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Elf Cafe in Echo Park - So Tiny and Cute!

Just noticed the little place just doors away from American Apparel in Echo Park was finally open and took a quick peek inside. So cute! Looks like a tiny brasserie, couldn't seat more than 20-25. Very friendly staff.

I have to admit my heart sunk a bit upon learning that the menu was not only vegan/vegetarian, but mediterranean, not my favorite cuisine. Yet once I actually read the menu, my interest was piqued and I honestly look forward to trying this adorable new addition to the hood.

Some things I'd like to try:

Mediterranean Lentils: a crock of organic lentil with mushrooms and carmelized onions

Organic Kale Salad with avocado, hemp seeds and citrus seeds

Gorgonzola mac and cheese

Baked Tart with Sauteed Mushroom and Feta

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  1. Looking forward to checking it out. Was wondering when they would finally open that place.

    1. I love Elf Cafe! I could be a vegetarian if all vegetarian restaurants were this delicious.

      1. I went by at lunch and found out that they are open for dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday. Thanks for posting about this place, Suebee.

        1. Read the Daily Candy writeup yesterday, and decided to stop by for dinner last night. Everything: the vibe, the service, the ambiance/decor, the menu and the food was superb. Clean, healthy, whole food with a menu that's not overly contrived with fancy schmancy ingredients but shines on the strength of it's pure, simple flavor combinations. And the little details (like the water, filtered and infused with cucumber, and whole grain toasts with vegan potato garlic puree instead of bread basket) make the experience as enjoyably relaxing as eating in your own home, just waaaaaaay better. If i lived in the neighborhood I'd be there at least once a week.

          1. we went there last nite for sunday nite dinner. everything from the service to the food was amazing. they dont offer wine or liquor, so its byob with no corkage. we had a curried carrot soup, a kale salad w/ avocadom, and a potota gorgonzola tart. to finish it off, we had saffron pudding that was really exceptional. i am going to be back very soon. the place has a great vibe, not pretentious, and very neighborhoody. for vegetarians looking for someting difft, you should try this. im not a vegetarian, and i love this place alredy.

            1. Another positive vote for Elf Cafe! Went this past Friday, service was warm, organic mint iced tea was delicious.

              I ordered the special, which was a tomato stuffed with lemon cous cous and then baked, but not until the tomato was mushy. It was perfectly warm, but still had some firmness to it. The side on this plate was the real stand out, though! Basically, a potatoes au gratin, with a wonderful creaminess throughout. Couldn't get enough!

              Very cute neighborhood place with free corkage. They don't use any cheeses with rennet, so it suited my vegetarian friend perfectly. Small menu, nothing over $14 (except my special, which was $16) I wish them luck.

              1. went there to eat last night and had the gorgonzola mac and cheese. unbe-fucking-lievable. the atmosphere is modern yet cozy and the service is fantastic, especially for a new place. i love the toasted bread and mashed potatoes. the raw food sampler is amazing as well. highly highly recommended to anyone seeking a meal to re-energize.

                i'll be back very soon.

                1. Stopped by Elf Cafe last night at 10:15 and they were already closed...very disappointing! They said they had a really slow night. I'm going to try it again, and hopefully they will start getting more business. Sounds like a great place.

                  1. I went here last night. I was a little cranky going into the whole experience, so factor that in.

                    Anyway, I thought everything was pretty good. The potato / garlic puree served ahead of time was good. The baba ganouj was not quite what I'm used to, and not really salty enough, but good. My tangine (main dish) was decent - it seemed to me that the vegetables were all different degrees of hardness, which bugged me a little. My gf got a portabella sandwich, which she said was really good. The desert was a pear torte (or something like that - maybe I mis-heard) - it was really more like a cobbler or something. It was interesting; I wasn't totally crazy about the crust.

                    The staff and clientele put together were a little too hip for me to handle all at once.

                    Anyway, overall a good experience, and it's walking distance from my house, so I'm sure I'll end up here more often. A little on the pricy side, for what it is, IMO, and I wish they'd ditch the raw stuff.

                    1. I drove by American Apparel several times looking for it. It is either so small I'm missing it or it's off to the side.

                      Is it on the north-west corner of Sunset and Alvarado? Just west of American Apparel? On the north side of Sunset?

