It's not easy being vegan. Less than one percent of Americans profess to a diet that shuns all animal products, so funding for vegan restaurant concepts is hard to come by. Boston's purely vegan options are slowly improving, as evidenced by newish entrants like Clover Food Labs, Peace o' Pie, and Red Lentil. Nevertheless, pickings are still so slim that I doubt many of our vegan readers are unaware of My Thai Vegan Café, a Chinatown restaurant with an unusually long vegan menu. I also imagine many first-time visitors might be nonplussed by its setting, a second-story space 27 steps up a grim, dingy staircase (no elevator). The skeptical should relax once they enter the spotless, high-ceilinged dining room with many green plants, more than 100 seats, and tall windows overlooking Washington and Beach streets.
Comfort should build with familiar appetizers like roll sod ($4.25), Thai "fresh rolls" of rice vermicelli, tofu, lettuce, fresh basil, and other raw vegetables within soft rice-paper wrappers, like a handheld salad to dip in peanut sauce. Chinese leek dumplings ($6.25) are similarly fine, with their chewy, slightly sticky envelopes of steamed tapioca flour and fierce, soy-based dipping sauce. Soups impress with made-to-order freshness, like tom yum gai ($3.25), a lime-tangy, lemongrass-accented clear broth dotted with tomato, celery, mushrooms, and fresh herbs. Entrée options include gorgeous curries like gaeng kiow wahn ($9.95 with mock-beef, mock-shrimp, or tofu; $13.50 with mock-duck or mock-chicken), a green curry loaded with slices of eggplant, string beans, zucchini, bamboo shoots, and onions. The sauce itself is particularly beautiful: a vibrant green puree of fresh herbs and aromatics, not the featureless, smooth gravy of suburban Thai joints. Thai half pineapple ($17.95) is similarly attractive: many vegetables plus some tofu-based mock-chicken, mock-clams, and mock-scallops, sauced in yellow curry and served in an edible bowl.
The many noodle dishes also offer broad appeal, like pad kee mao ($7.25), pan-sautéed wide rice noodles with vegetables in a soy-based brown sauce and a modest sprinkling of fresh hot chilies. For the same price, lunch patrons can get smaller portions of many entrées ($7.50–$7.95) plus an appetizer, soup, and jasmine tea: an excellent deal. When it comes to optional entrée add-ins, even meat-eaters may prefer straight-up tofu or gluten — sliced like wide, flat noodles, with an appealing, slightly chewy texture — to the unconvincing, often rubbery simulacra of animal proteins offered here. Either way, vegans and omnivores should have little trouble embracing My Thai's fresh, value-priced, vegan take on Thai cuisine in a downtown neighborhood that offers few similar options.
MY THAI VEGAN CAFÉ, located at 3 Beach Street (2nd Floor), in Boston, is open Sunday–Thursday, 11 am–9:30 pm, and Friday–Saturday, 11 am–10:30 pm. Call 617.451.2395.