Thanh-Nga Nguyen, aka Tanya.
  • Kelly O
  • Thanh-Nga Nguyen, aka Tanya.
Television comedy writer Julius Sharpe (Family Guy, etc.) once noted, "No one has ever left a steak house not feeling like shit." By contrast, it's likely that no one has ever exited a vegan restaurant not feeling replenished and vital (and perhaps smug, thought the omnivore reader).

For Americans who eschew meat and dairy, vegan restaurants are oases of stress-free food provision in a country overrun with establishments that—if they deign to cater at all to vegans—devote a token 5 to 10 percent of their menus to this demographic. It's a weird feeling for a vegan to enter an eatery and be able to consider eating almost the entire menu.

One such restaurant is ChuMinh Tofu & Veggie Deli, a tiny, unassuming spot in the International District that instantly makes new customers feel like long-lost buddies. "Feel free to try anything," owner Thanh-Nga Nguyen (aka Tanya) urges as you eye the array of ChuMinh's titular items and various rices and desserts. With a ready smile, she will spear anything in the buffet trays for you. If good karma could be converted into gold, ChuMinh's employees would be millionaires.

Billing itself as "Asian fusion, Vietnamese, vegan, and vegetarian," ChuMinh, which opened in October 2011, combines generous servings with absurdly low prices. A rectangular plate bigger than your face (unless you're Jay Leno) containing heaping mounds of rice (get the fluffy and robust brown) and two menu items costs $6. A plump, tofu-stuffed banh mi sandwich costs $2.75, while veggie spring rolls go for $2. A cup of very fresh soy milk comes free with every order. On some days, vegetable tempura sits atop the counter just waiting for your greedy mitts to grab it. Go ahead; vegetable tempura is the new tortilla chip.

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