Vegan Restaurants (for People Who Don't Like Vegan Restaurants)
Look, meat-eaters: it’s time to stop making fun of vegans in LA, because they can literally eat the same stuff as you, except minus that killing-animals stuff -- in the city, there are vegan cronuts, fluffy frittatas, spicy chorizo, biscuits and gravy, Bolognese sauce, sushi, ramen, and pho that are all done with no meat products. Don’t believe us? Hit any of these vegan spots for plant-based food that you’ll eat -- and never even miss meat while you’re at your meal:
Their recently launched five-days-a-week brunch menu alone can change any meat-eater’s mind about vegan food with their fried chicken and waffles served with warm maple hot sauce. It’s the gateway plate to veganism for most rough-and-tumble meaty-meat eating carnivores. Bagels are schmeared with almond-based cream cheese, red onion slivers, capers, and carrot "lox." Slurp artichoke oysters, chow crab cakes, nosh the “cheese” platter. Pastas promise food porn in porcini cream, plus with risotto, lasagna, and scaloppini moutarde, there’s no wrong road to go down.
This is not your mama’s hippie vegan food. Music mogul Moby (yes, that guy) has created a haven for being vegan with soups, salads, entrees, and sides that will make you forget that burger and the cow it came from. Sink your teeth into a “sausage” and fennel sandwich with romesco aioli or treat your comfort food craving with stuffed shells (olive pesto or spinach ricotta) -- and weekends bring brunchy things like a veggie tofu frittata, as well as hit-the-spot pastries (maple espresso glazed cronut).
Current Top Cheftestant Phillip Frankland Lee’s exploration into purely vegan cuisine’s one of the city’s most well-received recent openings, thanks to simple tasting menus of vegetables enhanced by olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt, as well as stuffed fried honey drizzled olives, blackened cauliflower, hummus, black beans, and sweet potatoes.
The ramen (from Top Chef dude Ilan Hall) is served at the counter just like any other ramen joint in town, as a throng of hungry customers slurp up their noodles in broth amid the bustling Grand Central Market. It may trick an unsuspecting ramen lover for just a moment: milky broth, toothy noodles, halved egg, and what looks like chashu. Surprisingly, it’s all vegan -- including the soft-boiled egg.
Japanese vegan sushi may sound like an oxymoron, but there’s nothing fishy about it (wokka-wokka). Their “Crunchy Tiger Hidden Dragon Roll” (BBQ seitan, tempura asparagus, avocado, crispy potato, wasabi mayo, sweet tamari sauce) is among the long list of delicious sushi rolls with freaky anime names like “Pirates of the Crunchy” and “Yellow Magic Orchestra.” But that vegan magic doesn’t stop at the sushi menu. The menu also includes Maple glazed Brussels sprouts, “crab cake” tartar, spicy “tuna” on crispy rice, seaweed, and kelp noodle salads, French onion and mushroom miso soups, even meatloaf, of all things (veggies and tamari red wine sauce). You’ll find yourself fishing for more reasons (wokka-wokka) to try both of their locations in Culver City and Downtown LA.
This quaint mom and pop restaurant looks like any other family operated Chinese diner with their cliché décor and elevator muzak, but make no mistake: mom knows what she’s doing when she rocks that vegan wok. Order up some hot and sour soup while you wait for “beef” and broccoli and see what happens. There’s enough kung pao power in their veggie-only dishes to make even a Buddha belly happy.
Get some good Delhi in your belly at the original Samosa House on Washington Blvd, where they make combo plates cafeteria style. Samosas and dosas are full of steaming hot spicy potatoes, and served with chutney, and the masala dosa is the real deal: thin rice lentil crepe stuffed with spicy potato. At Samosa House East, their sultry sister down the street, you can also get combo plates of charcoal smoked cauliflower, soy tikka masala, and spicy jackfruit.
