REVIEW: THAI ISLAND RESTAURANT

RATING: B+

WHAT: Thai Island Restaurant

WHERE: 210 E Davis Blvd, Tampa, FL 33606

PRICE: $56.00 for two, including tip. We had the Corn Fritter, Thai Spring Roll, Tom Yum Soup with vegetables, Red Curry with vegetables and tofu, and Pad Pak with tofu.

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ATMOSPHERE:
We sat on the patio and did not go inside so it is hard to give a good review on the atmosphere. The patio had ample seating.  It faced the street which had some pedestrian traffic and minimal auto traffic.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?
This is a Thai restaurant with some vegan options. Vegan items are not identified on the menu but they do mention having vegan items on their website. Our server was knowledgeable about what “vegan” is and assisted us with our menu choices.

THE GOOD:

The food is very tasty at Thai Island! Portion sizes are good and the prices are reasonable for the portions. They actually had options for vegan desserts! Michael thought the Mango Sticky Rice was out of this world!

With international cuisine, I worry about the language barrier but our server’s accent was minimal. He was also a very good server. I ordered water without ice because I don’t typically like cold beverages and it is a pet peeve of mine to have my water refilled with the iced water pitcher. This wonderful server brought the water carafe and then realized it was cold, so he went and got us one at room temperature without my even having to ask for it.

The menus themselves were unique.  They had wood covers with little delicate hinges on them. The whole experience definitely left a good impression.

THE BAD:

No indication on the menu of which items are vegan, or can be made vegan. It was nice that the Thai Island website mentions some vegan items but actually having them noted on the menu would be great.

THE SUMMARY:

We found this gem of a restaurant with a Google search for “vegan Thai in Tampa”. Davis Island has a quaint downtown with several local shops we will go back and visit including other restaurants with vegan options! There was live music being played at a restaurant across the street which was nice for us–not too loud from our vantage point, and good talent. We will definitely return to Thai Island!

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: LOTUS VEGAN RESTAURANT

RATING: B+

WHAT: Lotus Vegan Restaurant is a 100% Vegan Restaurant, mostly Vietnamese dishes with some American ones

WHERE: 6575 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park, FL 33781

PRICE: $40.00 for two, including tip. We had the Crispy Cha-Cha appetizer, Curry Rice with BBQ, Lemongrass Tofu, and a Cheesecake. Cheesecake is Michael’s favorite and he started eating it before I could get a picture.

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ATMOSPHERE:
The atmosphere was simple. There was one lotus picture hanging on the wall, a few signs like “Open”, “Please Come Again”, and a sign about the buffet that we were too early for. White table cloths. Nothing fancy. It felt a little outdated but clean.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?
100%!

THE GOOD:
Did I mention it is 100% vegan?  It is such a treat to go and order anything off the menu without worrying about the ingredients or customizing to avoid cheese or fish sauce or cream, etc.  It is definitely a treat we don’t get often enough.  The food was very tasty and homemade.  Some restaurants seem to just buy vegan food and warm it up, but that was not the case with anything we had, including the cheesecake. The restaurant wasn’t very busy (we went around 2:00pm on a Saturday) and there was not a long wait for our food.

The owner took a genuine interest in us and how long we have been vegan.  She chatted with every table about this. Portion sizes seemed good for the price.  There was some food left over, but not enough to take home for another meal.

THE BAD:
They were out of Carrot Cake.  This is my favorite dessert and I was looking forward to it, especially with their food being so good.

Besides that, there were too many options that sounded so tasty and we couldn’t try everything. We were a few hours before the buffet and we actually had the conversation about just getting an appetizer and going to a park for a few hours just so we could try more of their options.

There is also no outdoor seating.

THE SUMMARY:
We were happy to find this restaurant, but we are usually happy to find anything that is 100% vegan.  It was well worth the drive and definitely we’ll be returning to try more of their menu items.

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: SQUARE 1 BURGERS (RESTAURANT)

RATING: B-

WHAT: Square 1 Burger Bar

WHERE: Square 1 Burgers & Bar approximately ten locations throughout Florida.  This review was based on our experience at 3701 Henderson Boulevard, Tampa, Florida 33609.

