September 27th, 2009LA restaurants, madeleine bistro, products, pure luck (closed), shojin, stuff i eat, vinh loi tofu
Following three years of eating out on LA’s vegan restaurant scene we thought it would be good to come up with a “top list” of the establishments we, and the commenters on this esteemed blog, thought were really good. Check out the end for honorable mentions, restaurants that didn’t quite make the list. Want to bump a mention off the list, or add your own? Please comment. Don’t be shy. We had to start somewhere.
Advice when visiting Madeline Bistro: Sit facing away from the window and forget that you walked past the exotic lingerie store a few doors down, after an excruciatingly long drive from pretty much wherever you live. If you can suspend the belief of where you are and how you got there for long enough, you’ll enjoy some of the most incredible vegan food on the West Coast, and probably in the world.
Chef Dave Anderson has spared no expense or time in thinking through and preparing the most minute details of every menu item. From a doughnut that is so light and fluffy it practically levitates, to a veganized carbon-copy emulation of a Big Mag (which I’m told by omnivores tastes way, way better than the real thing), through magical soufflés and German Mac ‘n’ Cheese (complete with Bacon bits!) you are certain to delight in the experience of fine vegan dining with a menu as inventive as it is familiar. Every dish at Madeleine’s has that “HOW DO THEY DO THIS?” question mark hanging over it. Dave Anderson is a culinary genius, and we should all be glad he decided to practice his art on us vegans.
Situated on a quiet street a block from busy Manchester Blvd. on the edge of Inglewood is an absolute gem of a vegan restaurant: Stuff I Eat. With an eclectic menu of options spanning the gamut from soul food through Mexican-inspired and down to earth, honest to goodness, American-style favorites, Stuff I Eat excels in every category. The staff are all so helpful, polite and caring that one feels grateful to be in ‘their’ restaurant. The portions are HUGE, and the quality of every food item, from the way it looks to the way it tastes cannot be overstated.
Feeling hungry? The $18 “Organic Soul Food Platter” will fill you up, as well as one or two of your guests. The burritos are to die for (how many burritos have fresh, steamed broccoli topping them?). Any place that has a menu item called “Sumthin-Sumthin”, makes its own dressings from scratch every day and serves a $5 taco with so much filling that they throw in an extra tortilla so you can “make two out of one” clearly has an appreciation of food. If you have the same (or even if you don’t), Stuff I Eat will be some of the best Stuff you will EVER Eat.
Kevin Tran, the chef/owner/cashier of Vinh Loi Tofu is probably the King of Los Angeles vegan cuisine. Sitting on his throne behind the counter at Vinh Loi Tofu, he rules his mini-kingdom of obedient, smiling tofu-preparing workers who create some of the most stunning vegan food in town. In his modest Reseda restaurant (about the size of a donut shop!) he manages to squeeze in not only a tofu factory but also a kitchen that prepares no less than 126 vegan specialty menu items, along with several “new inventions” that Kevin has cooked up to try out on us unsuspecting, but very lucky, vegans.
With so many menu items it’s really hard to choose favorites (and, to be fair, I try to mix up what I order, but in a lifetime one can only scratch the surface of Kevin’s creativity). Signature dishes we see people ordering time and time again include the Banh Mi subs (of which there are 13 varieties) ranging between $4.50 and and extortionate $6! Kevin’s tofu and fake meats blend perfectly with fresh vegetables in his soups, stir fries, teriyaki noodles and salads. If you’re feeling really adventurous, just ask him for his “special of the day”. You won’t be sorry.
On our first visit to Pure Luck, we were intrigued to watch a tattooed dude (who we later discovered was Ben, the guy who dreamed up the establishment) wheeling a toilet through a busy restaurant and out of the door. He returned to climb, precariously, above the food area while he installed a WiFi access point suspended from the ceiling by green cables, that’s still there to this day. While this entertainment was going on, my friends and I got quietly drunk on craft beer, and full of potato pals, followed by several plates of fresh salads, rolls with exotic ingredients and burritos. Pure luck doesn’t quite have the atmosphere of a bar, but you can squint your eyes and fake it real easy, with at least 10 beers on tap and an endless supply of comfort food you can’t go wrong.
