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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

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: Although Cafe Graikos is not a strictly vegetarian restaurant, they deserve high marks for serving the vegetarian community with a persuasive number of vegetarian offerings on their menu.

Graikos Z: I, too, give them the stamp of approval for being so vegan savvy. Most of their vegetarian offerings are vegan, while many of the dishes that include cheese can be made without.

R: This small, unassuming restaurant is located in a shopping center on the Southeast corner of Rinaldi and Tampa in Northridge, yet, everyone in the area seems to know about it, have been there, and rave about the food.

Z: We planned a late dinner one night and were concerned that we would not be able to find a vegetarian meal. That was no problem at Cafe Graikos when we walked in at 8:45 on a week night, our appetites stimulated by the aromas of flavorful foods wafting throughout the room.

R: We got right down to business and ordered two vegan entrees from their vegetarian menu section. I ordered the Vegetarian Combo Platter while Zel selected the Vegetarian Souvlaki Plate. All their entrees are served with soup or Greek salad and a basket of warm pita bread.

Z: Reuben, the soup lover of all time, ordered their Lentil Soup, and I chose the Greek Salad without the feta cheese.

R: There's always that small lull between the time we order and the moment when the food comes to the table. That's when Zel whips out her little notebook and starts jotting down little details.

Z: Well, this time the lull was quite brief, but I did have a moment to note the ambience which is simple, yet one senses the atmosphere of a nice dining room rather than a fast food experience. While there are no tablecloths or cloth napkins, the substantial wooden tables and chairs offer dining comfort. Decor consists of a small number of well-placed potted plants and a few paintings on their light colored walls with an attractively paneled wainscot.

R: When our soup and salad arrived, I couldn't help noticing the pungent aroma of their outstanding Lentil Soup. Aside from its hearty, thick consistency, which I thoroughly relish, the seasoning of cloves and a touch of vinegar sets this soup apart from others I have tasted.

Z: Juanita, our server, thoughtfully brought two soup spoons and we were both nodding at each other wordlessly expressing our enjoyment while we ate. What a beginning! The Lentil Soup, made with celery, carrots, tomatoes and onions, is a must have. We asked for the recipe, but Juanita said, "It's a secret."

R: Then we shared their Greek Salad with its crisp romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion rings. Their well-seasoned house vinaigrette dressing is also a secret, so we could only commit the excellent flavor to memory.

Z: Our entrees arrived, each on a large oval platter that gave us the impression we were entertaining extra people at our table. The portions are really generous, the aromas enticing.

R: My Vegetarian Combo Platter was heaping with a Lentil Pilaf, a combination of lentils and rice richly seasoned. The Imam Baldi is a baked eggplant stuffed with walnuts, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro, and topped with their house tomato sauce. Succulent! I was dining like royalty. The Briami is a tasty medley of fresh eggplant, potatoes, onions, garlic and Italian zucchini, seasoned with herbs and baked in their flavorful tomato sauce. Also on the platter was a small bowl brimming with Horiatiki salad, consisting of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, onions and mint and seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil. Finally, trimming the edge of the platter were two Yalantzi, stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers and cooked with their secret blend of herbs and spices. It was more of a feast than a dinner.

Soupbirds Z: My jumbo size Vegetarian Souvlaki Plate was equally as impressive. There were Falafel Patties made with ground garbanzo beans, excellently seasoned with herbs and spices, and deep fried to crispy perfection. For dipping the Falafel Patties there was a small bowl of Tahini Sauce, a creamy, lightly seasoned dish made from ground sesame seeds. The generous mound of Rice Pilaf was tasty by itself but was further enhanced with a topping of fresh charbroiled vegetables that were dressed with their "to die for" house specialty Garlic Sauce. My plate also included their delicious Yalantzi (stuffed grape leaves) and a small bowl of Hummos, which is thicker than most and equally as tasty. It's obvious that this restaurant takes pride in pleasing its patrons.

R: In addition to the dishes we ordered, their vegetarian selections include Spanakopita, Saganaki, Tyropites, Tzatziki, Spanaki Salata, Skordalia, and Baba Ghanouj, all Greek specialties that include dairy or eggs. I counted their vegan selections and was surprised they totaled 22. These are marked with a small red heart on their menu.

Z: In addition to items we ordered their menu includes five other vegan entrees: Eggplant Pastitsios, Falafel Plate, Briami, Vegetarian Combo Platter, and Vegetarian Greek Pizza.

R: We should also mention that many of the appetizers, dips and spreads, and salads could be ordered a la carte to create a substantial vegan or vegetarian meal.

Z: We met Robert, the owner of Cafe Graikos, who created the Greek dishes with seasonings influenced by the cuisine of Syria, his native country. When we asked, Robert explained that Graikos means native Greeks, referring to the ancient Greeks.

R: One can certainly eat hearty, and even have leftovers for the next day. That makes their reasonable prices a true bargain. The most expensive vegetarian dish was mine at $10.45, Zel's was $9.45. With their many vegetarian selections, one can easily choose to eat more reasonably than we did, gourmands that we are.

Cafe Graikos
19346 Rinaldi Street, Northridge, California 91326 (Porter Ranch Shopping Center)
Phone: 818-831-1187
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reviewed April 2000

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