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Vegan for the Holidays

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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.

Z: On our day off we decided to head for the South Bay cities of Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Hermosa Beach where we pretended to be tourists exploring the shops, the piers, and the cool, refreshing water of the Pacific.

R: Whew! A day at the beach can work up a powerful dinner appetite. We decided to satisfy our hunger pangs at Hermosa Beach's well established vegetarian dining place called The Spot whose neon sign over the front door boasts "Natural Food Restaurant."

Z: This little eatery that looks as if it had once been a neighborhood house has an unpretentious exterior. The building is white with a bright red signboard stretching across the front. Neon letters mounted in the center announced that this was "The Spot." The neighborhood is mostly residential with restaurants on three of the four corners of Second Street and Hermosa Avenue. When we opened the screen door with its wooden frame painted in bright yellow, we were instantly welcomed by Cindy, a friendly server. Since it was early, about 5:45, Cynthia invited us to choose our own table.

 The Spot R: This was an easy choice--I noticed a patio toward the back, grabbed Zel's hand, and headed for the rustic atmosphere where we felt an instant down home comfort. Our serving person, Raudel, brought us our menus. Then he immediately returned with a little bowl of fresh, unpeeled carrot sticks and a bowl of sauce for dipping. Nice touch. Zel ordered a small, freshly made carrot juice while I hesitate about ordering the herbal iced tea. Raudel offered to bring me a sample. I tasted and enthusiastically ordered this refreshing combination of lemon zinger, cinnamon apple, and chamomile that had just a hint of sweetness.

Z: What a creative menu of vegetarian and vegan offerings! We watched several dishes go by as they were brought to other tables. The burritos were enormous--the largest we've ever seen! The menu offers a tempting variety of burritos with different fillings and toppings. The specialty salads were heaping with color and quite generous. Focusing on the menu, I found it difficult to select only one dish.

R: I had to hold Zel back--we often try extra things on the menu out of curiosity, but in this restaurant it's good that we didn't. The portions were humongous! Zel ordered the Mexarama which features their famous Savory Sauce. Since eggplant is one of my very favorite vegetables, I ordered the Baked Eggplant which is one of their seasonal dishes. The eggplant usually comes with a topping of soy or cheddar cheese, but Raudel assured me they could serve it without. The Mushroom Walnut Loaf, ideal for lacto-ovo vegetarians, looked sensational. It must have been at least four inches high! Other special menu offerings include a Tempeh Burger with almond rice, Steamers that consist of steamed veggies on a bed of brown rice and savory sauces on top, sandwiches, thick and hearty soups that are all non-diary, and many items for those following a macrobiotic regimen.

Z: While we sipped our beverages, we looked around the patio which was beginning to fill up with diners who seemed quite familiar with the menu. The patio was enclosed with a wall of rough-hewn wood and natural wood lattice. Overhead, there were open beams covered with translucent plexiglass to let in plenty of natural light. Above our table was some green gardener's mesh and on the sides were some louvered windows to allow a refreshing flow of Hermosa Beach ocean air.

Soupbirds R: Raudel brought our "small" dinner salads which ought to be renamed "large" dinner salads. The plates were heaping with green leaf lettuce accented with touches of specialty red lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, and alfalfa sprouts. I ordered the Tahini Dressing and Zel chose the Herb Dressing. Both were deliciously zesty.

Z: Our entrees arrived, and as I expected the portions were gigantic. If you were on a limited budget, these dishes could easily be shared by two. My Mexarama, served on an oval platter had a generous portion of flavorful pinto beans on the right. The left side of the dish had a huge base of organic brown rice topped with an array of steamed veggies including cabbage, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, chunks of baked tofu, a salsa, and, finally, their famous Savory Sauce. It lives up to its reputation! It's creamy, rich and oooooh, very delicious.

R: Stop drooling while I describe my favorite food! I, too, had a generous portion of steamed brown rice along with slices of eggplant layered with fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and textured vegetable protein. The garlic marinara sauce topped this delicious entree. The delicately sweet steamed broccoli gave the plate just the splash of green it needed.

Z: I nearly forgot to mention the thick slice of freshly baked whole wheat bread that came with our salads. Outstanding! We knew we were in a wholesome restaurant when we read the menu that announced they serve organic grains and legumes, prepare organic produce when available, serve and cook with purified water, bake their own whole wheat bread, and offer fat-free, dairy-free soups. They live up to the praise they regularly receive from patrons who have frequented the eatery since 1977.

R: We loved every bite, and the service was excellent. Raudel, who's worked here for three years was pleasant, informative, and ready to answer all our questions. Always budget minded, I had to admit you can really make your money go a long way here. Our entire bill came to $21.70 with tax, and we each took home about half of our entrees to enjoy tomorrow.

Z: The entrees start at $4.95 with the most expensive at $8.95. If you are a hearty eater, you wouldn't have to spend very much to find a satisfying meal in a very pleasant environment. The one problem is parking. The restaurant reminds its customers to feed the parking meter.

110 Second Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 91254
Open daily for lunch and dinner 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reviewed July 1999

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