Come for the food -- stay for the hipster quotient. Oakland's Golden Lotus restaurant, run by devotees of a cult figure calling herself Supreme Master Ching Hai, serves up an udderfull of fake meat dishes, all in a quixotic attempt to recapture the lost carnivorous glory of the newly vegan. The result is a tasty brew of various "just kidding" meaty delicacies, from fake fish to Clintonesque chicken. You can select from over one hundred items on the menu, a remarkable accomplishment given the lack of variety that usually characterizes vegetarian restaurants. The vegetables on a bed of crispy noodles swim in a tangy sauce, while the fake shrimp actually looks and tastes like shrimp. The kitchen staff applies the same diligence and creativity to all the meals, providing amusement to die-hard vegetarians who don't really care, as well as comfort to meat-eaters feeling lost. While the quality of service is sometimes less than desirable, the food is reliably tasty and damn cheap -- prices range from $4.25 to $12.95 per dish. But it's the patrons who make Golden Lotus da bomb. If you're in the mood to people-watch, and the 20th-and-Broadway urban art-punk scene makes you go all slack-jawed and gooey, then scarf some glutenesque shrimp vermicelli between three and four in the afternoon, when Oakland's underemployed bohos strap on their feedbags and head over. It's chopstick-lickin' good.
Readers' Pick for Best Vegetarian: Ambrosia Garden