PRICE: $44 for 2 burgers with fries, 1 Pepsi, 1 craft beer, and a cup of coffee

ATMOSPHERE:
Casual, animal-centric (cow print couches, antler horn chandeliers, etc., but the patio is free of that nonsense), outdoor seating that is dog-friendly

HOW VEGAN IS IT?
Meh. They have one vegan option but it is a great option if you have to go somewhere with non-veg friends.

THE GOOD:
The “Very Vegan Veggie Burger” is the only vegan entrée on the menu, but it is house made and delicious. As far as vegan options go, this is one of the best burgers a vegan can find in Tampa. Since Square 1 definitely does NOT cater to vegans, it is nice that they have an option at all, and especially nice that it is a good option. They have several locations and all of them serve the Very Vegan Veggie Burger.

The patio is even a nice choice on a drizzly day.  It provides enough protection from the rain as long as it isn’t blowing too hard.

THE BAD:
As with any restaurant that serves non-vegan food but also claims to have something vegan, you take your chances. Just because the burger is called “vegan” does not mean the bun is vegan (it probably isn’t). The fries, if you order them, are likely cooked in the same grease as the chicken tenders, cheese poppers, fish sticks, or anything else fried. The oil may not even be vegan (but it probably is–we didn’t ask, but most restaurants of this scale use vegetable oil).

The restaurant decor and marketing is VERY cow-centric. It is surprising some place so clearly anti-vegan has such a good vegan option.

THE SUMMARY:
Square 1 isn’t on our short list of vegan faves, but if we wanted to grab a beer with coworkers or entertain (non-veg) friends or family, it’s not a bad pick. And we appreciate that they even thought of us.

 

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: QUEEN OF SHEBA (RESTAURANT)

RATING: A-

WHAT: Ethiopian Restaurant

WHERE: 3636 Henderson Blvd, Tampa, FL 33609

PRICE: $48.66 for two, including tip. We had the Vegetarian Combo #2 (6 sample items, $13 per person), a tomato salad appetizer (highly recommend), and 2 hot teas.

ATMOSPHERE:
Traditional Ethiopian themed. The interior is dark brown, dimly lit (romantically lit, maybe?), and the decor is simple, with a mix of traditional seating and “traditional Ethiopian” seating for your preference.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?
Very! All “vegetarian” dishes are also vegan. No substitutions necessary. Appetizers are appropriately labeled, as well. There are no vegan desserts, unless you count the Honey Chips, which… have honey… obviously.

THE GOOD:
The food is great! Like, really great. It’s authentic (as compared to our experience at other Ethiopian restaurants across the U.S.). The staff is very friendly and genuinely seemed to care that we liked our food, but not in that overly creepy way, like when the owner of the restaurant hovers by your table and wants to talk more than you want to eat. You know what we mean.

THE BAD:
Well… the restaurant could be a little cleaner overall but it’s about what you might expect from a small family owned place. There is a good bit of dust around the place. The tables are covered in disposable paper and the lighting is quite dim. The outdoor seating is minimal, uncomfortable (metal lawn furniture) and on a loud, busy road.

The prices, in our opinion, are a bit high for the amount of food received, especially considering most of these dishes are extraordinarily cheap to make at home, if you know how. Still, they are not as outrageous as, say, Byblos, but certainly on the high side.

You might have to deal with a bit of a language barrier, too, if you have a complicated order or just like to talk to the wait staff. As far as the staff goes, the service is not what you would expect to find at most restaurants. During one visit, for example, our waitress (who was the only employee working), literally left the restaurant for 20 minutes, just trusting that we would be there when she returned.

THE SUMMARY:
This is a nice restaurant for a change of pace.  It is not every day that it is acceptable to eat with your fingers and share food with everyone at the table like it is when you eat Ethiopian.  There are so many menu options! Everything we tried has been good. Of course, we like some things better than others, but all great fresh food.

 

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: THAI TERRACE (RESTAURANT)

RATING: B-

WHATThai Terrace

WHERE: 2055 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

PRICE: Around $50 which includes a Singha Beer, 2 “egg” rolls (not made with eggs–vegan), veggie coconut milk soup, tofu Tom Yum soup, veggie Pineapple Lake Curry (originally Pad Thai but the sauce had a fish base), and Veggie Red Curry.