Must-have dishes are the jackfruit-anything (especially the Todd’s BBQ Sandwich or Torta), Fresh Noodle Salad and the deep fried stuff (Potato Pals, Rosemary Fries, Sweet Potato Fries). The Tofu Pesto Sandwich is also an excellent choice, arriving on a crusty, fresh La Brea Bakery roll. Chow on some great bar food, drink some of LA’s finest beers and smile in the haze of how great it is to be vegan in this day and age. Thanks, Pure Luck, for all the good times.
Oh, and the toilet was abandoned in the parking lot by the dumpster when we left.
I recall hanging out as a teenager in the Tokyo district of Akihabara, where bright lights, video arcades and electronics stores are punctuated only by sushi bars and upscale dining. The shopping mall in Little Tokyo (just south of Downtown LA) contains all of the above plus an amazing find if you trudge to the top of the escalator: Shojin Restaurant. to call this place “fine dining” would be an understatement. Hand polished silverware resting on starched tablecloths await your vegan self. Nuvo-Japonaise decor and Frank Sinatra on the speakers round out this most eclectic of dining experiences. Your shy, yet overly-attentive and awkwardly chatty serving staff will do whatever it takes for you to have a great time, as plate upon plate of amazing food spirits itself out of the kitchen to your pristine table.
Whether you go for the sushi (with seitan, tofu and other faux-fish accoutrements), the pan-fried seitan stir-fry or the incredibly tasty hand-made deserts you will know that such care has been put into preparing your food with prime, organic ingredients that you just can’t go wrong. Order as much stuff as you like — the portions are small, but the taste is big.
Check back tomorrow, for our list of the top five vegetarian restaurants that are vegan friendly.Tags: downtown la, east hollywood, inglewood, the valley, top 5
when i first posted on franken’s, the one and only all-vegan hot dog stand in los angeles, i vowed that i would follow them around, show up at their gigs, and get food from them every time they set up shop. since then, the frankenstand has made two appearances in la, and we were there for both of them.
the food was delicious on both occasions…but before i get into all that, i wanna remind you that the frankenstand will be serving it up in echo park this friday, march 13th at pehrspace. don’t miss it!
their latest appearance was a smashing success, and we were there at the front lines as they sold like a million hot dogs to hungry hipsters at the east hollywood art cycle event on february 28th. they set up shop outside la city college at heliotrope and melrose, right across from pure luck…it was a vegan’s dream come true!
we ordered the wolf and the franken, both 100% vegan tofurky sausages steamed to perfection. i don’t know how the frankenstand makes tofurky taste so good, but it’s seriously something i can’t replicate at home. of course we took advantage of the eat-all-you-want condiment tray and sauce selection.
this was my first time trying the wolf, the cheapest and definitely the spiciest of the sausages available at franken’s. for only 3 bucks it’s a really good deal, but it is considerably smaller than the other franks…so keep that in mind if you are very hungry. the chipotle pepper flavor was delicious, but i made it even tastier with tons of onions and even spicier with loads of hot sauce. i can’t tell you enough how much i love all the condiments and vegetables at the frankenstand.
my husband got the same thing he always orders, the franken. the hearty italian-style frank is absolutely mouth-watering, with little bits of sun dried tomato chopped up inside. this sausage seems to be most people’s favorite, although mine is the witch…a tofu beer-flavored frank that costs 4 bucks.
the artists and bikers seemed to love the frankenstand—there was a pretty healthy line when we got our franks, and we were there relatively early. for more coverage on franken’s at the east hollywood art cycle, check out sick of lettuce.
we also caught up with the frankenstand at the threat fest in canoga park on february 21st. the valley crust punk crowd couldn’t have been more different from the heliotrope hipsters…but they sure loved the hot dogs just as much. i saw people going back for second, and even third servings of franken’s! you can see some pix from that event in the franken’s photo gallery and on vegan-la.com.
so those are all the franken’s adventures i have for now. stay tuned, and be sure to check out the frankenstand this friday!Tags: east hollywood, echo park, hot dogs, sausage, the valley, tofurky