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.”

Jakeline Estrada, left, and her mother, Talyta Contreras.

Hidden Gem: Talyta’s Café

Jakeline Estrada always knew about her mother’s love of cooking.

“She’s very creative in the kitchen,” Estrada said. “That was the way she helped us to support the household, selling food, preparing food.”

Years ago, Jakeline remembers, not even the lack of reliable transportation slowed down her mother. “She would make deliveries in my little sister’s baby stroller and she would put all the stuff on there and then carry my sister and walk her around Worcester making deliveries.”

Back then, her mother’s dream of opening a restaurant appeared it would remain just that, a dream. That changed two years ago, after eight years of Jakeline going to school and working in the hospitality industry. Jakeline, her mother, Talyta Contreras, and Jakeline’s husband, Robervan Silveira, began a journey to make the dream a reality.

That dream, Talyta’s Café at 20 Front St., will celebrate its first anniversary on Oct. 28.

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.

Hidden Gem: Addie Lee’s Soul Food

Known for its countless restaurants and diverse set of foodie residents, Worcester has for the past 10 months been given a glimpse into the culture of Southern hospitality through the flavorful and hearty dishes of Addie Lee’s Soul Food Restaurant, 596 Main St.  — a place many are calling a “home away from home.”

Addie Lee's Soul Food, at the corner of Main and Austin streets, opened last November.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Addie Lee’s Soul Food, at the corner of Main and Austin streets, opened last November.

Inside the bright space with the large windows wrapping the corner eatery, and stretched fully across the open-floor concept, stands a line of patrons bombarding the counter with countless lunch orders.

“The sweet potatoes are to die for,” says Krysten Demello, an early and loyal customer of Addie Lee’s. Krysten and her friend Stephanie Reynolds-King explain their love of the homestyle cooking and the satisfaction they feel after eating a dish for lunch. “If you try anything today, let it be the yams,” they say.

Hidden Gem: Shawarma Palace

Shawarma Palace

Sun photo / The Worcester Sun

The Shawarma Place, 3 Pleasant St.

Hidden Gem is a regular feature spotlighting local businesses you may not know about. What’s your Hidden Gem? Let us know at info@worcester.ma or in the comment section below.

Let’s face it, everyone has a list.

You’re out with friends, chatting with colleagues, discussing the day with your significant other. Someone says, “Hey, you know a place we should try?” What follows is added to your mental list of places you should visit.

It can be a restaurant, specialty store, salon — anywhere, really.