My Plant-based Guide to Los Angeles
One thing I always get asked is, "Celina, how do you eat out with your dietary needs!?" Well, as you will soon realize, it is VERY easy for me to do in Los Angeles, California. Although I love a good meal at home, I have always appreciated the experience of eating out. Unlike others who may get excited about shopping on the weekends, I look forward to the cafes/restaurants I can try! From the initial perusing of menus online, to asking the waiter/waitress 'what's best', to taking the first optimistic bite - I LOVE IT ALL! Therefore, I thought it would be so much fun to finally write a blog post about places I love the most in my city. I know LA can seem like a big, smoggy, sprawling mess (it definitely is sometimes), but rest assured that it is in fact THE cornucopia (in my opinion) for healthy, wholesome, allergy-friendly food.
Over the course of these past few months, I have trekked around the City of Angels to bring you this list of 'Visual Veg Approved' spots. From hole-in-the-wall spots to the most delicious dairy-free ice cream joint, I've tasted them all!
Note: My reviews are a teeny bit biased, as I am a gluten + dairy free eater. That being said, I've had many friends without my dietary needs also dine and these spots and they still love 'em! Also, if you have any further questions about any of the places on this list, feel free to contact me! If it isn't already obvious, I love talking about healthy eats <3
Tucked away in a little strip of Westwood, it’s appropriate to say that Necco is a hidden gem in Los Angeles. Offering inventive Japanese small plates ranging from tofu okonomiyaki to buffalo cauliflower and salmon sashimi with truffle oil, there truly is something special for everyone on the menu. It’s rare to find a place that caters to vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike – but Necco does it artfully and beautifully.
The tiny restaurant is run by Chef Kenji, a former sushi chef from Tokyo, turned Angeleno by way of Topanga Canyon. Through his first friendships (many vegans) in Los Angeles, Kenji realized the desire for more friendly, health-conscious restaurants in the city. In addition, Kenji wanted to create a setting where locally sourced produce is center stage - keeping it minimalist, clean, and simple.
I have frequented Necco for about three years now, and always appreciate Chef Kenji’s enthusiastic welcome from behind the kitchen counter. Beyond the undeniable beauty of menu items, the food is truly delicious. No MSG or refined sugars are used, and most of the menu is dairy and gluten-free. My favorite vegan menu items would have to be the kale nori gome, Necco salad, sautéed shishito, renkon, and kinoko, tofu okonomiyaki, and eggplant steak (secret menu!). For non-vegan dishes, I recommend the octopus starter, salmon sashimi, tuna sashimi. If you’re dining with a meat-eater, go for the nanban chicken. It’s a favorite of Charlie’s. And last but not least, for dessert you must try their raw chocolate tiramisu. I cherish every morsel!
Meals by Genet
If you’re an Angeleno and have never been to Little Ethiopia, you’re missing out. I’m sure you’ve driven by it before, as it’s essentially a long strip of shops/restaurants in Mid-City. I discovered Meals by Genet when I was a junior in college at USC, and have been in love ever since. The food is incredibly delicious – a real flavor experience - and made with thoughtfulness.
Traditionally, Ethiopian food is pretty vegetable-centric, and can be gluten-free friendly. Meals usually contain injera (a spongy crepe, made with teff flour), with various vegetables on top, and a protein. Meals by Genet honors this by offering a vegetable combo with 8 different vegetable based sides. If you go, you MUST get the veggie combo (Charlie and I double up on it for a more filling meal) with tofu tibs. I don’t usually like tofu, but they sauté theirs in olive oil and it is one of the most delicious things EVER.
The service here is also truly impeccable. I celebrated my college graduation here with my family, and one of the servers went out of his way to get a delicious vegan, gluten-free cake for me because of my food allergies. Sweetest surprise ever!
Highly HIGHLY recommend Meals by Genet if you're looking for a wonderful dinner experience. Just so you know: It's common practice to eat Ethiopian food with your hands, so don't be alarmed if you see diners doing so! You can always ask for a fork and knife too though :)
Rahel's Vegan Cuisine
Down the street from Meals By Genet is Rahel's, a fully-vegan, Ethiopian cornucopia! It's more casual than Genet, and open for lunch as well. I love how you can order gluten-free injera, and even request an oil-free meal if you call ahead. If you're ordering from the menu, I recommend the Millennial special However, there is also a buffet from 11-3pm EVERYDAY for about $15. Honestly, I go for this reason. My faves from the buffet are: sweet potato salad (THE SALAD DRESSING IS AMAZING), red lentils, sautéed kale, cabbage, and green peas with carrots. Only criticism I will say is that the service is very 'relaxed', so come here when you have time to kill.
