There's something seriously strange going down at Govinda's Natural Food Buffet in Culver City, and it's not the meals they serve.

One recent evening, a woman in a large robe told a young girl sporting a shaved head, “Because of Krishna, you are my best friend.” What that means is anyone's guess, but it's definitely not the sort of conversation you overhear at Denny's. Of course, it might have something to do with Govinda's being part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

There's also the decor, which combines the plastic trays, utensils and ambiance of a high school cafeteria with the artistic aesthetic of a dentist's office.

How about that sign in the buffet line, reminding you to watch your sleeves? The seemingly genuine smiles on the employees' faces? Or the fact that the people behind you in the buffet line aren't pissed off when you take too long to decide between peas and corn?

Seriously, there's something strange happening at Govinda's, and it's got a lot to do with the notion that only L.A. restaurants aiming for the highest Zagat ratings are worth visiting. By not worrying about that sort of stuff, Govinda's is allowed to just be awesome. And who cares about fancy utensils anyway?

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Angeleno coolness be damned — Govinda's serves an array of vegan delights at reasonable prices, and that's what's important. The all-you-can-eat buffet is $8, or you can pay by the pound for $4.50. Sure, the booths are plain and there are nondescript tables and chairs that easily could have come from the Factory for Boring Restaurant Seating, but so what? Does anyone leave a restaurant and think, “Wow, that seating was really stellar?”

Not usually. What they come for is food, and at Govinda's that means a rotating salad bar menu of greens, carrots, olives, garbanzo beans and more, plus soups, dals, basmati rice, pasta, cooked vegetables and an assortment of entrees. There are even desserts, if you're feeling so inclined.

Everything at Govinda's is either vegan or vegetarian, with signs to denote the difference. The food may not rank among the best you've ever had, but maybe that's not the point. Two days after eating at Govinda's, you won't be reliving the samosas or the peanut dressing — you'll be thinking about purity and trying to act like a decent human being. You see, Govinda's isn't serving only food — it's offering a lifestyle of simplicity. And that's something many Angelenos could use a second helping of.

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