Food & Drink

Traveling to 2015: Best West Coast city for vegetarian dining

Illustration By Leif Jones


The 20-tens are sure a good time to be vegetarian in Sacramento. Ten years ago, I’m told, herbivores had only three all-vegetarian choices in the Sacramento region—and one was way the hell in Woodland. Imagine schlepping 20 miles up Interstate 5 for a piece of mock meat!

Back then, options were nonexistent for meat-averse couples hoping to celebrate a special occasion. If you wanted white-glove service while you toasted your job promotion with some fine wine, you either settled for salads at Biba or drove to San Francisco and ate gussied-up vegetables at one of several restaurants posh enough to employ a pastry chef, a sommelier and valet-parking attendants.

But I digress. Sacramento restaurant owners might have been oblivious to the spending power of vegans and vegetarians 10 years ago, but why live in the past? Everything has changed since Andy Nguyen’s was the only place on the grid where you could get a soy-based chicken drumstick or faux fish sauce. Today, Sacramento has more vegetarian and vegan restaurants per capita than any other city on the West Coast!

And who else but Randy Paragary—that great Sacramento restaurant-multiplier—could have started it all? Paragary never did need a microscope to spot a trend, and he saw all those left-leaning, socially conscious types migrating from the Bay Area to Cowtown and smelled profit. He was the first to recognize that people who didn’t eat meat had strong allegiances and, in many cases, big wallets. He apparently also listened to statistical experts who claimed that the number of vegetarians increases by about 25 percent each year.

When he opened his 12th restaurant in 2009, Legumes, it was Sacramento’s first and only gourmet vegetarian restaurant. I wasn’t in Sacramento that year, but I hear the place was packed every night. The lines for a table, some said, were longer than the lines at polling stations during the 2007 Schwarzenegger recall election.

Legumes quickly garnered national attention with its mushroom stroganoff, butternut bisque, tofu cheesecake and other treats that contained no animals but still tasted great. The veg-only spinoff of Café Bernardo that followed was pure genius. I still have yet to find a better ALT (avocado, lettuce and tomato) in the city. Eventually the proprietors of some of San Francisco’s pre-eminent meat-free restaurants, like Herbivore, Greens and Millennium, got hip to Paragary’s success and opened branches here. Never again would Sacramentans make a 90-mile quest for dairy-free crème brûlée.

Today, we vegetarians—and our more disciplined vegan friends—are swimming in options for eating out. Sometimes, all this choice creates new problems. Friends don’t always agree. There can be infighting, even open hostility. Often, weeks pass before we can revisit some of our favorite places. For example, Veg 33, kin to the legendary 33rd Street Bistro, is a little too crowded for some of my friends, but I just can’t get enough of its caramelized-onion-and-soy-cheese pizza. I’m not complaining about these petty disagreements, though. It beats schlepping to Woodland.