Vegan food is not what it used to be. What once conjured up images of hippie children, crying in the corner over carob-chip cookies, is now a movement displaying every bit of the finesse, precision and flavor of its mainstream counterparts. Sometimes vegetables are highlighted in their own right, sometimes they’re blended and artfully metamorphosed into meat substitutes. Whatever the presentation, the restaurants on this list, are all doing it at the top of their game. This isn’t food for people who have given something up; these are restaurants where the only thing missing is you.
710 W 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Owner Mai Nguyen opened the first Au Lac in 1997. The family-run Fountain Valley Vietnamese restaurant was a labor of love, bringing healing, plant-based cooking into the community. 18 successful years later, Mai’s daughter, Linh Nguyen, opened Au Lac’s second outpost, in Downtown Los Angeles. A fusion of Vietnamese with a host of other fare, many of the dishes are gluten-free. Some, like the salt & peppered yam shrimp and the lemongrass fish, are so perfectly rendered, it’s almost impossible to believe they aren’t the real thing.
639 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Thanks to this enormously popular plant-based hot-spot, patrons are ecstatic and grateful. The wacky ordering system (each dish is called an affirmation, and patrons place their order by reciting this testimony to their waitstaff) is just a small price to pay for clean, feel-good food. And when they finally start selling those “Love” v-neck t-shirts, I’ll be the first in line.
8284 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Chef Tal Ronnen has fed the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Perhaps that’s why his regulars are some of the city’s shiniest A-list stars. Clever ersatz creations like artichoke “oysters” and hearts of palm “crabcakes” keep both omnivores and vegans coming in the door. He also has dessert and brunch items that feel so decadent, you’d hardly guess there’s not an ounce of animal fat included.
2135 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
This Echo Park eatery has been around for a long time, but continues to reinvent itself and to keep things fresh (pun intended). Chef Dave Martinez serves a mostly Mediterranean menu and really packs ‘em in for his Paella Thursdays. It’s the kind of food where meat is not missed. Not strictly vegan, those who eat eggs have plenty to satisfy on the brunch menu. Legumes and mushrooms are reliable umami stand-ins. To top it all off, Elf’s selection of natural wines is pretty outstanding.
Flore Vegan Cuisine
3818 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Have you eschewed animal proteins and by-products, but miss comfort foods like pizza, quesadillas, and deli sandwiches? Then Flore Vegan Cuisine is the place for you. Featuring an extensive selection from smoothies, juices and salads to Mexican favorites and diner fare, everything is vegan and it’s all really good. Many dishes can even be ordered gluten-free. Flore is a perennial favorite, and boasts awards from such notables as LA Weekly and Zagat
The Gadarene Swine
11266 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
You may have seen Chef Phillip Frankland Lee on Top Chef, or maybe at his first restaurant, Scratch Bar, in Beverly Hills. But it’s unlikely you would’ve seen a vegan side to him, without a trip to his oddly named Studio City retreat. Lee, himself, isn’t vegan. He’s not even vegetarian. But a recent health scare had him take a long, hard look at his diet. What resulted was the inspiration to make food carnivores would actually want to order. Not fake meats in faux sauces, but delicious vegetables in interesting preparations, that would feel more like a special occasion than a sacrifice. As for those who observe a plant-based diet all the time? Lee’s food will feel like a special occasion to them, too.
5904 N Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90042
In a city that glorifies rapid-cycle dietary trends and near-fanatical food restrictions, being vegan can be viewed as just another way to stay edibly au courant. But that isn’t what’s happening at Kitchen Mouse. This Highland Park hole-in-the-wall has no pretention. What it does have is ample amounts of plant-based comfort foods like chilaquiles, pancakes and rice bowls (they also serve eggs, so they are not strictly vegan). If you still want to see stars, we recommend trying the moros cakes.
Sage Organic Vegan Bistro
1700 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Sage Organic Bistro has a bit of a cult following. At any given time, either of their three locations (there is one in Culver City and another in Pasadena) is likely to be mobbed. But the crowds aren’t necessarily peckish plant-eaters, gathering at one of their only spots in town. Owner Mollie Engelhart polled her patrons a few years ago, and found that nearly 80 percent of them aren’t actually vegan. The food is certainly spot-on, but the extensiveness of the menus make Mollie’s food approachable and comfortable, as well. Her vegan KindKreme desserts are just icing on the cake.
Little Tokyo Shopping Center 3F
333 S Alameda St #310
Los Angeles, CA 90013
The shojin ryori style of cooking is an ancient Japanese preparation, developed in Buddhist monasteries. At Shojin in downtown LA, they continue this practice in a dimly-lit, date-worthy space. Shojin has long topped lists of LA vegan favorites. Though the servings are small, after one taste of their macrobiotic, plate-based sushi, you’ll forget all about fish.