I have a love affair with salads, but probably not the kind that you’re thinking of – I love potato salad, tofu salad, pasta salad, broccoli salad, bean salad, quinoa salad, and even a well-massaged kale salad. Lettuce based salads are fine (and some are even really great), but I’m much happier when you pair a bunch of what would most likely be described as ‘side’ salads on a plate together. I love how these hearty salads often play off each other — one might have sweet dried berries, another garlicky greens, and another a tangy vinaigrette. When you pair many salads together, the flavors are varied and intense, and don’t get old fast. Restaurants that have bevies of vegan-friendly salads pre-made and ready to be dished up are incredibly common in major cities around the world, but unfortunately haven’t really taken off here in Austin (too hippy for us Texans?). I hope we can turn this “salads as meals” image around, because it’s my favorite kind of meal, and there’s only one place in town that has the variety to do it right: Wheatsville Co-op.
To start my meal, I’ll head to the grab-and-go area to size up what’s available on the shelves, then I’ll head over to the deli counter (if I’m at the North location) to see what’s on offer there, and formulate my meal plan. The vegan options are all labeled with a green “V” and can sometimes be plentiful, other times sparse at the Deli counter, so the grab-and-go area is really helpful for completing a balanced meal. I’ll usually pick a protein to start, my favorite of which is the Mongolian Tofu (I realize this is technically not a salad). There are often other tofu based salads, bean salads and tempeh salads to choose from. Then I’ll move onto the carbs, and grab a couscous, pasta or potato salad. To get my veggies in and finish off my meal I’ll pick two green salads, often a kale salad and a broccoli or Brussels sprouts salad to finish. I like some of the salads (hello Raw Deal!) better than others, but I’ve never come across a salad I didn’t like at Wheatsville, so I’ll just grab whatever sounds good in the moment.
I know you’re probably thinking I’m breaking the bank with all my fancy salads, but the plate pictured up top cost me just under $9. Many of the ingredients are organic, and it’s made in a place that I know treats its workers well, so I’m really comfortable with that price. This meal also happened to be gluten-free friendly, as Wheatsville uses wheat-free tamari in many of their salads, so it’s a great option for those avoiding gluten – though probably not so much for those avoiding soy. Two slabs of tofu and three salads made for two hearty meals, so you can share with a partner or plan for some leftovers. You of course can go crazy, and grab four of the more expensive salads, but even then you’re probably looking at around $12 a plate (I know I’ve spent waaay more accidentally at the salad bar you know where). So really, the deli salads at Wheatsville are just a win all around.
Disclaimer: This Top 20 series, presented in no particular order, is formed from the personal opinions of Marie and Daniel (that’s us!), for whom vegetables are not an area of expertise. We scoured Austin to find veggie-ful options for those like us, who’d probably rather be eating corn dogs, but are also happy to eat a salad if it’s tasty and filling. When not eating our veggies, we hone our skills at finding great oily, sugary, calorie-dense vegan foods, so if you’re into that too, check out last year’s Top 20 series. Happy eating!