Can’t Hate, No Beef or A Theory of Evolution

I don’t like vegetables. It started in a third grade classroom during our monthly cooking exercise. We were required to make a salad and got to choose our own toppings. After ravishing the salad bar, we were required to write about our experiences and share what we learned. I was only two bites into my salad before my brain decided that I would forever loathe veggies. Everything about them was absolutely disgusting to me. All I ended up writing on my paper was “I AM MAD AT THE SALAD” in a heavy-handed, serial-killer style scrawl. A rough start, to say the least. It took a good fifteen years for me to realize vegetables and myself may actually have a future together. This lifestyle sway is due in part to my wife, who is an absolute veg-head and an entirely different story. Fun fact, her body is composed of 90% healthy, ground-growing foodstuffs. I’ve seen her eat a bowl of mashed up carrots topped with lettuce and mustard. Unbelievable. You should have been there.

Evolution Fast Food, which exists adjacent to Extraordinary Desserts on 5th Avenue right next  to a sliver of Balboa Park, describes itself as “100% vegan fast food.” An interesting and noble concept, if nothing else. After taking up a spot in their small parking lot and weaving through the lingering cars waiting for to-go orders, we found our way inside. There, we witnessed a handful of slack-jawed youths hustling around the kitchen, moving frantically and somehow making sense of the chaos. We were promptly greeted by a young man who unironically chewed his way through a massive carrot while taking our order, pausing his speech in rhythm with the whirring juicers behind him. The avid carnivore is likely to show signs of skepticism. For the most part, menu items will be strange and unfamiliar to the average American. I naturally decided not to play by any true vegan rules and sought any customary fast-food options. I was going to steer clear of the absurdly healthy choices, stray from any leafy greens, and avoid the salad-filled cooler completely. This rebellion worked heavily in my favor.

After paying royally for our “fast food” (apparently vegans also have an aversion to dollar menus) we were told to find a seat and wait for them to beckon us back to the counter to pick up our big brown bag of vegan cuisine. There are several seating areas spread throughout the grounds at Evolution Fast Food. A small smattering of seats can be found close to the order counter, with a few other select spots dotted around the front patio. The cool kids, though, all sit in the massive covered section that is nearly hidden from street view by a wall of flowers and assorted shrubbery. This dining area is best accessed through a side door inside of Evolution, forcing you to bypass their resident robot guardian (don’t worry, he’s friendly) and what appeared to be a lifetime supply of local magazines. I assumed the robot switches into Crush, Kill, Destroy mode when you take more than your fair share from the piles of periodicals that lay at his feet.

Orders are called over a loudspeaker, which crackles loud enough to be heard no matter which corner you find yourself seated in. The wait itself couldn’t have been any longer than six or seven minutes, which is just fast enough to agree with their self-proclaimed “fast food” title. I started with the Buffalo “Chick’n” strips. What is chick’n, you ask? Nothing is certain, but I would put money on not being able to find one on a farm. The tenders were neon orange – an ideal shade for wingin’ out. One bite in and I didn’t even have to overcome a comfort factor. These brightly colored badboys tasted nearly identical, if not slightly better, than your average buffalo chicken tender.

I find it a bit unnerving that the best place to pick up buffalo strips by our house is at a vegan joint. Still, I have to give credit where it is due. While San Diego’s hot wing scene is seriously slacking, Evolution Fast Food serves up a healthier substitute that’s likely to knock the socks off the naysayers. Even though it’s technically not real chicken, it’s tasty enough to tide over your tastebuds and I have to respect them for filling our otherwise desolate, wing-shaped void with a uniquely spicy, chicken-flavored soy mush. I promptly washed down my large order of tenders with a bowl of steaming hot house chili, which also did not disappoint. The chili was uniquely spicy and made my order feel complete, rounding out my stomach for under $10 total.

My wife ended up with a set of raw tacos and an orange-carrot juice. One of her personal favorite blends. The raw tacos were among the several pre-made items, made fresh daily, that lie in wait within several coolers neighboring the cash register. Raw tacos, for those not in the know, are lettuce wrapped something somethings. Her best guess is that they were a kind of nut-paste combined with carrots and tomatoes. The orange-carrot juice was satisfying enough and tasted just like what you would make at home. It was impressive to have this quality of food and fresh squeezed juice options from a place that markets themselves primarily as a fast food alternative.

Of course, Evolution Fast Food hasn’t totally converted me. By no means am I ready to start ordering salads on the regular and I can’t go on record saying that these wings are necessarily the best I’ve ever had - even if they are very, very good. However, my hate of vegetables has since been distilled and I am no longer mad at the plant-based community in general. That is, of course, assuming they’re properly mashed into chick’n form. Evolution Fast Food is a great spot to pick up a fresh, healthy meal that is shockingly tasty. They even have a drive-through, so we refuse to take laziness as your excuse for not giving them a shot. The menu will have a few familiar picks but is mostly catered to vegans. As it should be. If you know what you’re getting into, your carnivorous friends should be able to turn the other cheek and avoid getting fussy about the ingredients. After a few savory bites, you probably won’t even remember that you’re not shoving a giant hunk of meat in your face. That is, if you want it to be that way.