Hidden Gem: Belmont Vegetarian a true calling for owner — and its many fans

Whoever said bacon makes everything better has obviously never eaten at Belmont Vegetarian, a diminutive and distinct eatery nestled in the first floor of a three-decker on a bustling, sloping corner of Bell Hill.

Between the plentiful vegan and vegetarian dishes and the island-inspired flavors, coming in for lunch will not leave you wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

At Belmont Vegetarian, 157 Belmont St., the term vegetarian is about more than taking advantage of a trendy buzzword-turned-lifestyle that continues to grow in popularity. Instead, for owner Stephen Jones, it’s an homage to his mother, how he grew up and a way of life to which many in his current neighborhood can relate.

“I was raised in poor circumstances and meat was expensive,” he says. “My mom did the best she could with what she had and meat wasn’t always an option, so she raised me to be a vegetarian through no fault of her own.”

Local Business Spotlight: Yummy Steak House, new on Grafton Street

Ken Zhang's Ocean Drink, a dish he created on the spot.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Ken Zhang’s Ocean Drink, a dish he created on the spot.

“It’s good. I promise.”

Not always the most comforting words to hear when you are about to dive into an unknown, off-the-menu raw fish creation [later to be known as “Ocean Drink”]. After one piece of sushi, though, lined with jalapenos, mangos, raw yellowtail and fish eggs, the promise is fulfilled and it is good – very good.

At Yummy Steak House, 1121 Grafton St., sushi head chef and co-owner Ken Zhang rolls out an endless list of creative, whimsical and sophisticated dishes suited for novice and expert sushi enthusiasts alike.

Ken Zhang, co-owner of Yummy Steak House, which opened in November.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Ken Zhang, co-owner of Yummy Steak House, which opened in November.

Zhang, who recently took home 2nd place in the judges’ choice category of Worcester’s Best Chef Competition, focuses the seriousness of his skill with every choice of color and injection of flavor into his dishes.

“I sit here and make dishes for myself to taste and test. I am always looking for something new. Something different,” says Zhang while he prepares the delicate slices of yellowtail. “Everything I serve is fresh. I get deliveries six times a week.”

Hidden Gem: El Patron — Burritos & tequila! Viva Mexico!

You don’t have to be a fluent Spanish speaker to order the authentic tamales dish – seasoned shredded meat of your choice, rice, cheese and of course the famous green chili sauce wrapped in masa – at El Patron, 192 Harding St. Simply walk in, turn to the smiling head server, Angel Ruiz, and say, “Tamales, por favor!”

Alfredo Garcia, head chef, and Mirna Cazares, co-owner, of El Patron Mexican restaurant.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Alfredo Garcia, head chef, and Mirna Cazares, co-owner, of El Patron Mexican restaurant.

Dish out a whopping $3.50 for a tamale to start your journey of rich and fresh flavors that distinguish the Mexican culture and its extensive history of cooking knowhow, and don’t be surprised if after a three-course meal you are left with enough money to enjoy a few shots of Patrón. What could be more fitting?

El Patron, which opened in February and is getting ready to celebrate its first anniversary, is Worcester’s extension of Mexico.

The space is draped with handcrafted arts from Mexico made of copper and indigenous paints, authentic molcajete – you know those great little bowls your guacamole is served in? – and shot glasses hugged with traditional leather and branded with Mexican designs.

If you have never been to Mexico, don’t feel bad, just swing by El Patron for a little taste from our neighboring friends.

In this issue, Jan. 24-30

This week we introduce you to a pair of young city businesses, one you can’t escape and the other you won’t want to leave. Chris Sinacola throws some shade on solar farms, Ken Powers returns with the story of a city hoops legacy — all that and more in the Jan. 24-30 Worcester Sun.

Hidden Gem: Café Reyes

If you have ever spent a night out on Shrewsbury Street, you know there’s a large, diverse menu of food from which to choose. During fall days, you can squeeze into the hectic — let’s say intimate — seating at the Flying Rhino or enjoy a drink at the underrated bar at 111 Chop House.

For many, though, including yours truly, nothing compares to the sweet sounds of salsa music on a breezy afternoon while biting into a delicious slice of flan.

Walking into Café Reyes, 421 Shrewsbury St., you are instantly ensconced in Cuban culture. The brightly colored walls of the entryway to the café percolate your imagination while your ears are filled with the rich sounds of Prince Royce, a successful bachata singer.

Where Dante’s Restaurant used to stand, brilliant colors, blue suede chairs and picture frames capturing the streets of Cuba mingle with the enticing and formidable fragrance of freshly chopped herbs. Café Reyes, opened in January, seems to be the perfect slice of Little Havana.