When VIP wrote our restaurant review of Leonor's Vegetarian Mexican Restaurants in 1999, we reacted favorably to the items we were served in the meal. After detailed questioning, we were assured by the staff that all the items we ordered were vegan. VIP has eaten at both the North Hollywood and Studio City locations. Both currently have different owners but have similar menus. The Studio City location was sold to Jose Lopes, a former chef of Leonor's.
Since we published our review, we have learned from some of our readers that both restaurants have not been truthful about the contents of some of the items on their menu.
Repeated efforts by VIP to have dialogues with both owners have resulted in frustration and little evidence because the owners do not want to provide answers. When we visited both locations, we were either told they were too busy or the owner will be present at another time. Phone calls have also been similarly unsuccessful, except for one where Leonor herself admitted that one variety of soy chicken she uses contains 2% egg whites that she considered insignificant.
The soy cheese served at the restaurant contains casein, yet we were told it was vegan. It was on our second visit that we asked to see the label on the cheese. Casein was listed as one of the ingredients. Some of our readers have commented to us about the restaurant's lack of cleanliness and poor service.
Because of this reluctance to be forthcoming about ingredients and because their menus do not indicate which items are truly vegan, we cannot recommend Leonor's Vegetarian Mexican Restaurants as places where vegan diners can find appropriate meals. An investigative report on Leonor's can be found at http://www.vegparadise.com/news25.html
We will continue to post the following original review on the website because there are ovo-lacto vegetarians who will find the meals acceptable.
R: Leonor's Vegetarian Restaurant is a tiny little diner with a 16-year history in one location and a steady clientele of devoted customers who enjoy its unique, homemade vegan foods.
Z: We entered the restaurant and passed the take-out pizza counter on the right that faces a busy pizza oven. My first impression was that we were crawling into a barely lit cave. This nigrescent little corridor opens onto a dimly lit dining room that has seven booths that seat four and two tables that seat two. It's definitely intimate. Each booth along the walls is lighted with a small wrought iron lantern with a green covering. We craved more light, but on second thought, the decor, seemingly unchanged since its opening, was best viewed in dim light.
R: We studied the menus brought to us by Elizabeth, our server who greeted us with a cute smile and her Curious George T-shirt. The menus she gave us featured the phrase "Forever-Young" that prefaced many of their dishes. We learned that the term actually referred to Leonor's original creations as well as dishes made with the vegan soy cheese or soy chicken used in many of their dishes.
Z: The choices on this informal cafe menu are many and range from pizzas to Mexican specialties such as burritos, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and tostadas to sandwiches, salads and full dinner plates. The choice was difficult. We were quite tempted by several items on the menu but brought only one stomach each. We relied on Elizabeth who made some excellent suggestions.
R: I ordered the Forever-Young Chicken Dinner complete with either Lentil Soup or a Salad and a cup of Iced Flax Tea. I'm a true lentil soup aficionado, so that was an easy choice. I also chose the Forever-Young Rice instead of steamed potatoes.
Z: I felt like something a bit lighter and ordered the Special Chicken Salad and a small Carrot Juice.
R: The few minutes between ordering and being served usually gives us time to take note of the ambiance in a restaurant. The one unique feature is the row of curved, dark wooden slats that span across the ceiling and rest on a wood moulding along the wall. Just under the moulding is a wallpaper border that reminds me of my grandmother's house.
Z: Well, it's obvious that we didn't "relish" the atmosphere, but that's not what we came for. The Lentil Soup arrived with the two spoons we requested along with a basket of two small Whole Wheat Flatbreads. These we learned were homemade. The Carrot Juice I ordered was the sweetest I've ever tasted.
R: The Lentil Soup lacked flavor. We commented to Elizabeth who told us that no salt is used in any of the food preparation, but we were welcome to add some from the shaker on the table. We sprinkled on just a touch and the soup came to life. It was delicious! It tasted homemade and was a nice start to our meal. The breads, too, had no salt, but surprisingly, we soon found ourselves enjoying the flavor of the wheat without the salt.
Z: Our entree platters arrived so heaping, they were nearly spilling over the plate. Excellent was our first comment. My Special Chicken Salad was a chopped salad made with cabbage, onions, tomatoes, olives, and diced soy chicken that didn't taste like a soy imitation of real chicken. The salad is tossed with a tasty soy mayonnaise and topped with slices of vegan soy cheese and the sweetest carrot sticks ever grown. I loved every savory bite!
R: I can definitely recommend the Forever-Young Chicken Dinner but be sure to order a doggie bag. The portions are so enormous no one can possibly leave here hungry. This was a sumptuous platter heaping with slices of soy chicken topped with Leonor's special Bolivian Sauce, a colorful mound of steamed cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and zucchini, and a heaping portion of Forever-Young Rice.
Z: I had to taste everything on Reuben's plate and noticed that the rice is prepared with some very special touches. The process begins with brown rice that is toasted and then browned with garlic. The end result is reminiscent of the taste and texture of moist buckwheat groats.
R: The finishing touch to our meal was the iced Flax Seed Tea. It's every bit as special as we've heard. It was impossible to guess what was added to produce such a unique blend of complex flavors, so we asked. Flax seeds, honey, prunes, and cinnamon are all boiled together to create a delicious beverage that really stands out.
Z: We noticed that several diners ordered take out at the end of their meal. We did the same. We ordered the Forever-Young Pizza with three toppings and the Vegetarian Quesadilla stuffed with soy cheese and soy chicken for our son who was coming home late from work.
R: He gave the food a rave review and commented on the delicious cheese that topped the pizza and filled the quesadilla. He couldn't believe that it was really vegan and insisted that Zel call the restaurant and ask Leonor herself.
Z: Confirmed. It's totally vegan. It melts. It has a wonderful aroma. It's closer to cheese than any of the soy cheeses I've ever tried. The best part is that Leonor will sell it to her customers for $5.50 a pound.
R: The prices are very reasonable, and we enjoyed our meal enough to want to come back to taste some of the other dishes on the menu. The food was fresh, wholesome, and homemade; a real treat in today's fast food world. Thank goodness, we can count on some great vegetarian cooking in our Los Angeles paradise.
Z: We checked out Leonor's second location at 12445 Moorpark Street in Studio City. It's even smaller than her original location. The atmosphere has an avant garde quality created with bright, multi-colored walls and a large funky fountain one simply cannot forget. The menus are very similar in both locations with a stronger focus on Mexican Food at the Studio City location, and it's totally vegan.
Leonor's Vegetarian Restaurant