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HOW VEGAN IS IT?

We told the waitress know we were vegan and she knew what that meant (definitely a good sign). She let the kitchen know but there was nothing marked “vegan” on the menu. I (Nicole) ordered the Pad Thai and waitress let me know it was not vegan because the pre-made sauce was fish-based.

 

ATMOSPHERE:

We found Thai Terrace through the Happy Cow app, which noted the restaurant was attached to a hotel lobby. We found it connected to a Howard Johnson’s in a run down strip mall next to a strip club on Dale Mabry (the neighborhood doesn’t bother us, but we thought you might like to know). We also found other inconsistencies from Happy Cow, detailed in the review below.

 

THE GOOD:

We haven’t had Thai since before we moved to Tampa over a year ago, and it was really good to have Thai food again.

The service was quick and the portion sizes were decent.  After the appetizer and soup, I took home most of my entrée.  The egg roll was one of the best vegan rolls we have had anywhere.

 

THE BAD:

No acceptable outdoor seating.  There was one old, rickety table facing Dale Mabry (the restaurant is near Target, Home Depot, and 275, where Dale Mabry is non-stop). The interior decor was mainly wood, like you might find in a 1970’s motel.  There was wood-paneled walls, wooden chairs, counter, room divider, window frames and even the ceiling had wood strips. It was a little too much, in my opinion.

Here is the big bad though.  Happy Cow gave this four stars.  They said Thai Terrace offers vegan choices including ones not listed on the website menu. According to the Happy Cow reviews, the menu explicitly states no chicken broth or fish sauce is used in any of the dishes and oyster sauce is not used in the vegetarian dishes. The reviews said food is made to order so there is a slightly above average wait time, and everything is fresh, including the sauce. Needless to say, we had high expectations and when this wasn’t our experience, we were disappointed. None of those facts are currently true (as of April, 2016).

Happy Cow reviews are, of course, no fault of Thai Terrace, but we did send feedback to Happy Cow, notifying them of the corrections they might want to make.  The last time we checked, it looks like Thai Terrace has been removed from Happy Cow (that wasn’t our intention–we just wanted them to update the information appropriately).

 

THE SUMMARY:

Overall, Thai Terrace gets a B- from us.  It was disappointing because the information on Happy Cow set our expectations high.  This wasn’t Thai Terrace’s fault and we don’t blame them, and our rating was not impacted by that. As far as we could tell, Thai Terrace is vegan-friendly but it is not an intentionally vegan restaurant with legitimate, easily identifiable vegan options on their menu.

 

 

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: FALAFEL INN MEDITERRANEAN GRILL (RESTAURANT)

RATING: B+

WHAT: Falafel Inn Mediterranean Grill

WHERE: 777 N. Ashley Dr., Suite B, Downtown Tampa

PRICE: Under $30 for a large taboule, two falafel sandwiches, a Pepsi and a bottle of water. Just enough for a lite-ish meal before a little Yoga in the Park.

Falafel Inn Wrap

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

As with most Mediterranean restaurants, there are several vegan options. Falafel Inn may have slightly fewer options than others, but it is still more than most chain restaurants.

ATMOSPHERE:

The atmosphere is upscale yet casual. We call this combination “Downtown Chic”.  The furniture and decor are modern and upscale.  The chairs were white with nice clean lines.  The decoration was simple but elegant.  When you walk in there is a counter which I mistook for a hostess stand but is actually where you order and when the food was delivered, the plates and table ware was disposable. You clean the table.

THE GOOD:

There are several good things about this place. It was clean with a good amount of outdoor seating. Portion sizes are decent, and the Falafel Sandwich was packed pretty good with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and tahini– not just patty and sauce like some places.

THE BAD:

Overall this was a nice place and we had a nice experience, but to have a thorough review, we have to add a few things. There was a TV playing sports on the wall.  We prefer the quieter setting with no distractions of TVs. The grape leaves are not vegan.  Grape leaves are one of my favorites (this is Nicole) so it is a bad thing when they are not an option. The Taboule tasted good but it was not the freshest. They probably made it the day before or early that morning so not “old” but not being chopped while we waited, either. On the front door was a “Restrooms are for customers only” sign which is a pet peeve of Michael’s. Bad marketing. Why alienate a potential customer?

