I'm a proud meat-eater. Meat makes my mouth water with the same fervor as winning an argument or correcting someone's grammar, to the point where it's sometimes difficult talking around such deep, shimmering pools of saliva. But lately, I've found that when I'm eating out at a restaurant, I eschew real meat for its fake counterpart. I love how fake meat is persistently chewy, like savory chewing gum. I love its different "flavors," which remind me of sucking on bouillon cubes. My one complaint is that all fake meat could use a teaspoon more cruelty.
How has fake meat hypnotized my palate like this? Was it a vegetarian conspiracy to get meat-eaters like me to forsake our beef burgers and horse steaks? If so, it won't work. I mainly eat animals to absorb their cuteness. (Now I just do that at home, surrounded by candles and tasteful sprays of chicken blood.) But my cravings are becoming more fake-meat-centric by the day. To prevent myself from buying that meat-flavored toothpaste designed for house pets, and based on suggestions from other fake-meat lovers on Slog, The Stranger's bacon-wrapped blog, I set out to sample the best fake meat dishes Seattle has to offer.
Moonlight Cafe: Catfish, Pork Skewers, Sesame Beef
1919 S Jackson St, 322-3378
The Central District's divey Moonlight Cafe has two distinct menus: one featuring Vietnamese meat dishes, the other devoted to fake meat. The trick to ordering the "catfish" is that you have to immediately forget that you ordered it, because eating fake fish sounds as repulsive as chewing on day-old underwear. Thankfully, when the dish arrives, the slabs of indeterminate protein look nothing like fish or soiled panties—if anything, they resemble steak fries. Thin strips of seaweed cling to each springy piece and give the "meat" a briny aftertaste reminiscent of the sea. It's not catfish by any stretch, but it is delicious. Moonlight's "pork" skewers also come highly recommended, and they live up to the hype—they're juicy and have a rich, salty flavor reminiscent of sucking on barbecued pigs' feet. However, the sesame "beef" dish isn't as successful—its rich sauce is overpowered by honey and a thick confetti of sesame seeds. The combination coats your teeth like gnats on a windshield. It is not pleasant.
The Lucky Diner: Vegetarian Reuben, Breakfast Burrito
2630 First Ave, 805-0133
Somewhere in my youth, math taught me that triangles are the most stable shape found in nature. Reubens are designed to showcase the triangulation of rich corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, and fatty Thousand Island dressing, so I had misgivings about fucking up that perfect taste triangle with Field Roast—the dour, grainy cousin of my beloved fake meat slabs. Fortunately, the Lucky Diner in Belltown knows the trick to keeping a triangle stable: If you shorten one side, fortify the others. I wouldn't be able to describe what Lucky's Field Roast tastes like, but my perfectly toasted sauerkraut-and-Thousand-Island-dressing sandwich with cheese was a triumph of fat and salt. For kicks, I also tried their breakfast burrito with fake meat. Like the Reuben, it was a delicious mess, but I'll be damned if I could taste the difference.
Razzis Pizzeria: Chicken Parmesan
8523 Greenwood Ave N, 782-9005
I have no beef with most of the dishes at Razzis Pizzeria in Greenwood, but if I had to guess, I'd say that their vegan chicken Parmesan ($18—eighteen dollars!!! All the other fake meat tested here was around $10) was either deliberately designed to punish vegans for their high-maintenance ways or it was carelessly created by someone who believes that vegans, by their very nature, lack good taste. Either way, the dish, which was rabidly endorsed by a Slog commenter, deeply sucked. Its marinara sauce had a distinctly tinny aftertaste and was too thick to penetrate the brick of noodles below, which were left dry and sticky. Sprinkled on top of the marinara sauce was a stingy handful of fake chicken cubes and fake Parmesan flakes. I picked out the fake chicken cubes and discarded the rest.
Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai: Jhanjay Noodles and Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce
5313 Ballard Ave NW, 588-1469
There are countless reasons to love Ballard's Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai, from the courteous waitstaff to the deference they pay to vegetables in every dish. But here's another reason to love it: They have, by far, the best fake meat in the city. Unlike other restaurants that use the overprocessed spongy fake meat that I admittedly adore, Jhanjay makes its own fake meat in-house. It's composed of thick layers of shredded and pressed mushrooms that unfold as you chew, like striations of real meat. The sensation is marvelous, especially when juxtaposed with crunchy bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, green peas, and corn in their signature Jhanjay noodle dish. However, their eggplant in black bean sauce is better served with fried tofu than fake meat, which is overpowered, rather than enhanced, by the rich sauce.
There are a few obvious takeaways from basting oneself in fake meat for a week straight. It's not at all healthy—my fingers resemble salt-logged puffer fish right now—and despite how hard it would seem to fuck up a food you can neither over- nor undercook, it's not all good. I have no idea why Razzis seems to hate vegans so much, just as I have no clue what I did to offend the vindictive Slog commenter who suggested I eat there. But whatever it is, anonymous friend, allow me to sincerely apologize to you over a plate of fresh Jhanjay noodles, or a shared spear of catfish that we can consume together, like ladies and tramps, because dishes like those will make faux-meat converts of us all.