R: When we saw the sign on the wall that said: "Be a hero--be a vegetarian," we knew we were in the right place. With a name like Loving Hut, this all vegan Asian restaurant exudes warmth and nurtures diners with food that is lovingly prepared and served by a gracious staff. We were cordially welcomed with a friendly smile and an enthusiastic "hello," establishing that Loving Hut truly lives up to its image.
Z: Tracy Chen, an energetic volunteer who works in the restaurant one day a week, escorted us to a table where we waited for our friends Annie and Eric to join us. Tracy was eager to share the restaurant's long history and admirable philosophy. Staffed by volunteers who are proud of the restaurant's international presence, they boast of 21 locations in Taiwan, where the restaurant was first established. Presently there are locations in Malaysia, Australia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, Phoenix, Florida, San Diego, Milpitas, and this new Alhambra location that opened in February 2009.
R: The restaurant is spacious and holds up to 86 diners in its bright, cheery dining area. A high ceiling, bright lemon-yellow walls, an abundance of recessed floodlights and large globe light fixtures, and large windows facing Alhambra's Main Street create a radiant ambience. The white Formica tables and white vinyl-covered chairs appear to maintain the aura of glowing light, while the vinyl faux wooden floors bring comfortable warmth to the room.
Z: And the menu, with all of the dishes attractively photographed in bright colors, matches the glad-to-be-here feeling we both shared throughout our evening. Many temptations made menu selections challenging, but the four of us decided to begin with the Spring Rolls stuffed with rice noodles, faux shrimp, veggie ham, carrots, and lettuce all enclosed in traditional Vietnamese rice paper wrappers. Accompanying the appetizer was the familiar sweet and lightly spiced peanut sauce garnished with crushed peanuts. Attractively presented, the Spring Rolls made a tasty beginning.
R: Then came the Golden Rolls, an item on the appetizer menu that was served differently than shown on the photograph. We appreciated this creative presentation best. Served in a large bowl were the crispy deep fried skins filled with lightly spiced minced carrot, onions, and bean thread. The rolls were resting on a bed of cooked rice noodles and invitingly garnished with julienne cucumber, finely shredded carrots, bean sprouts, and sprigs of fresh mint leaves. It was ideal that the dishes came one at a time, giving us an opportunity to truly savor each one.
Z: Served on a large oval platter, the Sea of Love was an attractive attempt to recreate deep-fried squid with tartar sauce on the side. The crispy little delicacies were partially wrapped with nori, nicely presented on an oval platter, and garnished with lettuce, cucumber and tomato halves, The restaurant's version of tartar sauce made a tasty accompaniment, but the unusual and chewy texture of the mock squid didn't make this a winning entrée.
R: The Jolly Rice, however, was a succulent choice with batter-fried faux chicken patties topped with sesame seeds. The unique presentation and tasteful blend of flavors included a mound of steamed red rice garnished with shreds of seaweed and a nicely seasoned relish of diced red bell peppers, onions, and cucumbers. This dish was brilliantly conceived and withstood the scrutiny of four die-hard foodies.
Z: Looking forward to dish with a little sizzle, we ordered the Spicy Cha Cha, a unique creation of yam flour crescents that were batter-fried and artfully placed in a mound. The garnish was a spicy relish of bell peppers, onions, and garlic splashed over the top of the crescents, with the base of the platter colorfully garnished with lettuce, tomato halves and cucumber halves.
R: We've always recognized Asian salads are far more interesting than those presented in standard American restaurants. Of all the dishes we ordered, the Loving Hut's Heavenly Green salad was our favorite choice for its appealing presentation, perfect marriage of flavors, and creative touches. Piled high on the platter were long shreds of purple and green cabbage, shredded carrots, and tiny cubes of tofu, in a lightly spiced, delicately sweetened vinaigrette. Placed over the top were large slices of soy chicken, chopped peanuts, and sprigs of fresh mint.
Z: The beverage section of the menu consists of 16 very enticing full-color photos of fruity coolers and coffee beverages that beckoned our curiosity. Annie and Eric ordered the Lychee Paradise and Sunny Forest -- Reuben and I shared the Pina Colada. Each sported a unique garnish and was served in a different shaped glass to best compliment the colors.
R: Lychee Paradise has a soymilk base, sweet lychee fruit flavor, and was garnished with crushed dried yellow roses. Eric's Sunny Forest is a two-tone green combination of sparkling water and an intense splash of lime juice, with a kumquat slice and mint leaf garnish. The Pina Colada offers a creamy soymilk base and a distinctly delightful sweet pina colada flavor.
Z: At the end of the meal we all decided we wanted to return to taste other dishes on the menu that looked too inviting to miss, like the Aulac Special Salad, one of the three Pho choices, Eggplant Tofu, Guru's Curry, Spicy Mambo, Teriyaki and Broccoli, Bliss Chowmein, and Teriyaki Kabob.
R: A few items on the menu seemed unusually out of place among the Asian dishes but would be ideal for those preferring standard fare like the Spaghetti Marinara, Classic Vegan Burger, or the Teriyaki Submarine sandwich.
Z: Established in Taiwan in the 1980s by Supreme Master Ching Hai, this restaurant chain aims to introduce the world to animal-free foods "served lovingly, in a graciously decorated, pure and peaceful environment, giving one a heavenly feeling." Tracy mentioned the goal of the restaurants is not to make a pile of money, but rather to promote vegan food throughout the world in an effort to lighten the footprint of humans on the earth. They recycle and reuse whenever possible and post framed mantras around the room and in the restrooms. Repeated in several places are the words "Be Veg Go Green."
R: Prominently placed on the ceiling is their large logo that also appears on their outdoor sign and on their business cards with the same mantra. Everyone working in the restaurant is vegan, including the kitchen staff, and all are able to receive 24-hour programming from the television on the wall streaming Supreme Master Ching Hai's message.
Z: We feasted on six different abundant dishes, yet didn't feel that overstuffed sensation many describe after a full meal. We left sated and thoroughly nurtured by the very attentive staff who all wore smiles and were happy to answer all our questions. This new restaurant truly lives its name--it really is a Loving Hut. Prices are very reasonable with appetizers ranging from $4.95 to $11.95 for one of the dishes. Salads were $5.95 to $6.95, Soups were $6.95, and Entrees ranged from $6.95 to $10.95. Beverages were $2.50 to $3.00. The lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu with prices slightly lower.
R: Tracy couldn't resist telling us the Cheese Cake at $3.95 was very special, but we decided to save that tempting treat for next time.
621 W. Main Street, Alhambra, CA 91801
Reviewed May 2009