Best Vegetarian Restaurant - 2007
Pine Garden Authentic Chinese Restaurant
Throw a carrot in any direction in South Florida and you surely won't hit a vegetarian restaurant. The prognosis for herbivores is dispiriting week after week of bean tacos (hold the lard!), pasta (hold the butter!), and overpriced salads (hold the Chevrie!). Then you stumble across Pine Garden, a nondescript Chinese place wedged next to a craft shop in the blandest of strip malls and you happen to idly pick up one of the paper menus shoved into a holder by the door, and WTF? Here's a list of 120 completely meat- and dairy-free dishes, along with a little write-up extolling the healthful benefits of soybeans. So you settle into your pine booth next to the pine walls among the Asian tchotchkes at Pine Garden Authentic Chinese Restaurant, ask for the vegan menu (it's separate from the regular Cantonese stuff), and prepare to feast on some of the most remarkable faux meat and fish you've ever tasted. The proprietors make fake shrimp, beef, pork, duck, and chicken out of soy protein, soybean threads, potato flour flavored with sea vegetables, and wheat gluten, and they sauté or deep-fry or stir-fry it along with salty black beans and hoisin sauce, with mushrooms and snow peas, crunchy broccoli, basil, bamboo shoots, cashews, and curry sauce, or they roll it up inside a rainbow pancake. They make fried rice with brown rice, tofu prepared more than a dozen ways, and crispy orange "beef" with strips of wheat gluten rolled in yam flour. It's all MSG-free and cooked in vegetable oil. The results range from the weird but interesting to the totally fabulous, and no two concoctions taste anything alike. Service is friendly, and the prices, at $7 to $14 for the entrées, are downright lovely.