"You guys open every day?" asks a young woman at the restaurant counter while her restless four-year-old wanders about, picking up tubs of African Shea Butter and examining bins of natural chips.
"Every day except Saturday," answers owner Hakin Hill, his hair pulled back in a bulbous black Rastafari cap.
"The busiest day," scoffs the woman.
"Not here," Hakin answers calmly.
Things aren't all done by the book at Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin
(yes, that's actually the name). The servers double (quintuple?) as
cooks, dishwashers, busboys, and clerks. There's no set order of
service; you may get your entrees before your silverware, for example,
and maybe no one will remember to ask you if you want something to
drink first. However, many starved Miami vegans may be prepared to make
these small sacrifices for the rare meatless gems found behind the
unobtrusive glass doors.
Absolutely everything on the menu is vegan. Well, make that everything on the white board
--- as yet another unorthodox element, the place actually has no
printed menus (Hakin says "they're coming this week"). So anyway, here,
cruelty-free eaters are eligible to enjoy Philly "cheese steaks,"
"fish" sandwiches, "short ribs," and many more mock meats (each $8.95),
made from seitan (a wheat gluten-based product) and tofu, and expertly
flavored with anything from ginger and fennel to seaweed (for the faux
fish). A dozen Short Order writers did a blind taste test of the
restaurant's "no bull" short ribs last week.
For veg heads who have chewed enough seitan for this lifetime, Hakin's
(the national fruit of Jamaica, which has a scrambled egg-like taste),
spinach, soya, and yes, curried seitan. Our ackee-stuffed pie was
delivered piping hot, too hot to even taste upon the first bite. But as
it cooled, we were hit with the buttery flavor (we believe it's
not butter, but it's not easy!) of the thick whole wheat crust, and a
thick creamy blend of vegetables --- carrots, peas, corn, and ackee ---
reminiscent of a hearty legume soup.
Speaking of soups, the restaurant has those too, and we paired our pastry up with one: the garden vegetable.
broth is a substantial potato puree with a robust, meaty flavor. Bits
of kale, carrot, yellow squash, and potato float in the mix. It made a
great complement to the ackee pie.
excitedly sipped our soup, a lone diner to our right, a Jamaican-born
reggae musician by the name of Raga-Z, informed us that he eats at the
Caribbean- and vegetarian-themed restaurant nearly every day.
try to stay away from dairy products because they're bad for your
voice," he said. "I need to protect that. And when I come in here, I'm
so inspired when I see the foods, 'cause I only know them from
Jamaica," he said.
Meanwhile, our next dish
arrived. Pancakes and "eggs" ($7.50 to $8.95) may seem like a
non-sequitur to our first courses, but in the spirit of disorganized
dining, we said screw it.
blueberry pancakes had a nice, smooth consistency, not at all grainy or
heavily flax-flavored like a lot of vegan pancakes can be. They were,
however, too dry, and even the accompanying cup of organic agave nectar
wasn't enough to save them.
scrambled "eggs," on the other hand, were the best we've ever had.
Spiced and colored with turmeric and cooked up with diced red and green
peppers, they were fluffy, flavorful, satisfying, and... gone.
A baker friend in the neighborhood supplies the shop with a host of
vegan cakes ($4 to $5 a slice), including coconut, pineapple,
chocolate, and carrot flavors. The house favorite, though, is the
tofu-based tiramisu, according to Edwin, a smiling employee of
We, however, had our
eyes on the muffins (about $4) in the case at the front of the shop
from the moment we walked in. These the restaurant makes in-house, in
an ever-changing array of flavors. Too full to eat one directly after
our meal, we take a zucchini, pineapple, cherry, and walnut one to go.
picking up the weighty muffin, we thought to ourselves, "Vegan or not,
this thing is way too big and heavy to eat in one sitting." Upon
breaking the baked good in two, however, large luscious chunks of
cherries and pineapple revealed themselves from the center.
it was actually half fruit, we didn't feel so bad gobbling the whole
glorious thing down. Best vegan muffin ever --- leagues ahead of the
doughy blueberry ones Whole Foods puts out.
So what if the silverware isn't gleaming and the service is far from
seamless? True, it would be better if things were more uniform and
streamlined at Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin. But those who appreciate
an eclectic, homey scene and inventive green food will enjoy a seat at
this unlikely vegan haven in North Miami Beach. Toast a glass of
Hakin's freshly extracted cucumber, green apple, wheatgrass, sunflower
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green, and ginger juice, and chill to the meditation music while the
Caribbean crew cooks you a meal that nobody died for.
The restaurant is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday & Sunday.