward of 7 million Americans maintain a meat-free diet. It’s no surprise, then, that more and more restaurants are catering to vegetarians as well as other diners with specialized diets, such as vegans.
Admittedly, I’m as carnivorous as they come, but I still find this to be a very important topic in the overall foodie conversation, as many meat-free dishes are vegetable-rich and contribute to living a healthy lifestyle — something many of us are trying to do in the new year. I’ve been on the lookout for my Ono, You Know go-tos that truly have something for everyone on the menu, including the following divine vegetarian dishes that even meat lovers will be drooling over.
HOUSE OF WONG RESTAURANT
Some of my good friends who are vegetarians say they have to be cautious when eating out to avoid hidden meator fish-based ingredients in dishes, such as oyster sauce or chicken broth. But when they have a hankering for Chinese food, they don’t have to worry about dining at House of Wong Restaurant, where plenty of strictly vegetarian choices can be found.
The authentic Cantonese eatery serves up Assorted Vegetables ($10.95 per order) with an array of seasonal goodies ready to give our bodies a healthy boost. When I stopped by, bright green broccoli and snow peas instantly caught my palate’s attention –– while Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and carrots added extra nourishment. The restaurant’s China-trained chefs know how to cook the vegetables just enough to soften them, but keep that fresh, welcomed crunch. And these vibrant gems are cooked slowly with water, salt and garlic, allowing the natural flavors to speak for themselves.
General manager Michael Wang also recommends Vegetable Fried Rice and Vegetable Chow Mein ($10.95 each), which are delicately pan fried with salt — sans hidden ingredients. What I love about these options, particularly the chow mein, is that they are loaded with the good stuff instead of being stuffed with carbs and only sprinkled with veggies.
House of Wong is ready to cater to diners’ preferences, as the fried rice may be made without egg, and the Assorted Vegetables may be prepared without garlic.
The restaurant is new to Kapahulu Avenue, but it actually recently moved from Waikiki, where it served patrons under the name of China Garden for over 20 years. Customers can still find the same beloved menu items at House of Wong, as well as new dishes to look forward to. Its Dungeness Crab with Salt and Pepper and Honey-glazed Spare Ribs have garnered much positive praise from the local community, as has the clean and revamped interior.
House of Wong Restaurant
477 Kapahulu Ave., Kapahulu
For years, Windward diners have seen Zia’s Caffe as the quintessential family restaurant for great-quality comfort food served up with heart and soul. The eatery is known for Italian-inspired hits like Chicken Parmesan and killer Benedicts on its weekend breakfast menu, but as executive chef Jesse Kila explains, some of the most popular dishes across the board are vegetarian.
From Three Cheese and Spinach Ravioli ($14.50) to Molokai Sweet Potato Ravioli ($15), diners are in heaven with the restaurant’s house-made pasta pouches. The sweet-potato variety is the kind of dish that puts me into a lovely trance, with a magical mix of large ravioli significantly stuffed with the naturally sweet starch. Savory dressings in the form of sage brown butter, tomatoes, asparagus and Pecorino cheese complement the ravioli, while mac nuts bring fabulous texture and crunch.
Those who have resolved to eat more salads this year will fall for the light but flavorful Pear and Blue Cheese Salad, a gourmet blend of mixed greens, red onion and red wine vinaigrette. The acidic quality of the vinaigrette is perfectly balanced by the bold, creamy cheese, and my favorite part is the chef’s addition of downright delicious spiced macadamia nuts. The pear-primped salad is offered in a smaller size for $8, which is great on the side, or a regular portion for $14, which will fill you right up as an entree.
“These are some of our best sellers — for lunch and dinner,” adds Kila.
As an added plus, vegan diners who visit Zia’s are encouraged to try the Minestrone prepared with a rich vegetable-based broth.
45-620 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe