When you think of fast-food fare, it likely conjures up images of oil-slicked french fry cartons or burger wrappers. (Tasty, sure; healthy and aesthetically pleasing, less so.) Enter Essen Kitchen, a mostly carryout café with freshly prepared, 100 percent plant-based entrées and sides, each artfully packaged in sleek to-go cartons, Bento-style. Cuban chef Yasel López runs the kitchen, which sources local ingredients.
We liked the grill box, with seared tofu steaks topping buttery rice and a mixed greens salad with pickled veggies, sunflower seeds, and a subtle vinaigrette bookending Cuban street corn smothered in vegan spicy mayonnaise and vegan cilantro cream. For the adventurous, try the taco box: Three housemade rosemary-corn tortilla shells filled with sautéed black beans and mushrooms, topped with vegan yogurt sauce; spicy grilled cauliflower with pineapple and white onion; and mixed veggie and mango salsa sprinkled with roasted red onion and pickled radish, respectively. More often than not, each meal is also dusted with bright, golden edible flowers—a feast for the eyes and the belly. The sides are equally delicious; most notably the cucumber-yogurt gazpacho, which boasts a spicy kick thanks to generous amounts of chopped jalapeño and cilantro. If you’re a dessert-for-lunch type of person, we recommend the rich and flaky almond cherry bar, lightly drizzled with icing—but good luck not devouring it right away.
Essen Kitchen, 1 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine