Veg Out Takes Fast Food to a Whole New Level
By Vanessa Wolf
Raised on the east coast by people who used the oven to store Wonder Bread and cereal boxes, we arrived at the University of California at Santa Cruz having never seen – let alone eaten – an artichoke, avocado or block of tofu.
Hippie colleges have a way of making vegans out of a person, and we proceeded hard and headlong into the meat-free, dairy-free, egg-free world for many years.
In other words, we know a thing or two about a thing or two about plant-based cooking.
Veg Out in the Aloha Aina Center in Haiku is something of a fast food vegetarian restaurant.
- Location: Obscure strip mall
- Ambiance: Utilitarian
- Prices: Wallet-friendly
- Food: Depends
Forget 80 days.
At Veg Out you (or your taste buds, anyway) can go around the world in an afternoon.
Italy, India, Middle East, Greece, Thailand, Mexico, New Orleans and even – albeit a bit of a stretch – Japan are represented on the vast menu.
We decided to hop that ride and see how far it would take us.
Beginning the journey South of the Border, the Burrito ($4.95) took our mouths on a whirlwind hot air balloon ride to… is this Juneau or Juarez? Containing refried beans, rice, romaine and some orange cheese, it’s so bland you might find yourself fighting off sleep.
Instead, treat yourself. Pull out an extra three bills and get The Works Burrito ($7.95).
Containing beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, Mexican tofu, roasted potatoes, sour cream, jalapeños, olives it’s a much better option. It’s still a rather Americanized version, but the flavors are diverse and textures varied. The accompanying garlicky salsa definitely kicks things up a notch or five.
In either case, the small donkeys come with a side of… What is that mustard yellow substance?
Well, besides unsettling.
Visual and olfactory examinations indicate it’s an avocado purée with a funky town flavor and chunks of hard, underripe avo inside.
The “harvest gold”-hued substance looks bad and tastes worse. We’re not sure whether to be more concerned that they served this spoiled condiment or that they served a similarly spoiled variation 10 days later.
Anywho, piloting our balloon eastward, we tried the Soybans, Organic non-GMO ($2.95).
The edamame was exactly what you’d expect and thanks to the non-GMO, we felt 150% less toxic just eating them. Maybe it’s a placebo, but we’ll take it.
The Middle Eastern Plate ($9.95) offers five falafels with authentic flavor and a pleasing consistency. However, be forewarned they’re very oily: we’re guessing they were fried in a large batch and then reheated in the oven before serving.
It also comes with a chunky hummus, a side of rice, a spring greens salad and a tahini sauce that was a bit more effervescent than we’d like. It was somewhat akin to dipping falafel in yogurt-colored champagne. The flavor was good, but we were a bit spooked.
Dropping down into Italy, the Baked Lasagna ($8.95) may as well have been a relic from Pompeii.
Filled with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and onions and layered with mozzarella, cottage cheese and a house-made tomato sauce, the hearty, two-inch thick portion is accompanied by garlic bread and organic greens.
It sounds great, but looked rough. Really rough.
Not only did it have a “raisin in the sun” appearance, but three different plastic knives snapped in half when we tried to cut it.
If there’s a certain day of the week they do all their cooking, that might be a better time to sample this Italian classic. The intent is admirable, but the finished product was a bit like eating someone else’s discarded leftovers.
Service is entirely young and entirely male. The guy working counter was efficient, but had a palpable bored teen vibe. In contrast, one of the cooks brought our food and was cheerful and helpful. Overall, it averages out to better-than-expected service considering the venue.
Back to the food, the Pad Thai ($9.95) was puzzling.
Very spicy, yet sweet, some of the veggies – zucchini, cauliflower, and carrot – were downright antiques.
We understand the lack of fish sauce at a vegetarian restaurant, but there were also no bean sprouts, cilantro or peanuts whatsoever. This would be fine if it were noted and billed as some kind of “loose adaptation” no-allergen version, but the lack of all four coupled with the overly strong tamarind flavor rendered the dish off-tasting.
The dusting of macadamia nuts on top are a cute, local touch, but added nothing to the overall flavor profile. We could go on (half inch wide pasta noodles), but the bottom line is pass on this one and walk across the street for some authentic Thai instead.
In contrast, the breaded tofu ($4.75) is so comforting and savory, we miss it every time it comes to mind. Tofu squares that have been pan-fried and liberally rolled in nutritional yeast may not sound like a taste sensation, but prepare to be amazed.
For better or worse, this was the best thing we tried.
All told, the intentions at Veg Out are top-notch, but the execution is an equal mix of passing and failing grades. Avoid the landmines as noted and get some of those tofu nuggets, and you may start thinking vegetarianism is underrated.
Veg Out is located at 810 Kokomo Rd., Haiku in the Aloha Aina Center.
They are open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.