Life is surprisingly good for vegetarians in Edmonton, considering how beef-proud Alberta is. For this we can mostly thank immigrant Buddhists and Hindus, who have brought thousands of years of vegetarian cuisine to our city’s strip malls.
Loma House has been quietly selling unpretentious vegetarian and vegan meals since 2009 in a particularly obscure, horseshoe-shaped strip mall just south of the giant Costco in southeast Edmonton. I’d driven past the corner dozens of times and had no idea it was there: as far as I can determine, the restaurant does no advertising and relies solely on word-of-mouth. Nonetheless, most of the restaurant’s 26 seats were full when we visited on a Thursday evening.
The first thing you notice about the space is the quiet atmosphere. There’s no music, only the hum of the industrial freezers full of pre-made, takeout vegan and vegetarian meals for sale near the counter. With spartan furnishing and super-high ceilings, the space radiates calm.
Complementing that calm was our gracious server Jeff Kao, who also happens to be the owner. It’s a family joint; his wife is in the back preparing meals every day. Upon arriving we were soon seated and poring over the long menu of Chinese, Malay, Thai and Indian-inspired dishes.
Like Padmanadi, the much-loved vegan paradise on 101 Street downtown, the Loma House menu relies heavily on soy protein. Fish, shrimp, mutton, steak, beef, ham, chicken drumsticks—there’s hardly a meat that doesn’t have a soy avatar here.
Loma House also has some items that Padmanadi doesn’t, like dim sum: vegetarians are usually SOL when it comes to the succulent little shrimp- or pork-stuffed Chinese snacks; ditto for wonton soup. At Loma, I was able to order both of these usually forbidden fruits.
Kao brought us some flowering tea while we waited for our meal: a small glass pot heated by a candle, which contained a bud that slowly unfurled in the hot water, yielding tea with a refreshing jasmine flavour.
Then came my wonton soup ($9). There were seven or eight dumplings jostling for space in a delicate broth amidst snap peas, broccoli and carrots. The wontons were stuffed with what tasted like mushrooms and flecked with little bits of vegetarian ham. It was hearty and delicious, and my co-diner wolfed down half of it, despite my protests.
My dim sum combo ($11.50) came on a woven bamboo tray loaded with soy-based finger foods and a sweet Asian dipping sauce. The sticky rice wrap with steamed shiitake mushrooms wrapped in a lotus leaf was a savoury treat, as were the crunchy nibbles of my satay kebab.
But the real star here is the vegetarian special. For $13.50 you get a main dish with rice, soup, dessert and a pot of tea. Another of my co-diners opted for the special with burdock, a minced root formed into balls. (Fun fact: the burdock plant’s spiky burrs inspired Swiss inventor George de Mestral to invent Velcro in 1948.)
The burdock had a nutty texture, almost like a cashew meatball, and was paired with sautéed peppers, pineapple and mango next to steamed jasmine rice. My co-diner found the sweet and sour sauce a bit overpowering, but enjoyed the fruit and overall freshness of the food.
Inevitably, Loma House has to be compared with Padmanadi: I find the latter’s soy offerings a bit tastier, texture- and flavour-wise. Loma House is excellent in terms of friendliness of service, tastiness and value, but it doesn’t knock Padmanadi off its throne as Faux Meat King of Edmonton.
Regardless, Loma House is a treasure for vegetarians living on the south side. I know I’ll be back.
9142 – 23 Avenue