4353 La Jolla Village Drive, University City
I love meat as much as the next person. Unless that person is my wife, who has been a vegan for nearly 18 months. Eating out when you’re meat-free sometimes is more of a hassle than it’s worth, but my wife is usually a good sport.
I decided to return the favor by taking her to Veggie Grill, a fast-casual vegan restaurant chain with 24 locations, including two in San Diego County (UTC and Carlsbad).
First thing I know when checking out the menu is that the name is somewhat of a misnomer: The only grilled veggies are portobello mushrooms. That’s fine, but if you’re going to put “grill” in your name, then you should have lots of grilled items.
Like Native Foods Cafe, another chain that tries to make vegan food for non-meat eaters, Veggie Grill has a lot of items with fake meat.
When I ate at Native Foods Cafe, I enjoyed their fake meat, but I have to say that Veggie Grill is better — mainly because it doesn’t live and die completely on fake meat.
However, I had a Buffalo Chickin’ Mini Wrap ($3.65) with fake chicken that satisfied my meat-loving jones very nicely. It was almost as good as the real thing but, to be fair, buffalo sauce is very forgiving and can cover up a lot of sins.
My kids also liked the B.T.L.A. ($9.95), a fakin' bacon riff on the BLT with Avocado. They split it and ate them up quickly, almost before I could try it.
I did get one bite: The mouth feel was similar to bacon. The smell right before my first bite gave a hint of bacon, but I wasn’t as satisfied as I was with the Buffalo Chickin’ Wrap. The stars of the sandwich were the lettuce, tomato and grilled sourdough bread.
The macaroni and fake cheese was just OK. The fake bacon sprinkles on top added to the illusion for a couple of bites, but it needed lots of Cholula to make it worth eating. My kids, who love mac and cheese, couldn’t eat much.
The best items we ate had no fake meat in them.
We loved the Quinoa Power Salad ($8.95), which is diced red onion, bell pepper, avocado, fresh fennel, cannellini beans, carrots, almonds, currants, mint, citrus vinaigrette, hemp seeds, and is served on a bed of marinated kale and Romaine.
The dressing was just enough to add a tabouli-like flavor to the veggies and was easily the dish I’d come back for.
The Bombay Bowl ($8.95), with herb-roasted veggies, quinoa, steamed kale, cannellini beans, cilantro/green curry sauce with coconut milk, almonds, and hemp seeds was another winner.
The curry was tasty without being excessively spicy. The veggies were tender but still crispy, and the kale at the bottom was green, young and easy to chew.
Also worth mentioning: The Crispy Cauliflower appetizer ($5.95): It is basically pieces of cauliflower that are breaded and fried and coated with a sweet and sour glaze. Very nice, and I feel healthier than if it was meat.
Nobody liked the carrot cake dessert with fake cream cheese frosting. Just — yuck. If vegan restaurants are going to do desserts, they should try sorbet or something, rather than trying to do pies and cakes. All it does is make them look silly.
I’d go back to Veggie Grill again, but would steer away from most of the fake meat stuff and stick with the salads and bowls. I also would like to see them add more grilled veggies to the menu.