READERS' PICK: If veganism verges on religion for the devout few that have purged all animal products from their diets, then consider the Casbah a personal caterer for the journey to Nirvana. Pardon the pun, but the Casbah is hog heaven for those of the vegan persuasion. The Casbah reopens in Tucson on October 6 after a serious remodeling and summer tour of the West. The whole caravan picked up and set up shop to serve their delicious cuisine to our vegan brethren of the Northwest. The Casbah cuts no corners when it comes to quality. Most of the dishes are prepared with organic ingredients and a certain flair for the exotic. The spinach pie is packed with organic spinach and tofu in filo dough. Similarly, the shepherd's pie will take you back to the Old Country. You won't soon forget the special cashew gravy. The menu staples include the coconut curry-laced Gypsy Stew served over brown basmati rice. They probably served over 5,000 bowls of this stuff at the Mt. Aire Festival this summer (someone even spotted Phil Lesh eatin' some). You'll have to come back again and again to try the veggie cheese steak sandwich served with soy cheese. Also look for the veggie salami and Reuben sandwich served with sauerkraut and tofu mayo. Don't forget the pita pockets stuffed with veggie chicken salad, stacked bagels and Mexican cuisine. Of course, you wouldn't want to miss the wide variety of exquisite vegan cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, muffins, puddings and organic juices.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Oasis, 1523 N. Park Ave.
LOOSE CHANGE: Hoa Mai Restaurant, 2547 E. Broadway Blvd. Previously the Cock Asian, Hoa Mai Restaurant serves up some mean Vietnamese cuisine that'll have you comin' back for more. Vietnamese food is usually a nightmare for vegans, but have no fear, no meat's in here. Well, sort of. The good folks at Hoa Mai will substitute any meat product on the menu with sautéed or fried tofu. Vegan dishes (mon chay) include the Cauliflower Delight appetizer that falls from heaven. Ponder the thought of chopped cauliflower mixed with sliced almonds, peanuts and coconut, then deep fried and served up with fish sauce that you'll probably want to exchange for the brown sweet/spicy peanut sauce. Simply heavenly. Note: Avoid this dish for first dates, long car rides and elevators due to chronic wind. Vegetable Spring Rolls with Rice Noodles is a monstrous bowl of goodness. The spring rolls sit atop the noodles which are in turn dusted with peanuts, Asian veggies and vinegar all mixin' together to bring you a taste straight outta the Mekong delta. Other vegan delights include Mixed Vegetables Deluxe, Snow Peas and Broccoli Sautéed with Black Mushrooms, Fresh Bean Curd Sautéed in Tomato Sauce and the Fresh Vegetable Rolls. Don't forget to check out the lunch specials. (P.S. If you ever decide to cross over to the dark side, the Caramel Fish will positively be the most unique and delicious seafood creation ever to cross your lips. They'll ask you twice: "Are you sure you want the Caramel Fish?" It's their way of saying you may not be able to handle this authentic Vietnamese taste sensation. Heck, they might even make it with tofu.)