1. LIFE ALIVE
This organic, vegetarian cafe with locations in Salem, Lowell, and Boston is known for its bowls and wraps. Each starts with a base of whole grains (choose brown rice or quinoa) and adds a colorful tumble of freshly steamed vegetables and legumes and then a flavor-filled sauce. Among the best combinations: The Adventurer, with sesame-ginger nama shoyu sauce (an unpasteurized Japanese soy sauce); The Swami, with sweet curry-miso sauce; and The Green Goddess, with garlic, avocado, and a ginger nama shoyu. Then there’s the Hot & Healthy Bachelor, a wrap with melted cheddar, hard-boiled egg, broccoli, and seasonal dark greens.
> 281 Essex Street, Salem; 978-594-4644; and other locations; lifealive.com
2. GARDEN GRILLE
You can go around the world, or at least visit several parts of it, in a single meal at the Garden Grille. Green tomatoes are fried with cornmeal and served with basil aioli; quesadillas are stuffed with butternut squash; sweet potatoes are spiced with garam masala and seared; risotto cakes are made with root vegetables. The pizza topped with roasted pear, smoked onion, sage, cheeses, and red wine gastrique is another fall-to-winter winner.
> 727 East Avenue, Pawtucket, Rhode Island; 401-726-2826; gardengrillecafe.com
3. RITU KI RASOI
This is where locals from India go for vegetarian (and vegan) home-style Indian food. The menu includes chana bhatura, fried flatbread with chickpea masala; vada pav, buns stuffed with a mashed vegetable cutlet and chutneys, burger style; and pav bhaji, grilled buns with a hot and spicy vegetable hash — all authentic vegetarian street foods. For winter there will be spiced stuffed breads and three new soups: spicy mixed vegetable, cream of tomato, and spinach, all served with grilled cheese sandwiches. Ritu’s also offers regular lunch and dinner buffets. On Wednesdays, themed special menus showcase cuisines from different states and parts of India. And the website lists daily specials.
> 207E Cambridge Street, Burlington; 781-229-8349; www.ritukirasoi.com
4. FRIENDLY TOAST
Thanks to a “vegetarianish” owner, every item on Friendly Toast’s menu has been created with vegetarians in mind. But everybody comes for the excellent comfort food: eggs Benedict with roasted vegetables, a vegetarian bacon or sausage, and hollandaise sauce that’s made fresh each morning, and the Mister Haegar sandwich, grilled cheddar with pickles, horseradish mayonnaise, Dijon, and plum tomatoes on bread baked in-house. Half the menu at the restaurant’s two locations is straight-up vegetarian, but 90 percent of the dishes work with substitutes.
> 1 Hampshire Street, Cambridge; 617-621-1200; and 113 Congress Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; 603-430-2154; thefriendlytoast.com
5. RED LENTIL VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN RESTAURANT
If there is any restaurant outside of India where a diner must have the samosa, this is it. The crisp, flaky crust — not at all greasy — is filled with a salty, tangy mix of peas and potatoes. It is served with herbal coriander chutney and sweet-tart tamarind chutney. Try yours dipped into both, or alternate bites. This all-vegetarian restaurant is bringing back a popular special from last winter: sweet, earthy Moroccan tagine with garbanzos, butternut squash, walnuts, apricots, carrots, and celery simmered in a tomato base. Other winter dishes include pumpkin bisque and a beluga lentil and pattypan squash stew.
> 600 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown; 617-972-9188; theredlentil.com
6. VEGGIE GALAXY
At this all-vegetarian diner in Central Square, choose from bean or chickpea burgers, baked mac-and-cheese with eggplant and roasted leeks, or the new blue-plate special: tempura-fried locally harvested baby Brussels sprouts, roasted delicata squash puree, and shallot and balsamic vinegar marmalade, all made in-house. Another highlight among the many hearty vegetarian and vegan choices is the entree of cider- and tamari-glazed sweet potato cutlets served with collards sauteed with shallots and chili flakes, and winter-vegetable dirty rice salad.
> 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge; 617-497-1513; veggiegalaxy.com
7. OLE MEXICAN GRILL
Besides the substantial chiles rellenos and Mexican lasagna layered with Swiss chard and squash (both are still available from local producers), mushrooms, black beans, and poblanos, there’s Legumbres en Pipian Oaxaqueno — a stew of potatoes, carrots, squash, and more, all simmered in pumpkin seed sauce. Chef Erwin Ramos, once a vegetarian himself, recently returned from a trip to Mexico, inspired by new ideas for vegetarian and vegan dishes. On the list for the winter are vegetarian panuchos, a Yucatan dish: A puffy tortilla is stuffed with white-bean spread and topped with nopales, the tender insides of the prickly pear cactus. There are also nopales with caramelized onion, Guajillo chili sauce, and queso fresco and thick bean soup topped with cheese, crema fresca, and tortilla strips.Continued...