• more burgers & salad, less salty noodles!

    April 21st, 2008quarrygirlLA restaurants, native foods

    i love to eat at vegan restaurants, but as you know from earlier posts, i’m slightly sick of the numerous thai restaurants with the word “vegan” in the title, who serve nothing more than a noodle-ridden sodium-filled menu with faux meat replacing chicken and beef. don’t get me wrong…i enjoy california vegan, vegan express, vegan glory, truly vegan, and the vegan joint. but come on, just A LITTLE originality goes a long way! plus, as i read more and more, some of these places (not all of them, to be fair) are having their veganocity and the integrity of their ingredients called into question. this doesn’t mean i don’t eat at and enjoy these establishments (so DO NOT call me a hypocrite if i write a post in the future singing their praises), it just means that i am utterly grateful for a vegan restaurant with an original menu. enter native foods…

    malibu veggie burger: a native original veggie burger made with soy, quinoa, oats, veggies, and delicious seasonings, sprouts, carrots, onion and vegan mayo. makes waves! (pictured above with a side of jasmine rice) $7.95

    farrah’s fatoush: a middle eastern crusty bread salad with chopped tomato, cucumber, onions, tofu feta, tossed with a lemon olive oil dressing on salad greens, hummus and kalamata olive garnish. $8.95 (BEWARE the mother fucking bell peppers, keep reading!)

    let me just say, these pix don’t do the food justice. it’s absolutely spectacular. in the same league as pure luck (sorry native foods, you don’t have tap beer…and therefore, i will never love you as much as PL), this restaurant offers fresh and tasty dishes without a hint of fake canned meat, or “choose your protein” pad thai. (vegans: you know what i’m talking about! this place is a find.) it’s JUST like a normal LA restaurant. without the death.

    another thing i love about native foods, me being a paranoid skeptic, is that i can sit at my table above and watch the cooks prepare my meal out in the open. yep, my food is loogie-free, and i know that…because i saw them make it! (sometimes it can be hard to find a seat, but when you do, it’s like having front row tickets to the show that is the kitchen!)

    now, more about the food:

    the burger is amazing. a lot of restaurants repackage the standard boca burger (which i love), or serve some type of mushroom concoction in patty form. both great. however, native food takes it up a notch, creating a uniquely delicious burger that’s soft, light, and full of flavor. and, they have many side dishes to choose from. it’s particularly good with the jasmine rice, which can be mixed with hot sauce and added as a fine topping onto the burger itself.

    next up, the salad:

    BEWARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! like the infamous veggie grill, native foods tends to liberally sprinkle unadvertised bell peppers atop any and all dishes, rendering them inedible to bell-pepper-phobes like me. they are tiny, disgusting, and impossible to pick out…so please have the forethought to request your salad without them. i had to learn the hard way, and let me say, i was a VERY pissed off vegan after my first visit to a wonderful vegan restaurant which, under normal circumstances, would have been the highlight of my week.

    that being said, farrah’s fatoush is a favorite of mine. in my attempt to be less of a fatty, i order it sans bread…but i’ve had it both ways, and it is always superb. the tangy lemon dressing completely coats the chopped produce, and the globs of creamy hummus mix in wonderfully. additionally, the “tofu feta” is nothing like smelly moldy feta at all. it’s rich, uncooked, flavorful tofu that adds texture and flavor to an already stellar salad.

    if you live in LA and you haven’t checked out native foods yet, you really are missing out. i am such a fan, that i am tempted to purchase the cookbook containing all the secret recipes, though i know i could never (even in a million years with all the right ingredients) replicate them.

    cheers to native foods! i’m looking forward to visiting again soon, and filling you all in on my next order.

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5 responses to “more burgers & salad, less salty noodles!” RSS icon

  • I feel your pain about unadvertised ingredients making their way onto your plate. I’m a devout onion/scallion/chive/shallot/leek hater and those pesky intruders are frequent unadevertised offenders. Yuck! I hate being forced to dissect my meal to get every bit of onion off before I begin eating it. On a happier note, I have the Native Foods cookbook!

  • I could probably write a book on those Thai-American “vegan” restaurants popping up all over Los Angeles. I’m more in the know than most about their origins and how this trend came to be. It’s an interesting story so I’ll give you a quick rundown.

    Once upon a time there was a small hole-in-the-wall vegan restaurant called Vegan Express that was owned by this little vegan Thai woman named Pia. Pia is an excellent cook but not so good with the business side of things. Few people knew it was there, and Vegan Express made little money especially since Pia bought expensive ingredients like real maple syrup, braggs, organic produce, etc.

    One day, Vegan Express was discovered by my vegan brother whom at the time was writing for an internet magazine. By brother writes a feature on Vegan Express and being the popular guy that he is, got the word out about the small “vegan oasis” as I think the article referred to it; organizing bands to play the small space and suddenly Vegan Express became immensely popular.

    Eventually, Pia’s poor business skills caught up and she sold Vegan Express to cover some debt she accumulated. At this time, Pia’s family saw the potential for profit with Pia’s recipes and an obscure vegan-titled restaurant. I believe California Vegan was the first Pia copy, which I also think is owned by Pia’s non-vegan nephew. Then one of her former cooks (also not vegan), opened Vegan Glory (or Truly Vegan, I get them confused) with another business partner. Soon Pia’s son, sister, husband, random Thai people (all not vegan) started coping/stole Pia’s recipes but sourced cheaper ingredients like refined sugar and cheaper veggie meats with whey.

    Now we are seeing copies of the copies, using a vegan name to cash in on bastardized versions of an innovative Thai woman’s recipes, many times not even bothering to change the names of the menu items. Pia is the only vegan and is without a restaurant of her own. She started Vegan Star, but became paranoid that the building owner was trying to steal her recipes and take over the restaurant. He wasn’t, but one day Pia just didn’t open up and that was the end of Vegan Star.

    There’s a lot more to the story than this but you get the idea. If Pia opens another place everyone should only eat there for their Thai-American vegan fix.

  • Oh, and Native Foods is great. I was at the location in Westwood a few weeks ago and I was hanging out with Chef Tanya (owner/founder), the first time I have ever seen her at that location. Very cool lady, she makes all of her seitan and tempeh by hand for all restaurants. Native Foods isn’t a “chain” like many describe, it’s all the same owner just trying to bring great vegan food to the masses. She is working on her fifth restaurant right now.

  • SCVegan: thanks for all that info! that’s absolutely fascinating, and answers some questions i’ve had in the past. SO…what OTHER dirt do you have on LA restaurants???!?!?!!?

  • Fortunately it’s mostly positive information, but like Food Trance told me on his blog I do know people who know people. Native Foods even had some trouble in the past with their Westwood location years back. They had a non-vegan restaurant manager and Chef Tanya lived in the Palm Springs area so she couldn’t keep an eye on it.

    They use to have a Blue Sky soda fountain there and the manager would refill it with soda packs from Smart and Final. He would also buy burger buns there on occasion, stuff like that. I don’t know when Chef Tanya caught wind of it, but that guy is long gone. All is safe now.

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