Located in Madison’s east side Atwood neighborhood, The Green Owl Cafe is the city’s only vegan-vegetarian restaurant. Despite the veg-friendly menu, the restaurant focuses on local, quality ingredients that even meat-eaters would not dare turn away. Feast on jackfruit quesadillas and kale chips or a bowl of sesame peanut noodles — the dishes at The Green Owl Cafe emphasize healthy meals without sacrificing flavor.

The restaurant is intriguing from the outset. The vibrant green-painted façade, the tree branch-supported sign and the perched owl are welcoming and provide an accurate introduction to the unusual menu found within The Green Owl Cafe.

In the warmer months, the front patio area is ideal. Thanks to the plentiful incorporation of vegetables and healthy grains, the overall aesthetic of the menu items is impressive and the natural lighting from dining al fresco amplifies the beauty.

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

Though Wisconsin winters likely confine diners to the inside of the restaurant, the appearance of the dishes are not compromised indoors. The Green Owl Cafe offers a menu of appetizers, entrees, salads, sandwiches, sides and even weekend brunch, with each category riddled with gems.

Listed as an appetizer on the menu, the Raw Taco Plate challenges the common conception of the taco and the smoky spices of the dish satisfy cravings while remaining meat-free. Also vegan and gluten-free, the tacos are served in romaine lettuce shells in place of the standard tortilla, which proves a lighter option without the sacrifice of familiar taco flavors. The sundried tomato-walnut chorizo stands in as the typical meat filling and offers the same texture and taste expected of typical tacos. Stuffed with sliced avocado, fresh pico de gallo and topped with creamy cilantro jalapeno dressing, the additions pair well with the strong flavors of the unique vegan chorizo.

Studded with scallions, pepitas and dried cranberries and flavored with a nutty dressing, the Quinoa Salad is another must. This vegan, gluten-free option is a refreshing combination of textures and though it is listed as a side, the concept of the dish would stand strong as a full entrée. Held together with a light toss of dressing, the chewy quinoa is a great base for the fresh scallions, the baby pumpkin seed pepitas and tart cranberry morsels. The salad may be simple, but the flavors are exciting, and this side alone warrants a return trip.

For a heartier entrée, the Groundnut Stew is a warming option and ideal for the skeptic seeking a flavorful dish without the meat. This traditional African sweet potato stew consists of cabbage, ginger, peanuts and cilantro, served on top of brown rice and steamed kale. The deep orange color of the sweet potatoes proves eating is first done with the eyes. The dish is vibrant in appearance and rich in flavor with undertones of ginger and peanut. The stew offers a generous portion, but the health of the dish makes it a guilt-free choice.

Desserts at The Green Owl Cafe shed an impressive light on vegan baking, so certainly ask for a dessert menu at the end of the meal. The desserts vary seasonally, but of course are all vegan. Coconut cream pie, chai tea cake and even cheesecake have made the menu, but it is the chocolate lava cake that may be The Green Owl Cafe’s most popular dessert. The cake is rich, soft and warmed. The lava-like center filling is gooey and fudgy and everything you would expect from a chocolate dessert. It is a wonder that it is vegan, and it certainly cannot be deduced from tasting it.

For those in need of flavorful vegan foods or for those looking to eat more inspired, nutrient-dense dishes in the new year, The Green Owl Cafe is a trusted option and ray of sunshine in these frigid temperatures.