A Thai-rrific Vegan Dining Experience

Being a vegan, I’m always excited to go to a restaurant where I can order anything from the menu without worrying about whether I’m going to be ingesting any animal byproducts.
I had been a little wary of eating at restaurants recently because when I was in Mazatlan for spring break, we were eating at a restaurant when I realized midbite, ‘Oh, snap! They put lard in beans!’ So one night, a couple of friends and I decided to get dinner at The Wheel of Life, a Thai and Chinese vegan restaurant. My visit to this vegan Mecca was long overdue because I always hear nothing but good things about the place from my vegan friends.
The owners, Victor Lim and his wife, Kim, are fourth-generation vegans, so I was optimistic that they know how to do vegan food right.
Located in a common shopping center in Irvine, the dining experience at the Wheel of Life is anything but typical. The moment we entered the restaurant, the friendly staff greeted us like we were old friends. The inside of the restaurant is a mix of traditional Thai decor with a kick of vegan sensibility. Two bronze statues of a male and female dressed in traditional Thai clothing and Thai paintings decorate the restaurant, while bumper stickers that say ‘Vegetarians are sprouting up all over’ line the walls.
We took a good 15 minutes to decide what we were going to order. Every item on the menu had a color photo accompanying it, so we had a hard time deciding what to get since everything looked so good.
Finally, I just asked one of the waitresses which popular dishes she would recommend.
We started with The Wheel’s appetizer of fresh spring rolls ($7.95). The rolls were filled with 95 percent lettuce and 5 percent of what they call vege meat (made with soy). The vege meat in this dish looked strikingly similar to turkey and tastes (if I am remembering correctly how turkey tastes) strikingly like turkey too.
My nonvegetarian friends also expressed how real the vege meat tasted. The rolls came with a dipping sauce that was a little sweet, kind of salty, and very spicy! However, I was a little disappointed about the sauce because I was expecting the thick peanut sauce that usually accompanies spring rolls.
The second dish was pad thai ($7.95): vege shrimp with Thai rice noodles, pan-fried tofu, mild spicy sauce, ground peanuts and bean sauce. The shrimp didn’t taste like shrimp because it lacked that fishy taste. My friends said it tasted like chicken instead. The tofu had a smoky taste to it and the bean sprouts added a nice bite to the noodles.
Even though we asked for ‘less spicy,’ our tongues were still definitely feeling the spice, maybe a little too much. But if you enjoy the feeling of having your taste buds burned off, rest assured, because ‘all dishes can be made spicier, double spicy or triple spicy.’ If things get a little too fired up, you can always order one of their Thai iced teas.
Next we ordered the mongolian beef ($8.95), which included vege beef with bamboo shoots, bell peppers and onions. I have to admit, I felt a little disturbed eating the beef because of how similar it looked to the real thing. It will make you forget that you aren’t eating real meat.
Other popular dishes our waitress recommended include the yellow curry, barbeque pork, beef broccoli and orange chicken. Dishes range from around $7 to $14.
Before dessert I got a chance to talk to Kim, one-half of The Wheel of Life duo (her husband Victor was at the recently opened Wheel of Life branch in Huntington Beach). As if we were old friends, she told us stories about how veganism has changed the lives of many people she knows for the better. She also stressed that the most important thing is love; since animals can feel like humans do, we should love animals.
For dessert we ordered the homemade green tea ice cream served with fried banana ($3.95). Rich and creamy, the green tea ice cream may well be one of the best things I’ve eaten at this restaurant. With the ice cream were two bananas wrapped and fried egg roll-style, great ending to a cruelty-free dinner.
One hundred percent of the people surveyed said The Wheel of Life is one of their top unique dining experiences. OK, so maybe my sample population is not representative of the general population since it consisted of my two friends and I. However, judging by their reactions, I think The Wheel of Life is worthy of checking out for nonvegans and vegans alike.
More information can be found on their Web site http://www.wheeloflife restaurant.com, as well as a 10 percent-off discount coupon. They are located at 14370 Culver Dr. Suite 2G and are open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and closed on Tuesdays.