167 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto CA 94301 (map); 650-325-5933; lyfekitchen.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: LYFE promises healthy food with a socially-responsible conscience, but at least with their burger, it comes up short on flavor.
Want Fries with That? Skip the baked sweet potato fries.
Price: Burger, $8.79; add cheese (real or vegan), +25¢; baked sweet potato fries, $2.99
I'm a fan of healthy, sustainable food. In my home kitchen, the pantry skews heavily towards the whole-grain/grass-fed end of the spectrum. Yet, when it comes to restaurants, I've learned to be highly suspicious of places where the good-for-you or socially responsible qualities of the food get top billing. I'd even suggest an inverse relationship between a restaurant's claims of wholesomeness and the actual flavor of the food it serves.
If this perspective triggered plenty of trepidation regarding my visit to LYFE Kitchen—a restaurant that promises to "become a way of life, a mindset, and a rallying cry for all Americans*"—there were some mitigating circumstances. The executive chef behind this soon-to-be-chain restaurant's menu is Art Smith who, at least on TV, comes across as a kind and genuine guy. So, I wanted to like the place. More than that, LYFE has received a warm welcome in Palo Alto, California, its first location. When I stopped in, a lunch rush was in full effect, with wait staff delivering plates of food accented with vibrantly-colored vegetables to eager patrons.
And, maybe, if this website had a different name, I'd have left LYFE Kitchen happy**. Instead, I ended up with this hamburger:
True to their ideals, LYFE Kitchen uses 100 percent grass-fed beef in their burger ($8.79). I detected some pastured-bovine flavor in my patty, but it sure was muted, likely due to a severe lack of salt. (LYFE Kitchen prints sodium content beneath every item on the menu, and their drive to keep this number down appears to have impacted the flavor of their hamburger.) The compact patty also didn't offer any relief in the way of juice or grease, as it sat drily on its flaxseed bun. That left the pickles and a bit of agave ketchup to carry the day, and that's asking a lot of even the best condiments.
Yes, LYFE Kitchen does put its burger on a flaxseed bun. It lacked the tender character of a traditional white flour bun, but I liked the flavor. My only complaint was aesthetic, as the bread and the meat came out more or less the same color. I could have offset this palette with a slice of cheese (real or daiya vegan cheese, +25¢), but I somehow lost this bit of information in all the words on the menu and ended up with a bare burger.
Fried things don't really have a place on LYFE Kitchen's menu. In fact, they advertise an "unfried" chicken. French fries? Those get baked, and made of sweet potatoes ($2.99). Mine seemed to have lost the kitchen staff's attention at some point in the process, and arrived limp with a few haphazard clumps of seasoning.
I may have to recalibrate my frame of reference if LYFE Kitchen turns out to be the McDonald's of health food. Things could be headed that way. Two of their executives boast McDonald's corporate experience in their bios, and LYFE already has a second location in Culver City, as well as a section of their website dedicated to potential franchisees. They also have a line of frozen foods already on shelves in California supermarkets.
For now though, when I consider LYFE Kitchen's burger, I find it doesn't quite live up to the purple prose on the restaurant's website.
* Geez! Really? (Incidentally, the restaurant's name, LYFE, stands for Love Your Food Everyday.)
** And, truthfully, a hamburger may not be the dish with which a health food restaurant can best show off its skills, so take this review for what it is, and not a commentary on the entire menu.