Possibly one of the best plant-based restaurants in LA, and a very creative take on traditional Thai dishes. I cannot sing Satdha's praises enough. From my experience, meat & veggie eaters alike love this place.
The food is phenomenal, and 100% vegan. Too many recommendations, but I'll list my tops: beet-dyed noodles, prik king, num tok salad, tom yum soup, and kow kuk kapi rice dish. For first timers and/or meat-eaters, you MUST try the catfish eggplant. In addition to the freshness and flavor of the ingredients, the presentation is always neat and colorful.
I would call Satdha causal-upscale. You can see people in jeans or dresses here, so depends on how you're feeling. May not be the best place to take a big group, but certainly perfect for a group of 4 or so. Additional bonus is the free parking lot to the side. Although Satdha is not cheap, you pay for the quality of each dish and their great service. I have become a semi-regular at this point, the food is that good!!
Couldn't write this post without mentioning Cafe Gratitude - if you want to go to a true 'LA vibe' vegan restaurant while you are in town, I'd recommend going here. There are multiple locations around the city, but the ones in Venice and Beverly Hills are my favorite (for ambiance and people watching mostly). The menu is fully vegan, and has options for gluten-free/soy-free/garlic-free, YOU NAME IT.
A fun part of Cafe Grat is that each menu item is an affirmation, so for example, a kale casesar salad is actually called 'Dazzling'. When you order this salad, your server will repeat the affirmation to you, saying 'You are dazzling'. I've been going here for years, but my boyfriend and I still crack up when we order.
All dishes are organic, fresh, and definitely 'Instagrammable', but some are much better than others. If you're a veg head like me, I recommend: magical (veggie burger) with added coconut bacon, pure (kale salad with tahini dressing), whole (macrobiotic veg bowl) with added tempeh, and liberated (pesto kelp noodles). For breakfast, try their buckwheat pancakes and tempeh scramble! And for dessert - their chocolates, raw cakes, and fruit cobbler are all amazing.
Kippy's Ice Cream
I don't always seek out sweets when eating out, but when I do, you can probably find me at Kippy's! This lil shop in Venice is the perfect ice cream spot to take dairy-free folk, vegans, and even omnivores alike. A couple months ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kippy Miller, one of the co-founders. We had an amazing conversation about the taking care of our environment, making healthy choices about what we consume, and dessert culture in America. Most importantly, Kippy's wants to prove to all that the iconic American dessert does not need to be toxic. In fact, their coconut-based ice cream is super freaking healthy and delicious - without any added gums, fillers, or refined sugars.
All of the ice cream at Kippy's is made with their own raw coconut cream, and sweetened with raw honey (non-heated, unpasteurized), and/or raw dates. Flavors range from the classic chocolate chip, to creative combos like golden milk and even charcoal! My go-to order is a neapolitan (3 scoops) with double dark chocolate, golden milk (or lemon), and strawberry cream. Other flavors you can't go wrong with are matcha, vanilla cappuccino, and any of the soft serve ones. Once your ice cream is scooped, you should probably indulge in their superfood toppings bar - the fudge bombs they make are out of this world.
Tocaya serves fresh, creative, and healthy Mexican food with a Californian twist. From bowls like like the 'fajita del rey' to kale salads with quinoa and cucumber mint limeade, this Mexican fare is definitely on trend. My favorite locations are in Santa Monica and Venice because of their vicinity to the beach, but the good news is there are locations all around Los Angeles!
Tocaya really is the perfect place for a casual bite to eat, where everyone will leave happy. You order at the counter and customize your bowl/salad/burrito with a choice of protein and cheese (vegan options available for both). I personally think the bowls and salads are the best bang for your buck, as the tacos can be on the smaller side. That being said, the taco combo deal with two side dishes + a drink is worth it in my opinion if you want to try a few menu items. My favorite things here would have to be the shredded kale & quinoa salad with added grilled sea bass + vegan chipotle jack, or the venice beach bowl. For sides, I love the black beans, shaved brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes bravas, and the plantain chips are NOT TO BE MISSED!
