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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

Orean The Health Express

R: Our first experience at Orean The Health Express offered us tasty comfort food in unexpected surroundings. Our second go-round simply made us chuckle as we wolfed down our giant vegan lunch.

Z: Whenever anyone contemplates opening a new business, three words of advice invariably come to the foreground - location, location, location. Well, Orean could not have chosen a more perfect location for his eatery on Lake Avenue at the corner of Boylston in Pasadena.

R: What Zel is referring to is the KFC across the street, the McDonald's on the corner, the Carl's Jr. on the other corner, the Burger King next to McDonald's, the Taco Bell next to Burger King, and the Popeye's up the street.

Z: Undaunted, there stands Orean The Health Express nestled in a sea of fast food chain restaurants. It doesn't stand out or look out of place. Instead, this little vegetarian fast food stand attracts a steady stream of health-minded customers. Some drive through and order their meals from the side window, while others, like us, park in the lot behind the little building and order from the front window.

R: Tina, our friendly server, was quite helpful and patiently described items we were not familiar with. With our vegan focus, we usually ask more questions than the average diner, but this didn't ruffle Tina whose constant smile reassured us.

Z: On our first visit I ordered the Bar-B-Q-Tofu Burger, and Reuben had the African Burrito. We asked to have them cut in half so we could share. I thought I was going to need a ladder to climb my Tofu Burger that was fully 3 1/2" high. The whole-wheat sesame bun was fully stacked with organic clover sprouts, a thick slice of tomato, a 1/2-inch thick serving of flavorful, spongy-textured tofu, onions, pickles, and lettuce and a slightly sweet barbecue sauce. In other words, it had the "works."

R: Since I ate the other half, I can easily agree it was pretty impressive, not only in size, but quality of ingredients and flavor, too. The African Burrito I ordered was bursting with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and relish and doused with a tahini sauce all packed into a whole-wheat tortilla. This is hearty eating, folks, and mighty informal. It's a place where you can lick your fingers, and if a dollop of sauce drops onto your jeans, well, that's OK, too.

Z: Here, it's strictly "patio dining on the run." We ate at the one table at the front of the stand, facing Lake Avenue, watching the hustle and bustle of traffic where we could conveniently view Pasadena's finest fast-food joints. When we went back the second time, we sat at one of the three tables in the little alcove on the side of the building, a somewhat more intimate experience.

R: I was curious about the Teriyaki Chicken Burrito, and Zel wanted to try the Orean Salad Burger. This time we decided to go all out and order a couple of cooling shakes, too. I ordered the Granola Rum Shake and Zel ordered the Strawberry Shake. When our order was ready, Tina tapped on the window, and I went around the front to collect our tray.

Parfait Z: Again, Reuben asked Tina to cut the two sandwiches in half so we could fully taste both. The Teriyaki Chicken Burrito is a very plump combination of chicken-flavored bits of shredded soy protein, lightly steamed peppers, onions, carrots, organic brown rice, and crunchy leaves of cabbage all wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla. This is one sandwich that has to be handled with a supply of napkins by your side. It was dripping with a very juicy, light barbecue sauce that added a delightfully sweet and fruity quality to the meal. Orean's little vegetarian food stand is proof that it's possible to make great fast food with healthy ingredients.

R: It's really quite rare for us to indulge in desserts or those little extras that are calorie dense and totally superfluous. However, I really enjoyed my very unique Granola Rum Shake, and I might add that Zel found her thick Strawberry Shake a refreshing treat as well. No, my shake wasn't like eating a bowl of granola, rather it added an interesting texture to the thick, creamy vanilla shake base with the added touch of rum flavoring. The shakes were so thick, I actually gave up on the straw, removed the cover, and simply drank mine.

Z: You might say that day we went over the top and came away happily stuffed. Orean's fast food is like no other fast food you'll find along Lake Avenue. Nowhere else can you bite into an Orean Salad Burger that's at least 3" high and filled with organic clover sprouts, pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and an original, homemade patty made from onions, oatmeal, peppers, and peanut butter all piled into a whole wheat sesame bun. Whew!

R: All of Orean's offerings are enticing, from his Breakfast Burrito, to the many Burgers, Pita Pizzas, Tamale, Tacos, and original Burritos. For dessert you can dip into a mouth-watering Peach Cranberry Honey Granola Cobbler, and to quench your thirst you can choose Iced Tea, Slushes, Shakes, Natural Sodas, or a Root Beer Float, vegan, of course.

Z: Many plusses here. The parking is easy, the food is tasty, the ingredients are healthy, portions quite generous, service is fast and pleasant, and you get value for your money.

Orean The Health Express
817 North Lake Ave., Pasadena
Phone: 626-794-0861
Open 7 days 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Reviewed August 2001

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