Life and Arts

Dining Review: Vegetarian’s paradise in Burbank

There are designers who specialize in making new buildings look old — fabricating that used and loved look before any actual customers arrive. Their tools include distressed wood, scratched steel and pre-aged Naugahyde, for an instant patina of decades.

You can admire such artistry at many establishments around L.A., or visit the café at Full O’ Life Natural Foods in Burbank for the real thing. The lunch counter facing the steel and glass cabinet of pies and baked goods is not a simulation. Nor are the pies, or everything else served at Full O’ Life. The store has specialized in organic and healthy foods since 1959.

I had been told the café was vegetarian, and brought a vegan as one of my dining companions. He found plenty to choose from, but so did the omnivores at the table. Greek-style lamb over brown rice tempted me, as did a grilled BBQ tofu sandwich (not because I like tofu much, but because an establishment that has served it for 50 years might know how to make it interesting). At our server’s suggestion I ordered a turkey reuben instead, while my companions had a soup and salad combo and the vegetarian pad Thai.

The soup arrived first, vegetable barley so full of zucchini, carrot, celery and onion that veggies overtopped the bowl. It was beautiful but bland — a thin stock with no detectable seasoning. The stock needed something else, and not just meat — vegetarian soup stocks based on seaweed deliver the same richness. As for the seasoning, salt and salt substitute were both provided, and perhaps they were catering to people on special diets who prefer to add their own.


The sandwich part of that meal arrived with the rest of our orders. My companion had selected tuna salad on very good wheat bread, and while I would have preferred a bit more pepper and celery, it was still satisfying. My turkey reuben hit the spot too — the tangy Russian dressing, melted cheese and sauerkraut gave this a variety of textures and flavors. Sandwiches come with chips or carrot slices and are garnished with olives and cucumbers, so both plates were colorful and varied.

The same could not be said of the pad Thai. It was made with noodles, grilled tofu, green onions and bean sprouts, which are traditional; and cashews, maple syrup and cider vinegar, which aren’t. We were impressed that they managed recognizably Thai flavors using non-Thai ingredients — but where was the citrus, dash of pepper or cilantro to finish the balance with a bit of zesty sharpness? “This isn’t gonna change the reputation of vegetarian food as bland,” observed the spice-loving vegan at our table sadly. Limes were in the produce section at the other side of the store, and we considered asking the server to bring one and maybe some chilies, but resigned ourselves to having it as it was.

What impressed everyone was the side dish ordered with the pad Thai — a perfectly roasted yam. It arrived at the table looking overdone, but it was moist and the sweet vegetable flavor was concentrated and intense. I’m not usually a big fan of yams, but would order one here any time.

A filling and interesting lunch for three, with beverages, ran about $40, inexpensive for freshly made food with premium ingredients. If you enjoy subtle natural flavors and appreciate healthy food you will love this place — in style and substance, it is the real thing.



What: Full O’ Life

Where: 2515 W. Magnolia in Burbank. Parking in rear.

Hours: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. No alcohol, no reservations.

Contact and info: (818) 845-7411 and