A Veggie Tale

Students may have returned from break to the find the grand opening of Roots — an all-vegan dining hall — last Monday, Jan. 9, however, it’s been roughly five years since the idea for the restaurant was first seeded. 

Executive Chef Vaughn Vargus, who supports all of UCSD’s dining facilities through Housing and Dining, headed the way in developing the menu.

“A vegan/vegetarian concept had started back then as an idea, and following the culinary trends, it was always on the table — it was just when and where,” Vargus said. “It was probably through the initiation of redesigning and restructuringPines that it seemed like a natural fit down here.”

Previously a Mexican restaurant (El Mercado) and prior to that, a burger joint (the Rathskeller), the space has been transformed with crisp tones of orange, green and blue to reflect the clean and modern essence of their menu, which features more than just raw greens and tofu. 

“We’ve covered a lot of different bases with options and varieties of the dishes that we serve here at Roots that are vegan,” Vargus said. “There’s some savory. There’s some light fare. There are comfort-style foods, if you will, and there are some whimsical dishes as well.” 

Several items on the menu may seem almost too familiar to non-herbivores.

“There are a couple of items that are reminiscent of what you’d expect of college dining,” Vargus said. “Hamburgers, fries, those types of things. But the quality and the type of ingredients we’re using — it’s different. The vegetable-based protein patty — that’s far superior in my mind than a black bean burger or a grain-based burger. This is good stuff; it’s the real deal.”

The authentic, restaurant-quality food that Vargus spoke of took more than a stroll through a vegetable garden to achieve. To meet the strict criteria of veganism, a lot of research was conducted to eliminate all animal by-products.

“There’s no refined sugar, honey — anything like that,” Vargus said. “So with doing our homework, educating ourselves and talking to a lot people that we know who have maintained a vegan lifestyle for 10 to 15 years, there was a lot of good information that we harnessed and adapted to what our menu is today.” 

After making the decision halfway through last quarter to go completely vegan, the staff sorted through recipes to concoct a fresh, nutrient-filled menu. Diners can now choose from a selection of healthy options — perhaps a “chicken” burger, a bowl of hot kettle chili and a side of sweet potato fries, complimented with a broccoli and berry smoothie. 

The diligent work put into the menu seems to have paid off; Vargus revealed his excitement about the success that they’ve already experienced after only three days.

“The feedback and the response that we’re getting from our guests — the clients, the students — have been positive straight across the board,” Vargus said. “I really am so happy with our staff with what we’ve achieved.”

Following the trends of vegan cuisine, their menu may change from time to time. 

“We’ll go into the seasons,” Vargus said. “We’ll obviously add more dishes as the time comes [and] keep the ones that are obviously popular.” 

Beaming with pride, Vargus admitted to bragging when he asserted his confidence in Roots.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done here, and I think the proof is in the pudding — the proof is in the avocado pudding!” Vargus said.