A vegetarian ranks the Hill’s food trucks

by Mason Ng

Going out to eat as a vegetarian is often difficult. When dining with friends, family, coworkers or really any group of non-vegetarians, you’re likely to find yourself saying, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll find something on the menu!” Later, however, you find yourself seated around a Korean barbeque grill eating only bean sprouts and steamed egg.

Many restaurants, even in a very vegetarian and vegan-friendly city like Los Angeles, have few to no fully vegetarian dishes on their menus. You’re often left choosing between two to three options in an otherwise large selection. The contenders, at times, are lazy excuses for a meal like sandwiches that omit the meat but provide no veggie substitution. As somebody who has been a vegetarian for the past five years, I’ve made my fair share of disappointing compromises: bland salads, hotdogs save the dog (just the bun topped with relish and mustard) and bare spaghetti, to name a few. But, like all things, if you play your cards right, you’ll eventually be able to find the rare dazzling veggie dish at a meat-dominated restaurant.

Though the UCLA Hill food trucks are the same story, with the majority of them having disappointing or no vegetarian options, these five have satisfied my critical vegetarian palate. The following food trucks are ranked based on deliciousness, number of vegetarian options and how filling an order is.

1. 8E8 Thai Street Food

Hands down the most accommodating and efficient food truck on the Hill for vegetarians (unless you don’t enjoy Thai food, in which case I pity you). With Thai cuisine already being very vegetarian-friendly, 8E8 Thai provides a vegetarian option for every meat option they have. In lieu of the chicken variations of their dishes, they offer tofu pad thai, tofu pad see ew, tofu drunken noodles and yellow curry tofu with white rice. Usually, I receive my dish immediately after ordering, only having to wait for the vegetarian batch once or twice. All four delicious, well-seasoned options are served hot in large, filling portion sizes!

2. Perro

No matter which meal period Perro serves, the line for the food truck always wraps around the metaphorical block, winding around the dorm buildings and down the streets. On busy days, I have waited an hour for a Perro taco, and if the quality stays the same, I am willing to wait an hour again. Perro’s veggie taco is a singular, large, thick flour tortilla crusted with melted mozzarella cheese, its defining attribute, and topped with savory pinto beans and a heaping scoop of guacamole. Though I’m a stickler for vegetarian dishes having proper meat substitutes — the veggie Perro simply subs steak for more beans and guac — the unique, almost smoky flavor of the cheese and the taco’s ability to be a filling meal makes up for it.

3. Smile Hotdog

Smile Hotdog’s Korean corn dogs have helped heal me from the multiple times I’ve eaten rubbery, vegan sausages or the hot dogs without the dog. At Smile, vegetarians can enjoy fried mozzarella sticks dipped in rice batter and coated with sugar, either with the original or potato-dotted exterior (all mozzarella or potato mozzarella hot dogs). An order comes with one corn dog and a side of tteokbokki, cylindrical Korean rice cakes in a spicy sauce. The corn dog’s hot, crispy exterior and stretchy, cheesy interior make the meal a full sensory experience. My only critique: a single corn dog may not be a full meal for you. Though I’m lactose intolerant — which is horrible as a vegetarian — and probably shouldn’t be indulging myself at Smile, the dogs are so delicious that I just pop a Lactaid and hope for the best.

4. StopBye Cafe

Do not underestimate StopBye Cafe, for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I was originally hesitant to try this Indonesian fusion food truck because I am generally wary of “fusion” cuisine, as the dishes sometimes become half-baked, Frankensteined versions of their predecessors for double the price. However, StopBye Cafe’s one vegan option, tofu nasi goreng, previously tofu mee goreng, is a flavorful and well-balanced meal. The dish consists of Indonesian-style fried rice and three large pieces of seared tofu topped with carrots, kale and fresh cucumber — both filling and refreshing! Pairing your order with a small Thai iced tea, one of the included drink options, is a nice touch too!

5. The Original Herbivore (honorable mention)

In a perfect world, The Original Herbivore would be near the top of this list because of its all-vegan American comfort food menu. Unfortunately, however, I have not seen Herbivore on the UCLA dining schedule in the past few months, and I was saddened to find out that it has closed. The Original Herbivore had everything from multiple spicy chick’n sandwiches to tater tots to macaroni with cashew paste “cheese.” I will admit that not all their dishes were on par with others on this list, but their sheer quantity of vegan-friendly options makes this loss even more devastating.

Featured Image via Daily Bruin Archives

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