I love love love coming to this place for a delicious, healthy yet indulgent meal. It has become a bit of a birthday tradition and I’ve also treated friends to lunch or dinner here for special occasions. Eating out in Switzerland – especially Zurich – is generally more expensive than in some other countries, so for the average student like me, a visit to Hiltl is a wonderful treat, to be savored moment to moment.
It’s a vegetarian restaurant, so not completely plant-based (for example there are curries with paneer). Most dishes are fully plant-based though, so you won’t feel limited at all if you don’t eat any animal products. Also, all dishes have labels, so just look for the “v” for vegan symbol if you’re unsure.
Fun fact # 1: Founded in 1898, Hiltl holds the Guinness World Record for being the “oldest continuously open vegetarian restaurant in the world”.
Fun fact # 2: Restaurant by day, Hiltl turns into a club by night. Just don’t show up in fur – you won’t be allowed to enter!
The food: While you can order à la carte (can’t understand those people!), my recommendation is that you fill up your plate at the enticing and wonderfully colorful buffet. There is an array of cold dishes ranging from exotically flavored salads to lentil and chickpea dishes, bowls of quinoa, vats of good old guacamole and hummus etc. etc. Above the cold options are the warm dishes, where you’ll find falafels, vegetable samosas and other delights. To the side of this buffet area there are hot dishes of curries, rice, sweet potato mash and much more! Oh and don’t forget: you get a complimentary little bread roll or slice of pita bread with your meal that you can pick from a basket (usually includes a gluten–free option).
For dessert you’ll be spoiled for choice again. Besides fresh fruit there are various vegetarian and vegan (soy-based) mousses, such as chocolate, mango and passion fruit, cakes and brownies (at my most recent birthday dinner there I had a vegan sweet potato brownie – so good!) and crumbles. To one side of the room there are also glass jars filled with various nuts, seeds, dried fruit and granola.
My favorite dish: definitely the cold orecchiette pasta salad with a tomato-balsamic dressing, olives and tofu (see picture below). It’s divine and I never miss it. Other favorites that usually make their way onto my plate are the falafels, the seaweed salad, hummus, green beans with walnuts and some fresh mango.
How does it work? You take a small or large plate and pay by weight. To give you an idea of the price: my large plate usually racks up around CHF 25, while my boyfriend pays between CHF 35-45. My sweet potato brownie, chocolate mousse and mango were around CHF 7.
Bonus: Free water! This is something thrifty students will definitely appreciate, as it’s the exception in Switzerland. Unlike the US where you are always served water free of charge, in Switzerland you’ll probably raise an eyebrow or two if you ask the waiter for tap water in a good restaurant and your request may even be turned down.
Location: I always go to “Haus Hiltl” which is located at Sihlstrasse 28 in central Zurich, close to the Orell Füssli bookstore. There is also “Hiltl Sihlpost” at Europaallee 1A, which opened earlier this year. If you’d like to enjoy this awesome plant-based food with a view, why not check out “Hiltl Dachterrasse” at Bahnhofstrasse 88?
Another place to grab some Hiltl goodies on the go is in the department store Jelmoli, on the lowest floor. Confession of a Hiltl-addict: I slyly suggested we go to the food court area of that department store the day after my most recent birthday dinner (which was at Hiltl, of course), tricking my unsuspecting boyfriend into more of their food. As it’s so delicious and full of variety he didn’t mind though!
Extra tip: If you like Hiltl you’ll also want to check out tibits, the slightly more casual sister of Hiltl. The vegetarian pay-by-weight buffet joint was founded by three Swiss brothers in collaboration with the owners of Hiltl. Today there are eight tibits restaurants in Switzerland and… there’s one in London as well! As I’m moving to London this September I was pleasantly surprised to discover this. If I get homesick I’ll know where to go 😉