A new IKEA opened in Burbank earlier this month, and one of the biggest talking points about it is the enormous location's 600-seat restaurant.

The Sweden-based chain has traditionally been known primarily for its relatively affordable DIY furniture. But in recent years IKEA Food, which includes the IKEA Restaurant, IKEA Bistro, IKEA Swedish Food Market and the IKEA co-worker restaurant at every location, has been earning the chain a bigger percentage of total sales. In fiscal 2014, IKEA Food brought in about $1.64 billion in food sales.

IKEA menus around the world follow the same formula: standardized, Swedish-inspired dishes, with a couple hints to local culture. In France, there is steak au poivre on the menu; in Japan, udon; in Thailand, spring rolls and vinegar-marinated chicken wings. Every IKEA restaurant in the world offers smoked salmon and the famous meatballs.

U.S. locations will often offer dishes such as barbecue chicken and cornbread. But aside from lunch and dinner meatballs with lingonberry jam, breakfast seems to have the most devoted following. That's the case in Burbank, certainly.

Note the bowl of whipped cream.; Credit: Katherine Spiers

Note the bowl of whipped cream.; Credit: Katherine Spiers

The San Fernando Valley has a proud and strong brunch culture, but it usually doesn't involve trays. However, the morning meal deals are too good at IKEA to worry about looking cool. In fact, IKEA has one of the dorkiest cafeteria innovations around: rolling three-tiered stacking systems, the better to load up all the potatoes, smoked salmon, cinnamon buns and straight-up bowls of whipped cream.

The famously low prices ($1 breakfast of eggs, hash browns, turkey sausage; $2 lunch of pasta with tomato sauce; $3 dinner of sweet potato chili) are not necessarily philanthropic. As a spokesperson told me over the phone, IKEA aims to “offer the most inexpensive option in everything they sell.” So you can get the cheapest eggs, and the cheapest couch.

The low prices are due to vertical integration: Nearly everything is packaged in Europe, especially the Swedish items like lingonberries and pancakes and waffles. Yes, the restaurant offerings are the same previously frozen goods sold in the market downstairs. But it is cheaper than fast food, and seems mostly healthier, powdered eggs notwithstanding. So far there is a line out the door every morning when IKEA opens, and most of those people head straight to the restaurant. It is jammin'. A little nosh, a little walk around the new model apartments in the store … honestly, not a bad couple of hours.

Unless you've never had smoked salmon, the food at IKEA will not blow your mind. But the cost-quality ratio will. Three cheers for populist food that tries to be wholesome.

600 IKEA Way, Burbank. (888) 888-4532, ikea-usa.com.

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