This, my friends is the future of fast food. Eatsa is the first eatery of its kind — a place where technology is being used wisely and effectively to produce food that is fresh, flavorful, reasonably priced, and — believe it or not — pretty darn healthy too. They’ve got it down to such as science that you pretty much don’t even need to interact with a human throughout the entire experience if you don’t want to. Hello, Eatsa. “Hello world.”
So, here’s how this robo-sci-fi eatery works. First, get in line — I know, during prime lunch hours it looks daunting, but there’s signage nearby to indicate wait times and their eight-minute sign was pretty spot on. Despite the fear-inducing line I encountered, this well-oiled machine was intelligently configured to move each guest swiftly and efficiently through the entire lunch process with ease.
Then, place your order. You have a couple options here. Either grab one of the iPads being handed out in line (this is the only possible human interaction you’ll encounter) or wait until you’re inside to use one of the touch screen kiosks. If you’re a first-timer, I’d recommend waiting for a kiosk to get the full experience. Just step up, swipe your credit card, and follow the simple, on-screen prompts. Soon, there’ll even be a third option where you can order ahead from you phone using their mobile app — ahhh, the future.
Now, I know the name “Eatsa” doesn’t give any clue to what kind of food they serve, but the entire menu revolves around bowls, generally employing quinoa as a means to consuming a variety of worldly veggie-based topping combinations. While you’re in line, you’ll probably want to start thinking about your order. So, as you approach, check out the giant TV screens displaying the eight presets options. Then you can step right up to an open kiosk to make your selection.
After a quick look over the presets, I found myself drawn to a bowl called the Smokehouse Salad and decided that a simple, iced black tea would make a perfect pair. The base bowl started at a very reasonable $6.95 and the unsweetened tea was a steal for 95 cents, but for only an additional $1.79, I simply and easily added a massive hunk of sliced avocado to the mix for an even bigger hit of protein. From a usability standpoint, the kiosk was impressively user-friendly, and even the customizations and modifications were easy and intuitive to enter.
After completing the transaction, I left the kiosk and headed further into the space towards a mass of people who had gathered to watch the overhead screen and await their lunch’s preparation. Even this part of the process which is inherently boredom-inducing is kept fun and interesting through the use of animation. I think they’ve done an incredible job creating cute, engaging, and functionally distracting animations to feature on the front face of the each food cubby. This adds a wonderfully futuristic, Japanese whimsy to the experience of waiting.
From a design stand-point, I particularly appreciated their attention to detail — to allow food to be placed in a cubby while keeping up the human-less illusion, they cleverly animate the panel to complete blackness temporarily before animating the reveal of the meal. Soon enough, my name made its way to the front of the queue, and I was able to retrieve my bowl and beverage from my assigned cubby.
In general, Eatsa has been designed as a takeout lunch operation, though there is a very small bar seating area if you’re inclined to eat in. For now, they’re open only between the hours of 11 AM and 5 PM and they seem to keep very busy servicing the hurried hordes of downtown financial district business people. This place is all about efficiency and serving as many people as quickly as possible — for reference, only 15 minutes had passed from the moment I stepped in line to the moment I took the first bite of my meal. It’s a pretty impressive process.
And now that you understand the setup, I can already hear your next question. “So, where’s the meat?” Well, for starters, you’re right. These meals are completely vegetarian, but I’ll put to rest any doubt you may have about the deliciousness of these actually healthy bowls. Specifically based on my Smokehouse Salad bowl which featured a mountain of toasted red quinoa topped with white cheddar, mixed greens, crispy onion strings, BBQ portabello, tomato, grilled corn, cucumber, pickled onions, and BBQ ranch dressing, I can honestly say that Eatsa has really hit the nail on the head.
Each preset bowl is jam-packed with smart combinations of textures and flavors and have enough vegetarian protein options to keep my big appetite at bay. Can I get a “hell yeah” for that outstanding BBQ portabello and sliced avocado? In my bowl, the crunchy texture added by the crispy onions were key, but the deliciously smokey combination of BBQ portabello and BBQ ranch dressing also really elevated the equation.
All in all, I was extremely impressed by everything I saw, tasted, and experienced at Eatsa. They’ve totally mastered the art of balancing complex flavors and have most impressively figured out how to transform these healthy hippy-dippy ingredients and make them really shine. Beyond just succeeding in making health food completely craveable, this futuristic, vegetarian, quinoa bowl joint serves food that is filling, satisfying, and affordable to boot. Given the diversity of flavor profiles available, I could easily see this place becoming an essential part of a downtowner’s lunch rotation. Mark it down, Eatsa is bound to hit it big in every major US city.
Got another future-forward eatery I need to check out? Let me know in the comments below.
121 Spear St. San Francisco, CA 94105