Vegan chef cooks up world of flavors at Lahla's Plant Kitchen in Richardson

Dallas' vegan universe keeps expanding, and the latest entry is extremely promising. Called Lahla's Plant Kitchen, it's a newcomer that opened in mid-April in Richardson, at 100 S. Central Expwy., #35, in the former VegVana space near Half Price Books.

Lahla's features both vegetarian and vegan dishes, with a cuisine that chef-founder Christian Rios calls "comfort food from around the world."

Rios started out with the idea of doing a food truck but seized the opportunity to do a full-scale restaurant when the space became available.

His goal: to offer another vegan option in Dallas-Fort Worth.

"When I went vegan about six years ago, there weren't as many vegan options around Dallas-Fort Worth, and that's what inspired me to do something," he says. "Fortunately, things have changed. But I had experience in the restaurant industry working at places like PF Chang's and J. Alexander's in Houston, where they execute on a very high level, and saw an opportunity to use some of that experience in a place of my own."

All that experience also helped him define his direction. "I got exposed to all different kinds of foods, and I wanted to offer some of that variety," he says. "It's my take on classic international dishes."

His menu is highly creative, incorporating Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Southern influences. Dishes include:

  • Mediterranean platter with falafel, hummus, quinoa tabouli, and tahini
  • country-fried oyster mushroom with cornbread, garlic greens, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and pepper gravy
  • Indian sampler with dahl, chana masala, samosas, yellow jasmine rice, yogurt, and naan bread
  • Thai mango salad with noodles, napa cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, mint, cilantro, and Thai basil in a tamarind dressing with crushed peanuts
  • Southwestern Cobb salad with Romaine, coconut bacon, corn, poblanos, pepperjack cheese, achiote tempeh, and a side of avocado ranch
  • lettuce wraps filled with ground poke, carrots, jicama, rice sticks, and sweet chili sauce
  • flautas filled with jackfruit, topped with cabbage and avocado salad
  • Causa: a mashed potato tower layered with avocado and jackfruit salad
  • arancini, the Italian-style fried rice balls

"The arancini have been very popular," he says. "I start by making rice balls. The secret ingredient is mushrooms. They get rolled in panko crumbs and fried, and served over house-made marinara sauce."

He fills his lettuce wraps with his own ground "pork," a combination of mushroom, walnut, and cauliflower. "The texture is a really convincing replica of meat," he says. It also makes an appearance in the Cuban piccadillo, a tempting-sounding dish combining the ground meat with raisins and green & black olives, served with rice & beans and avocado.

He's also doing some amazing looking desserts including cookies and cakes such as a chocolate German layer cake.

The restaurant, which is named for Rios' grandmother, is open for lunch and dinner daily, and represents not only another exciting offering but also a personal renewal for Rios.

"After culinary school, I was so put off by all of the processes in the food industry and factory farming, and it killed my desire to continue in the industry," he says.

"I tried going vegan and four days into it, I realized it was one of the best decisions of my life," he says. "Once I pushed through, I began to discover another world of flavors and textures I love. The opportunity to do it without harm to anybody is what reinvigorated my passion for cooking. It felt like starting over again."