Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this Gut Check series, we are chewing our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. To see hundreds more winners and finalists and download the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis mobile app, visit our Best of St. Louis homepage.
At too many restaurants, vegetables are merely a side dish: a house salad, green beans, the dreaded "medley" of "seasonal" vegetables, which somehow always means a medley of differently colored squashes.
For the carnivore, this is no matter. For the vegetarian, let alone the vegan, it's a challenge. Thankfully, St. Louis has more than a few restaurants that cater to them.
Page through for the nine finalists and Riverfront Times' pick for "Best Vegetarian Restaurant."
Gokul Indian Restaurant (6101 Delmar Boulevard; 314-721-1888) and (10633-B Page Avenue, Overland; 314-428-8888)
Indian food makes just about everyone happy. From the naan to the kulfi, not much satisfies the same way this cuisine does. And at Gokul, vegetarians get their due with a menu comprised entirely of vegetarian options. Dishes include samosas and kaju vada (vegetable balls with potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger and spices) to start the meal. Lighter dishes include ragda petis - spicy green-pea gravy over potato patties - or chhloe puri - slow-cooked chickpeas. Gokul rounds out the menu with rice and chaat specials, vegetable korma, aloo gobi and plenty of other delicious choices. For dessert, try the kheer (rice pudding). Every Monday Gokul also offers an all-vegan buffet so you can try a variety of tastes, and trust us, you'll want to try it all.
Everest Café (4145 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-4800)
Since it opened in 2004, Everest Café has been dedicated to the stomachs and hearts of St. Louis diners. Through delicious Himalayan cuisine, chef Dr. Devi States is on a mission to make St. Louis diets healthier, and maybe help St. Louisans live quite a bit longer. Inside the doors of the restaurant's location in the Grove patrons will find nutritious and exotic Nepalese, Korean and Indian dishes prepared with only fresh, healthy ingredients hand-selected by the good doctor -- that means no processed foods or butter or heavy creams. From the menu, veg-friendly items include organic vegetables simmering in different Nepalese or tomato sauces, and Tibetan momos -- vegetable-stuffed dumplings with herbs and spices and served with a homemade pickle. Everest also offers a lunch buffet every day but Monday, featuring a changing variety of vegan and vegetarian Indian and Nepalese dishes. And while they certainly don't recommend overeating at Everest, at least you'll know that fifth plate isn't bad for your heart.
Local Harvest Café & Catering (3137 Morgan Ford Road; 314-772-8815)
Patrick Horine clearly loves his food local. Not only did he found the Tower Grove Farmers' Market, but he also co-owns Local Harvest Grocery and Local Harvest Café. Sure, there's meat served at the café, but the vegetarian options shine. At least half of the ingredients come from within 150 miles of St. Louis to compose breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner options. For dinner, grab a veggie burger or perhaps share some vegan samosas. Come for brunch, and certain items can be made vegetarian, including biscuits and gravy or, for those vegans who feel nostalgic for the mainstay of any hangover, go for the slinger.
OR Smoothie & Café (3 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-8883) and (6654 Clayton Road, Richmond Heights; 314-647-8881)
It just feels better when you eat healthy. Sure, every now and then, some garbage gets down the old gullet, but let's face it: This usually leads to bellyaches and love handles. Enter OR Smoothie & Café, and those remorseful meals are a thing of the past. Here everything is healthy, with OR being short for "organic." From the raw natural sugar cane, organic milk and coffee, no MSG and even no microwaves, OR takes healthy food seriously and provides the perfect place for vegetarians and vegans to eat like kings. The large menu offers plenty of yummy choices, including veggie spring rolls and veggie sushi (brown rice, celery, carrots, tofu and avocado) for starters. Sandwiches include the veggie meatball sandwich and a veggie burger. OR also includes a hefty list of smoothies as well as a veggie bar to help what ails you, including "Potassium Rich" juice, with carrots, parsley and spinach. With such delicious choices, it's a wonder anyone still chooses not to eat organic foods.
Govinda's Vegetarian Cuisine (3926 Lindell Boulevard; 314-535-8085)
Food nourishes your body, but a colorful temple on Lindell Boulevard provides a vegetarian feast with the hope of nourishing your spirituality. Govinda's, which lies inside a midtown Hare Krishna temple, offers a simple setting for delicious and cost-effective dishes served with timeless wisdom and a peaceful, welcoming atmosphere. The temple features an all-vegetarian lunch buffet every weekday. On Sunday, visitors for Sunday services are invited to enjoy the evening feast, which typically includes such items as pakoras, bean sprouts, rice kheer and mango juice. Regardless of the personal beliefs you bring into the temple, the delicious food, wide selection and friendly crowd will make you love your time with the Hare Krishnas.
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