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Where to Begin with Vegan?

I visited a friend this weekend in Scottsdale who owns a restaurant there. He is a magician with food, adores food and - are you ready - is a vegetarian. His restaurant isn’t vegetarian, but as he plans his trip to visit me in Sonoma this summer, he wanted to know where he could find the best vegetarian food to happily feed his way of life.

Well, lucky him. Northern California grows some of the best produce in the world, so it’s no surprise for that Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties are home to wonderful, vegetarian restaurants.

Here are just a few places in Sonoma that I’ll take my friend. And remember, even if an entire restaurant theme isn’t meatless, nearly every NorCal chef respects our seasonal bounty, and offers exquisite vegetarian, vegan and raw choices.

Stay tuned for more picks in Napa and Marin.

Avatars Punjabi Burrito, Petaluma
The original Avatars has been a Sausalito institution for meatless groupies since 1989, and the new Petaluma outpost follows the ideal deliciously. The friendly cooks will make any dish to specification, for vegan, gluten or dairy free recipes, and they have true skill. Who knew, for example, that basic button mushrooms could be as magical as they are here, simmered in mild, buttery curry reduction? Burritos, of course, are the star, wrapped in whole wheat tortillas plump with rice, garbanzo beans, homemade yogurt, tamarind, salsa, fruit chutney and carrot pickle, and enhanced with your choice of extras like curried pumpkin, mustard greens and spinach, or blackened seasonal vegetables. Just come hungry – the monster bundles require knife and fork and plenty of belly room.
131 Kentucky Street, Petaluma, 707-765-9775, enjoyavatars.com.

Fresh China, Santa Rosa
Indeed, the rather darkly lit, ultra-casual, weirdly retro eatery isn’t much to look at, and service can be brisk. But chef-owner Peter Hsian takes the “fresh” aspect of his Coddingtown Mall restaurant seriously, from the lengthy regular menu to the dim sum list of nearly 60 dishes. His recipes emphasize local, seasonal, organic ingredients, all the dim sum is made to order, and the kitchen happily accommodates special requests. Among the vegetable-centric plates are elaborate stir-fry creations, noodles and soups, plus uncommon bites like sweet taro moistened in coconut milk, ambrosial mango custard, and sumptuous steamed organic squash bun. Be sure to ask about the chef’s daily choice, since that’s where the more creative, inspired-by-the-daily-Farmers’ Market dishes are often showcased.
284 Coddingtown Mall, Santa Rosa, 707-527-6444.

Peter Lowell's, Sebastopol
Vegetarian can be super-stylish, and few do it better than this sleek, chic Italian café that tempts with contemporary bites so well crafted that meat most likely will never be missed. These are full flavored recipes, from a simple bagel sandwich stuffed with BBQ tempeh and caramelized onion (fried egg optional), to a beautiful “gemischter salat” of Bohemian Farm Collective winter greens, root vegetables, toasted pepitas and goat cheese in balsamic vinaigrette. The pizzas are positively addictive, fired to a crisp-chewy bubbled edge crust on an 800-degree fire deck pizza hearth, topped with a choice of artisan cheeses including soy-based, and finished with green goodies like marinara, wild arugula, exotic mushrooms, Calabrian chiles, escarole and such. Nearly all ingredients are sourced from Sonoma, and many are so fresh they come from Sebastopol-based boutique farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers and foragers. Dishes change often, but look for delights like Laguna Farms mixed greens tossed with shaved radishes and sweet carrots in Nana Mae’s Organics apple cider vinegar; and Rainbow’s End goat milk vanilla panna cotta topped in cherries.
7385 Healdsburg Avenue, Sebastopol, 707-829-1077, peterlowells.com.

East West Café, Sebastopol
Since 1989, this charming, family-owned Mediterranean spot in downtown Sebastopol has lured food lovers in for its generous portions of honest, satisfying veggie and vegan options. The menu goes on for several pages, and all is good, but regulars swear by the Organic Macro Plate of braised tofu or grilled tempeh with vegetables, arame seaweed, black beans, brown rice, hummus and tahini; the Thai tofu stir fry in spicy Thai peanut sauce; and the veggie Benedict, bringing a toasted English muffin topped with avocado, tomato, sautéed shiitake mushrooms, poached eggs and homemade hollandaise alongside country potatoes and salsa. Toast your healthy eating with a glass of organic wine, and certainly save room for the famous chocolate-beet cake.
128 N. Main Street, Sebastopol, 707-829-2822, eastwestcafesebastopol.com.

Tip: Veggie eating is green and sustainable, and so is a ride from Pure Luxury. Carpool to a festive feast with a group of friends in a limo or Town Car, and be assured that as members of Green Ride Global™, Pure Luxury is a leader in environmental responsibility.

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