THE SUMMARY:

Falafel Inn Mediterranean Grill was good and we would go back. We probably wouldn’t go Downtown just for them, though, dealing with traffic and parking, but if we find ourselves Downtown and hungry, we would visit again.

 

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: COMMUNITY CAFE (RESTAURANT)

RATING: A

WHATCommunity Cafe

WHERE: 2444 Central Ave, St. Petersburg

PRICE: About $50 for two, including tip. We had a big meal that included french toast, two tofu scramble burritos, beer, kombucha, and a milkshake. You could definitely get away with ordering less and leave full, but we wanted to indulge a little.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

Community Cafe is very vegan-friendly. There are options for both meatheads and veg-heads, but there are plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices in every category.

ATMOSPHERE:

Artsy urban featuring local art.  Clean interior with board games and scrapbooking to keep you busy.

THE GOOD:

Great vegan options, including desserts! Local beer options (no draft). Great hours–open late! Regular events like a Tuesday game night, social group gatherings. Friendly staff. LGBT friendly, too, if that’s your thing.

THE BAD:

A little pricey, not outrageous, though, considering what we got. I think the amount of food received for the price is a bit lacking, but the food is delicious. Minimal outdoor seating. The Oreo milkshake was a little runny for my taste. Not bad, but no Ethos.

THE SUMMARY:

Community Cafe is one of our favorites.  We don’t get there often because it is out of the way for us.  The portion sizes could also be a little bigger, but there are lots of vegan options including desserts, so we give it an A.

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: Falafel Cafe (Restaurant)

RATING: B

WHAT: Falafel Cafe

WHERE: Clearwater, just off US 19

PRICE: $26 for 2 people, including tip.

2 Falafel Platters (sandwich with 2 sides), including 2 cups of lentil soup, fries, soup, and salad. 1 canned Pepsi and 1 bottled water.

ATMOSPHERE:

Falafel Cafe is a small restaurant in a strip mall. It has outdoor seating but we don’t recommend it. It’s the mall parking lot, facing the highway. The space itself is about the size of a small Subway sandwich shop and there are 2 televisions (one on each wall). When we visited, they were too loud for such a small space–one was playing sports and the other an Arabic channel. The tables were covered with cheap plastic liners but the restaurant itself was clean.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?:

Middle Eastern food typically has many unintentionally vegan options and this place is no different. If you like Lebanese food, you can’t go wrong here. Hummus, salad, soup, and at least a couple sandwiches are all vegan. One note, though… Falafel is a deep-fried chick-pea based batter. Middle Eastern restaurants almost always fry in vegetable or corn oil, but we didn’t ask. Also, whenever you are eating restaurant fried food, we think it is only fair to assume the fries (or falafel) were fried in the same oil as the chicken tenders, fish, and everything else. So, if you order something fried, you take your chances or accept that it is probably not 100% vegan.

THE GOOD:

Like any good Lebanese restaurant, they had Pepsi! Michael is not a fan of Coke and is always excited to find Pepsi when we eat out. The amount of food was surprising for the price. We left stuffed. They gave us a complimentary hummus appetizer to start, complete with pickled beets!

The staff consisted of one person running the store. Our server was also our chef, our host, and our cashier. The place was obviously family owned because the only other guests were his family. He was very friendly and the service was very good.

The food was made fresh to order, so if you go, expect a bit of a wait for your meal.

We have to offer a disclaimer here: Michael comes from a Lebanese family of restaurateurs so he is a harsh critic of Middle Eastern food and has very particular opinions about how Arabic restaurant food should taste. That being said, Michael thought this place was “good”.

The falafel was very good and it was served as described… on a platter! The fries were crinkle cut and hearty. The salad was a bit simple as far as ingredients go, but it was spiced well.

 

THE BAD:

Nicole would have liked to have seen more of the traditional vegan options that Arabic/ Middle Eastern restaurants usually offer (such as grape leaves, fattoush, or tabbouleh). They did have ful (sometimes spelled “foul” but pronounced more like “fool”), though, which makes for a great breakfast option.

