Monday, April 04, 2011

Vegan Vacation Eats: Grand Canyon and beyond...

I was recently treated to a wonderful trip through the Southwest with my youngest Sprout, and my favorite, generous, adventurous vegan friend Shaun.

As many of you know, eating healthy and cruelty-free while on vacation is often one of the biggest challenges a vegan may face...
What to do, what to do.

While vegetarian/vegan restaurant guides like
"Happy Cow" can offer some help, they are usually limited to all-vegetarian/vegan restaurants, or at least those with a specific vegetarian focus. And in the case of our trip, there was only one listing out of all the towns we'd be going through.

With a little research (reading reviews on Yelp, Urban Spoon, Travelocity and just Googling "Vegetarian Restaurants" in whatever town) and some calling ahead, we managed to find vegan options for the duration of our week-long trip.

I'll list our "finds" in hopes that they help some other vegan vacationers who, like us, may be headed to Arizona and New Mexico destinations or passing through remote towns like Tuba City, Farmington, Los Alamos, Farmington, Tusayan. (As well as parts of historic Route 66, Four Corners Monument -->>, Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument and the Grand Canyon).

Yes, like good little vegans, we packed some food along, but it's hard to pack an entire week's worth in the trunk of a Prius!! My travel partners chose hotels with breakfast buffets (usually had the option of potatoes, dry cereal and oatmeal), and packed our own almond milk and granola, thus, breakfasts were never a problem.

Vacation Vegan Options:

This restaurant offered a small selection of pasta dishes for lunch (more choices for dinner). Their pasta noodles, marinara, pomodoro, Arrabbiata, and aglio e olio (garlic and oil) sauces are all accidentally and happily vegan.
The bread is vegan (ask for olive oil to dip) and the salad is fresh and crisp, NOT from a bag (I was impressed). The only dressing that's vegan is oil and vinegar, but they get extra points for actually offering balsamic vinegar. The sauces we tried were really good; better yet, they actually taste very "homemade" and the staff followed our instructions carefully, appearing to know what the word "vegan" meant.

Tusayan, AZ (Entrance to The Grand Canyon): We Cook Pizza and Pasta
Keep in mind a couple things:
You're miles from civilization, you're at the Grand Canyon for the experience - NOT the food! AND you're in a "resort" or tourist town.
That said, "We Cook Pizza" was a nice little surprise. Their menu has a large selection, and vegans can choose a cheeseless pizza (they'll load on lots of fresh veggies!) , pasta with primavera sauce, or they'll make an all-veggie sub sandwich (the French rolls are vegan).

Plus there's a nice salad bar with loads of selection and truly fresh veggies (something I don't always find at home!).
Casual atmosphere and the expected "tourist" prices, but the food is good, and again, the staff know what the word "vegan" means, bonus points for that. **I called them later, and they confirmed that if I brought in my own vegan cheese, they'd make me a pizza with it. Good to know.

Tusayan, AZ: Sophie's Mexican Kitchen
Again, remember, you have few choices up here... This is basic, hearty Mexican food; Ask to be sure, as it seems ownership changes now and then, but when we visited, the whole beans are vegan, as is the rice. There are a good number of vegetarian selections on the menu, many of which can easily be made vegan by leaving off the cheese (veggie fajitas, Indian taco, burritos, etc.). The food is good and filling, but basic, the service is the slowest ever, and the salsa is dreadful, canned and tasteless. Your other choices in town are a steak house and a burger joint, and hey, the margaritas here are REALLY good, so that counts for something, right?

Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim: Arizona Room
They have seasonal menus and seasonal hours, so you may want to check ahead, but when we went, (along with my fabulous friend Sunny who is lucky enough to WORK at the park), we were very happy with the wide variety of choices that could be easily made vegan (leaving off the sour cream or cheese) - which the staff did willingly. Tofu tacos, portabello-avocado sandwich, sweet-potato fries, a southwest penne with ancho chiles... all of it delicious!!
Spendy, as the park tends to be, but memorable and SOOO worth it for the experience, the people watching, and the spectacular view. Cheaper and a shorter wait than other restaurants in the park too.

Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim: El Tovar Dining Room
We did not eat here, so I can't vouch for the knowledgability of the staff, but I peeked at the menu and there were clearly five or six options that, if the cheese was removed, went far, far beyond the standard "vegan salad" options we sometimes settle for, and several options were clearly marked vegan too! Nice! More "fancy" and expensive, but might be an awesome experience.

Farmington, NM: Boon's Family Thai BBQ
OK, no one is sure what the "BBQ" stands for in the restaurant's title, but this little gem was the surprise highlight of our trip!! They had a vegetarian section on the menu (always a surprise in a small town), plus options scattered throughout that aren't specifically marked, you'll have to read carefully - some things say they can be made with tofu (instead of beef, chicken or pork) and others can't.
Those that don't offer tofu as an option have other ingredients that make them non-vegetarian.
We had the vegetable-filled wontons, the spring rolls, the special Mango-Red-Curry and several vegetable based dishes (Ginger Vegetables, Phud Prik King, etc). All of it was AMAZING, made exactly as we requested, vegetables were fresh and tender-crisp, and again, major points because the waiter knew exactly what we needed as vegans. SO YUMMY! I'd drive all the way back, just to go here again!

Tuba City, AZ: Kate's Cafe
Tuba City is on the long, lonely highway to "Four Corners" and Monument Valley, and is one of the largest urban areas on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Kate's Cafe is the only non-chain food establishment in town. There IS a Subway if you prefer, but we ventured here instead... Don't read the reviews, you may be a little alarmed at a couple reviewers complaints, but we had really good luck.Yes, it's classic 'greasy-spoon' diner food, but remember - you're in the middle of nowhere, options are few and far between!
Not a lot of options, but better than the veggie sandwich at Subway, in my opinion.

