Having spent more than a decade of my younger years as a vegetarian, I’m glad that a place like Body Café exists. Sometimes you need a break from green chile cheeseburgers, and it’s a relief to have a kitchen that focuses on greens, grains, fruit, and meat alternatives. The menu at Body displays a reasonable amount of creativity when it comes to vegetarian dishes, offering things like raw enchiladas, Asian tacos, and faux tuna made from ground nuts.
At almost any hour, you can order takeout or enjoy coffee, a smoothie, or a meal in the sunlight-flooded café, which is tucked beside the wall of glass that runs along the front of the building. During select lunch- and dinnertime hours, you can also eat in the slightly more formal Soul Dining Room, which feels a little like a spa cafeteria, with a burbling fountain, meditative music, gauzy drapes separating some tables, and a golden statue of the Buddha in one corner.
The more casual part of the café can be a little more hectic. You might end up sitting next to someone who’s just finished a yoga class or qigong workshop. While you wait for your food you can browse the cards, housewares, and clothing that occupy the rest of the building’s footprint. Service is no-frills here: You order at the counter, pick up a number, wait for your food to be delivered, and are expected to bus your own table once you’ve finished eating. In the Soul Dining Room, on the other hand, you’ll enjoy full table service from a staff that’s fast and friendly without being folksy.
The Paradise salad is a sizable plate of almost embarrassingly beautiful butter lettuce, luscious avocado wedges, crisp cucumber, red onion pickled into mild submission, and raw nuts. The greens were impressively fresh and pristine, and the cashews, almonds, and cucumbers provided a welcome crunch. The lemongrass vinaigrette leaned toward the oily side and needed a little more acidic punch.
Our spring rolls were stuffed with colorful vegetable riches — dark leafy greens, carrot, and jicama — and a small side dish of salty-nutty dipping sauce added welcome richness and depth. I wanted more of the herbal components — mint and basil — promised on the menu, and the construction needs a little work, given that the whole affair came undone after the first bite. Still, the virtuous combination that’s delivered to your mouth is satisfying in a clean, fresh, crisp, leafy way.
The coconut lemongrass curry was perfectly serviceable, with broccoli, green beans, and carrots in an aromatic, if watery, coconut-based sauce. The Asian tacos are corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of protein, jicama, a sesame slaw, a cashew-based sour cream substitute, and a tangy but not particularly spicy chile sauce. It’s nice to have the option of stuffing a taco with tofu or tempeh, but the overall experience was bland. These are a reasonably creative spin on a regional favorite, but there are certainly better tacos in town.
The green chile quinoa “cheeseburger” isn’t going to convert any meat lovers to the vegetarian cause. Mine was oversized, moist, sloppy, and bizarrely flavorless for something composed of black beans, corn, rice, and quinoa. At least the chile was flavorful, if mild; the avocado mayo had a pleasant saucy tang; and the whole affair had been smothered in a blanket of Jack cheese.
The lentil loaf is a classic hippie-vegetarian-restaurant dish that’s earthy, substantial, and mild, and Body’s is topped with a surprisingly spicy red chile sauce. The burnished golden curried potatoes (you’d be tempted to call them “steak fries,” but that label seems decidedly inappropriate in this context) should be inspiring, but they’re disappointingly lackluster.
Vegan baking is a difficult undertaking. Have you ever tried baking cookies or brownies without butter or eggs? Still, I’d rather not have a brownie at all than have Body’s, with its overpowering powdery carob presence and a texture that was both damp and unpleasantly mealy.
That’s why dining at Body can be confusing. There are good reasons to eat here, but while some vegetarian dishes are creative and fresh, some of the basics are uneven, and for a restaurant that professes to serve “mindfully delicious organic fare,” the menu includes a lot of meat. Dozens of spots around town serve terrific burgers and tacos and quesadillas. Adding those things to a menu of otherwise healthful dishes just seems like strange white noise.