Whether identifying as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, pollotarian, flexitarian – or some other yet-to-be determined dietary label – people are consuming less animal protein. The reasons range from religious strictures or a desire for improved nutrition to personal choice or a concern for planetary health. Rather than viewing preferences as judgment calls, consider these options as celebrations of the fantastic foods available in the Lehigh Valle. A chicly exotic destination located in close proximity to a casually hip eatery – both of which offer a range of plant-based and full-on meat choices – gives more folks the opportunity to eat what they enjoy – or try something new.
Vegetarians tend to scrutinize menus carefully, scouting for plant-based dishes to fit their dietary needs or preferences. At Aladdin, however, they are primarily searching for what looks tastiest since many of the Middle Eastern dishes presented here are naturally meat-free – and those fragrant offerings have also been singing a siren song of Syrian flavor to omnivore fans for more than forty years, from hand-rolled stuffed Grape Leaves and Spinach Pie to Tabouleh salad, and the crisply fried and best-selling Falafel, which happens to be vegan and gluten-free as well. Serena Younes, front of house manager and second-generation of the family-owned restaurant, notes that 95% of the generous appetizer menu is vegetarian – plus plenty of entrees and other specialties. (Not to discriminate, though, since seafood and meat-centric dishes keep everyone at the table satisfied. That said, after the first marvelous mouthful of Falafel most guests don’t even notice the absence of meat.)
One lesser-known veggie dish currently climbing the popularity charts is Arnabit: deep fried cauliflower chunks drizzled with tahini sauce, which delivers huge flavor and superb texture. The dish is available as an app or entrée. Smeed, an odd-sounding salad, benefits from a bit of explanation. “It’s kind of like Tabouleh, but inside out – bulgur wheat-based with a little parsley, made with tomato sauce, olive oil and onion,” Younes says. “Tabouleh is mainly parsley with a little bulgur wheat, so Smeed is more filling. It’s refreshing served either cold or at room temperature. Smeed doesn’t get as much love as it deserves!” For maximized sampling, the Special Maza appetizer plate serves four or more with a dozen diverse items, available in vegetarian or non-veg versions (with no upcharge for either).
Colorful and artfully plated dishes look all the more resplendent in the warmly sensuous dining room replete with cushy pillows, dramatic lamps and a twinkly night sky. A semi-private event room, separated from the dining room by a barrier wall with arched “windows,” enables up to 40 guests to catch the restaurant ambiance – especially popular when belly dancers perform on Saturday nights.
Aladdin’s long-standing reputation for fine Middle Eastern cuisine attracts a wide audience for off-site catering jobs. Wedding receptions up to 400 guests have been customized for vegan or vegetarian hosts and guests – or one seafood dish may be added to please pescatarians. Intimate luncheons can also be adapted for special occasions. “We can accommodate almost everything,” Younes reports. And she’ll be delighted to prove that to you.
THE ALADDIN RESTAURANT | 651 UNION BLVD., ALLENTOWN | ALADDINLV.COM | 610-437-4023 | BYOB
Not many restaurant names inspire a quick double take when driving past. The Vegan Butcher is an exception, with an eye-catching oxymoron moniker that’s not as self-contradicting as it first appears. This playfully appealing eatery offers a spectrum of plant-based and animal protein dishes, with the main focus on healthful, freshly prepared foods that can please a diverse group and also be adapted for specific food sensitivities. The kitchen maintains completely separate cooking surfaces, utensils and equipment for vegan dishes to avoid cross-contamination. Two pieces of equipment not found in this kitchen are a microwave and a toaster: Rolls are flame toasted.
Owned and operated by brothers Ayoub Abboud – the head chef – and Dr. David Abboud, a physician who looks to improve patients’ health through lifestyle modification, this sibling team developed a menu with varied iterations of the same dish. For example, four specialty burgers adorned with scratch-made toppings – and a choice of dairy or plant-based cheese, plus a gluten-free bread option – may be made with 100% real beef (fine ground in house) or plant-based versions that include an Impossible Burger and a Beyond Burger Patty. The Egg-Splosion Burger may be topped with a plant-based egg or real egg. So everyone can come together at the table and eat the same-yet-different dish. Essentially, this is fast food, elevated.
Sandwiches include Banh Mi (choice of tofu or beef barbacoa) with an abundance of crunchy veggies on a French baguette, Avocado Toast with egg options and more. A trio of tacos – again, meat or non-meat – on hand-pressed tortillas sport generous toppings, and extra-bountiful Pineapple or Soy Fried Rice Bowls can easily be shared. (General Manager Galen Rodriguez reports that four cups of cooked rice go into every serving.) Appealing sides include vibrant Lemon Fries tossed with parsley (only one version!), Truffle Fries (with a choice of plant-based or real Parmesan cheese) and Loaded Fries with plenty of choices. Street Corn – grilled corn on the con with avocado dressing, Old Bay Seasoning, and sliced scallions – is totally irresistible. Happily, it’s not an easy dish to share.
An upbeat vibe – fueled by retro-fun vintage toys, an Atari game, bright murals, a cheery chalkboard and a wall covered in cassette tapes – lifts the spirits as guests approach the counter to order. The seamless process begins by first informing the employee of your diet restriction before choosing a menu item. The cooking pros will then be able to tailor your order with the appropriate proteins, bread, cheese, aioli and more to fit your personal dietary preferences. It’s also that easy when ordering to-go items for pickup or delivery by DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Grubhub.
The Vegan Butcher has acquired a stellar reputation in the plant-based food community, and guests from Philly, New York, and beyond make this a destination on weekends. As a sponsor of Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the restaurant is thrilled to feed the players. A customizable catering menu can meet the special dietary needs for any size event – even a wedding for 400 guests.
THE VEGAN BUTCHER | 768 UNION BLVD., ALLENTOWN | 610-351-1265 BYOB