Maybe you overindulged at Thanksgiving. Heck, maybe you overindulge all year round! You don't have to resort to salads every day to be making a healthy choice.
I like Vegan Hills in Kaimuki because — although they do offer soups and salads — they employ creative ways to make their fare appeal to omnivores. Most people know Vegan Hills as a lunch spot, but they recently started serving dinner, so I thought I'd check it out and see what they offer.
Now, before you look at my photos, I want to warn you that the prices do seem high for what you're getting, especially if you're an omnivore. But I know from my experience with the now-closed Greens & Vines that these prices are comparable to other vegan restaurants in Hawaii, especially because they try to keep their ingredients organic and, hopefully, local. In addition, the processes needed to make it taste and look good are long and expensive. Vegans who have tried to replicate some of these dishes at home have found it too difficult and/or cost restrictive, so Vegan Hills does offer them a convenient alternative for fancy dining.
I was blown away by this simple-looking platter. The artichokes and Italian-herb olives were expected, but I kept stealing bites of the Kite Hill cream cheese with dried figs, thyme, and vegan honey, a beautiful blend of sweet and pungent. The trippiest item, though, was the "prosciutto" wrapped melon. They managed to make rice paper taste like prosciutto with the magic blend of liquid smoke and other seasonings. Yeah, you carnivores may scoff, but our whole party was impressed!
Hands down, the coco-mari (Vegan Hills' riff on calamari) was our favorite appetizer, one that we fought over. It must be a universal favorite, since the restaurant has it on all their menus every day. They take organic kinig oyster mushrooms, batter them in corn meal, coconut flour and spices, then fry them. Everything battered and fried is good, right? squeeze some lime and dip it in the house dill mayo for the full effect. Whether it's calamari or not, it's still a great appetizer.
I was skeptical of the avocado tu-not melt, but if you close your eyes, you really do think you're eating a tuna sandwich (sans fishiness). Vegan Hills uses soy curls to make the "tuna," mixes it with their house dill mayo, then layers it with avocado and vegan cheese. The toasted bread is vegan, but not gluten-free, although you can request that for an additional $1.50.
I relinquished the coco-mari because my other favorite appetizer is the Taste of France, which is comprised of plant-based "foie gras" and "pate" with lilikoi "butter" and vegan bread. It's not as rich as the real thing, but it's an amazing vegan substitute. The "foie" is made with coconut oil, tofu, and their unique blend of spices, and the "pate" is made with tempeh, mushrooms, and walnuts. The lilikoi butter, of course, is made with coconut oil. If you combine them on the toast, that's good, too, with the sweet-savory thing going on. One thing that will be palatable to people who don't normally like pate or foie: these don't have the grittiness that liver does.
There's no way to substitute fresh fish in a vegan way, but the avocado sushi boat does a good job ini satisfying your hankering for the basic flavors of a sushi experience. You get the shoyu and riice flavors, of course, but II was surprised to get a bite of the carrot and find it was...well, salmon-esque. Vegan Hills uses liquid smoke and a lot of salt to get the carrots to taste that way in a process that's hard to replicate at home. Also, it looks small, but once you break it apart to eat, your whole plate will be full.
The protein in this — again, fried seasoned soy curls — is less like kalbi and probably more like chicken or pork. It's a lot like a bibimbap bowl — sans egg — with organic greens, brown rice, and spicy miso (with chili threads for extra kiick). The bowl is huge, so it's very filling. Be prepared to take some home.
I wondered how they were going to make a vegan lasagne cheesy, but Vegan Hills makes a cashew creme to layer with the noodles and eggplant for a rich, savory addition that even ommnivores love.
Like the lasgna, Vegan Hills employs cashew creme on its baby potatoes, which is a customer favorite. You can find this on both the lunch and dinner menu.
Each time we went for dinner, we were pretty full, but were always so intrigued by the entrees that we needed to see what the vegan style of desserts would be like. The lemon-poppyseed cake is a good choice, with "whipped cream" to add a bit of indulgence.
This is the chocolate raspberry pie, but they also serve a chocolate banana pie that is yummy. These pudding-style pies are made with coconut milk and cacao ... you'd never even guess they were vegan. We also tried the acai bowl, which was good but not unexpected.
Dinner is just one of many changes at Vegan Hills; they've added brunch on the weekends, which is very popular. They've also changed their hours, so they're not open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and dinner is not served on Sundays. Probably the biggest change is their chef, Kanayo Fujisato, who replaces Megumi, the original chef. Fujisato trained for six months before taking the reins and, while she doesn't have plans to change the menu, she may be adding more things in the coming months.
3585 Waialae Ave.