Veg Out

By Bill Gerdes

Posted June 24, 2010 in Eats

In a perfect world we’d all be vegans or at least vegetarians; minimizing our negative impact on the environment, keeping our bodies healthy, de-funding big agriculture and not slaughtering livestock at such prodigious and wasteful amounts. But we know the score . . . ain’t no perfect world. No, in the foodie culture of today vegetarian feels passé: if it doesn’t have the word sustainable in the title it’s just not chic. We want to have our pork belly and save the world, at least in celebrity chef culture. And I’m guilty too; I make a trek to Spain every year with one of the most compelling reasons being the chance to eat jamon Serrano and Spanish chorizo. That’s a lot of petrol wasted for perfect pork.

But if it isn’t a perfect world a small hint of what might just be possible lies at the Oasis Vegetarian Café and Bakery. It’s not the type of place you’d stumble upon often, semi-hiding in the La Sierra section of Riverside, near La Sierra University, which is a Seventh-Day Adventist institution, a group that just so happens to be vegetarian—thus, a prime factor for the café, as well as the health food store it’s attached to. And if that sounds a bit hippy-dippy and boring, well you certainly wouldn’t be the first to think so. The food though, will disabuse you of that particular adjective, maybe rip it right out of your lexicon forever.

It starts with the price. If anything feels Seventies about the café it’s what they charge: most of their sandwiches run between three to five bucks and aren’t dinky affairs. I started with the “Steak Burger,” which of course isn’t steak at all but fried gluten, artfully recreated as a burger. It works and is loaded with sublime guacamole, red onion circles and shredded lettuce on a wheat bun that actually has taste.

Another great option is the plant wrap, which looks like the type of generic wrap-style sandwich you might pick up at Trader Joe’s for lunch. It’s oozy but delicious, filled with fried eggplant, hummus, spinach, and pine nuts. There’s nothing fancy about its preparation, just the taste—a far cry from generic.

In a way Oasis is almost a bizzaro-version of the typical mixed-kitchen greasy spoon you see throughout So-Cal. So it too has a Mexican/Guatemalan side of the menu. The veggie taquito is quite nice and made with a mixture of potato and soy, and the tortilla itself is fried to just the right texture. The only complaint I had was that the tomato sauce that sits on top of the taquito is a trifle bland, but the righteous guacamole and salsa more than make up for it.

However, the absolute hit of the menu is the pupusa, Central America’s answer to the street taco and outright delicious here; almost artisan-level micro-black beans that coincide perfectly with the queso fresco and the curtido, fermented coleslaw with just a touch of fire to it.

It’s also worth noting that the café serves breakfast, some amazingly scrumptious cupcakes, and that the staff is unflaggingly nice. The Oasis is one of the little jewels in the IE.

Oasis Vegetarian Café & Bakery, 11550 Pierce St. Riverside, (951) 688-5423; Mon-Thurs 8AM-7PM, Fri 8AM-4PM, Sun 9AM-5:30PM. MC, V.


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