A Vegetarian Road Trip Across America. What I’m Seeing, Doing and Eating Part 1

by Sala @ Veggie Belly on September 27, 2011

A week ago, we rented our house in Virginia, packed our stuff into our car, and began a 3,000 mile road trip across America, to move to Portland OR. My husband is working on a project there and we have decided to make use of the opportunity to move and explore the west coast.

In a series of posts in the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing with you pictures of what I’m doing, seeing, and most importantly – eating.

Before I tell you all the yummy things I’ve been eating and cooking (yes, make shift cooking on the road!), here are some notes photos from my travels.

Notes from the Road

Total miles traveled – 1,628
States covered so far – Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota
Cities visited - Cleveland OH, Chicago IL, Madison WI, Wisconsin Dells WI, La Crosse WI, Sioux Falls SD, Wall SD
Mood – grateful and excited
Random thoughts – South Dakota is huge and empty. Cruise control is your friend.
Best meal so far – Mushroom stroganoff at the Cheese Factory restaurant, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Craving – nothing

Madion capitol building, Wisconsin

A gigantic Marylin Monroe statue in Chicago

The bean cloud, Chicago

Chicago river

Le Colonial French Vietnamese restaurant, Chicago

Vegetarian Food on a Cross Country Road Trip – What I’m Eating

I’m eating at some amazing restaurants across America. Here is a sampling.

West Side Market, Cleveland Ohio

Peruvian blue potatoes featured twice at the Mexican stall.

Tons of vegetarian pastas! We got a carrot, celelry + apple juice at the juice stall.

I was drawn to the Mexican stall at the market, and got these portobello and caramelized onion enchiladas for lunch.

Doing crepey things in the car. Strawberry+nutella=heaven

Farmers Market & the Best Vegetarian Meal I’ve Had. Madison, Wisconsin

The farmers market outside the capitol building in Madison was just lovely. The whole square was buzzing with activity.

Clockwise from top left: fresh ginseng, pom pom mushrooms, cheese curds, more cheese curds..drool!!

I am no longer a cheese curd virgin! I tried my first cheese curds at the farmers market in Madison. Oh my god, they were so tasty. Chewy, and incredibly flavorful. I also tried deep fried beer battered chees curds (below) at the Old Fashioned restaurant in Madison, they were great but I think I prefer the plain cheese curds.

The best soup I’ve ever had – Wisconsin beer and cheese soup garnished with pop corn. What a great idea! Whoever thought of putting beer and cheese together in a soup is a genius.

Brandy vinaigrette for my salad – creamy, tangy and unique.

They put mac and cheese on a pizza! I didnt actually eat this piiza, but I walked by a family who were enjoying it and asked to take a picture becasue ive never seen anything like it before!

After an amazing meal at the Old fashioned restaurant in Madison, we walked around sightseeing, and then headed north to Wisconsin Dells in search of the Cheese Factory restaurant. Rachael Ray has been here and a lot of sources highly recommend it. I wasnt disappointed at all. I had the best meal of this trip here – a mushroom stroganoff – satisfying, and full of umami. The restaurant has a nice homely feel to it, the food is hearty and the flavors are clean.

I HIGHLY recommend the Cheese Factory Vegetarian restaurant in Wisconsin Dells. It serves some of the best vegetarian food I’ve had recently.

I started with the rattlesnake tofu – two fingers of marinated tofu, grilled to a smokey flavor, served with spicy beans and fresh homemade barbeque sauce.

..and this my friends was the best dish I’ve had recently – an incredibly flavorful mushroom stroganoff full of super fresh mushrooms. I am drooling now just thinking of it!

Chicago – Stunning Architecture and Elegant Restaurants

Frontera Grill in Chicago was everything I imagined it to be. I loved the food and decor. I am a huge fan of Rick Bayless, and was so excited to eat at Frontera! Above: I’m digging into my wood fired mushroms, achiote rice, guacamole, home made corn tortilla, tomatillo salsa and tomatillo and roasted chipotle salsa. To the right is my drink, agua de jamaica (hibiscus juice) and nuts (peanut, pumpkin, fava beans) roasted with guajillo chile

Hongos chipotlados at Frontera – wild mushrooms, smoky creamy chipotle, squash and fried kale. All served with the softest homemade tortillas I’ve ever had.

