It takes a special effort to get me to a vegetarian, let alone, a vegan restaurant. So many of them have been so unsatisfying. But I trust one vegetarian I know, Alma Hecht, who happens to be a certified arborist and sustainable landscape designer, a woman attuned to plants. She turned me on to Cha-Ya and Gracias Madre, Japanese and Mexican vegetarian eateries that succeed by any standard.
The other day she insisted I meet her at Source for a hamburger. A hamburger? This did not sound promising. Most vegetarian “burgers” made of soy product or whatever, resemble the real thing only in shape.
I pulled into one of Source’s vertical parking spots right in front of the restaurant which is located on a spoke off the traffic circle adjacent to the city’s designer showcase warehouses. Source has not taken advantage of nearby resources. Its decor is more of a personal statement by one of the two east coast brothers who started it a year ago. The utilitarian dining room has an open kitchen and ordering counter. But there is a heated outdoor dining area enclosed in a clear plastic tent that gets lovely evening light.
Sunset not withstanding, when the Mushroom Onion Swiss Burger ($9.95 lunch/$11.95 dinner) was ferried to our table by a runner, my heart fell. It came in a pita bread. But when I cut the substantial sandwich in half, the “burger” looked exactly like rare beef, and when I took a bite, it was luscious and evocative, with a real griddled crust on the outside. Slathered with beautifully caramelized grilled onions–not soggy or greasy– and melted cheese, and dressed with convincing house made catsup, the Source’s burger was simply one of the best I’ve tasted–even on a pita bread, which, by the way, neatly held everything together as I ate it. Source bakes them, and all bread and sandwich rolls, every morning.
I couldn’t believe it. This vege burger (composed of beets, the source of the color, celery, carrots, lentils, mushrooms, brown rice, fresh herbs, soy protein, garlic and onions) had the mouth feel, look, heft and savoriness of the best beef burger. And it came with tasty, skin on, cleanly fried french fries. From now on, I’m heading to the Source for my burger fix.
11 Division Street, San Francisco 415 864-9000, source-sf.com lunch
Monday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.