I’ll be honest. Dining out at a vegetarian, let alone vegan, restaurant is rarely at the top of my list. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate produce as much as the next health-conscious Bay Area girl, but I like meat. When my friend Natasha suggested we try vegan Japanese cuisine at Berkeley’s Cha-Ya, I was a little skeptical.

Summer green roll

We sat down for lunch on a sunny afternoon and per Natasha’s recommendation, ordered the summer green roll as an appetizer. Any judgement I had over vegan fare quickly went out the door once our rolls arrived. We were served four large pieces of a reverse roll with avocado, cucumber and kaiware, topped with sea vegetable salad. (The sea vegetable salad, available as a separate menu item, is mostly seasoned hijiki seaweed, which I love.)

Sansai soba noodles

For my entree, I ordered the sansai hot soba noodles, served with ferns, nori, bamboo shoots, carrots, and enoki and wood ear mushrooms. This was my first time sampling edible ferns, and they were delicious. For a meatless dish, the mushrooms and noodles were filling enough that I couldn’t finish my bowl. I admit that I missed the umami-laden flavor of the traditional dashi broth (which contains fish) that’s typically found in soba, but I was satisfied.

I’m not sure I’ll be quitting steak any time soon, but my idea of vegan cuisine was indeed misplaced. And oh, Cha-Ya has an outpost in San Francisco’s Mission District too, for all the vegan hispsters.

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