More mushromy goodness at Frontera – wood fired mushroom tacos with achiote rice and guacamole

Our dinner that night was at a beautiful little French Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago called Le Colonial

Vietnamese rice paper rolls and plum dipping sauce

Banh Pho Xao – Rice noodles with soy sauce, chili garlic oil, tofu, and bean sprouts

They had a whole vegan vegetarian menu, I was beyond thrilled!

We ended this wonderful meal with a coconut macaron and vanilla ice cream.

I have never met a deep dish pizza I’ve liked. But I couldnt come to Chicago and not try a deep dish pizza pie. This Chicagoan delicacy in a very thick pizza with a ton of cheese, topped with another crust and then pizza sauce. Its sort of like an inside out pizza.

We ordered take out from the famous Giordanos pizza, because we were tired from a day of walking around and wanted to eat in our hotel room.

It was ok, and I dont see whats so famous about it. Maybe the pizza didnt taste as good because it was take out. But I didnt like the cheese, crust or the sauce. Besides it was too heavy. I prefer my thin crusts.

Making Vegetarian Meals on the Road – How I Prepared

As you can see, I’ve found some incredible places to eat all across America. But I don’t want to live on outside food alone while I’m traveling, so I am also making myself fresh, simple meals on the road – need to keep that digestive system happy!

I could drive across this country and live on pizza and fries. But I’d be miserable if those were my only vegetarian food choices while traveling 3,000 miles. So I decided I should eat as much fresh, tasty vegetarian food as I can on this road trip. And sometimes that means making it myself.

There have been some places on this trip where the only vegetarian food I could get at local restaurants was a salad. There have been other times where I have driven 400 miles and stopped in the middle of nowhere, tired and starving. At these times, I was able to open up my cooler and easily make myself a quick, healthy vegetarian meal or snack.

A few things that I packed:

- Cooler and some gel ice packs so I can store salad, baby spinach, fresh fruits etc. I’m so glad I did, because this cooler has come in very handy!
- Snacks and nuts (great on their own or in a salad made with cooler contents)
- Condiments and seasonings like sesame oil, pesto and Italian seasoning
- Soy sauce, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper packets all from take out. Their little size is perfect and far less messy than using a huge bottle of soy sauce in a rest area
- Couscous,  it cooks in no time and all you need is boiling water
- Rice noodles,  all it needs is a soaking in boiling water
- Instant rasam paste to satisfy that Indian food craving on the road
- A kettle so I can quickly make couscous, rice noodles or instant soup or rasam
- Disposable plates, cutlery, napkins
- A thermos for taking instant soup in the car

Salad Wrap – On the Road Snack Recipe

makes 1 wrap

We were driving in Ohio and stopped at a rest area where I quickly made a few of these wraps for a snack. We ate this along with some carrot and celery sticks, cheese cubes and pretzels

Ingredients
1 stone ground wheat wrap or tortilla
1-2 tablespoons hummus
1 tablespoon pesto
A few olives
2 hand fulls of salad leaves

Method
Spread the hummus and pesto on the wrap. Scatter some olives on top. Then add the salad leaves. Roll it up.

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Comments

comments

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Siri September 27, 2011 at 1:52 am

OMG Sala. this is breathtakingly amazing experience you guys started on. I am falling short of adjectives about how put what I feel right now – in words. :D Awesome!

Thanks for sharing your journey with us all.. Looking forward for more posts.

Drive safe :-)

Cheers,
Siri

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2 Babysealmomma September 27, 2011 at 1:59 am

I am so entertained. Thoroughly enjoy reading about your experiences! Am envious too… :-)

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3 Rosa September 27, 2011 at 2:09 am

Wow, awesome! Thanks for sharing those pictures with us.

Cheers,

Rosa

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4 Vijitha September 27, 2011 at 2:21 am

My god!!! I am running short of words. Such a wonderful post and the pointers you have given are very useful. Thanks for that. I am sure it is funfilled and also a long trip. Drive safe. Welcome to the West coast! You will have a great time exploring here.

