Cauliflower steak and mushroom “scallops” at T-Bones. Photo: Krystal Ramirez

Meat-Free Dishes That Rival the Real Thing

Cruelty-free substitutions that savvy vegan chefs use to fool the eye and the palate

It’s meat-free magic! All around the Valley, chefs are re-creating dishes to cater to the growing plant-based movement. Here’s how they do it.


T-Bones Chophouse executive chef Mike Deas offers vegans an interesting vegetable alternative to actual steak. His thick cauliflower steak is topped with grilled asparagus and drizzled with a yellow tomato Béarnaise sauce. The dish is served with a side of mushroom “scallops” seared in soy sauce and maple syrup. “The meal is satisfying and hearty enough to serve in a steakhouse, without animal products involved,” Deas says. $24, in Red Rock Resort,


At Downtown’s VegeNation, chef Donald Lemperle has tapped into the meaty texture of jackfruit—the fleshy fruit of a tropical tree in the fig, mulberry and breadfruit family—to create the popular East West Tacos. “People want the texture of meat in their meat-free meal,” says Lemperle. “By marinating the jackfruit in a sweet sauce overnight and pulling the jackfruit pieces apart, you get a pulled pork texture—without the pork.” $12, 616 Carson Ave.,

Cauliflower from T-Bones ChophouseKrystal Ramirez and Zach McKee

Cauliflower steak and mushroom “scallops” at T-Bones.


Panevino general manager and plant-based nutrition specialist Vincenzo Granata taps into the power of legumes to create his meatloaf that replicates the consistency and appearance of meat. One of the most nutrient-dense dishes on the menu, the meatloaf is largely made of organic adzuki beans, portobello and shiitake mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery and organic green lentils. $28, 246 Via Antonio Ave.,

Gardein Chick’n

Chef Eric Scott of Nacho Daddy takes a different meat-free approach, using Gardein Chick’n (made largely of soy protein isolate and gluten) to replace the real thing in dishes such as the vegan Chick’n fajitas. Its texture is similar to poultry and is seasoned for a meatier flavor. $16, multiple locations,

Portobello Mushroom 

A longtime vegan stand-in for beef, the humble portobello mushroom is elevated in the hands of executive chef Joseph Elevado of Andrea’s. For his kalbi portobello mushroom entrée, the mighty, meaty ’shroom takes on the bold umami flavors of the Korean barbecue marinade in this new dish. $24, Encore,

Coconut Milk 

Tableau executive chef David Middleton employs coconut milk instead of heavy cream in his silky fall and winter soups. “It has many of the same characteristics, such as a high fat content, and can be whipped, cooked and more,” he says. You can see this technique in action with Middleton’s vegan beet soup, where it not only adds a touch of sweetness but also delivers a creamier texture and smoother consistency. $17, in Wynn,


Chef Stacey Dougan at Simply Pure taps into the power of tofu for its ability to mimic both ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. She has created top-secret recipes for both cheeses, which she uses in her Mama Mia Lasagna. Dougan credits not only the specific tofu she uses, but also a blend of nutritional yeast, garlic, olive oil and sea salt, for producing a lasagna that routinely tricks nonvegans. $11, in Container Park,


 Lest we forget the sweets, vegan pastry chef Sinead Kravetz of Mothership Coffee Roasters whips up some of the best sweets in town (and dishes them out at spots such as Sunrise Coffee and TruFusion). Her secret to creating plant-based desserts is swapping her recipes’ eggs—“The hardest ingredient to sub out in pastries,” she says—for flaxseeds. Kravetz mixes them with water, which causes them to swell and thicken, and then whips them like eggs into her popular vegan Twinkies, whose flavor ranges from matcha orange blossom to lavender and everything in between. $3.50 each, 2708 N. Green Valley Pkwy.,