Author: Jacob Goldstein
It is not too often that you encounter a drive-thru, fast food restaurant with the word “health” in its name. But then again, Orean’s Health Food Express revels in breaking convention. Located near Altadena (about 15 minutes from campus), this tiny, Lake Avenue anti-McDonald’s proudly boasts a menu of “meatless, sugarless, non-dairy items created for optimum nutrition and without chemical additives.” In other words, Orean’s is a vegetarian (and mostly-vegan) take-out joint. For lack of a better phrase, that is so LA.
Orean’s was founded in 1979 by Orean C. Thomas. In addition to being the first vegetarian fast-food take out restaurant in the nation, the restaurant also boasts a menu approved by the American Heart Association.
From the outside, however, you would never guess that the place has such amazing credentials. The most notable thing about the tiny building–which resembles a Weinerschnitzel restaurant with a sedate paint job–is its ironic location directly across the street from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. If drive-thru is not your thing, you order at the front window and then sit at one of the four picnic tables that frame the exterior. Forget about table service–there is not even interior seating.
While the surroundings are a bit spartan, the menu is anything but. Name a fast-food item, and Orean will have it–albeit in vegetarian or vegan form. Diners can choose from breakfast “Soysage-O-Muffins” to burgers and burritos, to shakes and desserts. The best part, however, is all of this still comes at prices cheap enough to please even the most cash-strapped of college students. The most expensive item on the menu costs all of $5.79, and most entrees cost below $5. When my three friends and I ate there, our bill came to under $20–an amazing value, considering the quality and freshness of our entrees.
If you are still dubious about the prospect of vegan fast food, one bite of Orean’s African Burrito will have you converted. Although I am not quite sure what made the burrito “African,” I am sure that it was one of the best –and cheapest–burritos that I have ever eaten. Stuffed with black eyed peas, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, clover sprouts, creamy soy cheese and spicy tahineh sauce and salsa, the burrito is a delicious combination of flavors and textures–all for a mere $4.69. The use of black eyed peas takes the burrito from “very good” to “fantastic”; in fact, it left me wondering why Mexican restaurants limit themselves to black and pinto beans.
Our other entrees were equally exemplary. The African tostada–composed of the same ingredients as the African burrito–upped the flavor factor by placing the ingredients on a crunchy, (soy) cheese-covered taco shell. That said, the tostada lost much of the burrito’s in-car “eatability.” The Orean burger and Salad Burger were also delicious, with a hearty flavor belying their vegan origins. The salad burger was particularly outstanding; a steal at only $4.29, it features tomatoes, onions, organic clover sprouts, and a house-made “special sauce” atop a flavorful veggie patty composed of sunflower seeds, black beans, and chopped vegetables. Although Orean does have a dessert menu, my dining companions and I opted to order the intriguing peanut butter shake. It was a good choice– it was so rich and creamy, I had a hard time believing that it was actually made from soy-milk.
If you are looking for vegetarian and vegan-friendly fast-food, I would recommend Orean’s without hesitation. However, considering the limited number of options in the “vegan drive-thru” genre, I am not sure that is much of a compliment. So let me put it this way instead: Orean’s is not just a good drive-thru restaurant. It is not just a good vegetarian and vegan restaurant. It is a great restaurant–and the perfect alterative to yet another dinner from the Marketplace salad bar.
Orean’s Health Food Express is located at 817 N. Lake Boulevard.
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