In recent weeks, two old-favorite restaurants have resurfaced in Fort Worth, and in both cases, it’s happy news.
The west side’s Tokyo Cafe, which closed because of a fire in 2014, was painstakingly rebuilt and has reopened with a gorgeous new look and appealing food from the same chef, Kevin Martinez.
Martinez, I learned just recently, is a former vegetarian and his menu has little touches that reflect his understanding of and sympathy for meatless diners.
Appetizers include delish tempura Brussels sprouts ($6) in addition to the more familiar tempura seasonal vegetables; agedashi tofu ($8 — get it without the dancing bonito, i.e. fish flakes); and Tok fries ($7), seasoned with Japanese spices like the ones at Shinjuku Station. Other options are seaweed, cucumber and house salads ($4-$6).
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But the standout meatless appetizer is the daily bao bun ($5), a Chinese-style steamed bun that I usually expect to be filled with pork. Martinez says his will always have a vegetarian filling, and on my visit it was a deeply satisfying mushroom-and-onion combination served with a sweet dipping sauce (not described on the menu).
Among larger dishes, the “wok” section of the menu has yakisoba noodles or fried rice that both come in vegetarian versions. The soba noodles are cooked with vegetables, tofu, bok choy, carrots and onions ($10). The fried rice has tofu, onions, peas, carrots, soy sauce and white pepper ($9.50).
For now, the vegetarian offerings from Tokyo Cafe’s sushi bar are simple rolls like avocado ($4), cucumber ($4) and vegetable (avocado, carrots and cucumber, $5). Ask about modifications to the more complex specialty rolls, or just wait awhile. I was told the cooks are working on recipes for things like tomargo (classic Japanese rolled omelet) and plan to start pickling their own vegetables, which will star in some more creative dishes.
Another strong option for now is the Westside ramen ($9), designed to work for vegetarians or vegans as well as carnivores. It starts with a blended miso broth that’s vegetarian. Carnivores then add pork belly or loin, but vegetarians get plenty with roasted seaweed, green onions, soy egg, black garlic oil and noodles. You also can add corn or bamboo shoots (75 cents each).
I also didn’t know until recently that Martinez uses this same broth at his Yatai Food Kart, often parked outside Avoca Coffee on West Magnolia Avenue. When the cart first opened, the ramen bowls had a pork broth, so I never thought of eating there. “On that street,” the chef says, he quickly learned that he had to be more vegetarian-friendly.
At Tokyo Cafe, it sounds like Martinez will continue to keep us veg-heads in mind. He’s thinking of doing a 13-course vegetarian dinner, and this time next year hopes to have a greenhouse going in back of the restaurant.
It’s nice to have a chef this talented who’s clearly inspired by vegetables.
I mourned when Paco and John Mexican Diner closed last year in the hospital district. Now it lives again as just Paco’s, a couple of blocks from the original. The menu is identical, and the Paco side of the former partnership (Francisco and Paco Islas) is in sole charge.
The Mexican street-style tacos come in a mixed-vegetables version ($3 each), but be careful when you choose your two sides for the plate option ($2.50 additional). The pinto beans are not vegetarian, and the rice here is made with chicken stock. Vegetarian side options are black beans, mushrooms and “ratatuya” (Tex-Mex for ratatouille, I guess). A slight drawback to the ratatuya is that the vegetables inside your tacos will be similar to your side veggies (both mixtures had a lot of summer squashes), but I didn’t mind.
Other entree choices are a veggie quesadilla ($8.95), cheese-and-spinach enchiladas ($8.95; ask to substitute the rice that comes alongside) and burritos at breakfast.
For now, Paco’s offers breakfast and lunch only, but dinner and a beer and wine menu are said to be coming soon. Paco’s, 1508 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-759-9110.
Have a suggestion, a veggie news tip or a question? Send it to Marilyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter, @LonesomeVeg. For more Lonesome Vegetarian columns, visit dfw.com/vegetarian.