A couple pasta dishes with marinara, salads and sandwiches which can be made vegan with little or no re-arrangement. Also, very exciting, their Navajo Fry Bread is surprisingly vegan, made with vegetable shortening (hard to find and definitely worth trying).
The onion-rings are crisp, not greasy, and actually vegan too. Worth it for the local culture and lack of "fast-food" atmosphere. Staff were fairly helpful, knowledgeable about ingredients, and followed our requests accurately, but I wouldn't guarantee they'd ever heard the word vegan before.

Los Alamos, NM: El Parasol New Mexican
This small, local chain has some great Mexican/New Mexican items like burritos, tacos, enchiladas and a number of vegetarian/vegan options, but most important... CHEESE-FREE (vegan) tamales! Delicious ones filled with calabacitas (zucchini-type squash), and green chile! Vegan tamales. Yes, really, that's all I need to say.

Albuquerque, NM: Thai Vegan
This place is an absolutely awesome Thai restaurant, the fact that it's ALL VEGAN is a bonus. It's also one of Shaun's favorite places, so there was no way we would pass it up! So yummy!
I admit I'm spoiled, living in shouting distance of many all-vegan places here in the "big city", but Thai Vegan is equally as good, if not better than many Seattle/Portland restaurants! We loved every single item (and we ordered a LOT!) but if you get a chance, ask for the Massaman Curry. It's not on the menu, but the gracious owner, Pat, will happily make what is undoubtedly the BEST curry you will ever have. Go here, even if it's out of your way!! The mock meats they use are quite good, better than many I've tried, and you can get dishes with tofu as well, if that's what you prefer. Non-Thai loving youngsters will probably like the veggie-burger and perfect French fries too. Of course, this was my favorite of the entire trip!


Here's hoping something in this list helps some lost, wandering vegan out there. The Southwest is an AMAZING place, vegan options are out there if you just keep an eye open!


Shaun said...

I absolutely loved this trip. Excellent run-down of the restaurants we visited. I really enjoyed the Arizona room and thought the "We Cook Pizza and Pasta" was really nice too.

Tanya said...

Nice trip! I love reading people's vegan eats experiences on trips. It can be a challenge and we need all the help we can get. Soon I'll be going overseas and need to figure out what to bring with me! I'll check these places out if I'm ever back in the West...

Debra said...

Looks like you had lots of fun! :-) Arizona is beautiful!

Blessings, Debra
Raw Vegan Diet

Karyn said...

I forgot you were coming to Arizona! I am so sorry, I would have loved to meet up with you. I am glad you had a great trip though.....I got busy with mom & hospice, so I have been so out of the loop lately.

Next time we have to meet!

P.S. I am going to Sante Fe in May! My trip is a gift from a dear friend.

Tofu Mom (AKA Tofu-n-Sprouts) said...

I knew you were busy and had a lot going on - ANNND we ended up not spending as long as we planned in some places and thus being really pressed for time - would have had just a very short time to visit with you :(...

No worries, there will be a next time - FOR SURE!

Karyn said...

Yes, there will be a next time! I am so glad you guys had a good time and had good weather...we are buried in snow today LOL.

This last month or so has been total chaos and I still am amazed I forgot, but since I have been forgetting a great many things lately, I guess its just caused by stress...or old age...

Tofu Mom (AKA Tofu-n-Sprouts) said...

Karyn, Karyn... please don't worry - if I had been worried about it, I would have reminded you about twenty times, not your job to remember, you have WAY more than your share - I realized soon after I contacted you that things were going to be much different than I WANTED them to be - still a LOT of fun, but so, so busy!!

Parker said...

What a great read. It is especially hard to eat well when on road trips...and that's true even if you're NOT a vegan!

We usually try to pack all our own meals/snacks, or jsut shop at grocery stores and hope to make it to the other end unscathed! :-)

We have a road trip planned for this summer and we'll definitely take some queues from you and do some research for vegan friendly places to eat before we hit the road. I'm sure it'll make it that much more of an adventure!

Parker & Beth

Sean Blachley said...

Thanks for visiting my blog:
This sounds like a great trip. I actually grew up in Farmington, NM and I have never been to that Thai restaurant. I always have a hard time eating out when I go back, but there is also a Chinese Restaurant that has a vegan noodle dish that I always get. I live in Albuquerque and just had the chance to try Thai Vegan a week ago and am in love. A post will go up on my blog very soon. It's too bad you didn't make it through Sedona, AZ. There is a place called D'Lish that is an amazing vegan cafe and the town is very cool also.

~summer~ said...

Thank you for taking the time to document this and share your experience. We are a vegetarian family and planning a Grand Canyon trip and so it is great to have some ground tested info on eating options.

Tracy Minton said...

Hi! I just stumbled upon your blog while seeing if there were veg options in Farmington, NM. I'm an older 'granola head' as I was called when younger, and born in the same crazy turbulent year, 1963.

Great idea to post about veg places to dine while traveling. I'm also all about eating super affordable, simple, satisfying and yummy food (which I've aptly pegged 'SASSY'.)

I have an old blog, but am in the process of a re-do. Old is Plant Based Solution on blogger. New is earth girl Rx on WP which can be found at Also creating a website ~ VeganEarthGirl. I'm really just now building it all, but do come over for a visit! Love connecting w/ fellow vegan bloggers. ~Tracy

Tracy Minton said...

BTW, I happen to live in AZ, and have lived in Santa Fe and ABQ. Love New Mexico. Great food, although I haven't explored it as a vegan as I returned to my veg roots about 4 years ago. I'm sure you probably had fun exploring. I'll read more of your blog when I have a chance. Great to find you. Tracy