Pitom Saha/Staff Photographer Sun-dried tomato pesto bowtie pasta with pine nuts.

Walking into Whole in the Wall, one steps into what looks like a physical representation of the city of Binghamton’s history. The walls are covered with photos showcasing the city’s past and art, including pieces from local First Friday artist E.B. Schott.

A scrapbook at the back of the room documents the history of the restaurant, founded by Eliot Fiks, ’78, and located at 43 S. Washington St. Like the book, the eclectic decor and menu reflect the establishment’s 39-year history. Serving a variety of what Fiks refers to as “homemade natural foods,” this cozy South Side spot offers options for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

During Restaurant Week, the restaurant’s fixed-price menu includes a three-course lunch for $15, a three-course dinner for $25 and a four-course dinner for $30. My photographer and I stuck to a vegetarian four-course dinner, but many of the restaurant’s standout options happen to be vegetarian-friendly anyway.

While the setting is explicitly Binghamton, the menu puts a natural twist on dishes from around the world. The falafel bites and mini baba appetizers, for example, don’t taste particularly authentic to their Mediterranean background, yet were my favorites among the appetizer sampler’s offerings. The whole-wheat mini garlic ball also set the bar high for all nontraditional garlic breads, with its soft interior and distinct flavor.

For our second course, we shared the organic mixed green salad with a vegan tofu-garlic dressing and two soups: signature creamy mushroom and the soup of the day, potato-cheddar. While the surprisingly creamy dressing complemented the simple salad topped with sprouts, the soups’ creaminess and abundance of flavor left us craving more. I would have taken a quart of it home if I could.

For my entree, I couldn’t resist trying one of the restaurant’s eight pesto spreads, which are sold in 125 stores nationwide. While I enjoyed my sun-dried tomato pesto, the most dominant flavor came from the whole pine nuts that topped the bow tie pasta.

My photographer ordered the popular pierogi lasagna, which is slathered in sauteed onions, cheddar, ricotta and a white sauce. While the two pasta dishes contrasted in flavor, both were a unique take on comfort food favorites. We agreed, however, that the pesto plate was a more filling entree, as my photographer happily finished off my leftovers after finishing his smaller plate.

For dessert, we shared the two options on the menu: a raspberry chocolate chip brownie sundae teaser and a fat-free mango sorbet, made with Alphonso mangoes. According to Fiks, the brownie sundae is popular among customers, but I found it to have an overly grainy consistency, which turned me off despite the delicious homemade raspberry sauce. Still, I was more than happy with my sorbet, which tasted like freshly cut mangoes.

Dining at Whole in the Wall was more than just a good meal — it was a lesson in Binghamton’s diverse community and history. The waitstaff and owners make themselves known to their customers, and soon you’re sharing tips and jokes about the communal honey pot or favorite dishes. I look forward to coming back, if not for one of the other pesto options, then for the ’70s folk music that played in the background of our meal.