Zurich: Vegetarian Delight

Posted on June 2, 2006

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hiltl muecke.jpg

by julie galante 

Zurich is not exactly a restaurant-goer’s paradise. Firstly, like everything else in this city, most restaurants are overpriced. Seeing the prices on a menu, I often get my hopes up about the quality of the food, only to have them dashed by the overly salty and starchy disappointment of a meal that I am later served. Thus I am invariably left to drown my sorrows in some mediocre 9-franc-a-glass (if you can call one deciliter a glass) wine.

Fondue season is long gone, and now Spargelzeit is coming to an end, too. So what’s a vegetarian gourmand in Zurich to do? At most traditional Swiss restaurants, the meatless options are limited to a salad or a lone, overcooked pasta dish (trust me, you don’t want that pasta dish). There’s also often a vegetable and cheese Rösti dish on the menu, but there are only so many fried-potato-based meals I can handle per month.

Luckily, the longer I look, the better options I’m finding. In addition to some decent vegetarian-friendly international cuisines (Indian and Japanese in particular), there are also a couple restaurants in Zurich that cater specifically to the meatless diet. Below are the ones I’ve sampled so far.

Hiltl. This upscale veggie paradise claims to be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe. The menu is extensive and varied, and the service tends to be quite good. There is also an extensive buffet which offers a variety of foods, including many Indian dishes. Its usual location is under renovation (and from the looks of things, will be for quite a while longer), so Hiltl can currently be found in temporary digs just off of Parade Platz. Although the interior is nice, it’s quite crowded and loud during peak times. If you want to eat lunch at 12 or dinner at 8, you’ll need a reservation.

Tibits. The more laid back (and less expensive) version of Hiltl, Tibits also offers an extensive vegetarian buffet. In addition it boasts some impressive tea and juice drink creations, and homemade desserts that at least look pretty good (I have yet to try one). The main drawback in my book is how crowded it gets. If you’re not a fan of sharing a table with strangers, don’t go during peak meal times.

Bona Dea. This vegetarian buffet restaurant in the main train station is OK for a one-time visit, but doesn’t offer enough variety for me to become a regular. Plus, every time I’ve been there it’s almost eerily empty of patrons (pretty much the opposite problem of Hiltl and Tibits). The food isn’t as bad as its unpopularity would suggest, but it’s definitely not something to write home about.

Pot Au Vert. Just across the Limmat from the main train station, this small restaurant offers a limited but creative selection of vegetarian dishes in a hotel-breakfast-room setting. Like most restaurants in Zurich, it’s disappointing for the money, but if you pretend you’re paying only half the price, you end up pretty satisfied. Its opening hours are somewhat limited.

Since not all meat eaters appreciate being deprived of Fleisch at a meal, my ongoing mission is to find more “normal” restaurants that offer a wide vegetarian selection alongside all the Wurst and G’schnätzlets, so that neither I nor my dining companions feel deprived. One of my favorites so far is the Linde Oberstraβ on Universitätstrasse. They thoughtfully mark all the vegetarian dishes with a “V” on the extensive menu. One of my favorites is the Mediterranean salad, which is a very filling mix of lentils, chick peas, tomatoes, feta, and some other stuff. Another big draw of this place is the microbrewed beer on tap, with offerings that change with the seasons. In the summer there’s also a nice Biergarten.

Linde Oberstraβ is part of a group of restaurants that offer the same beer and essentially the same menu, but with individual ambiances (which is why I’m stopping short of calling it a chain). If it’s something bigger, hipper, and more commercial-feeling you’re after, check out the Back & Brau near Esher-Wyss-Platz. I’m pretty sure there are more of these style restaurants around town, too.

I’m certainly a long way from finished with my quest for my favorite restaurants in Zurich, but at least I’ve managed to find a couple decent places so far. Although I’m not sure it’s possible, next I’d love to find a good Italian eatery. This is not easy to do when you’ve just spent a year living in Milan having your standards for “good Italian food” raised to impossible heights. I think I might give up soon and just hop on a train to spend a weekend south of the border.

 

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