Best Vegetarian Restaurant

Layonna Kitchen

Soft Buddhist chants ease from speakers overhead as you choose a table amid colorful Chinese artworks and shelves chock-full of little books about mindfulness and Zen masters — all free for the taking. A strictly vegetarian menu surpasses any other on this side of the bay. Anyone who has dined at Buddhist temples in Hong Kong or Taiwan, where monks and nuns earn a bit of income by serving vegetarian meals to visitors, will instantly feel nostalgic here. It’s not merely the freshness of Layonna’s ingredients — freshness is basically an East Bay requirement across the board. It’s the way these vegetables and tofu and gluten are fashioned into beautiful, deliriously clever imitations of meat. Granted, to appreciate this you have to be the sort of vegetarian who, while soundly eschewing gristle and fat and blood and sodium nitrate, remembers certain aspects of flesh fondly: its chewiness, say, or that hearty, smoky aroma. The restaurant’s best deal is its buffet, which you can visit as many times as you like to refill plates with mock drumsticks, mock tripe, steamed buns, vegetable stir-fries, and soup. A righteous sense of purity fills your mouth with every bite, and that chanting lifts you higher and higher.

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