Herbivore: A Berkeley Classic

So here’s the thing about vegan food: it doesn’t matter why you became a vegan, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to flip a bird to the meat and dairy industry, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve always been vegetarian or if you’ve been a carnivore your whole life. Whether you like it or not, vegan food will always be compared to non-vegan food. And some vegans will always be on the lookout for plant-based dishes and flavors that replace the ones they’ve grown accustomed to.

The first step to having a successful vegan restaurant: a clever logo.

Herbivore is a 100% vegan restaurant in Downtown Berkeley, at the corner of Haste and Shattuck. The restaurant's aesthetic is crisp and modern, with earthy tones and nature-themed decorations. The servers are all fairly nice (although they tend to dawdle sometimes), and the overall ambience is a little bit upscale, yet still comfortable.

Herbivore is one of those restaurants that doesn’t adhere to a specific style of cuisine, but instead shoots to be all-encompassing and all-inclusive. It’s a pretty common way for a vegan restaurant to ensure they please each customer since vegans come from all different backgrounds and are all looking to satisfy a different set of taste buds. That’s why Herbivore’s selection is pretty limitless. From burritos to pad thai, burgers and wraps to gnocchi and pasta, Herbivore surely has what you’re looking for. And yet, while this business model is a good idea to insure that the restaurant has all its bases covered, it still leaves the food open to discernment.

Amateur and experienced vegan chefs alike have the advantage of obscurity and creativity. They use ingredients omnivores have never heard of, like different soy proteins and cheesy nutritional yeast. Sometimes, the vegan alternative to a dish with animal products is much more delicious. It never quite tastes the same, but it’s just… different. Sometimes in a better way, sometimes in a not-so-good way. The trouble, of course, is when you use the same name, and people already have in mind how a dish should taste. That’s when the comments start:

“This barbecue avocado burger is delicious! …But I had one at Barney’s last week and it was just so much fuller and more satisfying.”

“I love this ravioli, but I’ve had at other restaurants it’s so much creamier and more wholesome.”

…And on and on. It’s not something we can't really help. You hear something like “Ravioli,” and you can automatically recall every other ravioli dish you’ve had before, be it “Chef Boyardee” or Grandma’s secret recipe.

Left: Appetizer soft tacos to die for. Right: Herbivore’s “Philly Cheese Steak.” If you can find a native Pennsylvanian, maybe we can get an expert opinion?

I think the real issue for this restaurant in particular is that the menu items are either a hit and miss. Some dishes will pleasantly shock you. My friend said the burrito was one of the best she’d ever tasted. Last year, they featured a vegan Philly Cheesesteak on their specials that slapped my taste buds in the face and left them begging for more. And the potato soy-pie, when eaten with the creamy mushroom gravy, left me on the floor in an ecstatic coma. On the other hand, the macaroni and “cheese” can be a little watery, the pad thai sometimes a little bland. Hence, if I find a good dish here, I stick to it.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from going; Herbivore is very unique and very delicious. Think of it more as a challenge, tell me the delicious meals you’ve discovered, or the ones that kind of fell flat. Either way, Herbivore is a must-try. It’s one of the few restaurants I know of in Berkeley that’s totally vegan, so it’s worth the experience. Oh, and they have a pretty delicious vegan brunch every day from 9AM to 2PM (Here’s lookin’ at you, Jordan Silver)!

If you missed my first vegan post, you can check it out here. Next week, I’ll be shifting back to the obscure end with a restaurant that’s hiding in North Berkeley on Solano Avenue. Do you have a vegan (or vegan-friendly) restaurant you’d like me to review? Email me at ryanroschke@gmail.com!

Ryan Roschke
BARE Reporter

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