Vegan food always seems like a punishment rather than a lifestyle choice. Like wearing a hair shirt or flogging yourself with a cat ‘o nine tails. I mean, go for it if that’s what you’re into, but leave me out of it. Because humans are natural omnivores. We have canine teeth for a reason and bacon wasn’t invented because it tasted bad.

But here’s the thing: There is something to be said for eating more fruits and vegetables. For limiting that big old carbon footprint, taking a more humane approach to life, and knowing that your meal came from the ground rather than a feedlot. So, yeah, I get it.

So it should come as no surprise that I’ve been foot-dragging on the latest entrant into the vegan restaurant game, The Garden (90 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa). Suffice to say that before cautiously embarking, I made sure that nearby Cricklewood would be open and standing by with a steak should things go south.

Despite some ambivalence about the whole thing, they didn’t.

The Garden wins you over immediately with sweet, chewy slices of whole wheat bread dipped in olive oil. Fresh spring rolls filled with veggies and dipped into peanut sauce could use a use a lighter rice paper wrap, but (aside from not being filled with pork and shrimp) were refreshing. Hummus fails, but the Crispy Thai Tofu Salad (that wasn’t really all that crispy and shouldn’t have had out-of-season tomatoes, $11.95) was beautifully plated and tasty.

Best bet: The Carl Burger ($10.50). Ignore the fact that its made out of oats and a host of equally unhamburgery ingredients. Delish. Amazing bun, sweet sauce, a deliciously spicy patty, crisp veggies. Yeah, I’d eat this again, probably with some Fakon, vegan cheez and avocado. With little nuggets of baked sweet potato, its a huge, filling and ultimately satisfying lunch.

Carob cake, well, it looked pretty.

The restaurant also offer smoothies for take-out, but I was left wondering if perhaps they might make more of a killing on selling some
of the great housemade breads and buns (including gluten-free options). The Garden also features dinner entrees including pastas, eggplant parmesan, bbq tofu, quiche Lorraine and enchiladas ($13-$15). The interior is light, sunny and warm with friendly, if not totally informed staff. (Hint: If I’m new to this cuisine, please be able to tell me what’s in it.)

The Garden is working hard to bring flavor and good taste to a cuisine sorely in need of some good pr. And starting with a darned tasty burger isn’t a bad way to start.

The Garden, 90 Mark West Springs Road, 829-1410.