When Maine Restaurant Week kicks off Sunday, most of the participating eateries will offer vegetarian dishes as part of their specially priced event menus. More than 80 restaurants will take part in this year’s event, with at least 61 advertising vegetarian dishes and 37 of those promoting vegan offerings.

The reason so many restaurants will serve vegetarian and vegan dishes during this annual event comes down to customer service, says Sharon Stark, who owns Bueno Loco on Route 1 in Falmouth.

“Customers want a restaurant where everyone can get something to eat,” says Stark, who two years ago opened the Mexican restaurant where many of the dishes are vegetarian or vegan.

Maine Restaurant Week is designed to lure people out of their ice-crusted homes with meal deals. And during winters like this one, marked by blizzards and city-wide parking bans, restaurants need a boost more than ever. To participate in the event, restaurants must offer a multiple-course menu for a fixed price between $25 and $55 for dinner and around $15 for lunch.

The event’s website (www.mainerestaurantweek.com) makes it easy to find restaurants catering to vegetarian diners, since the site allows users to search for menus friendly to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free eaters.

This is Bueno Loco’s second year participating in restaurant week, and it is offering event menus for both lunch and dinner. Vegetarian highlights include chili rellenos in a poblano pepper stuffed with white bean puree and chipotle aioli, a sweet potato burrito and a chipotle Caesar salad. These are either vegan or can be made vegan.

The desire to accommodate vegetarian diners is the same at the posh Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn, where a three-course vegetarian tasting menu is part of the regular dining experience. For this restaurant week, Natalie’s offers a vegetarian appetizer and an entrée choice on its event menu.

“We see a lot of vegetarians at Natalie’s, and we like to give them options to choose from on our menus,” says Shelby Stevens, who is co-executive chef with Chris Long at the award-winning restaurant.

Natalie’s restaurant week vegetarian appetizer is local potatoes with truffles, crème fraîche, watercress and pearl onion. The vegetarian entrée choice is goat cheese tortellini filled with Waldo Smog from Fuzzy Udder Creamery and served with arugula and a romesco sauce.

At the brand new Tiqa on Commercial Street in Portland, where the restaurant week menus offer vegetarian and vegan dishes, executive chef Bryan Dame said restaurants today “have to” serve vegetarian food to stay competitive, and restaurant week is no different. Dame said the pan-Mediterranean restaurant is naturally vegetarian-friendly since many of the region’s culinary traditions are “vegetable-based or grain-based.” He said most of the restaurant’s vegetarian dishes can easily be made vegan.

During restaurant week, all the appetizer choices on Tiqa’s lunch and dinner menus will be vegan. Red lentil soup and the house salad are featured on both menus, with warm marinated olives on the lunch menu and hummus on the dinner menu.

At lunch, Tiqa’s vegetarian entrée choice is a house-made Corsican-style flatbread topped with pears, ricotta, honey and thyme. Its vegetarian option for dinner is a vegan kabob of tofu, marinated eggplant, tomatoes and onions drizzled with sumac vinaigrette and served over spiced basmati rice.

In the Maine Harvest Dining Room at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, one entrée option will be a four-cheese polenta served with wild mushrooms and roasted local carrots. One of the three entrées offered at Solo Bistro in Bath will be vegan cassoulet made with roasted root vegetables, white beans and butternut squash.

At Congress Squared in the Westin Hotel across from the Portland Museum of Art, executive chef Tim Labonte lists four entrée choices on the event menu, including herb-grilled tempeh beneath layers of marinara sauce made with oyster, shiitake, trumpet royale and hen of the woods mushrooms, smoked provolone and a fennel-arugula salad.

Fishbones American Grill in Lewiston also will have four entrée choices, including a vegetarian porcini sacchetti pasta in garlic-rosemary sauce served with sautéed portabella mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, arugula, shallots, garlic and an Asiago crisp.

At chef David Turin’s Opus Ten in Portland’s Monument Square, he and his team are again offering a seven-course vegetarian tasting menu at a restaurant week price. Highlights include a porcini, morel and Madeira cream shooter; a quail egg ravioli with winter vegetables and a pecan butter nage; and braised endive with a creamy herbed risotto.

A few restaurants indicate on the Maine Restaurant Week website that they will offer vegetarian or vegan dishes, but don’t list what they are.

With most participating restaurants putting vegetarian dishes on their event menus this year, many are no doubt hoping this customer-pleasing move will bring in an end-of-winter boost to the bottom line.

At Bueno Loco, Stark says she’s sticking with the same vegetarian-heavy Maine Restaurant Week menu she offered last year. “It was very popular and successful,” Stark says. “And it brought in a lot of new people.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at:

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