Sure, vegan food is better for your health and the environment, but let’s be real: What matters most is the taste. Vegan food has evolved mightily in recent years as chefs have become increasingly excited about the challenge of plant-based cooking. Consumers, too, are willing to give vegan food a try. When Burger King puts the vegan Impossible Burger on its menu, you know the tide has turned.
As a vegetarian accustomed to restaurants offering one item (the omnipresent vegetable platter), I have done extensive, joyful research on the plant-based boom. Here are a few of my favorites all over town; one has already started to conquer the rest of the country.
Downtown Los Angeles
Shojin is a delicate Japanese restaurant that delivers big on its stated mission: “To be impressive for our dear customers.” Selections range from sushi rolls to gyoza, along with soups, salads, and ramen. Gorgeous desserts, such as the tempura banana and chocolate mousse with salted caramel cream, are gluten-free as well.
12406 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 310.390.0033; also in downtown LA
The soul food and Tex-Mex options at Stuff I Eat are worth seeking out, despite the short hours (Tuesday–Sunday, 12–6 p.m.). Have lunch in or take dinner home. The Kilimanjaro Quesadilla, featuring some of the café’s biggest hits (carrot un-tuna and mock chicken salad), is a mountain everyone should climb.
114 N. Market St., Inglewood, 310.671.0115
Los Angeles & Fountain Valley
Viet-French Au Lac is run by Chef Ito, who famously hasn’t spoken in more than 20 years, but somehow communicates everything through his creations. The menu abounds with cooked and raw (or “living food”) options, and the Octopus—shitake mushrooms in a sweet and savory tamari-sesame glaze—is a must.
710 W. 1st St., LA, 213.617.2533; also in Fountain Valley
Over in Studio City, SunCafe attracts crowds to its converted Craftsman house and expansive patio for its sun-dappled ambience and skilled rustic global cuisine. There isn’t a miss on the menu, but the mac and cheese in its own skillet is particularly divine, and the Cacao Superfood shake tastes much too good to be healthy.
10820 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818.927.4100
Café Gratitude is so popular, it now has four branches. Each menu’s items are named for affirmations, such as the Exquisite (coconut calamari), Magical (bean burger), and Glorious (blackened tempeh Caesar wrap). If you order in the same spirit, your waitperson will respond with a hearty, “Yes, you ARE!” It sounds corny, but it feels downright uplifting, and that’s what their food is all about.
512 Rose Ave., Venice, 424.231.8000; also in Larchmont, DTLA, and San Diego
Fast food gets its vegan doppelgänger with the Veggie Grill chain. Started in Irvine in 2006, it’s now spreading across the country, with 33 restaurants in six states. The “wholesome fast food” menu runs the gamut from All Hail Kale (a bowl of quinoa and other nutritious goodies) to the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ Sandwich, made from soybeans, wheat, peas, and marinated, seasoned ancient grains—which makes it about as healthy as fried food gets!
2025 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310.829.1155; and all over town
Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale dining establishment in a lush setting, is as crowded today as when it opened six years ago. Choose from a range of big and small plates at dinner, but don’t skip the hearts of palm “crab cakes.” Casual lunch options include Impossible Burgers and impossibly fresh salads. For a weekend brunch, try Jann’s Bagel, with smoked heirloom carrot lox. Spicy Meatball Pizza is on the rich latenight menu. And the full bar offers stimulating cocktails anytime.
8284 Melrose Ave., LA, 323.782.9245
—by Lisa Rosen