It’s not-quite-vegan at this SGV spot, but you can ask for “no eggs” and you’ll be good to go with dishes like sesame cold noodles, soy meats like sliced “pork” with pickled veggies, and teriyaki tofu “eel” on rice. They also do sushi: the rainbow roll (carrot, lettuce, peanut powder, seaweed, wrapped in rice paper, mayo), is perfectly balanced and the peanut powder added unexpected sweetness.
Pad Thai noodles, curries, and soups with Asian flavor stack the menu at this Valley spot (seriously, what’s up with vegan food and the valley??) Meal-sized salads like the zaru soba salad (sunflower seeds, julienne kimchi, scallions, chickpeas on mixed greens, lime sesame dressing) and the superfoods salad, loaded with kale and curry almonds and pomegranate-sunflower pesto dressing are also satisfying. Massaman, yellow, red and green curries are served with brown rice, and they also have a slew of fried rice dishes.
Their vegan mac and cheese is made with quinoa pasta, gooey chewy cashew "cheese" and smoky paprika. They have chili fries, guys, with smoky tempeh chili, roasted potatoes, and cashew sour cream; they’ve also got a killer wine list, and a chocolate mint cheesecake which not only nails the texture of, yknow, actual cheesecake but also tastes like Andes chocolate mints. Win.
This longtime spot does Chinese vegan cuisine with hundreds of fresh veggie-based, no-MSG dishes; they also have a Japanese menu if you’re gonna go that way. Highlights include specialty herbal dishes such as stir fry cabbage and oyster mushroom with lycium (goji) berries, hot pot creations, and plenty of veggie meats beyond the usual, such as veggie kidney with basil, veggie shredded pork with baby bamboo, and veggie sliced squid with asparagus.
Cooked and raw dishes (with ingredients from their edible garden) dazzle in vegan nouveau ways: cauliflower bisque is stacked with porcini and hazelnuts, cacio e pepe has a black pepper sunflower cream, spicy greens, spaghetti squash, fingerling potato poutine is loaded with smoked almond curds, mustard greens, and mushroom gravy.
Dedicated vegans (and meat-eaters) know where to go for vegan pho (and duck fried rice) in the heart of Reseda. Meat-eaters have secret affairs with their homemade tofu here, where a bowlful of their soup packs its punch with generous amounts of “chicken” or “fish” and “shrimp” (go ahead, put all of those vegan animals in air quotes). But the real move is to tell owner Kevin Tran how hungry you are and then let him surprise you: he’ll pop everything from chicken nuggets to custom curries at your table, and you’ll leave beyond-satisfied.
Once you go to Au Lac, any dingy dive you’ve called Viet food in the past won’t have the same appeal. An elegant dining spot just a stroll away from Walt Disney Concert Hall, this new location in downtown LA (the original is in Fountain Valley) will impress even the most staunch carnivore: the lemongrass fish is simply seaweed wrapped “fish” that hints of the ocean, while an off menu octopus appetizer (made with mushrooms) pleases the palate with its sticky char texture.
Eating Ethiopian style means eating with your hands, which is possibly bad for those who don’t want to share with others dipping their hand held pieces of injera (teff bread similar to the fluffy inside of pita) into the food, like the vegan feast combination platter with mixed vegetable stews, lentil and chickpea stews, and chopped greens with colorful veggies all presented on a large palette tray. Like all Ethiopian restaurants, there are no utensils -- so share with someone you really like.
You’ll say gracias to this madre of a vegan restaurante when you sabor con gusto chilaquiles, enchiladas con mole, sopes, pozole, and other Mexican-inspired dishes. Any ranchero hungry for habanero would be happy with the sopas con piña (two masa cakes, guacamole, pineapple habanero salsa, pickled cabbage, beans, cashew crema, cilantro, escabeche) washed down with a Michelada de la Madre (Eel River California blonde ale, habanero bitters, house-made Worcestershire, lemon jalapeño basil ice).
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Stephanie Kordan is a food writer and blogger exploring Los Angeles for a taste of vegan and vegetarian eats. Author of The Sensual Foodie blog, you can find her on Twitter and Instagram as an adventurous vegetarian who sometimes bites beyond the garden side of eating.