• February 28th, 2010mr meanerother, stores

    It’s no secret that we’re huge fans here of Verdugo Bar in Glassel Park. From 2008’s Oktoberfest through the summer afternoons of Hot Knives’ Gnosh Pit, several rendezvous with Mandoline Grill, and many late nights under the spell of a DJ, we’ve been through it all, and can’t help but keep going back for more.

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  • February 21st, 2010mr meanergingergrass, LA restaurants

    There are few things more satisfying on a warn day than naturally brewed German beer. Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of beers, but there’s something about a Pilsener, Bock or Maarzen that quenches one’s thirst quite on a hot day like none other. German beer also has a huge advantage in that it’s almost always vegan, due to the strict brewing purity laws Reinheitsgebot, established in the 16th century, which mandate only water, barley, and hops should be used to make beer. Nowadays, and thanks to the treacherous European Community, that law is effectively repealed, but many breweries brew the traditional way which uses no animal products anywhere in the process.

    One the best places in LA to get German beer served in a (relatively) authentic atmosphere is The Red Lion Tavern, in Silverlake. Located on Glendale Blvd. this awesome mock-German bar is a fun place to visit. You have a choice of two places to drink – the lower bar is dark and cold – almost like a Bavarian beer cellar, with comfortable booths, stained glass windows and a friendly bar area with nine or ten German beers on tap at any time.

    If you’re feeling more al fresco, there’s a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) patio upstairs adjacent to the parking lot complete with its own bar. Decorated like a Rhone Valley beer garden, the patio, as with the lower bar, provides such an immersive drinking experience that I completely forget I’m in LA every time I visit. The Glendale Freeway, moments away, will change to an Autobahn right before my very eyes as I stagger out of the Red Lion.

    The staff at Red Lion are very friendly, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a REAL GERMAN person serving you while donned up in traditional national dress, complete with sashes and frilly collars. The fact that they can keep such a straight face when working there is awesome – to me, the entire Red Lion concept is so lovably, comically camp that I just can’t take it seriously, which is probably why I can’t keep away.

    A note of caution for vegans, though, is that the food menu is also traditionally German, consisting of boiled meat, fried meat, sausage-shaped meat, meat pies, meat patties and meat on a stick. The only non-meat thing on the menu is a potato cake, but even that is cooked in the meat juices for “authentic flavors”. Sometimes, as friends have pointed out, the place can bee a little too meaty smelling – especially the inside bar, so I tend to go earlier in the day before the lunch rush then fill up on drink before heading a few steps down the road to fill up on grub.

    A half-block away from the Red Lion, still on Glendale Blvd. is Gingergrass, an equally authentic establishment – but this time we’re not talking about Fraus in dresses, but a busy, non-nonsense Vietnamese cafe with a menu right out of a Hanoi street bazaar. I’ll start off by saying that Gingergrass is an omnivorous establishment, but is highly vegan friendly. The menu clearly states what can be made vegan (nearly everything), and our server was most helpful answering our picky, vegan questions.

    organic tofu noodle bowl served over rice stick noodles with shredded lettuce, pickled vegetables, herbs, and your choice of regular or vegan nuoc cham. $8.75

    On our visit we opted for the Organic tofu noodle bowl which was a hearty combination of noodles and vegetables in a tasty vegan sauce, topped off with lightly fried tofu chunks. The entire thing was absolutely wonderful, and everything was cooked just right. This dish alone would be more than enough to full up one, or perhaps two people, but we over ordered another two things, regardless.

    vegetarian pho: mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, ginger and baked tofu in a vegan broth infused with traditional pho spices over rice noodles.

    Next up was the Vegetarian PHÓ, a traditional deep bowl of soup crammed full of bok choy, carrots, ginger and baked tofu along with crunchy shredded lettuce and a generous side of bean sprouts, chilies and mint leaves. Again, everything was filling, healthy tasting, fresh and light.

    gingergrass tofu lunch plate: crispy organic tofu with shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy served with our vegan nuoc cham sauce. $8.95

    Finally, we ordered the Gingergrass Tofu Lunch Plate which was a healthy serving of chunky fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, noodles and rice along with dipping sauce and a diced vegetable slaw that was to die for. This is just the kind of dish you want to scrape up with your chopsticks and eat quickly. Again, I can’t fault anything in this dish – it was incessantly fresh, perfectly cooked and wonderfully tasty.

    So, what’s not to like about Gingergrass? Frankly, the only criticism I have is that the prices are deceptively low – only $9 for a HUGE bowl of noodles with sides and salad whereas on the westside a meal like this would be in the $11-$13 price range. You have been warned: the portions are huge.

    So, a nice outing on a sunny day would start off relaxing on the patio or in the cellar bar at Red Lion while drinking ice cold beer from Germany, followed by a 2 minute walk to Gingergrass where helpful people will busily take your order and bring you plate after plate of fresh, healthy food. I love omni restaurants that specifically state which items on the menu are, or can be, made vegan and a bar with a safe-haven of vegan beer is a godsend.