Here's a Visual Veg pro tip: if you're in Venice, order your meal to go, and eat on the beach! Then meander down the boardwalk to Kippy's for dessert.
Tara's Himalayan Cuisine
If you know me, you're aware of my love affair with Indian food. Truth be told, if I had to eat one food for the rest of my life, it would without a doubt be bhindi (okra) or dal (lentil soup). Tara's is another hidden gem in my neighborhood, with a diverse, flavor-packed menu. Although their menu is technically 'Himalayan', or inspired by dishes from the Tibet + Nepal region, they have a lot of Indian influenced menu items. I've recently achieved 'regular' status here, so you know this place is good.
Their veggie offerings are vast and plentiful, with options ranging from the traditional aloo gobi to Jackfruit curry. My personal favorites are the okra, jackfruit curry, dal, and eggplant curry. If you're looking for a classic Visual Veg order, get the daal bhat tarkari with okra, brown rice, and sub the raita for extra dal. A fun pro tip is that you can customize the spiciness level of each dish from 1-10 (1 being least spicy, 10 being INSANE). I go for 8 most times...but then again I'm a spice fiend so beware!
Although they are not advertised as being a vegan hotspot, most of their vegetable entrees are vegan & I've never had an issue asking for dairy to be taken out or substituted in a dish. Furthermore, I've never had a bad gluten reaction from anything I've eaten here (just stay away from the naan and fried stuff).
The ambiance is kinda funky, and probably what you'd expect a yurt in Nepal to look like, but it's another reason why I love Tara's! Also, Tara herself is a sweetheart, and all the waitstaff here are lovely and accommodating.
Ok ok, so listen up people. This ain't no ordinary grocery store. If you're passing through LA and at all interested in healthy eats, Erewhon is a MUST GO in my opinion. It's incredibly easy to spend a good 45 minutes to an hour perusing all of their adaptogenic snacks, potions, rainbow colored juices, and raw dessert cases. In fact, it's pretty much become a hotspot for finding new products/trends in health and wellness, and the occasional celebrity (Owen Wilson I see u). Although I wish I could fully grocery shop here (incredible organic produce), the price markup is crazy. You can get a lot of items for cheaper on Thrive Market or even at Whole Foods.
That being said - I don't go to Erewhon to grocery shop. I mainly go for inspiration and to grab a quick lunch/dinner at their prepared food bar! For about $14.50-16.50 you can get a combo meal (1 main dish and two sides) that's all organic, freshly prepared, and has dietary labels for each item. Some of my faves are the killer cauliflower, eggplant lasagna, buffalo cauliflower, pesto kelp noodles, kale & cabbage salad, wild salmon, butternut squash, roasted carrots, broccolini, and mighty greens. Beyond the fact that the seasonings are always delicious, I also appreciate that Erewhon does not use canola oil in their cooking like Whole Foods does sometimes.
If you're at the Venice location, there's also a nice little seating area in the back. Highly recommend for a casual healthy spot right next to shopping on Abbot Kinney.
It's hard to find good sandwich spots with a gluten allergy! Enter Mendocino Farms, a super dietary-friendly eatery with darn good sandwiches + salads - and the best gluten-free bread I've ever had. The food is what I would call casual gourmet quality, for a pretty reasonable price. I don't think I know one person who dislikes Mendocino - it's a favorite lunch spot in my office.
My go-tos are the modern tuna melt without cheese (refreshing, citrus-y, great pickles), the superfood hemp burger, the avocado and quinoa ensalada without cheese, and any of their sandwiches with tempeh (their seasonal tempeh BLT is awesome).
The bread I believe is also made locally by Rising Hearts Bakery in Culver City, which is probably why it's so yummy & normal sized (anyone who's had Udi's will understand this). In addition, a large selection of their sandwiches can be made gluten-free + dairy free, which I really appreciate. Haven't tried their salads or sides, but I've heard great things as well.
Ambiance is super casual, a good place to dine in or take out. Outside seating is great on a nice day, but the inside is relatively limited if you're looking for seating with a large group. There are multiple locations all around LA, but my faves are the locations in Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey.
Plant Food + Wine
Food art at it's finest. Those of you vegan foodies are probably familiar with Matthew Kenney, a renown chef with plant-based eateries around the US, and cooking courses around the globe. I have always wanted to take one of his classes, but haven't been willing to spend the $$ quite yet. In the meantime though, I LOVE eating at his restaurant, Plant Food + Wine in Venice!
