September 28th, 2010elf, flore, LA restaurants, mandoline grill, masa of echo park, native foods, pizza cookery, shin bbq (closed), shojin, tender greens, zpizza
While we usually cover LA’s extraordinary selection of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants (vegan, vegetarian and vegan-friendly), some individual menu items in our city stand out as exceptional, and we thought they deserved their own post. We also opted to choose entirely new menu items from those of last year’s list as there are so many new things to check out on the LA vegan scene.
We chose no-compromise vegan foods: menu items that make no apology for being vegan and that, with only a couple of exceptions, you can order pretty much any time.
Have some things to add to the list, or stuff you don’t like? Let us know in the comments!
Masa of Echo Park Chicago deep dish pizza with Teese
Undoubtedly my favorite new thing on this year’s list. The combination of Masa’s 100% authentic Chicago crust, super tangy and chunky sauce and cooking method combined with real Chicago SoyDairy Teese (yeah, even the vegan cheese is from Chicago) is a mighty fine dish. The thing tastes almost the same as the real Chicagoland staple (and I should know, I’ve eaten a LOT of them over the years) but can be prepared entirely vegan (sub Teese for cheese, and ask that they use olive oil rather than butter in the pan).
I advise going for the medium or large even though you’ll not be able to eat it all, but it travels well, re-heats like a champ and will even freeze for weeks. It’s especially nice with a couple of low-key toppings like spinach or mushrooms, but the real star here is the crust and texture.
Native Foods Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger
There are a lot of vegan burgers in LA. Most of them are pretty darn good, but one stands head and shoulders above all others: The Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger from Native Foods. It seems as though Chef Tanya has studied those high-end burger joints and gone vegan mediaeval on the recipe. She’s taken the Native Foods Seitan (perhaps the best money can buy), sliced it thinly and soaked it in a special sauce topped with crunchy tempeh bacon, lettuce, two types of onions, ranch dressing, BBQ sauce, carrots, tomatoes and even crunchy fried dill pickles.
Yes, this burger has every ingredient you can think of perfectly proportioned and excellently presented. A meal unto itself, the burger is heartily filling yet not unhealthily so.
Shojin Dynamite Roll
The dynamite roll started out as a special item available only on Monday sushi nights, but the dish was so popular that Shojin quickly added it to the normal menu. Having eaten this roll several times, I can say without a doubt that it’s some of the best vegan sushi I’ve ever tasted, and definitely the best in Los Angeles.
The rice-based roll is filled up with avocado and Shojin’s genius spicy “tuna” mixture – a creamy, hearty blend of vegetables and soy that’s so good I could eat a bowl of it straight. Each slice is then topped with a dollop of spicy vegan mayo and slivers of green onions. Usually when dining out on sushi, I like to get a several rolls and share them around the table. At Shojin, however, I always make sure to get a dynamite roll just for myself.
Elf Cornmeal and Herb Dusted Spicy Oyster Mushrooms
Every once in a while, you come across a dish that changes the rules of cuisine a little. You get exposed to something new, perhaps a taste, texture or presentation that’s so different and tasty that you remember it forever. The Spicy Oyster Mushrooms at Echo Park’s Elf is just such a dish. It’s described on the menu in a low-key way that almost makes it sound unappetizing: “Our version of ‘hot wings’ – crispy oyster mushrooms served with marinated celery salad and bleu cheese cream reduction”. Clearly, it has to be ordered without the bleu cheese for the vegans, but I can tell you this dish can stand on its own with or without the cheese.
The texture is crunchy yet soft and the flavors are so complex and delicate that this will be quite a unique experience. Even the celery is amazing – I don’t know what it’s marinated in, but I can tell you that I could eat a plate of just the celery any time! My only beef with the dish is that there’s no vegan substitute offered for the bleu cheese. I mean, some vegenaise and herbs wouldn’t go amiss, would it?
Pizza Cookery Vegan Bread Rolls (they’re FREE!)
Yeah, one of our top omnivorous restaurant choices also carries a bucket list item, and it’s actually something served for free when you show up to get a pizza. Just be sure to ask for the vegan bread rolls, as the default ones are filled with dairy cheese. BE WARNED, though, these rolls are so freakin’ amazing that you are in danger of filling up on them (as did I) and not wanting to eat any of your pizza (as did I) and so end up taking it home (as did I). Assuming that you can exercise restraint here, these rolls are an awesome way to start off your meal.
Perfectly cooked, stuffed with vegan cheese (Follow Your Heart as it happens, but this is one of those occasions where it actually works very well) and dipped in garlic olive oil with real garlic bits these will take you to a different place for sure.
Flore Biscuits & Gravy
Take two humongous biscuits, perfectly crunchy on the outside yet smooth and steamy on the inside then cover them with juicy and tasty gravy (with sausage bits!). That’d be a meal on its own, but Flore lets you add a serving of their legendary tempeh bacon, fruit or potatoes, and the dish comes with a delicious bed of steamed kale to boot. All for $9.95. All organic. And all fucking amazing! Unfortunately, this is a weekend brunch only dish, so you only have 2 days per week to get your fill.
