Veal with spaetzle and cream sauce is well and good, but the vegetarian restaurant Hiltl in Zurich makes virtuous eating sheer pleasure.
ZÜRICH ‒ Let’s begin with the truth: I’m an omnivore. But after a few days in Switzerland, as I savored meaty cuisine with plenty of potatoes and creamy mushroom sauce, a good vegetarian meal — even a few lettuce leaves — sounded pretty appealing. At the famous Hiltl, I found a veritable empire of vegetarian deliciousness. The happy, well-dressed Zürichers flocking on a midweek night to Haus Hiltl, the sprawling main location on Sihlstrasse near the Bahnhofstrasse shopping area, showed me I wasn’t alone in my craving.
In 1898, Ambrosius Hiltl founded what the Guinness Book of World Records says is the world’s first vegetarian restaurant. Fast forward four generations, and the Hiltl family has transformed the restaurant into a beloved institution that keeps on the cutting edge with sophisticated, innovative international fare for vegetarians, vegans, and everyone else.
Everything is prepared fresh daily, with dedicated suppliers providing ingredients from fruits to spices. An in-house patisserie that churns out great brownies and croissants helps Hiltl live up to its motto of “healthy indulgence.” Their vegetarian butchery, Switzerland’s first, sells a range of products like soy and seitan sausages and homemade chutneys. Some Hiltl locations have club nights with DJs (fur-free attire required). The new Langstrasse location in trendy Züri West even has a bike drive-through for the city’s healthy commuters.
Haus Hiltl is casual but polished and modern, with a central, glassed-in kitchen. It has a table menu, but I recommend the famous double-decker, 100-item buffet, kept immaculately clean and refilled devotedly with small containers to ensure freshness. I took a plate (the meal is charged by the weight) and chose colorful bean and vegetable salads like marinated carrot seasoned with five spices. Hot dishes run the gamut from fragrant fried samosas filled with potato and vegetables to cheese dumplings to curries like a green Thai curry with eggplant and lemongrass. The well-seasoned Asian and Indian choices were my favorites, but other choices include tofu schnitzel, pastas, and so much more.
Although I drank wine, smoothie options are excellent, from carrot-ginger with passionfruit, orange, and lemon to a fitness smoothie with apple, fennel, lemon, and black currant. I loved the silky, decadent-tasting soy chocolate mousse from the dessert buffet; a companion had the mango mousse with maple syrup and lime juice.
Hiltl is open early to late, ready to serve. You’ve got to love the approach, and I did.