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5 Notyet100 September 27, 2011 at 4:42 am

Wow what a post,..will be waiting form the next post

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6 Julie September 27, 2011 at 6:52 am

Wow, the west side market sure has gone upscale since I was last there!! It was just a great food market where you got a deal at 4:00 pm because the farmers (yes, there were actually farms within a driving distance to beautiful downtown Cleveland back in the 70′s, early 80′s) didn’t want to take their produce home. There may have been a burger stand or something but, wow – what you saw almost makes me want to visit my old home town.

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7 Cindy September 27, 2011 at 7:09 am

I love a good road trip! But one through this part of the world would not turn up that variety of vegetarian food at all. I’d do well to follow your advise and stock the car with extras, I think. :-)

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8 Manasi September 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

This is awesome, Sala! I am so glad you posted about this, being a vegetarian, I need to know more about this !
We did a road trip earlier this year ( IL- NY) with our 3 year old. Since he has limited choices eating out and also that we prefer he eat fresh home cooked meal at least once a day while on the road, I carried my electric rice cooker with us, I had made khichdi mix at home before leaving, so all i had to do at night was place some mix in the cooker, top with water and enjoy hot khichdi with plain yogurt. Even we liked it, comforting after driving for long hours!

Good luck with settling in OR. Looking forward for more exciting road trip updates.

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9 Sonia September 27, 2011 at 10:34 am

This is awesome dear. Thanks for sharing nice recipes and tricks while travelling. Wish you happy journey and cooking ahead. Enjoy !

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10 Nishi September 27, 2011 at 10:37 am

I loved this post sala. The road trip seems so exciting. I loved the way you cooked on the road. It’sso much fun. :)

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11 Laavanya September 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’m loving this post and your updates on FB – it’s been terribly fun to follow your cross country tour. Can’t wait to see what the remaining 1200+ miles unravel.

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12 Gyrofrog September 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

I think you will like Portland, based on a few people I know pulling up stakes and moving there: it sounds like the place to be. Bon voyage!

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13 Shobana September 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Waiting for part 2 of this great road trip!

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14 Anna @ The Guiltless Life September 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Girl, you know how to road trip! That stroganoff does sound amazing but so much of that food looked to die for. I love the Vietnamese place and the farmers’ market finds. But that dessert also looked heavenly. I agree with you on the pizza – it does look like it would be too heavy for me too, but hey, at least you tried a true Chicago tradition!

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15 Spandana September 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Wow… road trips are fun… Enjoy..and drive safe:-)
I loved all the tips, Thanks for sharing!!

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16 pavithra September 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Wonderful post sala..the way I like too :) Absolutely loved it. Have wonderful and fun filled trip.

Pavithra
http://www.dishesfrommykitchen.com

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17 Pamela September 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Love this post. Great photos! If you ever are in Austin, TX you’ll have to compare the mushroom stroganoff from Mother’s Cafe & Garden….so yummy!

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18 Suma Subramaniam September 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Ooh! Lovely pictures Sala. I want to taste the rattlesnake tofu and rice paper rolls already. Thanks for sharing.

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19 DK September 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Sala – Kudos for doing this for rest of us. Beautifully written, explored and photographed. Appreciate your efforts in putting together this wealth of information. I feel like taking a long road trip just for this experience.

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20 Kristen September 27, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Welcome to Portland! It’s where I live and we did the trip from Minneapolis to here last year with a 28-foot U-haul! I love reading your posts. Good luck in your travels and let me know if there is anything I can do for you when you get here! I think you will love it and find so many options for vegetarian/vegan eating.
-Kristen

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Gunjan Reply:

Hey Kristen, i’m too livin in Portland since past 6 months, well me n my hubby are a travel freak n have visited most of the places around …still would luv to explore more places around if you can suggest some… Thanx :)

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21 Anu September 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Such a cool post and looks like you are having a blast. Welcome to our part of the world :)

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22 swathi September 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Hello… very awsome… post
it is simple and sweet..
ver handy tips…

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23 Tadka Pasta September 28, 2011 at 2:16 am

