In Los Angeles, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are an attraction for foodies of all persuasions. Many of these niche establishments have raised the bar in recent years, causing meat lovers to regularly enjoy moonlighting as vegans. This change in behavior isn’t just for slim waistlines; it’s because the food—which combines great California produce with innovative veggie-only recipes—is striking a serious chord.
Here, in no particular order, is a rundown of three of the most popular vegan restaurants in Los Angeles.
Located in trendy West Hollywood, Crossroads Kitchen is known as the fancy vegan restaurant in town. The chef, Tal Ronnen, is likely the most high-profile vegan chef out there. Among his other accomplishments, he was the caterer at Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s wedding, designed Oprah’s 21-Day Vegan Cleanse menu, and cooked the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate.
With its cushioned, red booths and mood lighting, Crossroads Kitchen looks like a swanky New York steakhouse. The patrons are decidedly a Hollywood crowd—often star-studded and dressed on trend.
The menu is an innovative twist on Italian food, with dishes such as hearts of palm calamari, delicate almond cheese tortelloni, and artichoke hearts battered and fried and plated to resemble oysters. Hearty dishes such as the wood-fire meaty lasagna and the pappardelle Bolognese—both listed in a section of the menu dubbed “Comforting Classics”—menu will have you questioning if this food is truly vegan.
Lighter dishes such as kale salad with lemon-thyme vinaigrette and spring vegetable soup are good compliments to the heavier dishes. Also on offer is an impressive wine list and full bar that serves complex cocktails with liquors from scotch to mezcal to cognac.
Viewfinder Tip: If you want to have a celebrity sighting in Los Angeles dine at a trendy vegan restaurant.
Not far from Crossroads Kitchen, on Melrose Place, is Gracias Madre. This lively eatery with high ceilings, wrought-iron hurricane lamps, Mexican-inspired tile work and indoor trees dishes out Mexican food with zero guilt—food that is thoroughly filling and delicious. You also can sip tequila cocktails at the bar.
On the all-organic menu, surprising ingredients such as cauliflower, mushrooms, and varieties of squash are combined with more traditional Mexican eats of black beans, guacamole, and handmade corn tortillas.
My favorite entree is the enchiladas verde, a comforting dish with summer squash wrapped in soft corn tortillas and topped with cashew cream and spicy green sauce. Other crowd-pleasers are the papas al horno, which are roasted potatoes smothered in olive oil, garlic, spicy chipotle sauce, and cashew cheese. For lunch, the veggie tacos of mushroom with mole or flash-fried cauliflower provide powerful pops of yum. No matter what you order, it’s guaranteed to be full of flavor here.
Eager for a bite at Cafe Gratitude
Veganism and vegetarianism both have roots in hippie culture. And Café Gratitude, founded by a NorCal native, embraces that identity and glorifies it.
What do I mean by embracing and glorifying? Consider this: Items on the all-organic menu don’t have names based on ingredients but instead have been given monikers that describe certain positive states of being. OPEN-HEARTED is a stack of gluten-free pancakes. AWESOME is the name for a hearty eggplant Parmesan dish. You get the idea.
The menu itself has a wide variety of flavors. HUMBLE has hints of Indian curry with lentils. SERENE, a miso soup with bok choi and shitake mushrooms, is inspired by Japanese cuisine. TRANSFORMED is a pair of chipotle-topped tacos for a Mexican fix. And you can always get PRESENT, the Italian-style bruschetta with creamy cashew cheese, basil, and chopped tomatoes drizzled with a sweet reduced balsamic.
To order, servers ask that you place the words, “I am” before what you’d like. That means that when I say, “I am GRATEFUL,” I receive a bowl of shredded kale, black beans, and quinoa doused in garlic-tahini sauce. It might feel strange to order this way, but I recommend setting aside inhibitions and getting into ordering your food with these positive affirmations.
Café Gratitude has two locations: One on Larchmont Blvd in Hollywood, the other in Venice on Rose Avenue (which is walking distance from the Venice Beach boardwalk, one of my favorite places in the city). I tend to leave both restaurants feeling grateful I came. And I’m not vegan or vegetarian; I’m just one of the many Angelenos who frequent these restaurants for the great food.
What do you seek from a vegetarian or vegan restaurant?