Being a vegan can be hard, thankless work—extended family members rarely understand, many restaurants don't accommodate you, and cows still try to devour you every chance they get. Today's Groupon proves that vegan eating can be stylish, sexy, and delicious: for $12, you get $25 worth of vegan soul food at Souley Vegan in Oakland.
Named Best Soul-Food Mashup in 2011 by East Bay Express, as well as the best vegetarian restaurant by readers of Oakland magazine in 2010, Souley Vegan modifies classic southern recipes to exclude animal products without subtracting decadent flavor. Delve into herbivorous helpings with a plate of fried okra ($6), sizzled to a crispness that rivals the finest deep-fried vinyl records. Southern-fried tofu goes undercover as a traditional catfish dish ($10), donning a layer of batter and bubbling to a golden brown, and sidekicks of mustard greens and mac ‘n’ cheese stand guard. Whole-wheat buns nestle a range of meat-free sandwich morsels ($6–$9), and myriad house-made juices—such as the strawberry-ginger suffused with a touch of organic raw sugar ($4)—extinguish spice sans the dairy found in typical hoses filled with ice cream.
Souley Vegan's proprietor Tamearra Dyson uses techniques she learned from her family in Louisiana to subvert that idea that healthy, vegan eating lacks flavor. She dredges tofu in a southern-style batter that mimics fried catfish and fashions a menu that appeals to meat-eaters and vegans alike. Tofu also gets dressed in BBQ sauce in burgers and tossed in sweet and sour and green peppers. Tamearra and her kitchen staff put a vegan spin on a roster of Southern classics, such as potato salad with black olives following a family recipe three generations old, as well as mashed potatoes drenched in vegan gravy made like her mom did. The eatery's mac and cheese made with yeast-based, non-dairy cheese earned it accolades from the East Bay Express, which said that it "is so perfect a substitute to its dairy-based kin that it leaves the eater convinced it’s the real thing," while also bestowing Souley Vegan with "Best of East Bay" awards for the past five years. USA Today has also recognized the eatery as among ten great places for soul food in the country.
Brightly painted walls and block-style prints of blues musicians lend a cozy Southern atmosphere to the restaurant, where diners gather around color-splashed tables or cluster on picnic style benches as they share family-style meals or play License Plate Bingo for the last piece of fried okra.