What fun! You must have done a lot of prep-work and its all paying off. Enjoy the rest of your trip! Very entertaining and informative post :)

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24 Gunjan September 28, 2011 at 2:52 am

Cool…. I’m too a vege n usually fall short of some good food on are various trips here n there around US…. I end up with chipotle or subway or a burger wid hash browns …well Thai n middle eastern are too some good options for veg. Wud also like to suggest you to carry some fresh fruits, nuts, cookies n other snacks as u like…Ahh.. N i’m living in Portland n enjoyin it so far, hope u like it too:)

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25 Monique Koch September 28, 2011 at 6:33 am

Awesome post! I especially liked seeing Chicago (I love that place). I’m looking forward to seeing more of your adventure. :-)

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26 Apu September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm

The tea kettle is a saviour on long journeys. Veggie food is a challenge but in WI you will find vegan eateries in the wilderness too!!

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27 Kathleen Richardson September 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Please ~ take me with you on your next trip. Sounds like such fun. Thanks for the great ideas for snacks/meals for traveling.

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28 Priya September 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The photos from West Side Market brought by lots of good food memories. I lived about an hour’s drive from there for 3 yrs and loved visiting the market. Tonnes of great vegetarian options and the fresh pasta, bread & spices stalls are just fabulous. My favorite there was a little middle eastern place that served the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had. Wish I could go back there right now :| Have a fun and safe trip!

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29 Deepti Pawar October 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’m going to thank Nags of Edible Garden, who reminded me of you (I’ve been to your blog earlier, but just slipped my mind)…and I’m so glad I came by again. This is a wonderful post. It’s like a one-stop feel-good-about-your trip eating veggie foods post. Who would ever imagine all the choices one has when they open up their minds to what the road offers here in the US. Lovely post. Great pictures! I especially loved your fresh Salad Wrap with hummus in the end. Simple genius. Yum!

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30 WithoutBacon October 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Great blog! If you ever make it to NYC check out some vegetarian options at top restaurants in the city — http://withoutbacon.wordpress.com !

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31 Veena October 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm

How fun! I’d love to do a long road trip at some point. Seattle is barely a road trip up from Portland. Hope you’ll visit.

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32 Shyam October 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm

You look UTTERLY gorgeous in your photo (with the knife and fork) – and you also look about 14 years old! How old ARE you, really? :) P.S Envying you your roadtrip like you have no idea… it’s one of my dreams to do an East Coast to West Coast trip by road.

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33 Viswa October 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm

You are living out my dream Sala.. Great going.. Fantastic post

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34 Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets October 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Oh man I so so so wish I could’ve gone with you part of the way. Glad you had an incredible time, though! And made it safely with all that jammed into your car (craziness!) hehe.

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35 shil November 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Lovely pictures, Sala. The trip must have been amazing as well as exhausting.

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36 shil November 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Beautiful pics, Sala. . I bet your road trip was an eye-opening experience. What “heavy” camera are you using for the photos ?

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37 shabs March 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I have been going through your post one after the other….They are simply out of the world. You are simply and awesome woman Salah! I am quite impressed with your travelling alone.

Love,
Shabs

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38 Sheetal June 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi Sala,
Congratulations on your wonderful site! I am in love and very much impressed especially a coz its a veggie site..yippee!
Your blogs and recipes are awesome. I happened to read your Chicago road trip blog today and its been a great help. We plan to do the road trip to Chicago from Raleigh,NC. We too being vegetarians end up in Mexican/Pizza/Indian or Mediterannean…Will make a note of the references to the palces you have mentioned. Definetly will try as we both love trying different cuisines.However do you have any special tips as we have a 4yr old daughter with us. Also any must see places as we plan to stop at Ohoi too.Things to pack was a great help.
All the BEST!
Thank you Sheetal

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Sala @ Veggie Belly Reply:

Thanks! In Ohio, we only stopped in Cleveland, and you can read about that in the post :)

A reader told me that on her road trip with a child, she packed a khichdi mix (rice, dal, turmeric) and cooked it in the rice cooker she was carrying it and had it with ghee :)

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