This is not necessarily bad but the lentil soup was creamed (meaning “blended” not “made with cream”). Traditional lentil soup is a bit more chunky whereas this was closer to a baby food consistency. We weren’t fans of the consistency but you might be, and the taste was fine.

 

THE SUMMARY:

Falafel Cafe is a good spot for a hearty lunch if you have a bit of time to kill. We definitely received our money’s worth and the owner was friendly. We could have done without the TV’s but that is just our preference. Next time, it might be a carry-out order. The restaurant is small, clean, and convenient if you are in the area shopping. Worth a visit, especially if you love Falafel!

 

REVIEW: Ethos Vegan Kitchen (Restaurant)

RATING: A

WHAT: Ethos Vegan Kitchen

WHERE: 601-B South New York Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789 – This is in the Orlando area, but totally worth the drive.  We have done it often just for this restaurant.

PRICE: About $65 for two cups of Tomato Basil Soup, Garlic Knots, a strawberry milkshake, a beer, two sandwiches (Meatball Sub and Samson Burger) with mashed potatoes and gravy, and eight cookies.  We took food home.

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ATMOSPHERE: The atmosphere is simple, nothing too loud. Their food is definitely better than their atmosphere.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?: 

100%! They are a vegan restaurant with nothing non-vegan.  Looking over their menu, they do include butter, sausage, cream sauce and other items, but they are truly 100% vegan.

THE GOOD:

Their food.  They offer vegan comfort food like milkshakes, Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Peas, Sheep’s Pie, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, cookies, sundaes, and other things.  We have visited this place several times and always trying something different, but it is always delicious.  Prices are reasonable for the amount of food you get.

Did I mention 100% vegan?  You can order anything off the menu without having to make it special and the menu is big.

THE BAD:

The distance. This is in the Orlando area which is about a two-hour drive for us, one way.  We don’t find many days that we can spend that much time in the car.

The food is great, but a minor thing to note some of their menu items are not homemade.  Sometimes we just enjoy having someone else do all the work, but sometimes it is nice to have things made from scratch and not just warmed up.

THE SUMMARY:

We love Ethos Vegan Kitchen and recommend it to everyone, even non-vegans.

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: Mellow Mushroom (Restaurant)

RATING: B

WHAT: Mellow Mushroom

WHERE: There are three locations in the area; 11955 Sheldon Rd, Tampa; 10959 Causeway Blvd, Brandon; and 2630 Gulf Bay Blvd, Clearwater. We have been to all three and as with most chain restaurants, the food is identical.

PRICE: About $50 for a 14-inch medium pizza with 5 toppings, a side of 3 pretzels (half order), an order of roasted potatoes and a mixed drink. We brought enough home with us to have another meal for two. If you drop the $8.50 mixed drink and the potatoes, you still have plenty of food for two, so our price is on the high side of what you might normally order.

ATMOSPHERE: Mellow has a fun atmosphere with a late 60’s hippie vibe. Each location has unique decor. Most locations also have a patio which we tend to enjoy.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

They have vegan options on their menu, but they also have non-vegan options, so make sure you clarify with the wait staff.  Their staff seems to know what vegan is and how to modify things or will happily check to see if something can be modified.

THE GOOD:

They have several legitimate pizza options for vegans, including Daiya cheese as a topping, as well as both tofu and tempeh. Their pretzels are vegan if ordered without butter and now they have herb roasted potatoes as an appetizer as well. You can also have them modify the bruschetta without much fuss. Just ask for it vegan. Aside from pizza, you can order calzones. The pretzels are always a win. Served fresh and warm, we order them plain with a side of red sauce and mustard for dipping.

THE BAD:

The potatoes, at least on this outing, were dry and not very flavorful. Nicole liked them. Michael wouldn’t recommend them but they weren’t bad. Stay away from the new veggie burger. It is verified not vegan by the company, which is a disheartening turn for an otherwise generally vegan-friendly chain.

THE SUMMARY:

Mellow Mushroom is one of the chain restaurants that supports vegans. While we don’t always like chain restaurants, this one seems to be in the rotation often. In our opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of food you get and it is a fun atmosphere.

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!