The Veggie Grill—that rare thing, a vegan fast-food chain—seeks to briskly deliver a wide range of meatless/dairyless comfort food to your gullet. It was nice to get my order in five minutes; not so nice was the tomato basil soup ($2.95 cup/$4.95 bowl), which was bland, although the accompanying triangles of crisp sesame-seed bread satisfied. The fluffy quinoa pilaf side dish ($2.25)—speckled with tiny bits of carrots, celery, and onion—similarly begged for more flavor and heft. The Bali Bliss burger ($7.95), while substantial, didn't deliver the promised nirvana of exotic savoriness. The sizable rectangle of grilled tempeh is piled with tomato, lettuce, and red onion and dabbed with chipotle ranch; you should plunk down the extra $1.50 for avocado or portobello. But the main problem is the bun, which was toasted but not very grainy; it had an incongruous cheap-burger-joint squishiness. I left feeling full but with taste buds barely stimulated.

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Returning for dinner the next evening, I had another mediocre cup of soup, this time tortilla, which could've used hot chili flakes. The Sweetheart Fries ($4.25)—compact fingers of sweet potato—somehow tasted better the more they were consumed. The Blackened Chickin' Plate ($9.50) had a rubbery consistency, and the papaya sprinkled over it barely registered; the generous bed of kale was the best thing about the dish. The Chipotle BBQ burger ($8.95)—a messy agglomeration of veggie steak with caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce, and a "tangy" barbecue sauce—replicated the beefy flavor and consistency of meat, but I became a vegan to escape this sort of thing. Perhaps items like this will help carnivores gently transition into veganism; however, seasoned vets may wish for more variations on veggie/brown-rice/tofu staples.

The Veggie Grill is a welcome alternative to the country's prevailing fare, but there's still room for improvement. DAVE SEGAL


Vegetarians rejoice! Now that the meatless, "natural + wholesome" California chain Veggie Grill has sprouted its way up the West Coast, recently arriving in South Lake Union (and coming soon to the University District), we vegetarians and vegans finally have an "order at the counter and get food quickly" option with everything on the menu being vegan.

But it's gonna cost you.

The Baja Fiesta salad ($8.95) is a large pile of romaine lettuce with quinoa "infused" into it, covered in diced tomatoes and red peppers, corn, hunks of fresh papaya, chunks of avocado, cucumber, little strips of tortilla chips, and a tangy, sweet ginger papaya vinaigrette (that tasted nothing at all like ginger). For an extra $2.75, you can add on five fat slices of grilled tempeh. Yes!

And while that'd certainly be enough food, especially for lunch, those sweet potato fries (served with a side of chipotle ranch, $4.25) sure do look good, so what the hell. And then add a drink ($2.25 for a lemonade). And then add a tip (they bring the food out to you and clear your table when you're finished). And there I was, $20 poorer. TWENTY DOLLARS. For a lemonade, a salad, and a side of fries.

Of course, as I said, it was quite good—the leafy greens were fresh and the diced vegetables didn't have dried edges like they had been sitting in a prep station for three days. Just be sure to bridle your enthusiasm at the counter to spare your wallet any pain. MEGAN SELING


The new outpost of Veggie Grill in South Lake Union has the decor and ambience of a carrot. Carrots are nice. Nothing wrong with carrots. Orange and green are hopeful together. Nothing wrong with meatlessness, either. I, for one, am a vegetarian of many years, and this has not put out the fire in my soul. But there is some bad news about Veggie Grill on the subject of fire.

Upon walking in the door, a person is met by a glowing red wall fronted by wood slats. Given its appealingly hellish appearance, one wishes this to emit heat and devious laughter, or to have, frankly, anything about it of the place where the dangerous Ring of the Nibelungs was forged, where Persephone was carted off to and transformed from the girl goddess of growth and grain into the fearsome Queen of the Dead. This polished piece of interior instead feels like the view of a sunny day from inside a tomato.

The All Hail Kale salad ($8.45) involves something called "chickin'" (add $2.45), which involves something to do with mashed-up pea proteins, and like the heatless red wall needs more spice—less kale and carrots and tomato bits, more agave-roasted walnuts and more of the crispy-tart surface of that blackened "chickin'," which is surprisingly good. (The inside of the chickin', however, is slimy and spongy.) Then again, I'm a dumb vegetarian. I ordered the All Hail Kale salad, as opposed to the Carne Asada or the Chipotle BBQ or the Buffalo Bomber. I deserve the polite tomato-and-carrot decor. JEN GRAVES


You know that vegan place with the mismatched chairs and the cutie with the dreadlocks who's always super-stoned behind the counter? The one where stuff takes a long time, but it's cool, man, and doesn't it remind you of that one place in Santa Cruz, kind of, and they have a cat?

The Veggie Grill is the opposite of that. It is slick and bright and stylish; it is as clean as anything ever possibly could be—so clean that the dirt from which its 100 percent veganness was born seems like an unpleasant, far-off abstraction. If the people working here were on a drug, it would be super-clean MDMA—they are preternaturally friendly, entirely chipper, and absolutely in agreement with whatever you say: Ohmigod, yes, you should totally try the buffalo wings, they are SO GOOD, people LOVE them. You get the distinct sensation that if you said you had a gun and would like the money in the cash register, they'd say, Ohmigod, yes, even people who AREN'T vegans totally LOVE that.

At 12:57 p.m. on a Wednesday, the place is packed with Amazon employees—it's like a futuristic college dining hall, with a din to match. A highly enthused employee in a spotless orange apron guides those who are new to the ways of the Veggie Grill through the line, delivering a speed-of-light orientation; we get everything he recommends, plus what the counterperson enthusiastically endorses, and we get a number and the last two-top. Though they are slammed, it doesn't take long (and we are then checked on three separate, extremely cheerful times).

For being 100 percent plant, the food tastes strangely unnatural. The buffalo wings ($6.95) have a bounciness to their fake chicken insides; if you didn't know better, you might think there was something artificial to the coating's acidic over-tang. The nondairy ranch dressing is extra-slippery, as is the nondairy mac and cheese ($2.25)—a slimy, flavorless affair that a little salt and pepper might or might not help. The Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' sandwich ($8.95) is amorphously beige—the chickin' patty lacks crunchy crust and tastes notably neutral, mushing into its wheaty bun. The All Hail Kale salad ($8.45) is lushly green, but a marination process and its ginger-papaya dressing have rendered it oddly, monotonously sweet. A thing that is good: the sweet potato fries ($4.25), crispy on the outside, creamy within. They are lukewarm, but at least they don't taste like they're trying to be something they're not. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT