When you think of Tex-Mex, you don't think much of vegetarian food. Unless you're one of those vegetarians who lives on 7-layer burritos from Taco Bell. Sure, there are cheese enchiladas, and queso dip, and guacamole. In fact, sometimes Mexican and Tex-Mex spots can be a respite for vegetarians -- you know there's going to be something on the menu that's meat-free, as long as cheesy fried cheese is acceptable as dinner.
Thankfully, at Bar Ama, Josef Centeno's new downtown homage to Tex-Mex (and the subject of this week's restaurant review), there no 7-layer burritos in site, and while drowning in cheese gloop is possible, it's in no way necessary for the meat-averse. In fact, much of the best eating here is vegetarian.
Many of the small plates are creative vegetable concoctions -- cauliflower with cilantro pesto made with cashews and pine nuts, cactus and hearts of palm with epazote, spicy guero peppers with goat cheese and citrus. There's a huge sweet potato that's barely touched with honey and butter, and feels like an extreme indulgence. A chile relleno comes with cashew cream, zucchini and mushrooms. There's even a puffy taco with cheesy potatoes if you feel like turning back to your high school days of starch and cheese vegetarianism, though this will probably be an upgrade compared to what you ate then.
There's an advantage to dining at restaurants that have huge menus -- they're practically bound to have a few things a vegetarian can eat. There's an even bigger advantage to dining at a restaurant with a chef who understands vegetables as well as Centeno does.
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See also: The Undercover Vegetarian archives.
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