• Okay, so we’ve already posted about the best vegan and best vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles, but sometimes we vegans HAVE to eat in omnivorous restaurants. That’s a part of life. What’s interesting, though, is when we find meat-serving restaurants that we WANT to eat in. That’s a whole different story, and LA has a few outstanding omnivorous establishments that go out of their way to cater to vegans. Here are our favorites.

    M Cafe

    While the “M” in M Cafe probably stands for Macrobiotic, I believe it actually stands for Mmmmmmmm, which is pretty much what I murmur with every bite of this amazing food. With a totally vegan menu except for fish, M Cafe has a chic urban appeal, backed up with an A-list of ingredients (and clientele) all layered over an efficient kitchen and fair pricing, considering how great the food is. While the last year or two M Cafe’s items have been prepared by kitchen staff rather than chefs, their menu items are still some of the best in town.

    Vegan Benedict at M Cafe

    Vegan Benedict at M Cafe

    The Big Macro is arguably LA’s best vegan burger. The broccolini pepporochini is without a doubt LA’s premier broccolini, and the Vegan Benedict is constantly voted one of the “best” breakfast items on any local menu. There are plenty of vegan options at all times of the day, and the rotating menu constantly keeps one coming back for more. The deserts are out of this world, along with the very best vegan tiramisu known to humanity. Check it out!!

    Purgatory Pizza

    It’s probably inaccurate to credit Purgatory Pizza with single-handedly introducing incredible vegan pizza to LA, but we’re going to anyway. The insatiable team, formerly headed by Chef Ricky, that painstakingly worked to veganize an entire product line and food preparation process has gone from strength to strength. Purgatory was not only the first pizza place to embrace Teese (the ground-breaking alternative to Follow Your Heart Cheese), but is also the first to stock Gardein and Field Roast as toppings, and one of the first to serve Daiya (the best vegan cheese at time of posting) in SoCal.

    Vegan Chicken Pestop Pizza with Gardein and Daiya at Purgatory Pizza.

    Vegan Chicken Pestop Pizza with Gardein and Daiya at Purgatory Pizza.

    To get your Purgatory Pizza kicks (if you’re not in the delivery area), show up with a bottle of cheap wine and/or a six-pack of beer, then order your pizza to dine in. Feeling like a cross between an 80s suburban pizza joint and some kind of modern art experiment, Purgatory has a great, brightly-lit atmosphere and friendly staff to keep you entertained while you swallow slice after slice of LA’s best vegan pizza.

    Hugo’s Restaurant

    With two locations (one in West Hollywood, the other in Studio City), and a full-on meat-oriented menu, one might be surprised to find that the Hugo’s chefs have created some seriously innovative vegan cuisine. Not only do they have loads of options, but they have menu with several clearly marked animal-free alternatives, as well as dishes that can be optionally veganized. If you can get past the trendy atmosphere, long waits and constant celebrity sightings (I’ve watched the staff at the WeHo location fawn over Gabriel Byrne and Jeff Goldblum within the past few weeks) you’re in for a vegan treat.

    Tikka Masala Veggie Patties at Hugo's Restaurant

    Tikka Masala Veggie Patties at Hugo's Restaurant

    Although I’ve long been a fan of the tofu scramble, I also love the Very Green Casserole (one of the best vegan burgers I’ve ever tasted atop stewed vegetables and sauce in a pot) as well as the salads, tikka masala veggie patties, stir-frys and wraps. Make sure you specify “VEGAN” clearly when you order, while the restaurant is extremely vegan-friendly, there may be butter hiding in unsuspecting dishes.


    Sadly, the Toi chain has contracted from two locations to just one, on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Thankfully the sacrificial lamb of this two-outlet chain was the Santa Monica outlet on Wilshire and not the ultimate rock and roll dining location sandwiched between Guitar Center and clothing stores most mortals are too… well… mortal to shop in. Toi has a loud, brash atmosphere with a class-based seating system (some tables suck ass, others are amazing — you ride the wind and luck of the draw depending your arrival time).

    Vegan Pad Thai at Toi

    Vegan Pad Thai at Toi

    Get the vegan pad thai with grilled tofu for a real treat, or the Saigon spring rolls…and make sure you request the hot sauces to dollop liberally over your food. The portions are huge, the kitchen respects us vegans, and most things on the menu can be made vegan — substitute chicken for tofu, oyster sauce for vegan oyster sauce, and you’ll get a superb meal. Take your omni friends there, and chillax the fuck out listening to rock ‘n’ roll on the speakers. Step into the parking lot at the back and you can smell weed in the air. Need we say more.

    Mama’s Hot Tamales

    OK, I’ll admit, MacArthur Park (just West of Downtown LA) has a shady reputation. Lotsa crime, lotsa drugs, lotsa pigeons, lotsa bodegas and lotsa REAL, AUTHENTIC Mexican restaurants. How glad are we vegans, then, that one of the most popular, Mama’s Hot Tamales, has a full-on vegan menu, complete with Daiya cheese, vegan sauces and all the trimmings. Did you hear that? Authentic Mexican food AND Daiya Cheese!!!! That is reason enough to make any top 5 list, as far as we’re concerned.

    Vegan Daiya Cheese Enchiladas at Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe

    Vegan Daiya Cheese Enchiladas at Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe

    At Mama’s you can enjoy all the greasy, cheesy filling Mexican food that omnivores love to death, but prepared under the supervision of Mama herself: the real deal, a Mexican señora who could not be more understanding of what a vegan is, what we need and how to prepare the food for us.

