Eight million adults in the U.S. won’t feast on anything that once had a face, according to a 2016 National Harris Poll. Research by GlobalData claims that 6 percent of Americans identified as vegan in 2017 as opposed to 2014's 1 percent. Throw in those who practice Meatless Mondays or abstain from meat or dairy as part of a temporary cleanse/diet (Hey, Beyonce!) and that’s a lot of folks powered by plants. Just like carnivores, they don’t always want to cook or do the dishes either.
Luckily for any and all animal and animal product avoiders, vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been cropping up all over the greater Los Angeles area offering everything from burgers to ethnic eats and fine dining.
A Melrose address, ornate chandeliers, tablecloths, sumptuous seating, fresh veggies that are stacked, tweezered, and drizzled into photogenic submission, and A-list regulars like Ellen DeGeneres, Jay Z, and Oprah make this fine-dining spot a must-try. The vegan Mediterranean concept wows from brunch to late-night, from start (za’atar flatbread and squash blossoms) to the salad course (baby beets), and to finish (truffle fettuccine, brownie sundaes). The menu changes seasonally but is always inventive, technically superior, and refined. Unfortunately, the price also reflects the quality so for many this will be a special occasion reservation.
Anyone curious about how delicious and diverse vegan food in LA can be should head over to this year-old German kitchen in Highland Park. The soft pretzel with hot beer cheese dip is reason enough to endure a congested cross-town drive, but it’s far from the only one. All the Deutschland delights make an appearance including two types of seitan schnitzel, various brats like currywurst, potato pancakes, kasespatzle (noodle dumplings), cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and faux-sage, and of course, apple strudel. Grab the salad and cheese variety plate, a basket of brown bread, and some sudsy imports to share in the bright and bustling beer garden, which is especially hopping during happy hour on warm days. The dining room has a communal atmosphere, made more welcoming by the friendly wait staff.
The Los Feliz burger joint, which came on the sans-meat scene in spring 2019, is small but mighty—mighty cheerful, that is. Everything thing about it sparks joy from the floral floor and pops of sunny yellow to the bee puns, LEGO art, and the affirmations that you’re saving the environment by eating a plant-based diet. Unlike most restaurants that pick the patty brand for you, here the choice between Beyond or Impossible is yours to make. Dress burgers with any and all of the house-made toppings including secret sauce, hot sauce, onion jam, mac-and-cheese, or pickles. Their fries, sweet potato and regular, are some of the best in town. You can even get a “Creamsicle” shake with your combo box at no extra cost.
Despite only being imported from Toronto last fall, Fresh immediately seemed at home on the Sunset Strip. Perhaps because of its glam design—a teal and pink color palette, velvety booths, gold accents, a moss wall installation, and the outdoor patio that looks out over the unfolding LA basin below. Or maybe it’s the filling food from chef Ruth Tal. Burgers, wraps, salads, and bowls make it a perfect lunch-time power-up and vegan wine, kombucha cocktails, superfood hot chocolate, and house-made sodas ensure you won’t leave thirsty either. DJs turn it up to 11 on Friday and Saturday nights.
Cool kids keen on craft brew and comfort food have been coming to this Echo Park establishment for years as more than three dozen beers (mostly California focused) are available at any given time. They’re perfect for washing down buffalo cauliflower, banh mi pizzas, “crabcakes” (made of heart of palm), jalapeño burgers (Impossible and Beyond patties are an option as is Wagyu beef for non-vegetarians), and vegan chili cheese fries. Housed inside a 100-year-old vaudeville theater, the large indoor-outdoor layout encourages conviviality and the fireplace stokes romance on a casual date. To poke fun at the notoriously difficult parking situation that is the surrounding neighborhood, patrons get a pint for a penny if they bring in a parking ticket received within the last 24 hours.
Follow Your Heart Café
Tucked in the back of a Canoga Park natural foods market and decorated with salt lamps, celestial charts, and dreamweavers, this hidden gem is the most hippie of the bunch. Probably because this cafe has been cooking animal-free food since 1970. What started as a seven-seat sandwich and juice bar has evolved into a full-scale operation with one of the longest menus in Southern California. Moderately-priced generous portions of pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and even spanakopita and stir fry make good use of ancient grains, produce, and their line of products (like Vegenaise and wheatmeat). The SOS section (no salt, oil, or sugar) ratchets the health factor up. Friendly servers and kombucha on tap are also pluses.
