The rather humdrum exterior of this space-age diner belies the whimsical atmosphere within, with its menu full of colorfully named dishes and its tabletop comic-book style collages. From the horizontal display cases filled with toys and ephemera that serve as dining room tables, to the unisex bathrooms conveniently labeled "Aliens" and "Robots" to allow customers the freedom of self-identification, Saturn Cafe is like Pee-Wee's Playhouse with table service.
The Berkeley restaurant at 2175 Allston Way opened in 2009 as the first and only satellite location spun off from the original Saturn Cafe which has operated in Santa Cruz for almost four decades, currently in a rounded corner of a downtown building that looks like a flying saucer crash-landed in the backside of a Walgreen's and then opened for business.
Completely vegetarian with plenty of vegan options, the restaurant offers eclectic versions of comfort food staples, substituting plant-based ingredients for the traditional animal carcasses and using locally sourced and organically grown products in all its dishes. Looking at a plate full of shoestring fries and a big burger on a hamburger bun sloppy with sauce, tomato and pickle slices, it's easy enough to forget that this isn't an entirely traditional American diner.
A standout is the Space Cowboy, an in-house created tofu burger with lettuce, tomato, and onions and vegetarian (or vegan if preferred) equivalents of all the usual "fixins": bacon, cheese, BBQ sauce and mayo. The Hibiscus Cooler is the drink of choice.
The service is about what you'd expect from a staff of twenty-something hipsters in a college town restaurant, but the food is relatively affordable, the prices fairly reasonable compared to what you'd pay at, say, Mel's Diner, and the music selection agreeable. The noise level usually permits conversation over dinner, but less talkative diners can also take advantage of the free wifi. They also offer catering services. Call 510-845-8505 for more information.
Explorer J. Eric Miller crash-landed on the alien world of San Francisco in the last millennium. Trapped in a world he never imagined, he seeks escape in his experience of living. Read more about it at: theupsanddownsofsanfrancisco.tumblr.com.