    Honorable mentions: Green Peas, XIV, Zpizza, Cafe Muse, Interim Cafe, Mani’s Bakery

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  • July 27th, 2009quarrygirlLA restaurants, mama's hot tamales, vegan cheese


    one of the things i miss most since becoming vegan is mexican food. even though it’s getting easier to find places that refrain from sneaking chicken stock and lard into just about everything, i’ve still been looking for somewhere to re-create that greasy, cheesy, mexican goodness that i miss from when i was a vegetarian. well guess, what….i found it! mama’s hot tamales cafe, located right at the southern border of macarthur park, is serving up the best vegan mexican food in los angeles, melty vegan cheese and all.

    for a while, vegans in the know have raved about mama’s hot tamales’ animal-free options. for ages, the restaurant has been serving up tofu alternatives to tortas and burritos, vegan tamales, tostadas, appetizers and salads. but recently, as i learned in the quarrygirl forums, mama’s started carrying daiya vegan cheese…so now practically any menu item containing dairy can be veganized. OH MY WURD, this is such a breakthrough. things like quesadillas and enchiladas, that have been off limits to vegans forever, are now available at mama’s. and really amazing versions of these foods as well. if you don’t already know how earth-shatteringly good daiya is, you should.

    mini vegan quesadilla with daiya cheese, spinach, mushroom and pico de gallo. $4

    mini vegan quesadilla with daiya cheese, spinach, mushroom and pico de gallo. $4

    we hit up mama’s hot tamales cafe over the weekend and went all out with our order. i wanted to try as much cheesy stuff as possible, plus get a tamale of course, because that’s mama’s most famous dish! we started with the mini quesadilla appetizer, and added mushrooms and spinach to it as well. the vegan version came with the choice of cheddar or white daiya cheese, and we went with cheddar.

    all i can say about this appetizer is, it’s one of the tastiest, most convincing cheese dishes i’ve had since becoming vegan. the daiya was gooey, melty, and perfectly oily with a real authentic cheddar flavor. it mixed up just great with the spinach leaves and tiny mushrooms, all pressed into a slightly crunchy cooked tortilla. mexican perfection, i’m telling you.


    for my main dish, i got something that haunts most vegans’ dreams: cheese enchiladas. i never thought i’d be able to eat a cheese enchilada again, that actually tasted decent, like it was filled with real cheese. well this did.

    vegan daiya cheese enchiladas. $7

    vegan daiya cheese enchiladas. $7

    three soft corn tortillas wrapped around huge clumps of daiya and topped off with even more melted cheese. again, i chose cheddar for this because it seemed more authentic, but if you like daiya white cheese you can get that in your enchiladas as well. these enchiladas were nothing short of wonderful. this may be the best use of daiya i’ve had yet, mama’s got it spot on, just melty enough with just the right amount of cheese. if you hit up mama’s hot tamales, be sure to order these enchiladas no matter what…words can’t describe how much they rocked my world.


    at a mere seven bucks, these enchiladas were a steal. not only was the portion size large, but they also came with a huge mound of rice and a spinach salad. not just a dinky side salad, but a full on plate of spinach leaves and vegetables with guacamole dressing. amazing.


    my husband ordered the vegan version of the tofu burrito, with a blend of cheddar and white melted daiya on top.

    vegan tofu burrito: a large flour  tortilla filled with pinto beans, mama’s rice, daiya cheese & tofu. covered in red or green sauce & melted daiya cheese. $8

    vegan tofu burrito: a large flour tortilla filled with pinto beans, mama’s rice, daiya cheese & tofu. covered in red or green sauce & melted daiya cheese. $8

    the thing was absolutely massive and stuffed with beans, rice, and huge chunks of tofu. unlike normal burritos with soft little squares of tofu, the tofu in this one was marinated nicely and cut into large strips. it had so much flavor and really worked as a filling. again, the daiya cheese in and on top of the burrito was absolutely incredible. no complaints about this dish at all.


    lastly we shared a black bean and herb tamale, which was a great deal at just $2.50.

    black bean and herb tamale, wrapped in a banana leaf. $2.50

    black bean and herb tamale, wrapped in a banana leaf. $2.50

    the fluffy corn mass came wrapped in a banana leaf and contained a thick mixture of black beans and leafy herbs. the masa dough was so insanely light and fluffy, if you like tamales, you will love the way mama makes them. there were plenty of other vegan options to choose from, and the menu rotates daily. i can’t wait to try some of her other flavors.


    in addition to having amazing vegan food and low prices, the staff at mama’s is extremely friendly as well. as we walked in, mama introduced herself and went over the menu with us in a way that showed she really cared. every server that brought something to our table was courteous and engaging. they all seemed like great, genuinely nice people.


    mama’s hot tamales cafe isn’t in a great part of town, but they are only open during the day and they have parking, so don’t let the shady factor stop you from going there. once you walk through mama’s doors, you are in a warm, clean, welcoming environment full of smiles and awesome vegan food.


    so make plans to go to mama’s hot tamales cafe ASAP. the fact that they have daiya isn’t printed yet on the physical menu, but be sure to ask for it and mama will take care of you. i can’t stress enough that this is the BEST MEXICAN FOOD i’ve had since becoming vegan. don’t miss out on it.


    and a special shout out to lucysnowe from the forums for reminding me to check this place out. 🙂

    mama’s hot tamales cafe
    2124 W 7th St
    Los Angeles, CA 90057-4001
    (213) 487-7474
    open 7 days 11:00am-3:30pm

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