                      I have not been successful Googling it but will try information next.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                        It's actually more than a "couple" doors down. It's really small, and maybe about 5 doors (?) west of AA. There's no sign. I accidentally parked right in front of it while I was looking for it.

                      2. it's right next to the abandoned movie theater. When open, they have tables out front.

                        1. I went to Elf Cafe over the weekend and this die hard omnivore walked out with thoughts of giving up meat for good. If vegetarian food can be so exceptional, why bother with the other stuff? :)

                          I have never had such delicious, satisfying vegetarian food before, and in fact the quality here surpasses most other restaurants I've been to, vegetarian or not. Very innovative, quirky, universally appealing, and prices were fair IMO for the quality. Our sweet waitress (who checks out chowhound and sent us her thanks for the good word!) put it best: the chef prepares his dishes in such a way that lets the ingredients speak for themselves. There's a lot of love invested into this little place, and it shows.

                          My very faves from my visit: asparagus soup, white bean dip appetizer
                          Nota benes: BYO beer/wine-- no license here, $5 corkage, though the cucumber-infused table water was great!

                          1. I'm dying to go, I'm ready for something other than Paru but they have NEVER been open.

                            1. I went there the other day and it was so fantastic!
                              I wrote about the experience in my blog;


                              1. Elf is incredible. thank the lord for the spot, including the food, the staff and the location. being a vegan in echo park I feel so thankful for this new gem. The staff is amazing and totally unpretentious. the food is delicious and affordable. the water is triple filtered and infused with cucumber. its my favorite. try it... you will love.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: wallismom

                                  Totally unpretentious? I thought the staff was *totally* pretentious - especially when the owner guy (who is all freak-folked out or something) sat us and gave us his whole spiel about the restaurant and its philosophy. Not to mention that the whole not-having-a-sign thing is a bit on the pretentious "we're too cool to have a sign" tip.

                                  And I thought the food was actually on the expensive side for what it was. Maybe the specials were just boring when I went, but I would like to see more innovative / exciting food for those prices.

                                  Or if someone would open a vegetarian / vegan place on the east side that is cheap, *actually* not pretentious, and has good vegan french toast for brunch, that would be nice too. Maybe Flore will be good (anyone know when they're going to open?).

                                  1. re: will47

                                    My wife is a recently converted vegetarian - unpretentious. My sister is a hardcore vegan - can be muy pretentious without realizing it. I think for alot of vegans and vegetarians, it's not only a food preference, but part of a whole philosophy. I'm now kinda used to that better-than-thou sense I get when I converse with my sister when it comes to food, health, social responsibility, animal cruelty, and the environment, which seems to emcompass her reasoning for being a hardcore vegan. But I occasionally have to throw in a, "Oh yeah - you're a vegan - you're so much better than me," quip at her just for humor's sake, but also to remind her that I am on her side - just not all the way over against the fence in left field. I always get this sense of urgency from my sis when talking with her about these things, that our world is spinning out of control at an accelerating pace, and she is probably right, with most of the world now coming to grips that the sky is truly falling, i.e., Global Warming, and if we all changed jsut some of our lifestyle choices, that things would change for the better very quickly.

                                    Maybe the owner and probably a major portion of the staff are of a similar ilk. I can dig it - it's the owner's business and if he feels that part of his mission is to inform the customer of why he does what he does, so be it. But on the other hand, if he is perceived as heavy-handed in his Stalinist diatribe, he will eventually turn off alot of people, as he did with you. It reminds me of religion. Religious zealots feel that they can get their points across to you by screaming in your face, while there are those who simply lead by example, thereby gaining much more respect.

                                    My wife visits this area about twice a week, so I'm going to reccomend it to her, but I'm going to have her read this thread first. Your points are well taken, and maybe some very caring and loyal customer can maybe slip an anonymous note explaining concerns such as yours on the counter, or in with the tip, which IMHO, would probably be the best tip owners like this well-intended proprietor can get.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      I don't think it was the vegetarian holier-than-thou thing (I've been pretty much vegan for almost 15 years, and have a low tolerance for the preachy / holier-than-thou kinda stuff)... just general hipstery pretentiousness.