Mandoline Grill Tofu Banh Mi
There are a few vegan Banh Mi’s out there, but nobody does it like Mandoline Grill, and I’m really pleased that this vegan-friendly food truck has a menu item that made it into this list. First off, the Banh Mi is absolutely HUGE. It’s a 12″, vegan French-style baguette with all the usual Banh Mi fixin’s including cucumber slices, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, jalapenos, vegenaise and scallion oil. Despite the fact that the bread and ingredients are fresh and tasty beyond belief, the real kicker is the slyly named “lemongrass marinated tofu”, which comes in thick chunks and is unquestionably one of the most tasty things you’ll ever eat. I don’t know how chef/owner Mong Skillman can prepare such a gourmet experience from a tiny food truck, and frankly I don’t care how she does it. I’m usually too busy eating the thing to worry about the details!
Zpizza The Tuscan (veganized)
Yes, we’re pizza obsessed. Yes, there are two pizzas on the bucket list and YES, this one is damn good, but couldn’t be further in concept, taste and style than the Masa Chicago Pizza up top. The Tuscan is going for that Italian intersection of thin crust, oils and mushrooms that Zpizza does so well. The regular pizza isn’t vegan, but they will sub Daiya for the mozzarella and leave off the feta if you ask, and you will be home and dry with an absolutely stunning pie.
This thing has a bunch of ingredients. In addition to Z’s incredible crust, there’s homemade roasted garlic sauce, Daiya cheese, three kinds of mushrooms (cremini, shiitake and button), sweet caramelized onions, drizzles of truffle oil and fresh thyme. If you think this SOUNDS delicious, wait until you taste one – you will be blown away. For extra spice, pile on the dried chilies (they go especially well with the muted tastes of the oils and shrooms).
Shin BBQ Seitan Bulgogi
I was as shocked as the next guy to discover Shin BBQ’s vegan-friendly options, headlined with the incredible Seitan Bulgogi. Although clearly modeled on meat-based entree, this dish has a character all of its own, and even omnivores are ordering it regularly now. Slices of chewy seitan are marinated in something called “Shin’s secret marinade” – I have no idea what this is, but all I know is it’s 100% vegan and 200% tasty. The dish goes perfectly over some rice and don’t forget to pile on some of the excellent kimchi that will arrive in abundance at your table.
Tender Greens The Happy Vegan
This is another dish that I feel the need to eat on a regular basis, so I’m really happy that the WeHo Tender Greens is on my way home, and I can park for a dollar! Tender Greens is an upmarket, salad-oriented restaurant where you order at the counter, they make your salad and then bring it to your table. The Happy Vegan is so aptly named, as I don’t believe that any vegan would be something other than very happy post-consumption.
There are a ton of seemingly exotic ingredients in the salad: tabbouleh, hummus, pasta pearls, farro wheat, young kale and the eponymous “tender greens”. There’s also some crispy baguette slices dribbled with extra virgin olive oil to boot. For a salad, the price of $10.50 may seem high at face value, but I’d think nothing of paying $20 or more for this dish in a fancy restaurant.Tags: Bucket list, burger, pizza, sandwich
want delicious gourmet vegan food at affordable prices? if so, you are gonna love the new meatless monday specials at tender greens. the restaurant started the initiative this week, and from now on every monday, in addition to their regular menu, they will offer seasonal vegetarian and vegan dishes with an emphasis on whole foods (no processed ingredients or fake meats).
we have been fans of tender greens for quite awhile; their salads are fresh and made with the finest ingredients, and their “happy vegan” plate is one of the best meals in town. so when we heard that they’d be offering new vegan items each week, we were beyond excited. we dined at the west hollywood location on monday, and were absolutely thrilled with our dinner. tender greens really took it to the next level with this one.
we started with the pasta special, which normally comes topped with parmesan, but was easily veganized. the chef came to our table specifically to describe the dish: homemade noodles made with 00 flour, chili roasted heirloom tomatoes, toasted garlic, basil, arugula and lemon vinaigrette. this meal was amazing…i couldn’t get enough of the little heirloom tomatoes that were so delicate they basically melted in my mouth. pure excellence from the thick noodles, to the light sauce, the flavorful bits of garlic, and the fresh greens.
next, we tried the special of grilled oyster mushrooms, black barley, baby heirloom squash, and rainbow chard. this is one of the best dishes i’ve had in a while, truly spectacular. the flavor combos going on here were insane, and the chewy meaty mushrooms were mind blowing. all the vegetables were grilled to perfection, and tasted great all mixed up with the barley. i am so used to eating salads at tender greens, i had no idea they were capable of this kind of food! it’s so high quality, like the stuff you’d find at a fancy restaurant, but for just over ten bucks.
another thing tender greens has going for it seven days a week, not just on mondays, is a good selection craft beer. they switch it up regularly, and always have something good on tap whether it’s from the local eagle rock brewery, deschutes in portland, or ballast point in san diego. oh, and they are all available by the pitcher. glug glug!
