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Server Rosa Gil (left) makes her way with orders of vegetarian specials at the new Veggie Grill vegetarian and vegan restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. Most of the produce is organic or locally purchased. (photo by Brandon Wise)

WILSHIRE BLVD — When the owners of the mini restaurant chain Veggie Grill were planning on opening their fifth location, they had their sights set on Santa Monica. They felt the health-conscious community known for its fresh Farmers’ Markets and dedication to living healthy lifestyles would make a good fit for the fast-casual restaurant that features classic American comfort food with a twist — there’s no meat included.

“We basically look to situate in areas where there is a high population of progressive people who care about themselves and are open to trying new things,” said T.K. Pillan, one of three co-founders of the Los Angeles-based company, which opened its first restaurant in 2006.

Instead of beef, chicken or pork, the chain relies on a special blend of natural proteins derived from plants, along with secret marinades for bold flavors, to create their sandwiches, salads and … yes, burgers.

“People are really shocked when they try our burgers and find out how flavorful they are,” Pillan said. “We’re about sandwiches and burgers that you can feel good about eating.”

The Santa Monica location, which opened on Monday, replaces a Sizzler steakhouse on Wilshire Boulevard near 18th Street. The decor is very crisp and clean with bright lime and orange colors throughout, along with smooth wood tables and booths. Pillan said the idea is to create a space where customers feel energized and have fun.

There are plans to open two more Veggie Grill restaurants in the new year, one at the Rolling Hills Plaza near Palos Verdes and another at the Los Angeles Farmers’ Market on Third Street.

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