Ask a vegan why he or she is vegan, and you'll get a handful of answers. Ask a vegan how he or she lives as a vegan in Anchorage, and you'll get a million. But one thing you'll hear from every Anchorage vegan: It's hard.
Veganism is a diet and lifestyle practice that rejects the use of any materials (food, clothing, etc.) produced by animals or their byproducts in the name of environmental ethics, animals rights, health or all three.
Eating out in Anchorage as a vegan is difficult. It's not that there aren't vegetarian options at most restaurants -- there are. The bane of dining vegans is not the meat or seafood in entrees, it's everything else.
Many Westernized dishes are prepared with dairy or eggs, so some of the best places to eat feature ethnic cuisines that rarely use those ingredients in the first place. Here are some places around Anchorage that cater to vegans.
The menu at Himalayan restaurant Namaste Shangri-La already has several dishes that are vegan-friendly, from soups and pakoras (deep-fried vegetable dumplings) to dal (slow-cooked spiced lentils). The staff is also very accommodating with substitutions for items that contain non-vegan ingredients.
If you tell them you're vegan, they'll also offer suggestions on dishes. It's just $3.95 for a bowl of soup (palak shorba with spinach and chickpeas or tomato shorba, a sweet and lightly spiced pureed tomato soup). There's also chana pindi, a huge meal of organic chickpeas cooked in house and pomegranate sauce with rice ($10.95). My favorite is mellow-flavored dal tadka, prepared with yellow lentils, garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds ($6.95).
Pho Lena serves Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese dishes in Spenard. It's a great place for vegans looking for a little or a lot of spice. Most dishes are prepared with coconut milk and no dairy and almost all of the meat entrees can be substituted for tofu.
The only vegan offense in the vegetarian sections of the menu is the occasional egg. If asked, the kitchen will prepare sauces with stock made from vegetables instead of fish or chicken.
The curries are worth trying, particularly the lao red sour curry, prepared with bamboo, green beans, mushroom and basil in a coconut milk sauce ($10.95). The sushi curry vegetables are made with tofu, mixed vegetables and a spicy coconut sauce ($10.95). Most dishes are priced around $8.95-$10.95 and will leave you with some leftovers. If you have a sensitive palate, take their spice warnings seriously; items listed in red on the menu are hot, in the best way possible.
Organic Oasis is a haven of veganized favorites, from quesadillas to burgers, cake and the only vegan pizza I've found in Anchorage. The service can be a little slow if dining in, but call-in orders are also available and the prices for the portions are reasonable.
My favorite is the Hula Burger, a tempeh burger with mango salsa, veggies, and Veganaise on a multigrain bun served with a side soup or salad ($8.95). Add an enormous slice of dark vegan ganache cake, and you'll end up spending just over $12 for an amazing, animal-friendly meal.
Middle Way Cafe in Midtown easily makes the best vegan cupcakes in town. Many items and daily specials -- from granola, tofu huevos rancheros, sandwiches, salads and smoothies -- are vegan or can be made that way with substitutions or omissions.
Half of a Lebanese sandwich, served with a superbly thick, creamy hummus ($5.95) will satisfy most appetites. A side of blackened tofu is just $3.50, and if the soup of the day is vegan, a large cup with bread is just $5.95. The interior is open, the bright walls boast local artwork and it's a great place to sit down with your computer and get some work done.
Being a vegan isn't easy, but Anchorage residents do have dining options in town -- they just have to know where to look.
Location: 2446 E, Tudor Road
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Dinner: 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Location: 2904 Spenard Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Location: 2610 Spenard Road., Suite B
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (later for live performances)
Middle Way Cafe
Location: 1300 W. Northern Lights Blvd., Suite G
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.