                                      1. re: will47

                                        Thanks... I guess I wasn't clear - what I meant was that alot of times - as well meaning as my sis and others are - they project that sense to us non-vegans - as many are very passionate about their reasonings behind why they are the way they are - that they do what they do, and eat what they eat because... so the question one must ask him or herself is: Why do I feel so subhumanist next to this person? Maybe it's just me... Still I feel this place is worth checking out, and if it is as good as everyone is saying it is, then food choices that are easier on Mother Earth might be alot easier for us omnis and carnis... Thanks for your thoughts...

                                    2. re: will47

                                      Sounds like the restaurant, which was it ... Ma Cuisine? Which refused to publish their phone number back so many years ago! It was available to only a select elte!

                                      Yeah, that's pretentious!

                                      But "been there, done that".

                                  2. I went to Elf Cafe a few weeks ago and loved it! my bf and I love echo park and have been discussing its great need for good restaurants. Welcome Elf Cafe!!! I had the roasted veg tagine and thought it was satisfying and lovely. Lots of almonds and plumped raisins, a variety of vegetables with good textures, great flavor and the occasional umami-invoking mysterious bites. Was it preserved lemon? my bf had the roasted beet and fennel dish with a wonderfully textured pilaf. At first I wasn't very excited by his choice ... but when i tasted it ... you just can't deny great ingredients. right on. They also had tarts that i think i want to get next time.

                                    i thought it was cute, cozy, and comfortable. The waitress was sweet and i liked being able to see the kitchen. (I want to sit at the counter next time). The waitress said they had gotten the liquor store next store to carry organic wines, which i thought was cool. She also said they went all-organic after the new year.

                                    we will definitely be back. It's nice to not see a single tofu-rific item a veggie menu and there's none of that "substituting" for omnivore-style eating. My bf and i LOVE being omnivores, but man, I'm so glad to find a REAL vegetarian restaurant.

                                    Wasn't this place opened by the band (and friends?) of Viva K?

                                    1. We went to Elf Cafe last week with very high expectations after reading all the praise heaped on it by previous posters.

                                      Yeah, the cucumber-infused water was good, but so what? Everything else was a letdown. The soup (squash-potato) was bland but inoffensive. The lentil appetizer, on the other hand, was aggressively salty -- too much for me. The tagine was all right, but if you've ever had the same dish at a moroccan restaurant you'd know the difference. The penne in gorgonzola cream sauce was overwhelmingly strong and too heavy to make a full-size entree of; three forkfuls in and I was wishing I'd ordered something else. Thankfully, I was able to snag some of the hotsauce that came with the tagine (ground chilis and raw garlic, I think) to kick up the penne a little.

                                      Dessert was their interpretation of a pear tarte tartin: a couple lightly browned flavorless pear halves riding a sliver of rubbery undercooked dough. It's unforgivable that an organic restaurant can't find flavorful pears in January. Doesn't anybody there taste the food they're serving?

                                      For what we spent, we should have eaten better food.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: ladelfa

                                        I know some of the owners, they are all part of the band Viva K. I went there back in December and also had the tomato cous cous special and it was excellent. At the time they had a coriander beet soup too, amazing!!!

                                        In my experience, some of my carnivore friends really don't like organic, vegetarian food because they say it tastes "like dirt" or has "no flavor". I think this is because their palates are used to a particular type of cuisine. I'm not saying this is the case for all, but for some. So maybe the above poster just wasn't used to this type of food and found it boring, but for me, who has been a vegetarian for almost 6 years, I found that the food there was excellent in flavor and presentation.

                                        I don't get the prentious vibe there at all and I'm not a hipster nor do I dig that scene too much. The owners there I know, we have common friends, and they were totally nice, informative and very attentive. I would definitely go back in a second!

                                        In regards to the sign, maybe they don't care about it enough to spend money on it. You have to haggle with your landlords over signage and how it looks etc and it's annoying and a waste of money. Has anyone been to Pho Cafe? They have no sign and that place is always packed.

                                        Flore: last I heard they were in permit hell with the health department. Apparently some permits they filed are in limbo while the health department deals with their shortage of people. I think they said that they might be ready in Feb but who knows. Those owners also own Tierra Cafe downtown which is excellent!

                                        Anyway, that's my two cents.

