I’ve been a vegetarian for about four years. Yes, I get enough protein. No, I’m not hungry all the time. And no, I don’t miss gnawing on deep-fried pig flesh. But it hasn’t been without its challenges. The primary annoyance is the dreaded “vegetable plate,” those sad afterthoughts found lurking at the bottom of the dinner menu.

The veggie plate is rarely on par with the rest of the menu. Indeed (and especially in the more upscale restaurants around here), these things usually consist of wilted side dishes left over from the more, noble meat-based entrees. Making matters worse, the presentation typically rivals that of a kid’s plate–four pint-sized cups of cold slaw, green beans, mashed potatoes, and apple sauce nudging against one another on a large dinner plate. Enjoy, that’ll be $25.

When I do encounter a place where the chef actually ponders the creation of a meatless “meal,” I make a point of thanking them for the consideration — and for their creativity.

In Houston, there is no better example of this than Indika on Westheimer (chef Anita Jaisinghani at the helm). This high-ceiling eatery sits adjacent to the fabulously trendy Dolce Vita Italian restaurant. Indika boasts a range of Indian cuisine fused with American and European staples. The veggie entries are incredibly delicious, filling, and so alive with spices that your taste buds will be buzzing for hours. Just further evidence that nothing bad can come from eggplant and Portabella mushrooms.

Other places that have clearly invested some thought (and love) into this problem: Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe, Monica Pope’s T’afia in Midtown, Mark’s, and of course Aladdin at Westheimer and Montrose.

A few fine dining eateries that earn a veggie-friendly FAIL (i.e., the dreaded lame-o veggie plate, if even that): Shade, Glass Wall, Stella Sola, Textile, Benjy’s, and Gravitas. Step it up!

If you know of other restaurants around the Houston-area that treat vegetarians like first-class patrons, by all means, please let me know.