Q: I became a "nutritarian"/vegetarian about six months ago on the "Eat to Live" program by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It's like vegan without the politics or fat.

Since then, I have become increasingly frustrated with dining out locally.

It has been surprising to find that many restaurant chefs do not realize that vegetarians need a protein source in a meal and not just a plate of steamed vegetables. I eat lots of salads without dressing, and they're available, but entrees are another story.

Beans -- with hundreds of varieties available, such as lentils, tofu, nuts and/or seeds -- are all options for the protein source. However, finding Western New York restaurants that know how to put a delicious, low-fat, high-nutrition vegetarian meal together is almost impossible. I've dined at a restaurant that claims to be vegetarian-savvy and was served an entree with a quarter-cup of mashed potatoes with two tablespoons of gravy and four slices of mushroom -- no protein -- and was charged $22. I'll never ever eat there again.

Do you know of any restaurants that have nutritious as well as tasty and affordable vegetarian meals? I feel better than I have in years, and I'm sticking with my nutritarian way of eating, but I'd love to be able to dine out, too.

-- Leslie from Amherst

A: It's certainly true, Leslie, that in Western New York, vegetarian restaurants per se are not exactly thick upon the ground. You can still do OK, although sometimes you have to order a la carte.

And sometimes you have to think outside the box.

There are places such as the new Eights Bistro, 888 Main St., that offer a good sampling of the soybean empire in all its glory. Examples: vegan Philly cheesesteak (mushrooms, onions, homemade Cheez Whiz made from you know what) and very tasty house-made vegan Merguez sausage with hot pepper sauce, as well as spicy vegan pulled pork tacos.

I'm assuming you already know that soybeans reign supreme in Asian restaurants. Mexican restaurants are big on beans and rice -- just be sure that the fat they use is oil, not lard. Middle Eastern and Italian restaurants are worth exploring, too.

How about Betty's, at 370 Virginia St.? You are spoiled for choice here. Black beans and rice come with grilled cornbread (corn helps expand the protein quotient). Or something called a Caprese tart, which rests on lemon walnut shortbread. Or vegetarian risotto. The list goes on and on.

But don't stop there. Many even more upscale restaurants also can meet your specifications, although in some cases the protein source is cheese.

How about the popular Left Bank on Rhode Island Street, where the red beans and red rice dish has become almost legendary? There's a Portobello mushroom with artichoke stuffing, too. (Add a salad and some whole wheat bread, and you have a filling meal.)

The esteemed Oliver's on Delaware Avenue serves a well-priced penne dish with Swiss chard, wild mushrooms, squash creme fraiche as well as an Amalfi pizza with whipped ricotta, walnut pesto and squash.

Even E.B. Green's, a quintessential steakhouse in the Hyatt Regency downtown, offers a vegetarian platter with baked potato and salad.

Next week: Dining with a watery view.

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