You've seen recycled eateries like this: a darkened front window, a peaked roof which probably had the words "pup" and "taco" on it a few decades ago, stained signs that look like they were beaten with a crowbar. The drive-through is more of a polite feature than a time-saver. You may as well park and walk up to the window.
What is this place? It's an unlikely but earnest vegetarian fast food joint. There are burgers; the veggie patty is very light and crumbly, and easily gets lost in the leafy shuffle between the fresh whole wheat buns. There are burritos; the Pollo Burrito is more of a "we're calling it chicken but it's actually just straight-up tofu" yellow curry ladled into a tortilla glove and held together by hope and surface tension, and not much fun. Really, Orean doesn't execute the faux-meat maneuvers as well as, say, Green Leaves, so you should search out the specialty items in the corner of the menu.
The Pastrami Dip--no, really, kind of--should probably be called the steak sandwich, being a pile of seasoned seitan (wheat gluten) chips with green pepper, pickles and onion. It's really rather good, and seitan has that near-steak texture that throws off the purity hounds.
The fries are "air fries," which means they're likely baked instead of fried, which I suppose means they might be called "French Bakes' but which would be sorely confusing. Anyway, they're fluffy and shreddy and good. You can get chili on those, and then they're cut thicker. The chilli (sic) is interesting--it's seitan with kidney and pinto beans, so it's an attempt at a "meat chili"--but I'd just as soon have a proper spicy-powdered bean chili that I can proudly have on top of things.
The best thing here is the African Tostada. Atop two crunchy yellow tortilla discs is a heap of black-eyed peas rendered to an almost refried-beans consistency, African salsa, a honey-mustardesque tahineh sauce, and chopped tomatoes. There is soy cheese but it is convincing and works here.
The beverages are also where Orean shines. How about a granola rum shake? A ginseng slush? Some iced yerba maté? For me, they have a peanut butter shake that's quite alluring, and I can up the ante by making a Chai shake into a Super Green Chai shake, which means it's a pale Irish color and resists both straw and pouring, but is tasty.
Is it healthy? Well, it's meatless, does that help? Consider the surrounding corners: a McDonald's, a Carl's Jr./Green Burrito, a KFC, and a Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles, so arguably it's the healthiest corner in these parts.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, African )
Sweet Mother of Deurmekaar, what am I doing reviewing what basically amounts to a sports bar & grill?*
Well, it's four guys from South Africa, for one, so the sports you might be seeing up on those TVs would be rugby and cricket along with the obligatory "American" stuff... and the food is from the bottom hemisphere and a good deal east. It's friendly, it's wood-paneled, it's wood-tabled, there's a hedge-shrouded outdoor patio, and not too many beer-sponsor graphics in your face.
Being of South African descent, the menu departs in nice ways from typical wings n' potato skins fare. There are curried beef samosas, moist and meat-heavy and worthy of finger-licking. The fries are thick-cut, seasoned until they cry mercy, and crisp.
The Springbok has raise-an-intrigued-eyebrow entrees as well: Jan Van Riebeeck's Boerewors Roll is a South African sausage sandwich; the sausage is beef, of a really majorly Beefy McBeeferson demeanor, and it might be a bit too brutal for those preferring different animals squeezed into sausage casings, but it is complemented by "train smash," a cooked tomato & onion salsa. The bread is soft and slightly toasty around the corners.
There's Naidoos Durban Curry of the day (of beef, chicken or lamb--whatever they decide upon--so relish the profane concept of an Indian curry with beef if you happen to get that), with rice, sambals (spicy chili pepper condiment) and pappadum (spicy Indian crackers). For a homier yet similarly grab-your-beer spicy ride, try the Porto Chicken Peri-Peri (chicken breast coated with peri-peri sauce and grilled).
Speaking of beer: of course there is! Oddly enough their website doesn't list their beverages, but I must imagine they've got some African brews hidden about somewhere. Get yourself a Guinness on tap, if nothing else.
A small parking lot lurks in back, and there's street parking along the dark and moody Van Nuys Golf Course next door. Another location exists in Long Beach.
* Well, really, it's because some friends of mine have a cover band called Bandwagon, and they played here. They're lots of fun, and I like them. Therefore you should, too, and go to all their shows and sing along until they get famous and reward you by hooking you up with a Jaguar or something. Add them on MySpace and Facebook and know peace... or at least a general sense of exuberance.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, American, The Valley, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, African )
Along Fairfax's Ethiopian Row, Nyala lies poised like its spiral-horned namesake. Inside, incense lays a warm blanket over the room; canvas ovals hang like moth's wings from the ceiling. An organic bar flows along brushed red clay walls, and is your likeliest first stop. I prefer the beers like Hakim Stout (caramel-hued with a bite but lighter than, say, Guinness); Bianca likes the Ethiopian white wines like Awash Cristal, which are a little too achingly sharp to resonate with me.
Ethiopian food is oddly familiar; many dishes are sautéed and in a semi-liquid or stewlike state. Red pepper, garlic and ginger are habitual companions. One is reminded sometimes of Indian cuisine, sometimes of Moroccan.
Everything, and I mean everything is eaten from a communal plate. Without silverware. Lest some of you start hiccuping in germophobic panic, there is a universal tool: injera. It's bread*, utterly unlike anything else. it's not pita, nor naan, nor crepe, nor tortilla, but a pliable sheet with a sour tang. It looks like a pile of folded napkins and feels very much like foam. Tear off bits of it and use it to roll up fingerfuls of food.
Gather some friends and order a few combination platters. The veggie dishes are among the most textural: the Yemiser Wot (red lentil stew); Kik Alecha (mild yellow split peas); Yabesha Gommen (collard greens). Most of them have garlic and ginger but somehow remain unique in color, texture and flavor. Ethiopian isn't terribly spicy, but the heat can creep up on you like a Panthera pardus stalking a Tragelaphus angasii.
The meat dishes are more stewlike. Yebeg Alecha is lamb sautéed in butter, onion, and the expected garlic and ginger. It's good like a thick chili, but I favor the Yawaze, which doesn't come with the combination platters: sautéed beef cubes with tomato, onion and garlic, slightly spicy and full-bodied on the tongue.
All dishes are served on one massive circle of injera. Traditionally, once the plate itself is eaten, the meal is over. But Nyala seems light on tradition; they don't feed you your first bite, nor do they ritually drizzle water over your hands before the meal. But, all things considered, there's only so much an L.A.-based restaurant can do and still merit a decent letter grade in the window.
Parking can be found behind the building or on the streets, with a pleasantly surprising absence of restrictive "parking allowed only on every second Tuesday between the hours of Twilight and Vespers, on pain of severe noogies, permits excepted" signs that sprout threateningly in Westside.
* I can only assume that Nyala is providing the real thing made with Teff flour.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Beverly Hills/Wilshire, African )