HEARTS CHOICES – Thai Vegan Café & Store
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Food style: Authentic Thai
Veg Scale: 100% vegan, GF labeled
Part of town: South McLeod Trail
What started as a retail stand in the Calgary Farmers Market in 2011 has now blossomed into a delicious, quick-serve restaurant located in a strip mall right down the street from Calgary’s iconic country & western bar, Ranchman’s. This hidden gem more than makes up for it’s lack of ambiance with a plethora of authentic and light vegan Thai dishes cooked with love by Thai chef and owner Nan. Lining the back wall is the “store” part of the establishment: fridges filled to the brim with vegan take home goodies like countless types of faux meats and other imported Thai items, homemade fermented cashew cheez spreads and vegan bars and treats including various brands of kombucha.
In true café style, you enter and walk up to the counter, where you can see all of the dishes on the menu displayed before you. You have the option to order a la carte or assemble a Choose One or Choose Two combo plate. Along with a fresh organic mixed salad topped with crisp raw shredded beets and carrots and tossed with homemade dressing, Thai Jasmine Rice comes standard. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can opt for Coconut Rice or a Brown & Red Cargo Rice Blend for a small upcharge.
As I try to avoid processed soy and gluten products as much as possible, we opted for faux-meat free dishes all around. However, based on the fridges’ homemade contents, those items may very well be the house specialty!
I ordered the spicy Som Tam Salad (GF), a flavorful blend of shredded, crunchy green papaya, tomatoes and carrots marinated in aromatic garlic, palm sugar, lime juice, tamarind and hot chili. This was served on its own little dish next to a larger plate that held my Thai Green Curry (GF) in a bowl accompanied by the Red & Brown Rice Blend. I was warned that both my dishes were spicy, but I love a good Thai sinus flush and that’s just what I got! The herbal coconut curry was the perfect creamy balance to the slices of soft eggplant, Thai-spiced broccoli, savory carrots, fluffy cauliflower, and crisp bamboo shoots. Poured over the rice mix, this would have been enough of a meal on it’s own! The crispness of the bamboo shoots in each dish impressed me the most as it can be easy to overcook in such a mélange of veggies. Another great thing about the menu at Hearts Choices is that Nan makes sure to use as little oil as possible so that the fresh flavors of the vegetables are the highlights of each dish. This is apparent in the lightness yet full flavor of each dish we tried. (pic below)
Chris went for the Bamboo Basil Stir Fry (GF), a perfectly seasoned blend of shredded bamboo shoots, carrots, celery and onions lightly pan-fried in a spicy Thai red curry paste with basil. This arrived alongside Chris’ second dish of Tom Kah Pak (GF), a traditional spicy coconut soup with kaffir lime leaves, galangal , lemongrass, cauliflower, carrots and crisp bamboo shoots. The Coconut Rice was a delicious, fluffy mound of sweet white rice cooked in coconut milk, the perfect, creamy accompaniment that I could have eaten continuously for the rest of the day! The rice is so soft and delicate yet delivers the most robust coconut flavor and creamy texture that I’ve ever had! (pic below)
A sweet surprise was the raw coconut macaroons, handmade at home by the owner, Eahly’s mom. Also available were cupcakes by a local vegan, gluten-free bakery. (pic below)
I am an actor/writer/content creator based in Los Angeles. I travel extensively both as the host of the new vegan food travel show The Road Less Eaten and on my own. This blog will chronicle my journey around the globe as I hunt down all the vegan options in every part of the world, no matter how big the city nor small the town.
Copyright © Ally Iseman 2016. I own my awkward. Thanks for enabling me.