Anthony Bourdain once said, "the vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn... they are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit." Whilst his hyperbolic polemic against all vegetarians and vegans may seem too heavy-handed and even comically critical, he rightly pointed out that vegan food is still perceived by most as being tasteless, lackluster, and even vile to some. And even though in recent years vegan food has gained more traction in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, there is still a rooted misconception that it can never truly be indulgent, sumptuous, and satisfying to the stomach.
If you are one of the non-believers, here are five of the best vegan restaurants in LA that will change Anthony Bourdain's and your mind. They all have food so delightful, luxurious, and crafty, it will excite your taste buds and satisfy your cravings more than a piece of steak. More than that, by having a plant-based menu, these vegan restaurants are at the forefront of helping the food industry become more sustainable.
1. Au Lac
Source: Au Lac
A food writer at Westways once wrote of Au Lac, "It is here that I discovered the real joys of vegan food - playful symphonies of textures, tastes, and visuals." Although it has a full menu of pho, bun, and other Vietnamese classics, Au Lac is anything but traditional. Its owner, Mai Nguyen, insists on serving completely plant-based and vegan dishes, as her experience in overcoming serious illness with a plant-based diet fueled her desire to promote healthy eating to her community. Au Lac's pho, for example, is made from a hearty anise and clove broth, with rice noodles, soy meats, topped with aromatic sawleaf herbs, bean sprouts, and Thai basil.
The restaurant also has an innovative and sultry selection of raw desserts, such as the Choconut X-tasy, which is a chilled pie with layers of raw cacao, coconut and macadamia, over a crust of cacao, coconut flakes and pecan.
Location: 710 West 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Crossroads, a vegan Mediterranean restaurant with a refined setting, has been lauded as the vegan restaurant for carnivores. Its chef and owner Tal Ronnen, in addition to being the author of the New York Times Bestseller The Conscious Cook, has prepared meals for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.
The most popular dish at this high-end vegan restaurant is perhaps the Artichoke Oysters with its exquisite presentation and exceptional balance of textures and flavors. Made with artichoke puree, crispy oyster mushroom, kelp caviar and yellow tomato béarnaise, it is no wonder most guests cannot tell that the menu is plant-based. Other standout dishes include the fusion-style risotto with fennel harissa kimchee, confit shiitake mushrooms and yellow tomato egg yolk, and the Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme, made with black pepper meringue dust, cacao nib and pink salt bark.
Location: 8284 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
3. Sun Café
Source: Sun Café
Sun Café's "unique take on rustic world cuisine is designed to tantalize your taste buds while delivering optimum health and nutrition." Just look at their two-time award winning Mac & Cheese, which is made with quinoa pasta, tomato, and an addicting special cashew Mac sauce. By using only the freshest organic ingredients and making their dishes from scratch, Sun Café has come up with a plant-based and dairy-free menu; most items can be made gluten-free too, upon request.
Besides the Mac & Cheese, the BLT with tempeh bacon and the zucchini lasagna are so delicious they will make you come back begging for more. There's a reason why the restaurant was voted the Top 10 Restaurants in Los Angeles County by Opentable, and the third best raw restaurant in the world on City Voter.
Location: 10820 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604
4. Native Foods Café
Source: Native Foods Café
Founded in 1994 out of passion for fresh food and compassion for animals and the environment, Native Foods Café has grown to become America's premier fast-casual vegan restaurant today. Boasting a 100% plant-based menu with everything made in-house, the café owners strive to create a compassionate dining experience and hope to change the way Americans eat. Aside from the crowd favorite Super Italian Meatball Sub with seitan meatballs, their signature dish includes the Native Southwestern Burger, which is made with a savory patty with guacamole, Santa Fe salsa and spicy grilled jalapenos, served on a multi-grain ciabatta.
Location: 1114 Gayley Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024
5. Café Gratitude
Source: Café Gratitude
Upon reading the menu at Café Gratitude, you will notice that their dishes are named after a positive quality or feeling, such as "Bountiful", "Liberated", "Resolved", and "Welcoming," All the names of the dishes are reflective of the restaurant's philosophy; they practice business through a term they call "Sacred Commerce," where they provide inspired service, honest and transparent communication, and express gratitude for the richness of their lives - hence the name Café Gratitude. Guests at the café can certainly be grateful for the quality and creativity of food at one of the best vegan restaurants in LA. One guest has said that even though she was initially skeptical of vegan food, Café Gratitude is a game changer. What seems to be the crowd favorite is Committed (BBQ Portobello Panini).
Source: Café Gratitude
But that's not all; the 100% organic plant-based restaurant has a gratitude beverage program, which features a menu that spotlights small-batch spirits and showcases organic beer and wine. With an emphasis on seasonality and freshly sourced ingredients, all the cocktails are prepared with local produce and house-made syrups, shrubs, tinctures, and bitters.
Location: 639 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004