What could be more quintessentially San Francisco than a restaurant solely built around quinoa? Well, a restaurant solely built around quinoa that is completely tech operated, no waiters required. Just like a set piece straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster, Eatsa is San Francisco’s first fully automated restaurant; a fast food technologic marvel nestled perfectly in the Rincon Building adjacent to Salesforce in the Financial District.
In order to fully ingrain myself within a West Coast lifestyle, I knew it was my calling – nay – my duty to see what all the hubbub was about. But I’m no masochist. In extreme efforts to avoid the mad dash during lunch hours in the Financial District, and to spare myself from the subjection of overhearing countless conversations of downtown techies and suits bloviate about IP addresses and hedge funds, I showed up at a quite manageable 4:30pm, 30 minutes before closing time.
The promise of Eatsa being a fully functional and automatic restaurant is a bit of a farce. For starters, there are chefs and staff located out of sight in a back room to prepare the wide variety of quinoa bowls offered. Additionally, there was one plucky staff member who would make appearances from time to time in Eatsa’s storefront to assist customers with the iPad gizmos used to order and pay for food, or to go over menu options and explain the wonders of the miracle grain that is quinoa. Part of me was expecting a mild dose of chaos and mayhem – a free-for-all of rabid quinoa connoisseurs clawing each others eyes out and ripping away iPads to take home in a restaurant ungoverned by waiters and hostesses. That was, a bit disappointingly, not the case. Though who truly runs the joint and has the lay of Eatsa’s land wasn’t apparent.
One thing Eatsa’s definitely got down is speed. In less than five minutes, I had ordered, paid for and received my quinoa bowl. The iPad set-up is intuitive and user friendly: a customer swipes their card (no cash allowed here in the restaurant of the future) to activate the iPad and pull up Eatsa’s menu. From there, one can order one of Eatsa’s eight specialty quinoa bowls, or customize a bowl of their own. A few side item and beverage options are available, and once you’ve got your order all nestled in your digital cart, simply hit pay to complete the transaction. The iPad gets your name from swiping your card and places it on a digital screen with an accompanying number. This number indicates the assignment of your meal to a digital cubbyhole, where your food will magically appear once it’s ready. Lest anyone get confused and grab the wrong meal, your name appears on the screen of the compartment where your meal awaits your hungry mouth, and all it takes is a double tap of the screen (which is more fun than it has any right to be) to unite you and quinoa in a holy union of nom nom nom.
As for the food itself, it’s tasty, if not exactly mind-blowing. The ingredients were fresh and well prepared, and the proportions were equal enough to create a balanced quinoa dish that wasn’t overpowered by one lone ingredient or flavor. I opted for the savory Stuffing Bowl due to my love of all things Thanksgiving, and while it didn’t quite stack up to dinnertime on the last Thursday of November, it offered a nice mix of roasted seasonal vegetables, while green beans, onion straws and a mushroom gravy combined to make a nice, makeshift green bean casserole in my quinoa bowl. The cranberry chutney was a bit tart for my tastes, however. My friend opted for the No Worry Curry bowl, which was another solid and tasty bowl, but lacked a certain kick and spice one might expect from a curry based dish.
What ended up being my biggest surprise was how delightfully refreshing my sparkling cucumber melon beverage was – a delicious 95-cent drink I happily gulped down. Come for the quinoa, stay for the sparkling beverages I say. But at $6.95 a bowl, you can’t really ask for a faster, healthier or more satisfying lunch option I daresay. Nor will you find a more savvy restaurant with a fun, futuristic ordering and serving experience that makes even an adult feel like they’re a kid at a candy store again, except this time the candy is actually quinoa. And because the meals are served in disposable bowls, it’s perfect to grab on the go and take down to the Embarcadero for a nice relaxing lunch on the waterfront.
All in all, I give Eatsa four quinoa bowls out of five.