Amy’s Drive Thru: Vegetarian Enters the Fast-Food Lane

By Dave Soref

For vegetarians in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, life just got a little more convenient this summer when Amy’s Drive Thru opened for business. Yes, it’s courtesy of the same husband-and-wife team behind the Amy’s line of vegetarian and vegan-friendly organic frozen foods and canned soups, which have garnered a devoted following among health-conscious supermarket food shoppers.

The drive-thru created an instant buzz in the Bay Area when it opened. I finally got the opportunity to sample the merchandise myself on a recent road trip.

Burger Bound

The hour-and-a-half drive north afforded plenty of time to think about what to order. On the menu are the mac and cheese, burritos and pizzas that Amy’s is known for. But it was a warm day, which called for the perfect drive-thru meal: Cheeseburger, fries and a drink. Besides, Amy’s had already established themselves with their burritos and pasta. The litmus test would be how well they could pull off an organic, vegetarian version of the American fast-food classic.

From a distance, Amy’s looked like any other fast-food franchise along the freeway, with a large parking lot and arrows marking the way to the drive-thru lane. But on closer inspection, it was easy to see what makes Amy’s Drive Thru different.

Amy’s utilizes the sorts of eco-friendly innovations we’d all like to see more of in general. The building features a living roof of drought-resistant plants, along with a water tower that collects rain for the plants. The restaurant’s interior is light and airy, with high ceilings and exposed beams, reflecting the fact that it is made from a reclaimed barn.

Better than Beef

Before diving into the vegetarian double-cheeseburger known as “The Amy,” I took a moment to appreciate the aesthetics of it—the pickles, lettuce, onion and tomatoes stacked caringly between the cheese-covered patties and the bun, all wrapped up and ready for munching, indistinguishable from an In-N-Out Double-Double burger, which on the West Coast is the highest praise you can give a fast-food hamburger.

And the taste? As a carnivore who’s eaten a few uninspiring veggie burgers in the past, I can say that Amy’s is the best I’ve had. Note for note, The Amy held its own with an In-N-Out burger. If anything, Amy’s veggie patties tasted better than meat. They had the juicy texture and nicely charred, smoky flavor you expect in a beef patty, but with a sweeter finish.

The chili cheese fries also get high ratings. A true fast-food purist might point out that the fries themselves were a tad less crispy and saturated than the perfect-tasting fry should be, but the savory flavors of the chili, cheese, and the garnishing of fresh green onion made up for it. Plus, it was nice to polish off an order of chili cheese fries without feeling the need to loosen my belt and take a nap afterwards.

I couldn’t go all that way and not try one of Amy’s organic, vegan salads, could I? So I ordered the biggest one on the menu—the Super Salad—which turned out to be a meal in itself, containing quinoa, hummus, tofu and pumpkin seeds, in addition to the locally sourced seasonal lettuces, carrots and cabbage, and a choice of dressing. Everything organic, of course. Helpful tip: Goat cheese is available on any salad for an additional seventy-five cents.

Non-GMO to Boot

All the ingredients that go through Amy’s kitchen are locally sourced and non-GMO. Even the to-go bags and boxes are printed with non-GMO ink. All packaging is compostable, including the straws, which are made of paper instead of plastic, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by some customers who find that the straws get soggy. But with hundreds of millions of plastic straws going into American landfills every day, this is a case where principle overrides convenience for Amy’s.

Whether you’re a vegetarian craving the full burger, shake and fries experience; a vegan who wants organic brown rice, beans and leafy greens waiting for you at the drive-thru window; or just an omnivore looking for a more wholesome fast-food experience, Amy’s Drive Thru has what you need, and at surprisingly affordable prices, considering the quality of the ingredients being used.

Amy’s is hoping to open more outlets in the future but has not disclosed any specific plans yet. With any luck though, they will be bringing the concept of an all-vegetarian, vegan-friendly fast-food franchise to a location nearer to you (and me).

Find out more about Amy’s Drive Thru at www.amysdrivethru.com