I must admit, I have some reservations about recommending this place on a vegetarian blog. Let's be clear: El Pato is a meaty paradise, and there isn't a veggie burger in sight. That said, I seriously love this place. For me, fabulous vegetarian living means not limiting myself to vegetarian restaurants, but also finding yummy things in seeming danger zones like yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurants. My sweetheart and most of my friends are not vegetarians, and while sometimes they'll indulge me by dining at a veggie place, they usually want to sink their teeth into something meaty. And as long as I can find myself something satisfying to eat too, that's cool with me.
Back to El Pato. Not far from Koenji station, you'll find this little gem. El Pato specializes in American cuisine, and is also a bar in the evening (or anytime you have a hankering for a Heartland beer or Mohito (750¥)). This place has a cool, diner-ish atmosphere, and is beautifully finished with lots of wood and stainless steel. If you come for dinner or drinks in the evening, you'll find tealights charmingly twinkling out of pickle jars.
The first time I ate at El Patio, when I explained my dietary restrictions to the server, she recommended that I order a BLT (890¥) with avocado instead of bacon. The resulting sandwich, ordered with fries (free with lunch, 150¥ with dinner), was fabulous. What made it so delicious? The homemade bread? The kick of dijon mustard? The generous serving of fresh vegetables? Any lingering disappointment over lack of veggie burger was quickly forgotten.
This time, after inhaling my ALT, I thought that for the sake of VegOut Tokyo I'd better order a dessert. The brownie with pecan nuts topped with vanilla ice cream caught my eye. At 700¥, I had high expectations. When the brownie arrived, I couldn't help but do that excited clapping thing that Japanese girls sometimes burst into when a yummy looking dish arrives. My dining companion, who had said she didn't want dessert, quickly claimed half of the brownie, and her share of the berry sauce drizzled ice cream.
The service at El Pato leaves nothing to be desired. The lone server was really attentive and helpful, and the chef (and owner?) speaks great English. According to the diplomas hanging on the back wall, he studied at the California School of Culinary Arts.
So if you don't mind watching other people stuffing their faces with meat, I definitely recommend a trip to El Pato. If you're not familiar with the Koenji neighborhood, spend an afternoon kicking around the quirky shops in the shotengai and connecting streets. This area is also known for having a great nightlife, with lots of cool little bars and livehouses (concert venues), so a visit to Koenji at night is also well worth it.
Menu: The hamburger menu has both English and Japanese, however there's not a veggie option on it. Ask about the vegetarian version of the BLT. The main menu, bar menu, and the 200¥ tapas (!) menu are in Japanese only.
I inquired about other menu items that were vegetarian, and was told that the tomato salad, lettuce salad and pickles (all 200¥) were all fine (including the dressings). Also, the blue cheese pizza is safe.
おすすめ ／ recommendation: avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich, brownie, fresh squeezed orange (actually mikan) juice
Good points: delicious, cool atmosphere, great service, English spoken
Bad points: no veggie burger (yet!), vegetarian choices are limited
How to get there: Head to the North exit of Koenji station. Across the street you will see an uncovered shotengai (shopping street) with a yellow sign arching over the entrance, with a 7/11 on the left side. Head to your left, and walk around the bus area towards the shotengai. As you enter, you'll pass between the 7/11 and a drugstore. Walk straight down this shotengai until it ends at at T. Take a left and then the next right. Walk straight for a block and a half and you'll see El Pato on your right.
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