it’s safe to say i am a huge fan of meatless mondays at tender greens, and i hope they keep it going strong at all their los angeles locations indefinitely. seriously, get over there and check it out as soon as you can. if your food is even half as good as the stuff i ate, you will love it. my tip would be to check out tender greens’ twitter page each monday, and see what they are serving at each of the locations. that way, you can be sure to get a special that’s to your liking. also, always confirm that what you are ordering is vegan, and doesn’t come with any superfluous cheese or anything.
tender greens, nice work. thanks so much for embracing the meatless monday movement. here’s to hoping other LA restaurants follow your lead!
tender greensTags: meatless monday, weho
8759 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
6290 West Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
9523 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
UPDATE 12/18: sorry it took so long, but we finally have some winners for the caption contest!!!!
the winners are alex with “(looks down at weight watchers info sheet ) ‘phew it’s only 2 pts’”
and lisa with “Think twice before you make fun of men who eat salad.”
that’s all. and i’d like to extend a huge congrats to alex because he also won our first captions contest…which now means he is undefeated.<end of update!>
man, i really love tender greens in los angeles. the casual eatery specializes in big hearty salads, and has a pretty good selection of beer on tap. they use seasonal, locally grown vegetables and mostly organic ingredients…and just about everything i’ve eaten there has been delicious.
i think just two of the salads are vegan by default (the happy vegan and the salad in the raw), but several of them can be made vegan by substituting vegetables for meat or omitting ingredients. above we have the grilled veggies salad, which can be veganized by leaving off the cheese. this thing comes loaded up with perfectly cooked vegetables and crunchy greens in a tomato vinaigrette. my salad came packed with halved brussels sprouts, delicate broccolini, squash, cauliflower, and zucchini. the vegetables at tender greens are always changing, so be sure to let them know if you have any aversions.
i know i’ve blogged about this next dish before, but you really can’t visit tender greens and not try the happy vegan. this little plate is full of pure vegan goodness including tabbouleh, green hummus, pasta, farro wheat and succulent greens. this thing is worth ordering for the green hummus alone….i don’t know what goes into it but the yum factor is uncharted. to be honest, this dish isn’t really a salad at all—it’s more like a feast of delicious vegan tapas.
on top of the great food, there is much more to love about tender greens. first off, you order at the counter. the food comes out super fast and there’s no fuckery with waiting for the check, etc. second, the atmosphere is way relaxing. they’ve got comfy booths, tables by the window, outdoor seating, you name it. thirdly, BEER ON TAP. if you are reading this post from a city like san francisco or portland, that may not seem like a big deal….but in LA it is so bleeding hard to find a place where you can drink beer and eat vegan food. and tender greens has a damn good selection, too. our meals above were enjoyed with two frosty pints of lagunitas pilsner. i really can’t ask for much more than that in a restaurant.
8759 santa monica blvd.
west hollywood, ca 90069
(they also have locations in culver city and san diego)
oh, and before i forget, it’s time for the second quarrygirl caption contest! the first one was a lot of fun, and the winning captions were awesome. so come up with a caption for the picture below (we spotted this dude wolfing down a salad and some bread at tender greens), and we will post the best ones on the site!
Tags: beer, salad, weho
if you like healthy food, relaxing lunches, and damn good tap beer, you need to hit up tender greens. the casual eatery has two locations, one in culver city and a brand new one in west hollywood. i checked out the weho outlet with friend and fellow blogger jennshaggy, and was blown away by the taste and quality of the food, the friendliness of the service, and the overall atmosphere of the place.
after browsing the menu online, i wasn’t expecting much from tender greens. they seemed to have mostly salads and nothing really jumped out at me. however, the minute i walked into the restaurant and was greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread and could see all the fresh vegetables being chopped and prepared behind the counter, i knew i was in for a treat. i could tell this was no ordinary salad place, and that our food was likely to be exceptional.
i ordered the happy vegan pictured above, which was a mix of several small dishes accompanied by soft leafy greens and crunchy bread. of the several mounds of delicious food on my plate, my favorite was the green hummus (pictured below), which tasted like a mix of hummus and edamame…absolutely amazing. of course i washed everything down with a pint of delicious draught beer. i don’t even remember what kind of beer i ordered, but it was something fancy. you don’t see crap like bud light and mgd on tap at tender greens, but rather selections like chimay and fine ciders.
while tender greens only has two salads that come vegan by default, most of their other creations can be veganized as well. jennshaggy ordered the chinese chicken salad, but with vegetables instead of chicken and tomato rather than sesame dressing. the roasted vegetables included squash, baby carrots, cauliflower, and asparagus….all of which were cooked to perfection. i tried a bite and jenn’s salad was even better than my happy vegan plate! i am definitely gonna take a risk and order off the menu next time like she did.
in addition to great food and fancy tap beer, tender greens has a super comfy and laid back atmosphere. you order at the counter and pay for your food then take your tray to one of the many sun-soaked booths or tables underneath the large windows. on a weekend i could spend hours at this place, sinking beers and eating hummus.
so overall, tender greens gets an a+. the food is fresh and tastes good, and everything is unbelievably light and healthy. i think i would do myself a favor by eating here more often.
tender greensTags: beer, salad, weho
8759 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069