Luna Grill is especially for meat lovers

Beef Kabob at Luna Grill

Beef Kabob at Luna Grill

By Sandi Masori

Sandi Masori

Sandi Masori

Enrique Lombrozo with Luna Grill's Chipotle Chicken Wrap

Enrique Lombrozo with Luna Grill’s Chipotle Chicken Wrap

SAN DIEGO — Not so long ago, I found myself in a shopping center in the Scripps Poway Parkway area around lunchtime.  I wandered into Luna Grill restaurant, and ordered grilled meat, which turned out  savory and perfectly grilled.  The flavors were juicy and tangy and possibly even addictive (in a good way).  I was totally unprepared for how good it was!

And then I remembered that San Diego Jewish World editor (and my dad), Don Harrison, had told me that Jewish community member Enrique Lombrozo was a part owner and chief development officer of the restaurant chain, and that Luna might be a good restaurant to review.  Convinced that indeed it was, I,  along with cub reporter Shor Masori (my son),  arranged to meet with Lombrozo on a subsequent visit.

I’ll say this from the beginning, the food, which is in the $6-$13 range, is amazing.  I’ll come back to that in a bit, because I also find the story of the restaurant itself to be pretty neat.

The restaurant was started by husband and wife team Sean Pourtemour (CEO)  and Maria Trakas Pourtemour (Chief Cuisine Officer).  The first restaurant opened in the Santa Luz community because the owners, who lived in the community, found a need for good food there.  The fresh ingredients and quality menu must have hit a nerve, because a few years later they opened in Mission Valley as well, and have since gone on to bring their total number of locations to nine in San Diego and Orange Counties.

Lombrozo, also a resident of the Santa Luz  (east of Rancho Santa Fe),  met the Pourtemours while serving on a community board together.  They soon joined forces and his expertise in corporate organization and expansion helped them develop beyond their first location.

Maria comes from a family of Greek-American restaurateurs so she supplied that know how as well as the delicious food.   Sean’s Persian background also influenced the menu items.  They expanded the menu to include other Near Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, as this style of cuisine tends to be relatively fast and very healthy.

I was curious how they arrived at the name Luna Grill.  The Grill part didn’t surprise me, as that’s what they do, but I was interested in how they came up with “Luna.”  Turns out, when they were planned the first restaurant, they considered calling it the Santa Luz Grill.  But, “Santa Luz” is a registered trademark of the developers who built the community so that was out.  Unfortunately, the signs had already been ordered.  So they sat down and started rearranging the letters to see what they could come up with.  In the end, they decided on Luna,  because it was pleasant sounding.  It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as once they expanded beyond the Santa Luz community it worked out better for branding.

I was curious what their expansion plans were- are they content with nine stores, or are they hoping to grow larger?  They have plans to little by little become a national chain, without compromising the quality of the food.  Lombrozo told me that even though they were approached by a large venture capitalist firm, they plan to take it slowly and grow as the need presents itself, only opening restaurants that have the right mix of location and need.

I told him that my dream is to find a healthy fast food restaurant that I can drive through.  He chuckled at that and explained to me that this restaurant is often called “fast casual” because the food is quick to prepare, but always from fresh ingredients- food is prepared to order.  So, it wouldn’t work well with a drive-through model as the food might take 10 minutes to prepare instead of 3.  On the other hand, if you call ahead, Luna offers a curbside pickup option.

Lombrozo said that Luna purchases produce locally, and though it’s not all organic, it is all sustainable and high-quality- no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for Luna Grill!  They even recycle their cooking oil;  there is someone who picks it up to use as an alternative energy source among other uses.  I’m not one to jump on the organic bandwagon, but I love the idea of locally grown and sustainable foods!

So, now that you have a bit of background on the restaurant, let’s talk about what really matters, the food!  Though it’s tag-line is “The Ultimate Kabobery”, they have salads, wraps and even hamburgers.  Shor is the ultimate burger lover and though there were many other delectable items, he was all over the burger.  (Said it was in the top 3, he especially loved the bun, which he found superior to most buns- 1st place still belongs to Grandma Harrison, but Luna Grill has now tied for second place).

I sampled the Lamb Kabob  and the Mediterranean Chicken Salad.  Lombrozo, who sat with us, ordered the Chipotle Chicken wrap.  The food was fresh as could be, perfectly cooked and mouth-wateringly delicious.  I think that I may have to go back there again very soon as I’m already dreaming about it.  You’ll have to try it for yourself.  If you like healthy fresh food, I really can’t recommend it too highly.

I was intrigued by the presence of the Chipotle Chicken wrap and the Gyros Quesadilla on the otherwise Mediterranean-style menu.  Lombrozo explained to me that last year they tested the chipotle wrap as a promotional item and it did so well that it became a regular menu dish.  He said that here in Southern California the Mexican flavoring of chipotle has become pretty much a staple.

What’s on the menu for the vegetarians out there?  My vegetarian cousin will be excited to learn that they have items for them too.  Dissatisfied with the veggie patties on the market, they developed their own using falafel and other ingredients.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but if I can convince myself not to get red meat the next time I’m there, that may be my order.  Hmmm… I really like their meat though, so I may just have to invite my cousin to come with me so I can taste the non-meat options while still indulging my love of the grill.

All in all, I give this emerging chain two tongues up!

To find a location near you, visit the chain’s website at www.lunagrill.com

*
Masori is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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