Editors' Note: On this page in our January, 2000, issue we published a review of Papa Jon's Restaurant in Long Beach. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.
In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.
R: Papa Jon's Natural Market and Cafe is located in a trendy little strip in the heart of Belmont Shores along East Second Street in Long Beach, a bustling area dotted with attractive restaurants and appealing shops. From the street one can see the cafe's diners through the large trapezoid-shaped window that faces the sidewalk.
Z: My first thought was, "What a hot little spot!" My thought was quickly confirmed as we noted how full the cafe was, and throughout our evening of dining there was a steady flow of patrons eager to fill any empty tables.
R: This informal little restaurant occupies about one fourth of the space of the natural foods market and makes for a convenient sort of eat and shop event. The cafe is brightly lit and looks quite mod with its light wood floors, light simulated wood tables with captain's chairs, and three large Tiffany lamps hanging over the long bar area.
Z: The menu's tempting dishes made it difficult to decide which to choose. Martin, our friendly waiter, came to the rescue with some great suggestions. I ordered the Garden Salad as a starter, the Teriyaki Tofu entree, and a cup of herbal tea to warm me up.
R: Soup lover that I am, I ordered the Potato Corn Chowder, and for the entree, I couldn't resist a good lasagne. Martin recommended their Spinach Lasagne with absolute confidence.
Z: While we were waiting for our food, I noticed our chairs had wheels. We could easily swivel around and really see this place. There were about a dozen stools along the bar where diners could order juices, smoothies, or other items from the menu. Behind us was a deli case with an array of salads one could order for dinner or for take-out.
R: Service was fast. My soup, a chowder, was steaming hot, thick, and creamy with chunks of potatoes, corn, onions and celery. The first taste told me it was perfectly seasoned. I thought this was a great start, and as I wiped my chin with a recycled paper napkin, I thought, "These are savvy folks here."
Z: My salad arrived in a small, attractive glass bowl placed on a glass plate. The salad consisted of a combination of crisp lettuces, tomatoes, shredded carrots and red cabbage, a large chunk of cucumber and a heaping mound of sprouts. There was a nice selection of dressings. I chose the Tofu Garlic Dressing which turned out to be the only disappointment of the meal. It was too thin and lacked flavor.
R: When our entrees arrived, we realized we could have ordered one and shared. The portions were enormous, a trend that seems to be in fashion in today's restaurants. My lasagne was beautiful. Picture this: It was 5" square and a full 3 1/2" high. The filling consisted of generous amounts of spinach, mushrooms, onions, tofu, and soy cheese seasoned with cumin, oregano, garlic and onion powder. Over the top was an aromatic, slightly spicy marinara sauce that cascaded into the dish. The taste was sublime as were the whole wheat garlic rolls that came with it!
Z: Since we always taste each other's dishes, I can honestly confirm that this lasagne was exceptional. My heaping and very colorful Teriyaki Tofu was served on a gargantuan platter. Sauteed in a flavorful, slightly sweetened teriyaki sauce were bite-size pieces of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, browned onions, and large chunks of fried, very firm tofu served over a mound of exceptionally tasty brown rice.
R: We ate and we ate and we ate, but we simply could not clean our plates. We happily took generous portions home for another meal. Again, we were impressed with Papa Jon's concern for the environment. There were no styrofoam doggie bags here, but rather large, deli-style paper boxes.
Z: We finished with a warming cup of Orange Spice Tea, and noticed a board on the wall near the door that announced the daily specials. The shake of the day was Harvest Pumpkin, while the soup of the day was Veggie Lentil, and the entree was Cabbage Rolls with Mashed Potatoes.
R: Papa Jon's serves breakfast at 9:00 a.m. every day and offers 13 lunch and dinner entrees in addition to those we ordered. They also feature burritos, sandwiches, burgers, and a variety of side dishes such as Steamed Vegetables or Black Beans. Specialties of the house are their juice blends and their smoothies. One can also order wheat grass juice or kombucha tea.
Z: They're very vegan friendly, and their prices are amazingly reasonable. Entrees range from $4.50 to $6.95. Now that's a place where you can make your money go far.
R: Right. Even me, the penny pincher in the family, felt it was worth the trip to Long Beach. And, while we were there, we picked up a few items in the market section of Papa Jon's. Can't beat that for convenience.
Papa Jon's Natural Market and Cafe
Reviewed January 2000