Vegan dining in Los Angeles used to equate to fast and casual spots serving loads of processed and fried fare — not a winning choice for sophisticated foodies who prefer their menus animal-free. But with choice new spots, the City of Angels now stands out as a vegan’s haven with an eclectic mix of elevated dining establishments flaunting delectable cuisine and appealing ambiance. Here are five places where you can fawn over freshness and flavor.
Tal Ronnen changed the game of Los Angeles plant-based dining when he introduced Crossroads in March. The 3,000-square-foot Melrose Avenue restaurant was completely overhauled; the perimeter of the warm-hued space is lined with maroon-colored leather banquettes, and an expansive bar offers cocktails like the Melrose Mule (Fair Trade vodka, ginger beer, lime, cucumber, mint and banana pepper). The menu is seasonal and focuses on Mediterranean cuisine — expect delights such as artichoke oysters with crispy oyster mushrooms and kelp caviar; kale spanakopita; cassoulet with lentils, wild mushrooms, grilled spring onions and leeks; and tortelloni stuffed with almond cheese.
Enjoy vegan and raw cuisine with a side of affirmation at the Bay Area concept that now boasts two L.A. locales. The recently opened second location in Venice means you can get your inspirationally-named dishes on either side of town. Expect offerings like “I Am Awesome,” an herb-cornmeal crusted eggplant parmesan on grilled panini bread with marinara sauce, cashew ricotta, sliced heirloom tomatoes, arugula and basil; and “I Am Terrific,” — kelp noodles tossed with an almond Thai dressing with red peppers, carrots, kale, cilantro basil and green onions. Or try “I Am Grateful,” which comes with shredded kale, local brown rice (otherwise known as quinoa), black beans and garlic-tahini sauce.
Set in a hip, airy Santa Monica Place space with light wood tables and a large floor-to-ceiling window that allows in lots of natural light, M.A.K.E. is the brainchild of Matthew Kenney, who became an authority on raw food after his New York restaurant Pure Food and Wine rose to fame in 2004. Expect raw-vegan delicacies to arrive artfully displayed on your plate in vibrant contrasting colors — for example, enjoy the greens and purples of kimchi dumplings, and the greens and reds of the zucchini lasagna.
The Echo Park gastropub approaches its menu differently from most restaurants in Los Angeles that try to appease vegan diners with a simple kale salad and a veggie burger. Instead of marking dishes like the sought-after buffalo cauliflower and expansive selection of vegan pizzas (think vegan banh mi with marinated tofu) as vegetarian, the entire menu is noted as plant-based unless marked otherwise — such as in the case of the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon. The seasonal menu is complemented with cocktails (the Thyme Bomb with gin, thyme, lemon juice and apple cider sounds delish) and more than 70 craft beers on tap.
A bit off the beaten path, yet highly regarded for those in the know, SunCafe offers indulgent raw and vegan cuisine near Universal City. Menu musts are mac and cheese made with quinoa pasta, Sun pad Thai and the quinoa risotto with crimini mushrooms. You’ll notice many diners sipping the Mint Shamrock Shake — and for good reason. Instead of incorporating the 54 mostly artificial ingredients of its namesake, this blend of spinach, banana, cacao and agave is a refreshing way to begin or end any meal.
Photos courtesy of Crossroads and M.A.K.E.