    Finally, as always, if you’re unsure that your favorite tipple is vegan, check out Barnivore.com where you can quickly look up most alcoholic drinks. Also, a few weeks ago I discovered the awesome veganbrew.com, a blog run by a couple of vegan beer and food lovers that show not only how beer is brewed (cuz they actually brew it step by step on the blog) but have some tasty recipes (beer battered seitan, anybody?!) as well as crucial advice such as the timeless: “DO NOT SQUEEZE YOUR SACK”. Check it out.

    red lion tavern
    2366 Glendale Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90039
    (323) 662-5337

    2396 Glendale Blvd
    Silver Lake, CA 90039
    (323) 644-1600

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  • February 14th, 2010mr meanerLA restaurants, mao's kitchen

    In our inaugural Pub ‘n’ Grub, we stumbled from a student infested Irish sports bar to Native Foods, in the “scenic” district of Westwood, under the shadow of the UCLA campus. This time around, we decided to shun the down-to-earth college vibe and go for something a little more quixotic, perhaps exotic and certainly chaotic: LA’s Melrose Avenue. Also, in celebration of Chinese New Year, we decided on an Asian angle too.

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  • February 1st, 2010mr meanerLA restaurants, native foods

    Very, very few decent bars serve food suitable for vegans. The best we can usually hope for is french fries or a limp salad, and even then the chances of them being vegan are usually 10-1 against. Likewise, most vegan restaurants don’t have a beer and wine license, let alone the city certificate and capability to make you a gin and tonic to sup down with your Gardein burger.

    So, while a bar can serve up some alcohol and a vibe you’re in the mood for, your favorite vegan, or vegan-friendly restaurant can feed you until you’re full, butthere are very few that can do both. What’s a boozy vegan to do?

    Well, we set out to find a range of cool bars in LA that are no more than a few steps away from some of the best vegan restaurants in town. Figuring that one might go for a beer or cocktail before dining, we start with the bars first.

    In the mid-90s I used to frequent an archetypal student bar half a block from the UCLA campus in Westwood. Back then it used to be called “Maloney’s on campus” and was a dirty, rough and tough bar that only the brave would survive. Hard drinking, $2 Jack Daniels chasers and the cheapest beer east of Santa Monica or West of Beverly hills was the order of the day. Add in 100 or so rowdy students (mostly making out), loud football games on old TVs and you pretty much get the idea.

    A few years ago, Maloney’s closed down allegedly with the assistance of the LAPD (all those under age drinkers must have been a business risk, if indeed that’s why they closed) to be replaced with a facsimile bar in the same building called O’Hara’s. We’re talking cleaner facilities, nicer staff, better food, flat-screen TVs and even a tap beer menu that’s more than a Miller Lite keggerator stuck in the corner of the bar.

    These days, the students are all still there, but seem better behaved and there’s a strict ID check in progress – even I get my ID scanned and I’m as old as the grand canyon. If you’re lucky you can settle into a comfy chair at the low bar, and get a great view of the TVs and friendly bartenders. There are super value 1 liter beers ($8.00) and the happy hour delivers suds for under 5 bucks a pint. Add a reasonable wine selection with full-on cocktail capabilities and you can have a great time drinking away in this relaxing, dark environment. If you’re super lucky, you might meet your future wife there (as happened to a friend of mine) or for the single ladies find a wealthy, cute foreign student to hook up with (I’ve heard that happens too).

    After you’ve filled your skin with beer, a mere hop skip and jump away is one of LA’s greatest vegan fast-food restaurants: Native Foods. I usually hit up O’Hara’s around lunchtime when it’s relatively quiet (before the big games start) then just as it starts to get crazy slip away to Native Foods, just after their lunch rush, around 2:30pm.

    Of course, in between O’Hara’s and Native Foods is the busy Westwood branch of Whole Foods Market, with a parking lot adjacent to the bar. Although I’d never condone others to do the same, I usually park at Whole Foods before my beer, pop in after the pub to get some groceries, shove ’em in my trunk and then head to Native Foods for lunch. This seems to confuse the parking attendants (who presumably think I’m a slow shopper) so I’ve never been ticketed or towed, and have parked, for hours on end, in expensive Westwood for free.

    Of course, if you’re a vegan living in LA you will have heard much about Native Foods, and have probably even been there on a few occasions. The restaurant, though, has been upgraded lately and is now twice the size, which is a great job as the menu has also been upgraded with some mouthwatering new items from Chef Tanya’s repertoire.

    What is the ideal thing to eat after filling your belly with beer? An Oklahoma Bacon Cheese Burger, that’s what. While the inebriated jocks back in O’Hara’s are clinging to the wall with one hand and stuffing meat and cheese into their faces with the other hand, you can be stuffing YOUR face with an entirely plant-based burger that’s as tasty as they come.

    oklahoma bacon cheeseburger: thinly sliced original seitan, melted cheddar, caramelized onions, crispy tempeh bacon on a bun slathered with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomato and topped with crunchy battered dill pickles chips. $9.95

    Layer upon layer of Chef Tanya’s seitan under home-cooked tempeh bacon that’s topped with vegan cheese and smothered in a creamy sauce will knock your socks off. Add in some of Native Foods’ exclusive hot sauce, a side of spicy fries and you’ll have the same “I’m full” buzz as the O’Hara’s customers, but with none of the guilt.

    native fries: thinly cut potatoes cooked in pure vegetable oil and dusted with a fun blend of garlic and spices. $2.95

    The pub-grub style of Native Food’s menu is uncanny: They have chicken wings, nachos, chilly cheese fries, tacos, tons of burger options and healthy salads. If only they had a full bar and a bunch of drunk students I could avoid the 300 yard walk from O’Hara’s.

    Do enjoy a happy afternoon in Westwood for Pup ‘n’ Grub: you know it makes sense!

    1000 Gayley Ave
    Westwood, CA 90024
    (310) 208-1942

    native foods
    1110 1/2 Gayley Ave.
    Los Angeles, CA 90024
    (310) 209-1055

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