If, as a parent, you’re exhausted by the eternally recurring question, “What’s for dinner?”, the co-founders of Humbowl have an answer for you. A couple of the co-founders, Miles Kline and Eric Wright, are both fathers who were interested in creating a healthy alternative to fast food. “I have two kids, and I was driving home with them one day, exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to cook, but I didn’t want them to eat McDonald’s,” Wright recalled. He wanted an easier, affordable option.
While he was developing the Humbowl menu, Chef Kline kept this thought in mind, “We’re trying to make food that’s good for everyone.” He also mentioned the same dilemma Wright and most parents have to attend to at the end of a work day. “It’s Thursday at 5 o’clock. I pick up my teenager and 10 year old, and I don’t have time or the energy to cook from scratch. I don’t want fast food and I want something inexpensive,” Kline said. That’s why they decided to open Humbowl.
Located in Elmwood, across the street from the movie theater, Humbowl serves, as the name suggests, a variety of bowls along with a few salads. These, come to think of it, Mezzo serves in bowls, but are distinguished separately as such on this menu. Humbowl’s bowls are of the mix-and-match variety. All of them come with brown rice and quinoa. Or, for those diners who eat grain free, they can substitute in riced cauliflower. Then you choose, among several options, the flavor of your dreams: the Mexican-adjacent Vera Cruz with avocado, red bell peppers, black beans and a spicy pasilla pepper sauce; Thai Curry with zucchini and roasted sweet potatoes; or the Togarashi with beets, garlic, mushrooms and a ginger cilantro mint sauce.
Should you identify as a carnivore, you can then add chicken, organic and free range from Petaluma Farms, or sustainably sourced shrimp. If you’re masquerading as a vegetarian, or you really are one, the protein choice is something described as a “legume mix.” Wright, who outed himself as an omnivore, explained that they decided to omit pork, but especially beef from the menu because it’s “incredibly impactful on the environment.” Vegans and gluten-free folks will find plenty to enjoy on the menu, but he’s wary of describing Humbowl in a way that would alienate the general public. At another one of his restaurants, Wright noticed that when something isn’t labeled, even if it happens to be gluten or dairy free, more people will try it.
I tried the Thai Curry with grilled chicken and the Vera Cruz with shrimp. The food Kline’s straightforward menu reminded me of was reminiscent of Razan’s Organic Kitchen in downtown Berkeley. And it vaguely recalled the now permanently closed Juice Bar Collective — but without the homemade feeling imparted by the messiness of their imperfect pie crusts, overstuffed sandwiches, and the ooze of cheese and sauce spilling over the corners of lasagna, pizza and polenta.
Humbowl opened in February with a serviceable formula, easy to order and easy for a new staff to master. Kline says they also toyed with the idea of adding a pita wrap option, but decided against it. He added that, in the future, it’s not out of the picture that Humbowl would add a sandwich or wrap to the menu. But in the meantime, it keeps them gluten free. “We started with a small menu and will gradually expand as we get more comfortable and see what people want from us,” Kline said.
The chef grew up in San Francisco. His first sous-chef job was at Enrico’s in North Beach, but he also cooked in the kitchens at T-Rex Barbecue and at Jupiter, both in Berkeley. Though Kline points out that his shift to healthier cooking comes, not from his professional experience, but in his at-home efforts to feed his family well. Explaining his concept for Humbowl, he said, “I wanted to create something not fried, not overly sugared or salted, and vegetable-based.” Because his wife is a vegetarian, even when he worked at a meat-centric restaurant like T-Rex, Kline made sure to put vegetables on the menu. At Humbowl, he has expanded that approach to roll “out an avenue where we can just focus on that.”