Vegans and vegetarians are home at Be Le. Besides only a few items on the menu that have whey and milk, Be Le is the only restaurant in Tulsa that can claim true vegetarian status.
"Our menu has no by-products of animals nor is anything made from animals, including the spices," says owner and manager Giang Nguyen, who together with his sister Chi and mother Be Le, the chef, operate this restaurant.
The Nguyen family came to Oklahoma in 1980.
"We were part of the boat people who came from Vietnam, and our sponsor lived in Bartlesville," recalls Nguyen.
He and his family operated their restaurant for four years at 31st and Mingo, but as the population shifted to a Hispanic base in this part of the city, Nguyen chose to relocate. Now at 66th and Lewis, business has been building since they opened in July of 2006.
"While we find that our business seems to be seasonal, there are many vegetarians and vegans to come here regularly," says Nguyen. The menu helps meat- and dairy-loving diners such as me understand how to read this menu, which lists such items as Mock Peking Duck, Mock Chicken in Gravy Sauce, Lamb with Curry and Leon Grass and Mongolian Mock Beef.
The menu reads: "Be Le Vegetarian Restaurant is dedicated to providing healthy, meatless food to our customers. We have created a vegetarian menu that is low in fat and cholesterol with absolutely no MSG, alcohol, preservatives or eggs. We use meat substitutes made from soybeans, seaweed, and yams. Also, we use spices that are similar in taste to the various meats."
Interesting. My friend and I dined here to find a new world of tastes and textures. Menu categories include Appetizers, Soups, House Specials; Chinese dishes are Mock Chicken, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Sweet & Sour, Chow Mein, Fried Rice, Lo Mein, Tofu or Vegetables; Vietnamese foods include Soup, Noodles, and Specialty. Desserts include Vegan Chocolate Marble Cake with Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream or with soy Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream.
My friend and I dined here, excited to try a vegetarian/vegan only dinner. We began with A2 Spring Roll and A5 Mock Chicken Teriyaki, both $3.95. The Spring Rolls were very good, and familiar to our tastes. Fresh mint was quite noticeable, and overall the freshness of the egg roll was pronounced and a very welcome taste to us. Mock chicken, as Nguyen explained to me and as his mother Be Le showed, me comes to them from food distributors dried in an airtight package.
Mock chicken is made from soy and flour; spices are added for flavor and the texture and form is created to look like pieces of chicken. And, amazingly, it does.
"Mock or imitation chicken, beef, pork and shrimp are all made in Taiwan," says Nguyen.
He says these pieces are marinated for hours to build up the texture from the dried state and to absorb the spices for flavor.
As another example, Nguyen says the V9 Fried Mock Fish with Ginger Sauce, a Vietnamese Specialty, is "made from green beans and then wrapped in seaweed which acts like a skin for the green bean (fish)."
Our A5 Mock Chicken came on skewers layered with green peppers, tofu and mushrooms. It was good and, amazingly, tasted like chicken.
For our dinner, my friend selected a Vietnamese specialty, the V12 Mock Chicken with Lemon Grass ($8.75), and I chose a Chinese dish, Buddha's Delight ($8.35). The Mock Chicken came as a plate of rice, chicken, and a bowl of vegetable broth soup. My friend mixed and matched the three together while he ate, for the most part enjoying his meal. He did seem a bit perplexed about the fact that he would eat something called chicken that was not really chicken at all. Finally reconciling this philosophical debate internally, he was able to come to terms with this issue and enjoy his meal. He did say a sauce on the chicken would have perfected this meal for his personal tastes.
My Buddha's Delight, we decided, was the better of the two selections. This dish was a plateful of well-seasoned vegetables--mushrooms, miniature corns, water chestnuts, snow peas, carrots, broccoli and more. This meal was rich and savory and the fried rice was prepared perfectly.
We both sipped on an excellent pot of hot Jasmine tea ($1.75) with our meals, and I ended mine with a favorite of mine, Vietnamese Coffee ($3.50). To make it, a dark-roast coffee is brewed in an individual drip pot that sits on top of a glass, slowly dripping into sweetened condensed milk. It takes a number of minutes for the water to finish dripping through, and the coffee in the awaiting glass is filled with ice and condensed mild. This sweet coffee is worth the wait.
Nguyen says that many of his customers are recent converts to vegetarianism (for a variety of reasons: better heath, restricted diet, etc.), and they are not fully weaned from meats; they still desire to at least taste and enjoy the texture for what they used to know.
"We're in beef country," says Nguyen with a little smile. "It's difficult for vegetarians and vegans to find a restaurant to fit their specific needs. We have people from Owasso, Fayetteville, and lots of out-of-town travelers passing through Tulsa who seek us out to dine here. Many say they found us on Google before they came to Tulsa."
Although more of a novelty for us, it is definitely a place that requires return visit.
Be Le Vegetarian Restaurant
6634 S. Lewis Ave
Mon.-Fri. 11am-2:30pm; 5-9pm
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