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The vegetarian crabcake sandwich at the Veggie Grill is just one of several new items available at the vegan mini-chain. (photo by Michael Ryan)

Having an opportunity to try the Veggie Grill’s new menu items was a real treat. Riding my bike up to their restaurant at The Grove on Fairfax Avenue and Third Street to do so was pretty exciting as well.

Thankfully there is a closer location on 20th and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica to meet the needs of most Westsiders. And there certainly is a need. The place is absolutely bustling during the lunch and dinner rush. It’s not as if vegans of the area are flocking to the place either. Eighty percent of The Veggie Grill’s customers are meat eaters.

Their menu offers a variety of soups, salads, “chickin” sandwiches, veggie-steaks, and burgers. While everything is plant-based, some of the sauces and fries suggest it is not all sticks and twigs.

A meal will generally be not much more or less expensive than the neighboring Poquito Mas. The atmosphere is bright, the service is friendly and of course all of their “meat” is 100 percent vegan. I too was once skeptical having eaten supermarket veggie burgers, soy sausages, and other meat substitutes. But after biting into the Veggie Grill’s burger, I too was a believer.

Aspects like mouth feel, look, and overall taste are key components that make the Veggie Grill’s “steaks” and “chickin’” legitimately good cuisine rather than some kind of crazy gimmick. I’ve had pizza at a raw food restaurant, which was fine and good, but never had me really convinced that I was actually eating pizza. The “meat” at the Veggie Grill, on the other hand, is pretty convincing.

Having the texture not totally spot on may weird some people out. But then again why should it? The substitution is completely plant based. It is not as if they are replacing one meat with another, like ham with spam, or the infamous pink slime that has been making headlines.

Whether it is chicken or “chickin’”, it still has to be marinated, cooked and served with the right sauces. The Buffalo Bomber, one of the new menu items, did stand out. The buffalo sauce was delicious, and the chicken, I mean “chickin’” maintained crispiness on the outside and tenderness within.

The tasting afforded me full homestyle dinner plates, a Buffalo Chickin’ salad, even a chocolate pudding parfait, but the best item of the day was the crab cake sandwich. The biggest problem with crab cakes are there is usually never enough crab and too much filler. Ironically, Veggie Grill’s version is completely filled with “crab” which is not actually crab. Perhaps a bit confusing, but very good nonetheless.

The new menu items should be a big hit with those who are fans of the Veggie Grill. The focus on the home-style dinner plates is a nice take on comfort food. And additions like the Buffalo Chickin’ and the crab cake tasted like instant hits.

The bike ride home was a testament that Veggie Grill has some feel good food. If I ate the meaty equivalent of what I had at the tasting I would not make it past Beverly Hills without some serious heartburn. And a meatless world is a more sustainable world. Animals love not being eaten too. The Veggie Grill does not try to seal club you with a vegan agenda. They let the food speak for itself, and the customers keep coming back for more.

If you go

Veggie Grill

2025 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, Calif.

(310) 829-115

www.veggiegrill.com/

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, "Tour de Feast." To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.

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