Whenever I visit San Francisco my sister never asks me, “What do you want to do while you’re here?” instead she asks, “How many times are you going to eat at Herbivore?” If I was on Death Row for crimes against humanity I’m not certain what my last meal would be, but if any restaurant could be as ubiqutous as Subway, I would wish it to be Herbivore.
I discovered the restaurant when I first moved to California at the turn of the century armed with nothing but a cowboy hat. I went to a vegetarian restaurant called Greens, but every item on the menu included cheese or eggs. I asked the girl who worked there if they had anything vegan. Her response was, “No, this place kind of sucks.” And she pointed me toward Herbivore, an all vegan restaurant with too many options on the menu.
After careful research I learned to avoid the Asian selections and gravitate toward the Italian themed items such as the light as Karen Carpenter gnocchi, ravioli, or lasagna or the massive and delicious sandwiches. Each sandwich from the savory seitan to the barbecue tempeh to the grilled portobello comes on a baguette or focaccia of the upstanding quality one expects from San Francisco. The sandwich also comes with a side salad and rosemary baked french fries (the remnants of ketchup somehow keeps ending up mixed in with my salad. Do not judge me for my sins.). For appetizers I recommend the zaatar which is a baguette with olive oil and Middle Eastern spices shoveled atop. And for dessert it would be foolish not to order the German chocolate cake with frosting so rich and creamy my dentist advised me to stop brushing my teeth with it.
Do no expect or ask them to include animal products in your food or drink. Two friends of mine were once eating there when a diner brought out a block of cheese from his man bag. He began shredding the cheese on his entree when the waiter told him to cut it out because this was a vegan establishment. My non-vegetarian friend thought this was un-American and fascist, my vegetarian friend thought it was groovy. I think the waiter was in the right. We should discourage people by any means to stop cutting the cheese in public.
Herbivore opened a second restaurant in San Francisco (a popular debate among my friends circa 2002 was which branch was better. The correct answer was whichever location we were currently eating at.) and a third branch in Berkely. Every time I go there I beg the staff to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. “You would clean up.” I tell them. But they keep refusing me. They are doing their part to help the Bay Area’s sagging tourism. You can have your majestic redwood trees and the sound engineering of the Golden Gate Bridge I will be busy expanding my waistline on Herbivore’s moussaka and strawberry rhubarb pie.