When you are thinking about a quick bite without breaking the bank, you might be inclined to think fast food. You know you shouldn’t, but what other options do you have?
Healthy food connoisseurs, especially vegetarians, would be hard pressed to find a place to eat fast and cheap. True, you could just grab a smoothie or a granola bar, but what if there was a local, drop-in, cafeteria-style hot lunch for less than a McDonald’s meal that is vegetarian and 100 percent organic to boot?
Heartland on Pierre Road in Walnut is such a place.
With summer almost gone, I took some tough critics with me to sample Heartland’s offerings, my kids. Granted, that takes some courage to ask today’s youth spoiled by pizza and burgers to go for a veggies-only lunch, but they agreed to try it.
Heartland traditionally is a small grocery. Other locations in Santa Ana and San Gabriel, opening October 15, 2011, are grocery-only stores specializing in organic, vegetarian food diligently chosen by corporate headquarters in Taiwan.
Each item is thoroughly researched for its purity and healthful qualities before it hits any Heartland shelves. You would be hard pressed to find some of these products in their organic state elsewhere -a variety of legumes like lentils and garbanzo beans, many types of rice, vegetarian tofu and soy for cooking, condiments, flours, and Asian specialties of all sorts.
Heartland also makes dumplings, rice tamales with mushrooms, wontons and more in the freezer to take home. House made with only the finest ingredients and organic down to the smallest detail, this would be a health lover’s idea of fine dining.
With that in mind, don’t expect a traditional dining atmosphere. The cafeteria is located in the same space as the retail store, and the cashier rings up groceries and hot lunches. Though the surroundings are stark and unaesthetic, you can be in and out as fast as you need to be.
For $5.99 plus tax, you get the daily offering. Sorry, no choices here. What “Mom” makes, you eat. The day we went, the meal was zucchini with rice noodle, deep fried tofu in a house made sticky sweet sauce, and greens with Goji berries. With your meal you do get one choice; multigrain brown rice, fried brown rice, or rice noodle.
You also get a cup of soup. This is boxed individually, so you simply place the box, a small cup of soup, and small cup of the rice of your choice on your tray, pay the cashier, and you’re done. The process is faster than fast, unless you want to order veggie dumplings or spicy wontons from the kitchen, which can take a few extra minutes.
We opted to try both the dumplings and wontons. We were not disappointed. My critics preferred the wontons, as the dumplings were filled with greens. The filling was blander than most veggie dumplings I’ve had, but healthy ingredients don’t always mean the most savory flavors. I saved the dumplings for me. Very low on grease, crisp on the bottom, chewy on top, the dumplings were well cooked. The wontons were tender and flavorful, though I would have liked them spicier, they will adjust to your specifications.
The meal itself was tasty and fresh, all the vegetables perfectly green and crisp to the bite, only an Asian kitchen can seem to get that concept down just right, and we all agreed were very good. The tofu fresh and tasty, though I’m not a fan of sweet sauces, I enjoyed the contrast to the bitter greens.
If you are a big eater with a healthy appetite, you might think the $5.99 daily lunch is not going to satisfy you. The portions are for healthy eating, not Paul Bunyan, but surprisingly, with the soup and rice, you can leave satisfied. If you insist, order some dumplings or wontons, or both, or you can add an additional box of fried noodles and soup for $3.99.
No drink orders, sorry. There is a serve yourself water container, or you can purchase a healthful drink from the cooler across the room. The water is served room temperature, no ice, and is reverse osmosis- filtered. It tastes great. Actually, ice is unnecessary when water tastes this good. Asian cultures don’t agree with the western habit of cold drinks with a meal, so you might just try it their way, and have tepid water with your healthy meal.
Ellen Yun was there the day we came, and she showed us around. She has been with Heartland since 2004.
“We have the hard-to-find, pure rice noodle, no starch. We also have very high quality dried mushrooms. They are not artificially colored. Our kitchen uses only pure, 100% organic ingredients, even down to the seasonings and condiments. We believe in giving our customers real food, healthy food. “
Manager Young Lin said as a result, “business is excellent, increasing 50% each year. We will soon open San Gabriel, and maybe more after that. This location is special because of the cafeteria. People come from far away for vegetarian, organic food.”
Heartland is a good option when your brain can override your “bad for you” habits. Simple, clean food, served in paper to go boxes, sold cheap. Gotta love it, and at the same time, you can do a little shopping for later. It is better to food shop on a full stomach; you make better choices, so continue the health kick, and buy up some “good for you” fare.