About a month ago, I got an email from my friend Bernie, asking for Indian food recommendations in Seattle. A long-time vegan newly directed to avoid both gluten and soy, Bernie saw an opportunity in focusing more on Indian food, which has a lot of options that don’t include those ingredients.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of recommendations up my sleeve, but that very same day I saw a tweet from Michael Natkin, a local ovo-lacto food blogger (and soon to be cookbook author) you should follow. The food in that thali looked awfully tasty, and both Michael and the Travelers website offered good reason to believe that this vegetarian restaurant could do right by vegans. Bernie, Jud and I resolved to check it out.
Travelers has a tea room on Capitol Hill, which also sells snacks and a nice assortment of spices and kitchen implements suitable for Indian cooking. For a weeknight dinner, though, we headed to their Beacon Hill location: Travelers Thali House.
The space is in fact a converted house, and it’s both casual and inviting. The menu didn’t make clear what was vegan or gluten-free, but invited us to ask. When we did, we learned that most of the menu was or could be made vegan, and that nearly everything but the breads were gluten free. Avoiding soy was also no problem. For the three of us, we split a Deluxe Thali ($20), a Full Thali ($15) and a plate of samosas ($5), which was a good amount of food to fill us up.
Full and Deluxe Thalis, free of gluten, soy, or any animal ingredients (except the chapatis, which contain wheat).
The difference between the Full and the Deluxe is that the latter adds an order of bread (all contain gluten; only the chapatis are vegan), a beverage (tea, chai, coffee or soft drink), and dessert. Each one came with a large papadam; if you wanted a gluten-free deluxe you might ask if they’d give you a second papadam for the bread. If you want less food, there are smaller options (with fewer dishes) for $8 or $6. There’s also a “light fare” menu that breaks out of the thali format, offering dal, rice, salaad and a couple condiments for around $5. Safe to say, the menu can easily accommodate any size of appetite, and the prices seem very reasonable for what you get.
A closer look at a Full Thali
What you see here (clockwise from front center; italicized descriptions are quoted from the menu):
- Masoor Dal (red lentils, cooked with ginger, garlic and chilies, topped with fried onions and roasted black cumin seeds)
- A chickpea curry not listed on the menu
- Nepali Lauki Ki Sabzi (lauki is a gourd that grows on lush vines that cover houses and haystacks throughout India. This authentic recipe – with potatoes, tomatoes and onions, lightly seasoned – comes from our Bhutanese-Nepali chef)
- Papadam (poking up from center of tray)
- Sesame Potato & Cucumber Salaad (nearly hidden behind the papadam: a Nepali salaad of potatoes and cucumbers, coated in a dressing of toasted sesame seeds with ginger, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and fried fenugreek seeds)
- Steamed basmati rice
- A simple fruit salad with orange, fresh pineapple and pomegranate seeds
- Kadhi Pakore (fried chickpea dumplings that would have been smothered in dairy products if we hadn’t ordered vegan)
- Achaar Pachranga (the famous mixed pickle of Haryana – sour, salty, spicy – stimulates the digestive fire)
- Mango Chutney (sweet chutney from the mango fields of northern India, preserved with vinegar, sugar and salt)
All of the elements were well prepared. The curries had a nice balance of flavors and weren’t overly spicy, and the potato/cucumber salad was an interesting combination of familiar flavors I would never have thought to put together. I wouldn’t say that any one thing jumped out at me as outstanding, but the generous variety of textures, flavors and visuals made for a very enjoyable meal. We also appreciated the fact that, unlike most Indian restaurant food, this seemed to be prepared with a reasonable amount of oil. The thali format also meant not having to coordinate our ordering to get a nice balance of food groups on the table.
The two tasty, piping-hot samosas (not gluten free) came with both a tamarind and a mint chutney:
Not pictured is the delicious chai I enjoyed as part of the Deluxe Thali. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better chai, with a nice mix of fresh-tasting spices and tea, both peppery and slightly sweet. If you don’t have time for a meal, I’d urge you to stop in to either location just for that. They also sell packages of the spice blend and tea to make the chai at home yourself. This would give you nice control over the sweetness level, in addition to being very cost effective. There’s even a rooibos version if you’d prefer to avoid caffeine.
Jud had a glass of wine, which came amid apologies from the server that recent changes in Washington State liquor laws have limited the variety of wines they have access to. Sure enough, the wine was drinkable but probably not anything we’d order again. They do offer a short list of beers also, which I would guess to be less affected by availability issues.
The Deluxe came with a little plate of dessert, also:
Dessert, plus two polished-off thalis
The rectangles were Besan Burfi (“chickpea flour fudge”); the balls were Ganesh Ladoo (“sweet balls of chickpea boondis”). I had had besan burfi before, but never ganesh ladoo. Like many desserts in Asian cuisines, the primary flavor is “sweet,” which is not generally what I enjoy in a dessert, preferring less sweetness and more complexity of flavor. Given that, I’m probably not the person to ask whether these were good examples of those dishes.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed the experience. The thali menu changes monthly, so unless you go very soon you’ll have some different dishes in the rotation. If you’re working around dietary restrictions beyond veganism like we were, this place is a great, no-fuss way for everyone to get a nicely varied meal. One more bonus is that the restaurant is just a couple minutes’ walk from the Beacon Hill light rail station, making for very easy access if you don’t already frequent that neighborhood.
Thali House Restaurant
Open noon to 9pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Happy Hour 4:00 – 6:30
Closed Monday & Tuesday
2524 Beacon Avenue S
Seattle, WA 98144
Where do you go for vegan Indian food in the PNW?