Carrying a pita, a diner approaches a toppings bar brimming with pickled condiments, crunchy vegetables, and sauces. Without paying or even speaking to someone behind the counter, the diner lifts the spoon and festoons the pita with a pile of fresh toppings, ready to start the meal anew. At most restaurants, this could get you kicked out, but at Maoz, it’s not only overlooked, but also encouraged. After choosing from such vegetarian and vegan-friendly options as gluten-free falafel and fried eggplant, pita wraps or salads head to the single-visit salad bar. Belgian fries—a thick-cut, lightly battered version of their french cousins—and mounds of sweet-potato fries complement sandwiches and salads along with green-chili sauce, mayo, and salsa for dipping and boosting the self-esteem of napkins.
While feasting, diners sit atop benches at long, shared tables that emulate the communal lunch joints of old in the unabashedly modern chain of restaurants, founded in Amsterdam two decades ago. Mirroring the eatery’s fresh, stylish food, the interior at Maoz features green tiled walls and steel fixtures illuminated by hanging lamps and baby pictures of supernovas.
In Italy, a "sagra" is a festival where a community comes together in celebration of a local ingredient or dish—a tradition that fits Gabriel Pellegrini's enoteca and trattoria in both spirit and practice. Classic, bistro-style Italian cuisine joins local, Texan ingredients to create an entire menu worthy of commemoration. But that isn't to say all the ingredients are local—house-cured meats accent plates of handmade pasta, and imported Mediterranean cheeses join house-made mozzarella atop hand-stretched neapolitan pizzas bubbling gold in a wood-burning stove.
Shaking up Italian Tradition
Pellegrini's dedication to craft and quality carries over into the bar at Sagra. Shelves brim with liqueurs, grappas, and wines imported from Italy, but the bartenders grow their own herbs, make their own bitters, and infuse syrups and spirits in-house for cocktails such as the La Roma, a rye Manhattan infused with orange-flower peel.
Health-conscious Austinites have a lot of delicious dining options to choose from, but Veggie Heaven remains a go-to choice for fresh, delicious vegetarian cuisine. Veggie Heaven's food is a healthy-leaning take on the typical University of Texas campus-area Chinese delivery spots. The restaurant's diverse offerings are 100% vegetarian, but come loaded with familiar flavors that might surprise meat-eaters as well. The small white storefront is short on charm and décor, but does a brisk takeout and delivery business along the Drag, including their signature lychee juice bubble drink, as well as assorted hot entrée, steamed buns and several vegan offerings. The politically-minded owners also share their views on various world issues openly, hanging banners and leaving literature out for customers to peruse while they wait for their meat-free meals to arrive.
Kadai Indian Kitchen’s menu reflects the range of northern Indian dishes, including aromatic curries and grilled kabobs. Discs of naan and skewers of chicken and lamb rest inside the clay tandoor oven and roast over a smoldering pile of coals and NASA’s rejected paper-airplane designs. Lentils, chickpeas, and fresh cheese stew alongside sauces brimming with ginger and cumin, all of which go into vegetarian entrees prepared with separate sets of pots and utensils. The chefs also tailor the amount of spice they add to every order.
Inspired by the artists living around him in Laguna Beach, Sid Fanarof sought to do something creative in the kitchen. The result was zpizza, which now has locations across the globe, each filled with bustling chefs experimenting with ingredients traditionally associated with Indian, Californian, and Mexican cuisine. Pizzas use organic vegetables and skim-milk mozzarella, and their organic wheat flour bakes over an open flame to a crisp finish. “If you don’t hear the crunch, it’s not a zpizza,” Fanarof says of the crusts on his website. Chefs first slather the crusts with sweet basil pesto, roasted-garlic sauce, or organic tomato sauce. Their hands flutter across, sprinkling on fistfuls of toppings such as MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, three types of mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and pine nuts. Vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts allow everyone to enjoy the pizzas except for those trying to hide the fact that they superglued their mouths closed.
Salad Creations gives salad sculptors the fork and menu of fresh ingredients required to fashion a healthy masterpiece. Build a full-size bowl from a select choice of greens and more than 40 toss-in toppings ($7.49, excluding proteins)—hide eggs inside a garden of traditional ingredients, or celebrate graduation from the witness-protection program by flaunting bright cranberries and feta cheese. Go-getter guests tired from building their own birdhouses can choose from a lineup of ready-made items, such as featured salads ($4.99–$6.99 for junior, $5.99–$8.99 for full), fresh wraps ($6.99), or hot pressed paninis ($6.99).