Ken Leighton 5 p.m., Jan. 24
There's a little sign on the window of this restaurant. It has pictures of famous people on it: Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King's wife, the president of PETA, and others. What do they all have in common? Allegedly, they're vegetarians.
Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant, but that's not the most noteworthy thing about it. Not by a long shot. The most interesting aspect of the Loving Hut, by leaps and bounds, is the fact that it's an international chain founded by Supreme Master Ching Hai, the Taiwanese spiritual leader of a small religion that practices the Quan Yin Method of spiritual awareness.
How cool is that?
On the inside, televisions broadcast the Supreme Master Channel; a 24/7 feed of the Master's wisdom with about a dozen languages obscuring half the screen with subtitles. There is even a series of YouTube videos to demonstrate the restaurant's motto of "Be veg! Go green! Save the planet!"
Oddly enough, this wasn't creepy or anything when I visited for lunch. Perhaps it's the fact that the place was packed with a lively crowd, or maybe it's just because the Loving Hut was well-lit and inviting. It's a cute little space that looks for all the world like just another noodle shop. Except that there's no meat or cheese on the menu, of course.
The food was cheap, which never hurts. Appetizers were $3.50-$5 and the main dishes were all about $5-$7.50. Shakes and juices were just under $3.
The pan-Asian menu takes a geographical detour for a little selection of "Western Specialties," like a veggie burger or the pasta alfredo that comes with carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
A BBQ Noodle plate was a mix and match assortment of items. Slippery rice noodles formed the base, and a chewy layer of fake meat with cracked peanuts made up the protein component of the dish. Enlivened by fresh mint and bean sprouts, as well as a generous bowl of sauce that seemed like it would have been based on fish sauce at a non-vegan restaurant, the bowl of noodles was fun to eat and very light in flavor without any meat to weigh it down.
The BBQ plate wasn't overly oily or salty, either and the overall impression I had was that it was a healthy, nutritious dish.
Probably the most irksome part of the meal was the plastic chopsticks. Without any texture on the ends, the smooth sticks perfectly failed to pick up noodles with any efficiency and I resorted to using the fork instead, which reduced the fun quotient of the meal a bit.
A "compassion orange" shake was also very nice. Not super sweet, though also not very big.
One other odd quirk of the Loving Hut: while the table servers will deliver the check to the table, they don't seem inclined to pick it up afterwards. I sat around waiting for a while before I decided to just go up to the counter and pay there. Other than that, service was attentive.
1905 El Cajon Boulevard
M-F 11-2 then 5-9