Honolulu has recently seen a propitious rise in vegan-friendly restaurants. Take Downbeat Diner, where most menu items can be made sans animal product by request, or Yuzu, where the veggie sushi platter leaves diners content to forgo fish. Among all-vegan restaurants, Licious Dishes, long-time preparer of to-go raw vegan meals, has opened a sit-down addition, Greens & Vines. So we also took the opportunity to revisit Peace Café, a three-year old vegan bistro with a time-tested reputation.
New contender: Greens & Vines
On the busy corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Ward Avenue, Greens & Vines announces itself with an enormous neon green wall sign. Inside, warm orange walls, muted lighting and jazz silhouette paintings evoke the ‘60s. For cafe habitues, there is a charming outdoor seating area bordered with a white picket fence, adorned with Christmas lights and bordered closely by five lanes of streaming traffic.
The menu at Greens & Vines is a collection of Licious Dishes’s best-sellers, most of which gained word-of-mouth fame through farmers’ markets and Licious Dishes’s former takeout location at Dole Cannery.
Sylvia Thompson, the owner of both establishments, speaks in a heartfelt manner as she describes the genesis of it all. In 2003, her husband suffered a heart attack and was told that he would forever rely on prescription drugs. They decided to try a raw, vegan diet. “I had to convert cooked food recipes into raw ones . . . and really make them my own,” Thompson says. “Then I could eliminate salt, bad oils . . . and the flavor is just much more vibrant.” Within 18 months, Thompson’s husband was off his heavy medicine regimen.
Vibrant flavor is the key. Every dish we tried at Greens & Vines tasted vivid and, well, alive. While this can partly be attributed to the new tastes and textures of raw cuisine, in this case, the ingredients are also as fresh as possible. Thompson sources much of her produce from local farms–tomatoes and greens from MAO Organic Farms, collards and kale from Mohala Farms, sweet corn and papaya from Kahuku Farms–as well as from various backyard farmers.
Thompson’s Living Lasagna ($10.25) substitutes zucchini for pasta and comes smothered with a rich pesto, layered with marinara and a creamy macadamia nut ricotta that satisfied me, a cheese lover. A trio of no-bean dips ($9.50) introduced us to cashew sour cream, which tasted just like the real thing. The Kaffir Miso Pad Thai ($9.25) is an immense mass of veggies, mixed with a genius addition of crunchy sea kelp noodles. Must-have desserts include the decadent, fudge-like Wicked Chocolate Tart ($6.50) with raspberry coulis and the velvety, organic Meyer Lemon Cheesecake ($6.00)–somehow but obviously cheeseless.
At the end of our meal, we expected we’d leave with that lingering feeling of a slightly underfed stomach that can follow having fully enjoyed an array of exceptional flavors, but perhaps in not quite enough volume. However, when my friends and I finished, we found yet another thing to love about Greens & Vines: We were full.
A Humble Calling: Peace Café
Already established and synonymous with the niche of vegan fare, Peace Café provides respite from the shock of our pot-holed streets. A calm emanates from the cafe’s cottage-like decor: overall light brown woodwork, darling mason jar lights, scattered dried flower arrangements and a long communal table.
A large chalkboard menu spells out the roster, including popular picks such as the Popeye sandwich ($8.95), barbecue tempeh plate ($10.85) and their daily mochi, which, on the Tuesday we visited, happened to be a matcha and chocolate swirl ($2.45). Other standouts were a satiating Moroccan chickpea stew ($9.25), homemade miso soup ($2.50/sm, $4/lrg) and Hanoi tofu and peanut sandwich ($8.95).
Heart and Seoul ($9.65) is Peace Café’s take on Korean bi bim bap, a colorful mix of rice, veggies, miso hot sauce and tofu and/or textured vegetable protein (TVP). The combination worked because it presented a little bit of everything, and the tofu or TVP (orders can be served with half of both) complemented the smooth, semi-spicy sauce.
A holiday sandwich–tofu, arugula, macadamia nut and cranberry sauce–debuts later this month, assistant manager Miilani Cooper says. Any sandwich at Peace Café will not disappoint, as all are built upon two slices of fluffy yet sturdy ciabatta bread, probably the most impressive element of our meal.
The establishment sources locally when possible, focusing upon “keeping the cost low, and not [having] any food waste,” Cooper says. “We try to be careful about sustainability,” she continues, mentioning the example of pesticide-free Otsuji Farms, from where Peace Café orders their kale. They are also on a waiting list to contract with MAO Organic Farms and Mohala Farms. Behold, Honolulu, an eatery that talks the talk of peace upon earth through wholesome foods, and walks the walk.