Get Tsom

There’s a new vegan kid on the block, in the form of Tsom restaurant on Rural Road and University Drive in Tempe. The eatery opened in early February and features exclusively vegetarian and vegan dishes, many healthy and low-calorie, bringing a whole new flavor to vegan dining in the Valley.

Tsom is a sister restaurant to Blue Nile Café, an Ethiopian restaurant that offers East African food, which is often vegan by nature. Customer interest in health-conscious foods during the restaurant’s 10 years led owner Abel Meja, who prefers the name Chef Abel, to open a new venue.

“I just expanded to this place to offer people more gluten-free, strictly vegan, a lot of dark green leaves and super foods, something that’s good for you,” he says. “In my years of experience, we found out that people are getting more interested in raw vegan dishes, whole food dishes, and more health conscious, so we figured it would be good if we have a place like Tsom that is right next door to Blue Nile, and offer healthier fast food.”

He is quick to note that his definition of fast food is not the standard drive-thru hamburger, but instead a variety of salads prepared daily, falafel sandwiches or pita wraps packed to go, and a bar of ready-made international foods such as Moroccan couscous, Persian quinoa salad and hummus.

The restaurant aims to feature world cuisines, drawing inspiration from Mexico, Italy, the Middle East and Asia.

“We use those flavors and spices and bring them all together and offer them in one place. The idea is to kind of like bring everyone together with food,” Abel says.

A quick look at the menu illustrates the difference between Tsom and other popular vegan restaurants, such as Green, located on Scottsdale and McKellips roads.

“We don’t do a lot of tofu here. We’re not big on tofu, because of the estrogen in soy, in man, what it does to a man. I mean, I guess we could have soy; there’s edamame on my salad bar you can toss in your salads,” Abel says, laughing.

Here, the menu features alternatives like brown rice bowls with Portobello mushrooms and halloumi cheese or cauliflower and potato, or five different flavors of falafel sure to keep any vegetarian interested.

That kind of simplicity hasn’t gone without notice. Already, Abel has been criticized for his unadorned food.

“We’ve had people come in here like ‘Oh, well this is stuff I have had in the past, this is nothing new,’” he says. “Well, we’re not trying to do anything new. People say, ‘I could cook this at home,’ and it’s like, well, I could cook lamb shank at home, so what does that mean? I just want people to understand that we’re here as an option to take advantage of, we’re not trying to be exotic or different or whatever, we just want to put out good food.”

And as for the quirky name? “Tsom” is an Ethiopian word for a time of lent, when the country’s people fast on a strict vegan diet.

“Since we opened up a vegan place, we figured, hey, let’s associate the name, it sounds cool. It’s hard for people to pronounce or even remember but hey, that’s part of the challenge,” Abel says.

If you go… Tsom Restaurant 933 E. University Dr., Tempe 480-377-2833

Interested in visiting other vegan hotspots in the Valley? Check out the following:

Loving Hut

An international chain featuring the slogan “Be veg, go green 2 save the planet,” Loving Hut’s Phoenix location opened last July. The restaurant’s menu is completely vegan and offers every Asian dish a veggie could dream of, such as pan-friend dumplings, grilled teriyaki soy protein with noodles, ginger seaweed mock fish and even soy cheesecake.

If you go… Loving Hut 3239 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix 602-264-3480,

Chakra 4 Herb & Tea House

While Chakra 4 primarily sells medicinal herbs, essential oils, and teas, it also has a café that boasts an organic vegetarian menu, much of which is also prepared raw for raw foodists. Menu highlights include nutty “rawvocado” dip, basil pesto foccacia with either feta or raw nut cheese and the Apollo Pomodoro wrap with local heirloom tomatoes and sunflower butter.

If you go… Chakra 4 Herb & Tea House 4773 N. 20th St., Phoenix 602-283-1210,

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