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The Place– Crystal Wong

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Photo Courtesy of Crystal Wong

Living in Orange County is like living in an Instagram #healthy, #yogapants and #pressedjuice-themed life. With frozen yogurt parlors and the Soul Cycle phenomenon, veganism has only become another addition to health craze culture.

Given an opportunity to introduce her home-cooked recipes to Anaheim locals and tourists, Lynda Sheklow took her chances and opened a vegan-based restaurant near the Anaheim Convention Center. However, Sheklow’s recipes don’t necessarily quite fit the stereotypical health vibe. It has its own identity: vegan comfort food, but with a slight twist.

Located on Center Street Promenade of Anaheim resides a food plaza called Good Food, which houses three budding restaurants.

Upon entering the food court, classical country music drifts through the room, and board games are stacked parallel to an accompanying bar, where smack dab in the middle between Mexican cuisine and deli sandwiches is Healthy Junk. A cartoon rabbit skull is printed onto the forest green awning, resting above its cluttered countertop.

The iconic rabbit skull and carrot cross-bones eatery can be portrayed as punk rock meets veganism. The employees are dressed in black T-shirts donning the logo while adding their own style. Each one looked the equivalent of a biker gang member. The atmosphere is quite different than what one would expect from a restaurant serving healthy, vegan and gluten-free options. Despite the whole rebel theme, the inspiration for Healthy Junk’s eye-catching rabbit skull is a more innocent one.

The inception of the symbol began with Sheklow’s pet rabbit. She would let it comfortably snuggle onto her shoulder and feed him greens such as kale or spinach.

“He was a big part of my life when I was creating recipes to try out,” reminisced Sheklow.

As a vegan for 20 years, Sheklow had been creating her own personal vegan recipes. Watching her rabbit nibble on greens only influenced her to develop them even further.

Before opening the shop, Sheklow had introduced her recipes to family and friends and even catered  parties, resulting in a resounding approval from them.

Although initially saddened by her rabbit passing away, Sheklow knew that she wanted to honor its importance of influencing her to create new recipes by trying to find a way to incorporate it into her newly invested restaurant. With the help of Paul Rivera, good friend and artist who gave life to the icon along with the menu, her rabbit became immortalized as the mascot of Healthy Junk.

“We sat around and talked about food and what kind of food. He wanted fun and healthy,” said Sheklow.

It wasn’t hard for them to come up with the idea of vegan recipes as it was something Sheklow had already been creating for years. With the concept of fun and healthy in mind, the two of them decided a name like, “Healthy Junk” would be a happy medium between the two adjectives.

The concept revolves around junk food that is made healthy for not just a healthy body in training, but also for a healthy mind and a healthy work ethic. Each ingredient in the food and the welcoming vibe of the environment at Healthy Junk is intentional.

Sheklow noted, “We wanted to create an environment where people could come together and eat well— to fill people with a good mind and a good body with good food. Hopefully it will fill you up with happiness and that it will encourage them to come back.”

Healthy Junk provides a truly mouth watering vegan twist to commonly known foods, or as Sheklow says is a “nicer exposure than just tofu.” It’s an excellent place for adventurous carnivores who are open to expanding their tastebuds.

The Food– Erica Kim

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Photo Courtesy of Crystal Wong

The menu is the beautiful love child of Super Bowl fast food and the yoga pants culture nurtured by Orange County. It spans from burgers — ones like  “Buns with Junk” and “Junky Tex-Mex” — to Pizzas and “Chili Chez” fries that could satisfy any veggie skeptic.  Healthy Junk gives options for anyone, not just the stereotypical millet loving hippie. Nobody wants to pay 11 dollars for a salad; even college students on a budget can afford this healthy meal priced equally to and just as satisfying as Chipotle.

I step up to the cashier and find myself staring at the display of thick brownies that shadow the size of an iPhone, but my co-writer and I skip the dessert because tonight is all about the savory. The truth is, I am a frequent customer at King Taco back in LA and a burger fanatic- just ask the workers at In-N-Out. So, when I paid for the “Anaheim chili-pepper burger” and the “Nacho King,” I wasn’t expecting much.

I was wrong.

The nachos looked like a splattered paint portrait of different ingredients dripping off each other, but the mound of colorful salsa on the very top was the first thing that caught my attention. It was undeniable that everything was freshly made. The chips displayed welts of air trapped from the fryer and the “meat” sauce looked unbelievably like ground beef slathered on top of the scattered black beans under a liberal amount of creamy avocado-green. When I took a bite, it felt like each flavor was fighting for my attention, but the glue that held it all together was the cheese. Oh, the cheesiness.

The “cheese” sauce was hiding underneath all the layers, but gave the whole dish the salty presence that nachos boast. And what’s more, I didn’t feel the bloat in my stomach familiar from dairy cheese in the conventional nachos.

The waitress placed the second dish in front of me. The burger was the stacked equivalent to Jenga with different ingredients all held by a long toothpick. The buns harbored mayonnaise, lettuce, a marinated “patty,” “cheese” sauce and spiralized red onions. The aesthetic appeal came from the two large fried peppers sticking past the buns’ edges. It wasn’t spicy; in fact, the patties’ savory marinade was beautifully married to the pepper’s sweetness. Everything else was a supporting factor to the peppers, like the chewy dough of the buns. When I finished the burger, the flavor pleasantly lingered.

All I kept thinking was, how could this be vegan?

Truthfully, I wasn’t all that impressed at first because it looked like a regular burger, but then I realized—– that was the point.

Everything on the menu is supposed to model the foods people have fond memories of. Whether it’s a complex salad or a simple slice of fresh tomato and basil pizza, it’s proof that healthy, vegan options are possible for everyone. Health does not require the sacrifice of deliciousness.

 

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