At first, Tin Drum Asia Café's rapid service and bright decor evoke the aromatic street stands of Hong Kong, where founder Steven Chan ate throughout his childhood. The traditional ambiance is no accident—the franchise's name also harks back to a bygone era, when a tin drummer would awaken citizens and regale them with current events as they ate the day’s first meal. The electronic kiosks dotting the café, however, plunk this traditional scene in the middle of a cyberpunk setting. They allow patrons to customize their orders based on taste preferences and nutritional content, accommodating dietary endeavors such as vegetarianism and weight-loss goals.
This merger of technology and urban convention reflects a penchant for edgy ideas that also affects the menu. Items inspired by the culinary techniques of Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand share space in the savory catalog, taking the form of street tacos, soups, and mango chicken, a take on the general tso's staple that's sweeter than a syrup-soaked army helmet. Music is the final ingredient that charges the atmosphere. Nation's Restaurant News reports that it typically plays at an energizing 120 beats per minute and was a factor in attracting the café's initial college crowds.
Sweet Tomatoes silences grousing stomachs by serving up a buffet of healthy eats, allowing guests to collate a customized meal from daily selections of soup, salad, baked goods, and pasta. Upon entering the restaurant, cavernous appetites will find a 55-foot-long salad bar holding welcoming portions of verdant salad greens, including tossed varieties such as Wonton Chicken Happiness and caesar asiago, unlimited vegetables, and toppings. After anointing vacant plates with gardeny sculptures of Aristotle, guests will purchase their meal ($8.59/lunch, $9.99/dinner) and then roam to one of Sweet Tomatoes' other food bars.
At Soul Vegetarian, gravy cascades over the burgers and country-fried steaks and creamy cucumber sauce nestles into a gyro pocket. This picture of decadence aside, even as the chefs eschew animal products, they also avoid heavy fats or preservatives. The result is a surprisingly healthy take on classic Southern cuisine, including macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Savory protein comes in the form of tofu, lentils, and a flexible vegetable-protein roast they've dubbed "kalebone."
Even dessert has a healthy side at Soul Vegetarian. Blenders whir with fruit smoothies and soy shakes, many of which incorporate nutrient-dense foods such as coconut milk and almond butter, and even energy or protein supplements. To make perfectly creamy shakes, the restaurant's food inventors created the soy-based Dream Kream?also available by the scoop.
Expect all the classics here—kung pao, mongolian beef, orange beef—but with one minor difference: no meat. Instead, cooks substitute tofu and soy protein in all of their dishes. Favorites include butternut squash with plum sauce, and spicy and crispy empire "chicken." Wash it down with a dairy-free bubble tea.
Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant may seem like a typical Chinese restaurant, but for one thing: the lack of meat on its menu. Instead, veggie substitutes take over in classic dishes including kung po chicken, moo shu pork with pancakes, and several types of chow mein.