Sprawling green plants—real and illustrated—usher me into the windowed entrance of Hibiscus Cafe. Located on the corner of 49th and Catharine streets, the restaurant specializes in Caribbean–inspired vegetarian dishes and a wide array of fruit drinks. Hibiscus has been open for nearly ten years, offering great options for vegan and non–vegan eaters alike.

The space is gorgeously painted with striking pops of color and a sweeping mural on the right–side wall. The painting grounds the cafe itself, with “you are here” handwritten in cursive letters next to the row of brick buildings that hug both sides of the restaurant and a few delectable–looking fruit drawings rounding out the corner. It adds a hearty ambience to the interior, which has two small tables for people who want to dine in.

Photo: Jean Paik

Photo Courtesy of Jean Paik

Earl, the owner of Hibiscus, greets me at the front. One side of the neon yellow menu placed on the counter touts various smoothies and juices, some containing intriguing add–ins I’ve never tried before, including sea moss and rice milk. The other side of the page displays its many vegan and vegetarian items, offered as both platters and wraps. 

Earl recommends the Philly cheesesteak—vegan, of course, and spicy style—and I add a Reboost smoothie to my meal. He writes down my order on a Post–it note.

Ten minutes later, I’m promptly met with a steaming container of open–faced sandwiches and a light pink smoothie.

I take a sip of the Reboost smoothie to start. Blended with strawberry, banana, bee pollen, protein powder, and rice milk, the drink has a mellow sweetness to it. The first hint of fresh strawberries is trailed closely behind by the bananas, a flavor that usually overwhelms any drink it touches but is balanced well here. The beverage is slightly thicker than a juice, still drinkable through a straw without too much effort. While the strawberry banana smoothie combination is certainly a flavor profile that we've seen before, the Reboost is a refreshing and unfussy pair to a main dish that packs more of a flavored punch. 

Photo: Jean Paik

Photo Courtesy of Jean Paik

Next, I dig into the sandwich rolls. The plant–based Philly cheesesteak is made with seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat protein. But in this dish, the seitan is more than wannabe steak. It’s soft, tender, and light—the best I’ve tried in my three years of being vegetarian. Melted cheese blankets the generous portions of well–seasoned protein, which has a mild kick of spice. Sauteed green peppers and onions also intermingle in the mix, adding a complementary crunch to the juiciness of the seitan. The warm mixture is cradled in between zigzags of ketchup and mayo that are spread on top of toasted slices of bread. The narrow loaves are the perfect vehicle for the cheesesteak fixings. Cushiony and lightly crispy on the insides, the roll springs back after each bite.

I finish the meal feeling full and satisfied, slowly sipping on the last remnants of my smoothie and watching the soft orange rays of sunset filter through the front window. 

It’s clear that Hibiscus Cafe is a place that celebrates the integrity of its plant–based ingredients, rather than shying away from them. The restaurant has the ability to warm you up—satisfying any cravings with a freshly–made dish full of heart, and a brightly painted interior to match. For vibrant flavors and textures that bring every component of the meal to the forefront, try the dishes that Hibiscus has to offer. Trust me, you won’t miss the meat.

TL;DR: Spruced–up smoothies in Cedar Park, with vegan (or vegan–adjacent) dishes that won’t make you miss the meat.

Location: 4907 Catharine St.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Sundays.

Price: $$