                                        1. re: trock

                                          I'm 99% sure she sold Tierra. I ran into one of the people who used to work there the other day, and she confirmed this. It's now run by an older asian couple or something. Totally new staff. Menu hasn't changed much, though I don't think the food is quite as good as before (haven't been there too many times).

                                          1. re: will47

                                            I haven't been to Tierra since they stopped doing the all you can eat vegan brunch on Saturdays but my boyfriend's been there a few times. That's too bad that they sold it but I guess they have to in order to invest in Flore.

                                          2. re: trock

                                            I've been a vegetarian since 1984. I'm very "used to this type of food."

                                            I still maintain that saltiness is not a substitute for flavor, that an organic restaurant should be able to find pears that taste like pears, and that whoever was preparing the food that night was either not tasting what they served me, or had a horrible sense of balance.

                                        2. How does cru (formerly jade) down the street compare?

                                          1. I live in EP and have been waiting for the neo-hippy punk crowd to bring it on down so Elf Cafe is a welcome addition. Will try it when I can match up when they are open with when I am hungry and I am willing to spend 30 bucks on the same vegetables I can purchase at the Echo Park farmer's market on Friday afternoon.

                                            One little beef (oh I am so sorry, no meat!) I have is with the people who open organic/vegan/medi places in L.A. and want me to empty the content of my wallet on the table to eat basic food and cooking. I have been spending a lot of time in SE Portland, Oregon lately and this healthy organic veg-based type of food, usually of exceptionally high quality and taste, is completely taken as the norm by the locals and is not pumped up with all sorts of juicy menu marketing jargon and it is priced accordingly with the cost of the ingredients. OK, so the cost of great produce IS cheaper there and a storefront rent in EP is no longer cheap like it was 10 years ago (when a business like this would not have stood a chance) but it pains me to spend 14 for couscous and some nice vegetables. Maybe aestheticizing and fetishizing the vegetarian ingredients is the only way to get folks to eat right and not feel like dullards but I've known many have been eating this way for years. I eat this way myself, with meat or fish meals an occasional diet supplement since I am not a vegan by philsophy. Two days ago, at a bakery in Portland, I ate the best ever red lentil carrot vegan soup with superb seeded bread and a beautiful salad for, like, 5 bucks. There was no virtuous posturing or menu verbiage - simply two tureens of soup, one with a 'V' for vegan and one with a 'NV' for non-vegan.

                                            In conclusion for my semi-rant and in anticipation of eating well at Elf Cafe and hoping to report major deliciousness there, I posit that vegan's a dietary category that's promoted some wonderful tasty healthful cooking. Vegan is not a big bucks marketing trend or a lifestyle that will alter the face of the planet. Remember East/West restaurant, anyone?

                                            But this is Los Angeles and I suppose even a dietary category is an fashion accessory for the young and the self-conscious.

                                            1. ... When *is* Elf restaurant open? I tried to go last night (Tuesday) at 9 pm and it already dark and locked up.

                                              1. Wednesday through Sunday nights, I believe.

                                                1. I went to Elf about a month ago and was blown away. Great ambiance, super friendly (and attentive!) servers and BYOB. We got there around 7:30 on a Friday, but wouldn't recommend showing up much later than that- the place only has about 6 or 7 tables and fills up fast. The avocado and tahini puree was awesome and so was everything else we ordered. Be warned though, the beet dish isn't so hot, or at least a little bland for my tastes.

                                                  1. I cant believe that people are calling this place expensive! Corkage is a mere 4 dollars, salads are 6-8 follars, and main courses are 10 - 14 dolllars maximum. This place isnt a whole in the wall, and for us, we have eaten there three times, brought in amazing wine, and had dessert for 45 dollars. Try going to Blairs for that! I love their kale salad, which since then, I have been making it at home. The waitress/owner? gave us the recipe, and she is so super sweet. Pretentious? I have never had that opinion of this place, and why is it pretentious not to have a sign? I find those comments really funny. I hope ELf cafe survives, b/c I think its a great addition to our neighborhood. Simple honest food, that leaves you full. Not like Canele, where I spend 125 dollars and left hungry!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: silverlakewino

                                                      I am perfectly happy spending $10-14 for an entrée, but in my opinion (based on the one time I went there), the stuff they have doesn't seem worth what they're charging for it. I don't think it's expensive on an absolute level - just expensive for what it is... their menu just didn't seem that interesting or innovative. Just for an example, I think Madeline Bistro (or hell, even RFD) do more interesting (and tastier) vegetable based food for the price.

