We are so lucky to be alive today.

People can scoff at such relentless optimism in the face of all the world’s problems and our divided politics in Washington but the fact is that technology, particularly in health care, has helped so many live longer, healthier lives. And I would even extend this to the quality of food you can enjoy today if you’re committed to a plant-based diet. Things have never been better.

My companion’s grandfather was a vegetarian back 50 years ago when it wasn’t as cool and when she visited him she’d get either severely overcooked or undercooked broccoli (remember the raw food movement, which still has its share of devotees) or, most disturbingly, vegetarian hot dogs which no amount of mustard could make more appealing than a hockey puck. Trying times indeed. And in my college years the food service at the dorm would offer those meat substitute soy burger patties that were so charmless they were only willingly consumed when all the other regular food, including fish sticks, was already gone.

Of course times have changed. Specifically, Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger are two meat substitutes available now that have all the flavor and appeal needed to convert carnivores to the plant-based diet. Eat better food, enjoy the taste, and preserve your body. Pretty appealing package. I read an interview with Chris Davis, the director of research and development at Impossible Foods, who said, "... a cow is just a technology to transform the proteins, sugars, and fats present in plants from a format that we don't enjoy eating to a format that we do. It's the flavor, the aroma, the texture of meat, but also there's a lot of theater ... the way it smokes and sizzles ... by the time it reaches your plate, you're fully primed and ready for meat."

Impossible Burger chose textured wheat and potato protein to give its burger a more realistic texture, threw in coconut oil for the fat and heme, an iron-rich molecule, to deliver that meaty flavor. The Beyond Meat patty uses pea protein, canola and coconut oils for fat, and beet juice to approximate the bloody, juicy experience when you bite into a burger.

And to throw politics into it, a study from the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland found that going to a plant based diet would help the environment and improve overall human health, without requiring humans to eat insects. That’s key to me.

All that may sound like too much information, but they probably know all that and more at Vida Vegan, a farmer’s market favorite from around town that earlier this year opened up a brick and mortar place on Stine Road in the old Sarducci’s Deli location. It’s a hit because they offer a vegan menu that emphasizes artistry. The food tastes fantastic, you won’t miss the meat and dairy products and you walk out feeling that you’ve had a glimpse of the future. Sure, Indians have been making amazing vegetarian food for centuries, but the fare here is impressive enough to add Vida to our growing list of nominees for the Best New Restaurant of 2019.

One wise decision: lots of beer and wine choices at giveaway prices like $5 a glass. (The house chardonnay is from Bonterra and is made with organic grapes.) Vegans aren’t boring and they like to tip back, too. However, I’m not sure I see the place as a wine bar or wine tasting room as the sign out front alludes to. When we visited on a Friday the place was packed with families, and after ordering at the counter we got the last table. My companion ordered the Vida avocado melt ($12) and I chose the fry bread taco ($12), remembering someone who raved about it from a farmer’s market visit. We also got a papaya salad ($9) for an appetizer.

The first thing I want to rave about may seem small but it’s why the kitchen here does such good work. I ordered chili beans with my fry bread taco. Big deal, you may think. But the thought that went into this is what makes it great. So many types of beans—black, brown, red, garbanzo—as well as tomato and garlic and you don’t miss meat, fake or real. Both of us had our forks diving in until the dish was empty. Can’t wait for cold weather just to eat this.

Both the French fries with my companion’s panini and my fry bread taco showed vegan doesn’t mean you must avoid the fried comfort foods of your past. Of course instead of ground beef the taco was made with “crumbles,” lettuce, tomato, “sour cream” and salsa. It tasted fabulous. My companion’s panini was made with vegan cheese which in the past four years has gone from something similar to Grandpa’s horrible fake hot dogs to quite fetching in taste and texture. The panini was a bit dry but it’s possible that when we ordered and asked for no mayo that the kitchen may have planned to put it on the outside. I’ve read so many stories lately telling me that the secret to a great grilled cheese is mayo rather than butter on the outside before grilling.

The papaya salad was as impressive as the beans, made with strings of crispy, fresh papaya, carrot strings and cherry tomatoes tossed in a light tamarind chili vinaigrette dressing. I was skeptical when I saw the red pepper flakes on top, but it worked, and is particularly winning during the summer.

Sadly we did not save room for dessert though we were visually impressed by a cinnamon roll that went past and a friend raved about the warm chocolate brownie with vegan ice cream. Next time. The staff is particularly winning, acting like ambassadors for the food, talking about future menu additions like mushroom pasta and pesto pasta that are in the works.

As mentioned, you order at the counter as you go in and find your own seats. It’s a pretty cool, tasteful but simple décor. My companion particularly admired the rustic plates they were using with a lime green swirl in the center and brown edges. On the back wall is a sign with LOVE an acronym for Locally Owned Vegan Eatery.

All in all, a winning combination. Even if you’re not vegan, give it a try. You may convert. Vida Vegan Eatery can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

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