“Where can I get good vegan food?” It’s probably one of the most frustrating questions I’ve encountered during my dozen or so years writing about food in Las Vegas. As anyone who’s tried to reduce their intake of animal products can tell you, the pickings around here have been pretty slim. Purely vegan restaurants are rare. And many vegan menus rely heavily on meat substitutes, none of which vaguely resemble the meat they’re supposed to replace, and some of which are highly processed and less healthy than meat. That’s why I’m so excited about Vegenation, which (for the most part) treats plants like plants, and does it creatively and skillfully enough that even hardcore carnivores won’t miss the animals.
In addition to its 100 percent plant-based menu, Vegenation is committed to other progressive ideals, such as locally sourcing products, composting and additional sustainable practices. The front dining room feels like a welcoming greenhouse. Plants line one wall and sit perched on a shelf above a central communal table, and there’s a cozy patio in the back.
The owners and staff are open and welcoming to those who haven’t yet drunk the vegan Kool-Aid, but simply want an alternative meal.
The politically charged artwork on the walls, however, looks like it came from PETA’s permanent collection, and can be a bit overbearing—particularly the photo of cute stuffed animals packed into a cattle car, apparently en route to a cartoon slaughter. But don’t let those things scare you away if you aren’t part of the “meat is murder” crowd. The owners and staff are open and welcoming to those who haven’t yet drunk the vegan Kool-Aid, but simply want an alternative meal.
Vegenation describes its menu as “global street food.” That means vegan spins on bao, tamales, sushi, chili, pizza and tacos, among other things. Only a handful contain faux animal products, and for the most part, if you’re not already accustomed to them, I’d recommend you steer clear. Sure, the “meatballs,” made with soy and wheat gluten, are tasty. But their spongy texture isn’t going to remind you of meat. The same goes for the Daiya cheese on the pizza, which doesn’t melt like mozzarella and has a rich creamy texture. (This omnivore would just forgo the “cheese” altogether and enjoy the crust, sauce and a heaping helping of herbed mushrooms.)
For those who share my dislike of these substitute products, chef Donald Lemperle has plenty of delicious alternatives. Steamed triangular Asian dumplings stuffed with shitake mushrooms and spinach are far better than any pork or shrimp gyoza could ever be. A vegetable sushi roll made with black “forbidden” rice is both beautiful and flavor-packed. A side order of curried red beans and quinoa contrasts the slight crunch of the tiny grain with the rich meatiness of the legume in a subtle-but-flavorful curry. A Mexican black-bean spin on hummus makes a great snack. And wok-sautéed vegetables are as good as you’ll find in most Asian restaurants.
I was a bit disappointed, however, with a dry tamale served with green chili and lentils. And while an order of sweet potato-filled pasta with broccoli, olives and sundried tomatoes was beautiful to look at, the pasta was gummy and the filling was a bit too sweet for me.
The beverage selection is also more varied and creative than I expected. Sure there are various coffees, teas, smoothies and juices (the latter provided by nearby Grass Roots juice bar). But for those who want something stronger, Lemperle offers beer from local CraftHaus Brewery and “juicetales” that combine juices with spirits from Las Vegas Distillery.
Vegenation is just the latest reason that Carson Avenue seems to be surpassing Fremont Street as the coolest drag Downtown, especially when it comes to food. And it’s finally provided me with an unequivocal answer when asked to recommend a good vegan spot.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Save the Tuna roll ($7)
- My Little Dumplings ($6)
- curried red beans and quinoa ($6)
- and Mexican hummus ($6)
616 Carson Ave., 702-366-8515. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Dinner for two, $20-$50.