Green Zone is usually packed during lunch with locals vying for plates of its iconic Hainan chicken with rice. Opened by Jil Cam in 2006, it was the first majority-organic eatery of its kind, catering to the Asian crowd in the SGV.
“Food around here has to be cheap and fast and delicious,” Cam says. “I saw all these shortcuts people were making and decided that this is not what our culture is about.” A Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant, Cam came to the United States when she was about 10 years old. She wanted to open a restaurant that reflected her upbringing in Vietnam and had dishes that were mindfully and organically sourced.
She adds: “A lot of people thought I was crazy for opening an organic restaurant in the middle of San Gabriel.” She based the menu on what she would cook at home for her children and what she remembered from her own childhood. Customer favorites: organic Hainan chicken with three dipping sauces, a lovely beef sukiyaki in a hot pot and wonton noodle soup sans MSG.
She wasn't crazy — Green Zone immediately had lines out the door. And on Aug. 22, Cam will open a second location in Pasadena. Her reasoning? She wants to expand the organic portion of the menu.
Currently, the San Gabriel menu isn't 100 percent organic. Cam says the clientele in the San Gabriel Valley isn't always willing to pay a premium for organically sourced beef and pork. “Price point for organic food is very difficult,” she says. She wants to experiment with that at the Pasadena location.
“For example, we'll be using grass-fed beef instead of regular beef,” she says. “The people and community are much more likely to pay a higher price.” She says the menu will be mostly the same, the major differences being the additional organic offerings and the sourcing of ingredients from local farms.
“Going to Green Zone is like going to auntie's house,” Cam says. “Just with a healthy twist.”
34 S. Raymond Ave, Pasadena; greenzonerestaurant.com.