Spicy veggie crispy beef.
Spicy veggie crispy beef.

No matter how trendy vegetarian lifestyles may become, an all-veg restaurant will never inspire obsessive, drool-inducing cravings. That could never happen, right?

Those who have discovered Veggie House, a quiet Chinese spot hiding along Las Vegas’s restaurant- packed Spring Mountain Road, know better. This vegan and vegetarian eatery creatively crafts familiar favorites that hit that meaty sweet spot without any actual meat. Many dishes at Veggie House are true marvels, replicating the taste and texture of classic Chinese-American fare with remarkable precision. You have to taste it to believe it.

The man behind these magically delicious and healthful dishes is Kenny Chye. Originally from Malaysia, Chye lived in Southern California for 15 years, where he was chef-owner of three restaurants. He moved to Vegas in 2001 and shifted gears, starting a meat and seafood wholesale business, supplying hotels and restaurants with fresh, high-quality product— and got more than he bargained for. “When you’re selling a lot of meat, you have to eat a lot of meat, right? I’d been eating rich food for so long that my cholesterol was very high,” Chye says. “I would sometimes eat 22 ounces of prime rib at a time. Now I don’t touch it.”

Kenny Chye.Treating his kitchen like a laboratory, Kenny Chye devises meatless dishes that can pass for the real thing.

Chye needed to make a serious change in his lifestyle to get healthy. He consulted with a vegetarian friend, and when he became a vegetarian himself, the results were so good, he turned into a proselytizer. “I wanted to open a veggie restaurant for my health, but also so I can help other people,” he says. “I know there are people who are trying to be healthy but want good taste and good texture, just no meat.”

Creating exactly that is easier said than done. Knowing that diners would expect more than just steamed or stir-fried vegetables, Chye went to work like a mad scientist, devising food that looks, smells, feels, and tastes like beef, pork, chicken, and fish. “There were a lot of trials,” he says. “It took a month and a half to finalize what we use for our roasted pork dish, one of our most popular. And I’m a very picky guy.”

Veggie House, which opened in the spring of 2012, boasts a menu of more than 100 items. Like any neighborhood Chinese joint, there are affordable lunch specials, soups, and appetizers, as well as instantly recognizable entrées like kung pao beef, stir-fried lo mein noodles, steamed fish with black bean sauce, and of course General Tso’s chicken. Sample them all and you won’t believe there’s no actual beef, fish, or chicken involved.

One of the most popular dishes, Chye’s spicy crispy beef, is a revelation. Any home cook who has attempted beef and broccoli knows how difficult it is to achieve the perfect texture for this dish; it must be crispy and caramelized on the outside, yet tender and succulent with each bite. The Veggie House version is perfection, complemented by a rich, slightly sweet sauce with a bit of ground peanut for additional crunch.

The chef makes it happen by using different combinations of starches. “I use a lot of soy, but also corn starch and rice flour, and sometimes sticky rice,” Chye says. “Using more than one or two ingredients creates a lot of options and you can make it taste right.” But there’s more to his method than just going meatless. Veggie House uses only soybean oil for a light, fresh taste, and never any MSG. Rather than artificial flavor enhancers, he says, “We make a big pot of soup every day, broth with vegetables like turnips, celery, soybeans, and corn, and every dish we cook we’re serving that to you. Fresh is always the best, no shortcuts.”

Veggie House excels at vegetables.Veggie House excels at vegetables, too—not just faux meat.

Other hugely popular selections include the spicy kung pao beef or chicken; tamarind curry, which is served with veggie seafood; the roast pork, with its mind-bendingly accurate flavor and texture; and the Happy Roll, a Veggie House twist on sushi. For more-exotic flavors, try the curry fish with potato or the pineapple duck.

Veggie House’s audience continues to grow, and expansion may be coming soon: Chye is exploring locations in Arizona, San Diego, and right here, in Downtown. He also has plans to take over an adjoining space and add a vegan sushi bar to the restaurant’s repertoire. “Right now we are the only vegetarian Chinese restaurant in town,” Chye says, “but I think this business is going to be big. As long as your food is good, people will love it.” 5115 Spring Mountain Road, Ste. 203, 702-431-5802.

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