                                                      And I will be very happy if I'm proved wrong the next time I go there.

                                                      But I'm not complaining - it's great to have a good vegan restaurant like 3 blocks away from my house. But the fact that I haven't had much of an inclination to go back yet kind of worries me.

                                                      1. re: will47

                                                        I've been a vegetarian for 20 years. Finally someone opens a completely organic vegetarian restaurant in my neighborhood that serves wholesome food instead of fake meat and here you are trying to bring it down. what gives? expensive? pretentious?

                                                        The staff has been nothing but welcoming and friendly to my wife and I who eat there at least once a week, the atmosphere is peaceful and the food is absolutely incredible.

                                                        try eating in west hollywood or beverly hills where you get $30 a plate that's not even organic or vegetarian and pretentiousness rules.

                                                        1. re: roth77

                                                          I'll eat there soon and report back. It's in my neighborhood and sounds good.

                                                          There's an old tradition of vegetarian restaurants in LA being host to preachy lifestyle faddists and that may be what getting under the craw of some of the commenters. I know that the case with me. I keep thinking of that Woody Allen movie where he goes to a vegetarian restaurant on Sunset strip in the 1970's.

                                                          If the food's good and not a total ripoff, they might have a chance of making it that spot on Sunset. I am hoping they do and that there's no ideology imposed on me if I'm hungry for expensive vegetables. Besides, if they were really all that virtuous, they would be focusing more on sustainable and local food products rather than just being obsessed with 'organic', which can burn a lot of fossil fuels in production and distribution. That's a current party line in the People's Republic of Portland.

                                                          Speaking of 'pretentious' Weho I ate late at Hugo's last night and it was good! The food I ate was vegan (again, I am omnivore) but tasted great really wholesome and the rooibos tea was delicious, best I've had.
                                                          Lentil soup bowl, buckwheat rolls and the tea (made like a chai with soy milk), maybe 10 bucks - about what I would expect to pay in Weho with all the overhead there.

                                                          1. re: corydon

                                                            It's not that I found the staff preachy about being veg (I've been vegan-ish for almost 15 years, and have been to just about every vegetarian restaurant in the LA area, not to mention many in NYC, the bay area, etc.).

                                                            The raw foods fad does bug me, so maybe that's part of it (even though Elf isn't raw, they do seem to have a number of raw & raw cuisine influenced dishes).

                                                            re: supporting sustainable / local food, I'm pretty sure they do try to support local farmers.

                                                          2. re: roth77

                                                            I'm not trying to "bring it down" or start a fight... just stating my opinion. I'm glad you have had good experiences there.

                                                            And believe me - I'm happy to have it as an option in my neighborhood. I find it strange that there are so few vegetarian / vegan options in LA compared to other large cities (maybe it seems that way more because they're so spread out), and even stranger that the east side doesn't have more vegetarian restaurants, with its large concentration of young & hip people.

                                                          3. re: will47

                                                            Your point is well taken... but remeber - it's all about supply and demand - econ 101...

                                                        2. I ate there a couple weeks back. It was tiny ( don't go with a lot of people. Someone showed up with a group of 7). Me and my friend had to wait forever and sit at the bar. It was a fun experience and the staff was great ( plus you can bring your own wine for a small corkage fee) BUT the food is mediocre at best. It was like something I can make in my own kitchen.

                                                          However, it was fresh and healthy and a pretty cute place!

                                                          1. I ate here on Friday night. The food was great, the wait, not so hot. We were told it would be a fifteen minute wait, and ended up waiting an hour - the problem: limited seating, and the byob policy. Everyone wanted to stay, talk, enjoy the comfortable atmosphere and top off their bottles of wine. You can't really blame them, but standing on Echo Park's sunset, and hovering by the heatlamps over the outside seated guests, thinking it would be "any minute" for an hour wasn't very fun. They didn't do much to compensate us for the inconvenience, and when I ordered my roasted pepper tart, one of the slimy peppers came with it's product sticker still attached! The tart was delicious though. The lentil appetizer, a little bland, and burned my tongue for the first ten minutes it was in front of me. I didn't bother complaining about the sticker (reminded me of a story a friend told me about going to a vegetarian cafe, and finding a critter of some kind in her food. when she bothered to bring it up they had the gall to say "what do you expect, it's organic).

