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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Veggie Grill R: It's ultra mod. It's stunningly sleek. It's got a hip attitude and operates at high efficiency. Nope, I'm not test-driving a new hybrid at a car dealership. Far from it. Actually, I'm biting into a drippingly delicious, plump Sante Fe Crispy Chickin' sandwich at The Veggie Grill in Plaza El Segundo, just a short distance from LAX. It's the new and very chic restaurant concept envisioned by the partnership of T.K. Pillan, Ray White, and Kevin Boylan.

Z: The three execs couldn't be more diverse in their backgrounds: one a technology CEO, another an investment firm owner, and the third, a former partner of Native Foods restaurant. Yet, the trio of business heads opened the restaurant, their second Veggie Grill, in January of 2008 with exciting plans to eventually make the restaurant a nationwide chain. Their first restaurant is in Irvine. Veggie Grill

R: While all the foods are totally vegan, the restaurant's main focus is to aim for the mainstream diner who is seeking healthier options. The offerings hone in on wholesome choices of familiar comfort foods like sandwiches, burgers, soups, and chili that can be quickly prepared, yet deliver fresh punchy flavor and extremely good looks at reasonable prices.

Z: Approaching the exterior of the restaurant, we quickly noted the inviting, warm, citrus shades of bright orange and lime green in their logo. Outside tables were shaded with giant yellow umbrellas, while tall planters featured a lush display of green horsetail rush.

R: Once inside, we instantly connected with the breezy style of the well-designed ambience. Throughout were the same refreshing citrus shades of orange and lime green, from the take-out menus, to the walls, chairs, and even the tasteful, translucent glass restroom doors. The mod, industrial-style design gives a feeling of bright spaciousness and features lots of windows and high ceilings with exposed ducting. A multitude of aluminum-covered droplights glow with bright orange interiors. Veggie Grill

Z: To the right of the entrance is a colossal-size wall menu that heads the path to the register where orders are placed and paid for. Once seated at one of the light wooden tables and bench booths, we waited only moments before Michelle, our very cordial and attentive server, brought our orders. We quickly discovered how easy it is to fall in love with this informal restaurant that has found the magic formula for dishing up fast food with panache.

R: The menu places a strong emphasis on Southwest flavors with items like the Baja Fiesta salad, Bean Me Up Chili, and 'wiches like the Sante Fe Crispy Chickin', Carne Asada, and Chipotle BBQ. However, there's no shortage of international flavors with the Chinese Chickin' salad, Chickin' Marinara, Papa's Portobello, Bali Bliss, and Island Getaway 'wiches.

Z: Accompanied by our friends Susi, Wayne, and Stephanie, we were able to sample a good representation of the menu items. The daily soup special was a well-seasoned Lentil Soup, thick and laced with exotic seasonings that hinted of far-away locales like Morocco. Susi ordered her Bali Bliss sandwich with Sweetheart Fries, a heap of crisply fried, thin, sweet potato squiggles served with an irresistible Chipotle Ranch Dressing.

Veggie Grill R: Wayne opted for a small bowl of the Bean Me Up Chili as a starter and passed it around to share mini tastings of the Southwest style seasonings. VG's flavorful chili is garnished with soy sour cream and chopped red and green onions and leans more to a chili soup. His Carne Asada sandwich arrived open-faced and looking glamorously photogenic with thick slices of veggie steak and a chopped salsa on one bun half, tomato and red onion on the other. The wheat bun was deliciously dressed with a spicy chipotle cream.

Z: Almost wished I'd ordered it myself, but truthfully, my heaping platter of Chop Chop Chef Salad was a dazzling and hearty dish. Joining the chopped romaine were chunks of tempeh, veggie steak, veggie chickin, roasted corn salsa, and green onions topped with a heavenly Chipotle Ranch Dressing. One of the healthiest foods one can eat is steamed kale, which is rarely exciting. But order Steamin' Kale here and you'll discover how luscious this organic green can be with a Ginger-Miso Dressing.

Veggie Grill R: The foods at VG are so colorful one has the feeling of being in the midst of a food festival. My mile-high Sante Fe Crispy Chickin' Sandwich was piled so tall I almost couldn't get my mouth around it. Packed inside the wheat bun was a thick layer of crispy fried chillin' chickin', chopped romaine, thick slices of tomato and avocado, red onions, and a tasty southwestern spiced vegan mayo. One definitely has the feeling of good value with generous portions.

Z: Susi loved her Island Getaway Sandwich that was thickly layered with a coconut milk-battered tempeh, glazed pineapple, romaine, and tomato with a condiment cup of Chipotle Ranch Dressing. Stephanie dug into the Bali Bliss Sandwich, a grilled tempeh creation topped with the usual fixings with an add-on of avocado.

R: The sandwiches and burgers come with a side of slaw, but for a bit extra one could have the Sweetheart Fries, Steamin' Kale or Spring Mix Salad. The salads are all tossed with steamed quinoa, an original touch that introduces this light and highly nutritious grain whose origins can be traced back to the Incas of Peru.

Veggie Grill Z: Throughout our meal we noticed John, the personable general manager, constantly moving throughout the large room while greeting people, clearing tables, chatting with diners, and generally making sure the patrons' needs were met. The servers, apparently well trained and service oriented, were very attentive to the diners.

R: In addition to the colorful creations, the presentations were tastefully garnished with diced red bells and minced parsley trimming the rims of each platter. No problem getting our 5-a-day here with every dish the picture of a lush veggie garden. A unique beverage and condiment bar was conveniently placed at the rear of the room and offered three varieties of iced tea in addition to lemonade and natural sodas. Hot beverages included organic French-pressed teas and organic French-pressed coffee. The surprise was seeing organic beer and wine on the menu.

Z: After we cleaned our plates and thought our meal was over, Reuben surprised us with a serving of Pumpkin Cheesecake and five spoons so we could all share the sweet finish. All the desserts are housemade and include Carrot Cake, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Chocolate Pudding, Brownies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a VG Bar.

R: Another of VG's unique features is the small alcove with two sizes of take-out boxes made of recycled materials by BioPlus Earth. The restaurant was only open two weeks when we arrived, yet it ran so smoothly it seemed as if it were a long-established presence. The bustling lunch crowd is a predictor this restaurant is on its way to success.

The Veggie Grill
Plaza El Segundo
720 Allied Way, El Segundo, CA 902454
Phone: 310-535-0025
Website: http://www.VeggieGrill.com

Reviewed March 2008

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