Lighten Up!

Five healthful vegan and vegetarian dishes for a fresh start in 2012

Bacon will never fall out of fashion (at least not in my book), but the time is nigh for vegetables to have their moment in the spotlight. Vegan and vegetarian options are becoming common fixtures on restaurant menus around town, and gone is the notion that they look and taste like bowls of bird food. Chefs have risen to this cooking challenge with such gusto that even this avowed meat-eater is inching her way toward “flexitarianism.”

Whether your diet is dictated by politics or personal health, the following dishes are kind to both your conscience and your palate.

Mushroom mulitas at Border Grill. Big and brawny, the mushroom mulitas at Border Grill are an off-the-menu item tailor-made for vegetarian guests. Marinated Portobello caps are layered between generous heaps of black beans, roasted peppers and pickled onions, then served atop braised greens with slivers of garlic. Subtract the little sprinkle of cheese and you have a dish that is 100 percent vegan, but still incredibly rich. $21, in Mandalay Bay, 632-7403.

Urth burger at Holsteins. Even vegans sometimes crave a burger and beer with friends, and Holsteins happily accommodates with its signature “Urth” burger—a vegan patty served with sprouts and avocadoes on a whole-wheat bun. If you want to dial up the decadence, top it with wild mushrooms, grilled onion, and—if you aren’t a strict vegan—melted Gruyere. It certainly beats a freezer-burned Boca burger from the health-food store. $13, in the Cosmopolitan, 698-7940.

Vegan paella for two at Julian Serrano. Chorizo, lomo, jamón—Spanish chefs love their pig, making tapas a perfect fix for the pork fanatic. But this doesn’t mean that vegans are stuck with tiny plates of peppers and patatas bravas. At Julian Serrano, a massive vegetable paella for two—made with saffron-infused short-grain rice and studded with a bounty of colorful veggies—lets non-meat-eaters in on the fine-dining action. (Tip: Ask the kitchen to cook the paella a little longer than usual. The crunchy layer of rice on the bottom of the pan, called socarrat, is the best part of the dish.) $40, in Aria, 590-7111.

No. 12 vegetarian bánh mì at Lee’s Sandwiches. Food trends come and go, but hopefully the bánh mì lasts forever. Also known as the Saigon sub, the French-inspired Vietnamese behemoth is traditionally piled high with a combination of pâté, cold cuts and grilled meat. Lee’s Sandwiches in Chinatown offers a vegetarian version using crispy tofu strips, but before you scream, “Quelle horreur!” trust us: It’s packed with flavor. Loaded with house-made pickles, veggies and spicy jalapeños, it won’t leave you asking, “Where’s the beef?” $3.59, 3989 Spring Mountain Road, 331-9999.

Truffled wild-mushroom napoleon at the Country Club. Rumor has it that Steve Wynn has become lax in his once-strict vegan diet, but this hasn’t made the chefs at Wynn and Encore any less committed to making veggies shine. The truffled wild-mushroom napoleon is earthy, elegant and enticing enough that your date will ask for tastes between bites of his or her rib eye. $22 lunch, in Wynn, 248-3463.