You’re out with a group of friends and someone suggests going for a bite to eat – but one of them is a vegetarian, one’s a vegan and the rest just want a big burger with all the trimmings. If you can go somewhere that has a great sign outside and a hefty touch of the 50s/60s kitsch, you’re halfway there as far as I am concerned – but that’s just me. So where can you go to keep everyone happy without having to traipse all over town?

Right next to Paramount Studios on Melrose, Astroburger is the unlikely-named solution to all your food problems. Alongside the classic burgers, tacos, subs, and hot dogs is their famous Gardenburger: a vegetarian or vegan soy burger that they introduced to California in 1986.

With its big blue star (“astro” is Greek for “star”) outside and the 50s silver booths inside, it may look like a plain and traditional diner, but one glance at the huge menu – so large that it puts some restaurants to shame – shows an amazing selection of vegetarian and vegan food. The whole smorgasbord has been painstakingly selected by Athens-born owner Cosmos, a vegetarian who insists that he won’t serve anything he wouldn’t eat himself.

Though rather small and on a barren stretch of Melrose, it’s a favorite for celebrities and mere mortals, largely because of their strict policies: separate equipment, whole-wheat buns, unsalted fries, no MSG or lard, and uniquely pre-cooked fries. “Preparation is everything,” insists Cosmos.

It’s this kind of attention to detail – and prices that make you wonder how on earth they do it – that makes Astroburger one of the best-known places around for those who care a little more about their food and how it tastes. “People said I was mad when I took on the Gardenburger,” says Cosmos, “but nearly 30 years later, it’s our most popular burger by far, and [has] won the ”˜Best Veggie in America’ award from PETA.” 

Times and fashions may have changed since 1986, but Astroburger is still the joint that people come to from far and wide when they want to chow down. Cosmos says hungry people regularly drive long distances just to have one of his Gardenburgers for dinner. My favorite? Check out the soy chicken fajita wrapped in a green spinach tortilla and stuffed full of peppers: truly delicious!

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