                                                            I actually think I will go back, like I said, the tart (minus sticker) was delicious, and the price was right. Just never on a weekend until those hipsters decide to get a phone installed so a person can make a reservation, and not waste an hour on the sidewalk.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Katinka4pres

                                                              i ate there on wednesday night. the place is really cute and service is amazing. i so wanted to like this place. the prices are way to high for what they are serving. our appetizer was cooked feta with still pitted olives and tomatoes. yummy, but looked terrible and cost too too much for what it is. i ordered the moroccan tangine stew which was really dry and portion was very small and again cost too much. the presentation is totally lacking and the taste is too. the corkage fee is $5 now. and they also charged us 2$ for a subsitituion of pita to veggies. sorry to boast bad news but when you charge those prices for vegetables you need to make it look good and taste even better.

                                                            2. Within the last month I've been to Elf Cafe twice, and both times have been wonderful. I've loved their baba ghanoush appetizer, cabbage salad (called something like the "Middle Eastern salad"), tomato and feta tart, and mac & blue cheese. The avocado tahini appetizer, lasagna, and desserts (the pear tart and saffron rice pudding) were only so-so. Their hosts and servers couldn't have been more attentive, knowledgeable, and delightful. It does get a bit hot in there, though! We were sweating like crazy in that place, but I guess that's all part of the Elf experience. Nontheless, I can't wait to go back, and even as a graduate student on a budget, I think the prices are fair.

                                                              1. OK I promised to make an entry when I finally gave Elf cafe a try. Went for Sunday dinner. I had the tagine and my friend the tart with blue cheese. She thought her dish was small but I noticed did not complete it. I loved the caramalized shallots that came with it. The tagine was really super. I cook a lot of vegetables at home, so I know the organic food cost/labor ratio and paying 14 bucks was not too painful in the end. Next time I might just get the tagine again, I liked it so much. The harissa was too damn hot for me, but the preserved lemon/sumac flavor with the almonds and vegetables was really good. Maybe I'll give that place on Fairfax a try now to see how the tagine seasoning compares there.

                                                                I am seriously allergic to hipster LA preachy vegan dopiness and got none of that at Elf and the waitress was seriously patient with my fussy companion's many questions. I'll be back, though I wish it was a smaller portion for 10 bucks and I would have also eaten a soup or the kale salad. For 14 bucks, the tagine big but was all I could manage even with a hearty appetite.

                                                                1. Just had my third dinner over there, and I have to say that the Elf Cafe has passed the Hollis test. Avocado tahine is outstanding. The tomato and feta cheese tart is also extraordinary. I've also enjoyed dug the lasagna, potato salad and mac-cheese. Nice staff too.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Hollis Greene

                                                                    LOVE THIS PLACE. Great ambiance, that makes you want to stay forever. Good crowd. Good vegan food. This fits our Echo Park neighborhood 100%. One hundred thumbs up.

                                                                  2. I found this restaurant to be overpriced and pretentious. The host/owner is very rude to the customers. While the food is usually good, the atmosphere is too trendy and kind of hostile for a supposedly mellow vegetarian restaurant.

                                                                    1. Have they changed their offerings at all? The menu stayed pretty much the same - with zero nods towards seasonality - for the first year (at least) that this place was open. Feels like a serious oversight when you're dealing with vegetarian food. Attitude and a Devendra Banhart look will only get you so far. Plus, who wants to eat anywhere near Devendra Banhart in the first place?

                                                                      1. Three cheers for more new restaurants in Echo Park!

                                                                        Hip hip hooray!
                                                                        Hip hip hooray!
                                                                        Hip hip hooray!

                                                                        1. This restaurant has a really bad attitude towards its customers who are willing to pay $15-$20 for an entree. They will tell you that your wait time for a table is 25 minutes, and then 25 minutes later tell you that "determining how long it will take people to eat their food is not a science - 25 minutes (more)." Expect a 45 minute wait to eat hummus and pita.