I have many vegetarian and several pescatarian friends, so I am always happy to find places which serve dishes they will eat. Of course it always helps if the options offered are tasty enough for me to happily forgo my meat, and I’ve written about a few restaurants in a previous post, but the Veggie Grill has now updated their menus and expanded their locations. Their latest outpost is at the Farmer’s Market next to the Grove and I was invited to their soft opening tonight before they officially open tomorrow. It’s always good to have a dress rehearsal before playing to the public and even with some technical difficulties, like the air conditioner on the fritz, the cast and crew performed flawlessly.

I took my friend Mika, who is an omnivore, but like me, she has vegan friends. She had never been to this vegetarian friendly fast food chain (betcha can’t say that five times:) and she was so impressed that she literally yelled out in the restaurant, “This is delicious!” to all the servers.

Mika ordered the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ $8.95, which is their Crispy fried chillin’ chickin’ (specially seasoned and marinated veggie protein blends), lettuce, tomato, red onion, and avocado, served with southwestern spiced vegan mayo. She opted for it served on Steamin’ Kale $1.50 instead of the wheat bun and she substituted the Sweetheart Fries $2.25 (you can also opt for a spring salad or mac and cheese as substitutions) instead of the red cabbage slaw or chili that normally accompanies the sandwiches. I was glad I got a taste of everything on her plate before she inhaled, because by the time she exhaled, her plate was clean. I was impressed by the crispy friend chillin’ chickin’ for both texture and taste; if children grew up eating this, they would never want “nuggets” again. The sweetheart fries were wonderful even without the chipotle ranch dipping sauce, and the spiced vegan mayo was surprisingly spicy.

I learned from my last experience and ordered my salad dressing on the side when I chose the All Hail Kale salad $7.95. The kale and red cabbage in the salad are already marinated, so the extra dressing is overkill IMHO. The salad is served with roasted corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts with a ginger-papaya vinaigrette, and I added blackened tempeh (a tender yet crunchy blend of organic soybeans and rice culture that is sautéed and grilled) for $2.50. I enjoyed the fresh ingredients and found the marinade tasty, but the tempeh was not the best; I found it bland, even though it was “blackened”, and a bit greasy. If you want added protein in your entree salad I would suggest you go for the chickin’. The walnuts added a nice sweet crunch and even though I did not add any more to my salad, the ginger-papaya vinaigrette had a nice bright zing.

We got to taste all three dessert offerings which are all free of dairy, cholesterol and refined sugar. Neither Mika nor I liked the chocolate pudding because neither of us is a pudding fan, but she adored the carrot cake (she said it was the best she had ever eaten), but I found the frosting too sweet. I liked the chocolate chip cookie because it was not too sweet, which is exactly the same reason Mika did not like it.

Having the freedom to choose is one of the great pleasures in life. Choosing for your taste while others choose for theirs is one of the reasons there are so many options for restaurants and on menus. It’s nice to find a vegetarian friendly restaurant where two omnivores have choices that please them enough to want to return.