A stone’s throw from Mohawk Bend, this Echo Park eatery is cozy, dark, and unpretentious. Its organic, locally-sourced vegetarian fare leans heavily on the Mediterranean for inspiration. Think jackfruit kebab with saffron freekeh, labneh with grilled dates, pita, and a halloumi and kale salad. The star here is a pricey risotto with hen of the woods mushrooms. Much of the food is prepped in the open kitchen and the bar seats provide a good line of sight to the action. Gluten-free alternatives are available upon request.
Every meal begins with free corn muffins and jam. That fact alone might be enough to recommend breakfast or lunch at this well-regarded Highland Park hang. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be as the restaurant doesn’t rest on its carb-loaded laurels. The metal-legged rustic tables, pastel hues, hanging plants, yarn art, and a display of cookie jars give it a warm retro vibe that falls somewhere between grandma’s kitchen and a boho sidewalk cafe. It’s entirely vegetarian, whipping up tasty treats like moros cakes with cilantro ginger chutney, and offers various gluten-free, nut-free, or dairy-free options to boot. After brunching on snickerdoodle pancakes, a full English with tempeh bacon, or chilaquiles tossed in a house enchilada sauce, pop into the stellar gift shop next door.
Mexican food is a staple in these parts and the stylish West Hollywood hotspot believes meat lovers shouldn’t get to have the whole enchilada. So they pair traditional south-of-the-border cooking techniques with the superstars of plant-based cuisine (i.e. jackfruit, cashew crema, portobellos, chickpeas) to make the greatest hits—tacos, pozole, fajitas, chimichangas, and chile rellenos—without any animal parts or products. The beverage director is mad for mezcal and the drink list reflects that obsession. Unless it’s raining, reserve a seat out on the expansive and pretty patio where knotty trees and draped fabrics provide shade and the fireplace gives off heat.
Monty's Good Burger
Welcome to Monty’s Good Burger, home of the good (sensibly sourced) burger, let them take your order if you are jonesing for a vegan burger in Koreatown, Echo Park, or Riverside. They use Impossible 2.0 meat, cheese from Follow Your Heart, and Bosch Bakery potato buns. There’s a fries/tots condiment for everyone including onion aioli, habanero, and ranch as well as a wide array of craft cane sugar sodas, shakes, and cookies. But be warned, the line is almost always long and seats are scarce for eating in. Which might be why actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara sat on a random stoop in their black-tie finery, Monty's in hand, to celebrate his Oscar win.
It’s super easy to consume your daily allowance of veggies at this laidback counter-service spot with three LA outposts (Miracle Mile, downtown, and Silver Lake) serving made-to-order salads and bowls. Start with six different types of leafy greens or quinoa as a base and choose among six vegan cheeses, 12 dressings, and an assortment of raw and roasted toppings including mango, sunchokes, vegan furikake, falafel crumbles, pumpkin seeds, marinated tofu, achiote-seasoned ground Impossible, and no-meatballs. (Some animal proteins are served here although they're kept separated.) Complete your order with turmeric ginger lemonade and chewy cookies.
It’s a far cry from bland blocks of tofu and plates of soggy mushrooms and peppers. Chefs Mai Nguyen and Ito don’t shy away from spice and build playful plates of vibrant colors and opposing textures at the vegetarian Vietnamese standby. Loyalists have long sung the praises of the garlic basil noodles, sweet and spicy tempeh with root vegetables, steamed jicama rolls, salt and pepper yam “shrimp,” hand-cut yucca fries, and the ramen in Brazil nut broth. Both the downtown LA and the Fountain Valley branches have an upscale air at prices that won’t break the bank.
Founded in 2006 by ex-Wall Street workers, the ever-expanding fast-casual chain makes eating green almost as convenient as popping into McDonald’s for a Big Mac. (There are 18 locations in LA and Orange County.) Indulge in classic comforts like burgers, burritos, wings, nachos, and mac-and-cheese (all vegan) or LA favorites du jour like Nashville hot chickin’ sandwiches and avocado toast. There are also specials that align with the season. For instance, the holidays brought a Thanksgiving dinner–inspired sandwich and pumpkin spice cake.
To create the first 100 percent plant-based, organic, Italian restaurant and wine bar in the U.S., chef and owner Tara Punzone evolved the traditional southern Italian family recipes she grew up with into zesty, clean, non-GMO vegan versions. Everything is made from scratch and the food is so good that dairy fans will hardly miss the cheese even in the two types of lasagna. The most requested dish at the lowly lit West Hollywood hole-in-the-wall is a carbonara where avocado sits in for the egg and shitake mushrooms are substituted for bacon. Other inventive switches include oyster mushrooms for scallops in the linguine di mare and a cauliflower chickpea cutlet for a pounded chicken breast.