San Antonio, TX is a city of surprises – from the disappointing (the Alamo is a gigantic souvenir shop!) – to the sublime, such as gorgeous old churches
and the lush green beauty of the flowering shrubs, waterfalls, and koi ponds of the Japanese Tea Garden.
Japanese Tea Garden
Senor Veggie, an all-vegan restaurant with many gluten-free options located at 620 S. Presa Street, definitely falls into the sublime category. It is without a doubt one of the very best veg restaurants I’ve ever been to, and quite possibly has the world’s best veggie burger.
Atmosphere: Casual, funky, laid back. Walls are brightly painted and hung with colorful local art, and there’s plenty of natural sunlight. An eclectic mix of music on the mellower side – alternative, 90’s alternative, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Servers are young, smiling, often tattooed. Clientele is varied – on our first visit we noticed a very respectable looking senior citizen; on our second, a table of commercial real estate power brokers.
Menu: Inspired and cohesive. Most items have a Tex-Mex twist – nachos, poblano corn fritters, empanadas, chili, taco salad, jackfruit tacos, portabello fajitas, mini chalupas with tempeh. Enough to give the menu a personality. However, other items are included for those who may not like Tex Mex or want a change – falafel, grilled veggie pitas, samosas, raw pad thai, broccoli stir fry. Also, while there’s a couple of “meaty” items (such as the excellent Smoked BBQ Sandwich), many dishes don’t mimic meat in any way, shape, or form. Senor Veggie also has a small vegan wine selection and some excellent local craft beers.
Pricing: Reasonable – at least compared to Charlotte, NC! Most entrees tend to run $10-$11. Plus, the portions are HUGE. (My partner won’t even eat at a certain Charlotte vegan restaurant anymore because the portions are so small, he always leaves hungry.) As our waitress Ashley said, “This is Texas – we do things bigger here.”
Service: Both our waitresses – Ashley and Dani – were excellent. Ashley was very familiar with the menu and made food and craft beer recommendations. Dani was super-friendly and, upon learning we were going to Austin, gave us advice on dog-friendly restaurants and bars.
Food: Incredible. There’s an extreme level of detail that goes into every part of the meal – from the sauces and perfectly fresh veggies garnishing a sandwich, to the non-greasy waffle fries and spiced ketchup.
We started with Southwestern Empanadas. Beware, this is listed as an “appetizer” but could easily be a meal in itself! (That’s a full-size dinner plate in the picture.) Think of this as a Mexican samosa, stuffed with a savory filling of beans and corn. The crust (which makes or breaks an item like this) was perfect, as were all the sauces (guacamole, roasted salsa, poblano cashew crema, and pico de gallo).
My partner ordered the Smoked BBQ Sandwich (pecan smoked seitan with chipotle BBQ sauce, slaw, pickles, and onions). The pecan smoked seitan and the chipotle BBQ sauce gave this a very distinctive taste. The slaw was perfect. His side – the “Veggie of the Day” was chili-lime carrots, which were nicely savory, not sweet. (You can also choose a soup, salad, waffle fries, or sweet potato fries as your side item.)
Senor Veggie’s SV Burger gets lots of glowing reviews online, but since it is a black bean burger and I come from Charlotte (Land of Black Bean Burgers), I decided to order the Beet Burger. It is, as one might guess, made of beets. The beet patty itself was flavorful and the color was beautiful. Oddly, somehow the patty really did have a bit of the texture of a thin, charbroiled hamburger patty. More importantly, however, the burger was topped with perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes, fresh arugula, sunflower shoots, an amazing creamy tofu ricotta cheese, and an even more amazing pesto mayo.
The waffle fries were also excellent; thin, light, and airy, non greasy, and served with spiced ketchup.
The next day we went back for lunch. My partner insisted on getting the Beet Burger; I wanted to try something new, that I probably wouldn’t find anywhere else, so I ordered the Eggplant Torta.
Alas! The eggplant was just slightly undercooked, making it difficult to bite off and chew. A real shame, because otherwise everything else was perfect – the perfect crispy breading, the peppercorn ranch dressing, the toasty bun, the tasty layer of refried black beans. Probably Dani would have replaced the sandwich had I asked – but we were short on time, so I didn’t.
Two final notes – it’s in walking distance from Riverwalk, and the back patio area is dog-friendly!
Put this one on your vegan bucket list!
Update 4/30/2016 – Uhh, maybe take this one OFF your vegan bucket list. I posted on Senor Veggie’s FB site and included a link; this was deleted, presumably because I mentioned the undercooked eggplant on the eggplant torta.. Only 100% positive comments were left. I still love the beet burger but this restaurant has gone down quite a few notches if they don’t like honesty and expect me to do the vegan lockstep.