I once lived in a happy hippie co-op whose residents traded duties preparing house dinners. In the shadow of Moosewood cookbooks, I learned to fear stinky piles of nutritional yeast on plain pasta. I began applying the term "vegan amazing" to the vacuum-packed standards of my mostly vegetarian roommates, whose cooking lacked context. I wish Life Alive had been around to intervene. Central Square is the lucky site of this Lowell native's second spot, transforming the old Hollywood Video into a new-age spa serving warm rice bowls and wraps alongside a juice-and-smoothie bar. This is not health food by omission, where vegetarians resort to side salads. A cooler shelving stacks of vegetables stands like a temple in the center of the prep area, misting majestically over piles of carrots, cucumbers, and squash. The road to Wellville by way of Life Alive means vigorous jumbles of steamed vegetables over creamy short-grain brown rice, sauces fragrant with garlic, ginger, and tamari. The effect is colorful, fresh, and fun.
The mostly vegan menu's naming conventions contain some cringe-inducing moments: try and order the Rebel ($9.05/bowl; $9.55/wrap; $5.65/half-size taster plate) or the Seductress ($9.25/wrap) with a straight face. The superb Adventurer adds cheddar ($9.25/bowl; $9.75/wrap; $5.75/taster). Each will land you a symphony of crisp vegetables, for example, cubed beets, chopped kale, corn, broccoli, and carrots over brown rice and red quinoa. Other toppings include smoked tofu, crunchy almonds, hijiki, and nutritional yeast, here tasting like flaked chicken soup, and liquid aminos, a briny soy-protein supplement. Add sides of avocado, apple, garlic, sprouts, and more. Staff gleefully cheerlead. Once, a wiry, bright-eyed staffer boasted of eating the Adventurer every day for four years, with the gusto of a centenarian crediting some daily ritual with his longevity. For takeout, they jotted cute notes on the wrappers, as if my mom had packed my lunchbox.
Fresh juices offer invigorating infusions to soothe the aftermath of excess, or for biding your time between: a bracing concoction of ginger, lemon, maple syrup, and water ($4.25) or a fuchsia tonic of apple, beet, carrot, celery, greens, and wheatgrass ($5.99). Frozen shakes blend almond or rice milk with fruits ($5.29–$6.29). Life Alive makes some questionable medical claims: ingredients to aid detox, digestion, immunity, and defy aging, obesity, and cancer. Enjoy whatever placebo effect that may befall you: the fact remains that Life Alive offers consistently tasty, healthful meals in a convenient take-away form.
Life Alive, located at 765 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, is open Monday–Saturday, 8 am–10 pm, and Sunday from 11 am–7 pm. Call 617.354.LIFE (5433) or visit lifealive.com.