Hard Times Cafe for $7.90

Seitan gyro with chips and curry potato soup at the Hard Times Cafe.

Seitan gyro with chips and curry potato soup at the Hard Times Cafe.

A friend who subscribes to Vegetarian Times said the Hard Times Cafe was noted in a recent issue as a great spot in the Twin Cities, so we schlepped on over to check it out recently. The Minneapolis cafe, located on the West Bank, serves all vegetarian food -- much of it vegan.

Once you get past the garish exterior, the inside of the cafe -- with lots of wood -- is intimate and homey, with booths and tables as well as bar stools and several little nook-type areas to sit. It's pretty much self-serve -- you write your order on a piece of paper, including prices, pay, and then wait for them to shout your name out.

I zeroed in on the sandwiches because they seemed the most off-the-beaten-path. The restaurant serves banh mi, gyros, fajitas, reubens and Philly sandwiches, mostly made with seitan (except the reuben, which is prepared with tempeh). All are under $7.

Although I'm not a vegetarian, I love trying fake meat products (go Evergreen!) and went for the gyro. The seitan came in strips fried crisp, mimicking the meat in a real gyro, albeit less flavorful. The accompaniments were identical to what you'd get with a gyro -- soft pita, fresh, crunchy veggies and a garlicky hummus-type sauce on the side (also good for chip dipping). Cup of soup a buck more for a grand total of $7.90.

On our visit, we waited at least 15 minutes for our order to come up, but decided it was worth it, definitely so if, unlike us, you're an actual vegetarian or vegan. Hard Times has a nice bakery case too. On our visit I noticed the lavender butter cookies, homemade peanut butter cups and chile cupcakes. Also, anything on the menu that's not already vegan can be made: Just ask.

Note: While the cafe itself is perfectly presentable, if a bit "lived-in," a few online comments about the cafe mention the semi-squalid condition of the cafe's restroom. These observations were solidly confirmed by one of my dining companions. "I don't know how it passes code," he said.

Hard Times Cafe 1821 Riverside Ave. Minneapolis 612.341.9261