The food, decor, and location of this restaurant are pretty close to perfect if you ask me. Enjoying brunch/lunch/or dinner on a warm sunny day here is pretty picturesque with their outdoor garden set up. If you're dining with a few people, I recommend getting a few of the sides and 1-2 larger plates for sharing. Every time I come here I'm surprised by the quality of food you get (delicious, fresh, artfully presented, vegan) for the price (NOT BAD!). Some of my menu go-to's are the tomato zucchini lasagna, little gem caesar, chickpea frittatta, and the plant bowl.
Like its name, this restaurant is known for cooking a variety of its dishes (meat, seafood, and veggies alike) on a charcoal fire. Although it's menu does not scream 'vegan', Charcoal is the perfect place for a nice date night where plant-based eaters and meat-eaters alike can both be happy! The first time I came here I was amazed by the amount of seasonal veggie options that can be made dairy/gluten/soy free - and are still perfect for sharing! Some menu faves are the charcoal roasted cabbage, shishito peppers with mango salt, roasted cauliflower, and broccolini. If you eat seafood, I highly recommend the calamari with snap peas, black cod, and wild salmon (seasonal). Although Charcoal is pricey, the portions are generous overall and all of the food I've had here is incredibly delicious - I always leave with a full and happy belly!
Tar and Roses
Similar to Charcoal, Tar and Roses is one of those places I know everyone will love, regardless of dietary preference. Although their menu is a bit on the pricier side, you will not regret spending a bit extra for such magical flavors. They are super accommodating for dairy/gluten/soy-free folk - I've never had a problem asking for something to be left out or put on the side. A few of my menu faves are the baby artichokes, fried cauliflower, charred gem lettuce, and the wood roasted peas (MUST GET). The whole roasted branzino is also phenomenal if you eat fish! Seriously melts in your mouth. One thing to note is that the location itself is pretty small + intimate, so I'd recommend making a reservation!
Far away in the land of Studio City lies SunCafe Organic, a mecca for raw and cooked vegans alike. This cafe has some of the best vegan mac n cheese I've tried, and their tempeh stir fry is out of this worldddd. Also would recommend the sun nachos with 1/2 jicima, 1/2 corn chips. Would definitely recommend this place if you're looking for a delicious vegan brunch option around Hollywood. That being said, I am not a huge fan of their desserts. Everything I've tried has been a liittle too sweet for me.
Sage Plant-Based Bistro
Sage is most definitely my go-to vegan spot in LA. There's a diverse selection of dishes, all with great flavors! My personal favorites are the eggplant parmesan pizza, Brazillian bowl, soul bowl, buffalo cauliflower, goatless greek salad, jackfruit nachos, and chilaquiles during brunch. Their cocktails/beers are expansive as well. The Culver City location is the best in my opinion because of the outdoor seating, pizzas, and pretzels! I've taken many non-vegans here and they've loved it too.
Unlike some vegan restaurants that lack depth, the food at Sage is creative, fresh, and does not rely too heavily on mock-meats. They also have other options besides daiya cheese for their pizzas, which makes me SO happy. That being said, the pizzas at Sage can be hit or miss. I've ordered pizzas to-go many times, and sometimes the cheese is partially melted, or the pizza itself is smaller than usual, with less toppings. Also inside is an ice cream bar called Kind Kreme, which has interesting flavors. However, the only one I can consistently say is amazing and not too-icy is the chocolate superfood flavor.
Even though I love the large space and outdoor beer garden seating, the service is usually pretty slow. That being said, the servers are very nice. If you go, PLEASE get the buffalo cauliflower and a pizza and think of me <3 Chances are, I've probably eaten there this week.
Had to put this place on here, as it was my favorite cafe while in college at USC. In my opinion, it's the cutest cafe near campus/downtown LA for sandwiches, salads, smoothies, baked goods, etc. I've had their juices and salads, but their sandwiches for sure stand out as the best. Order their vegan sandwich. It's out of this world. Even non-vegans will appreciate, I promise. They also have gluten free ciabatta bread which is great, as is their 9 grain bread.
In comparison the other food options around USC, Nature's Brew really stands out. Very trendy/hipster ambiance, with cute mason jars and wooden details. Also has an awesome bookcase in the back where you can take used books (or donate your own)!
Discovering that I live near Sunny Blue was was a happy day. It's a little onigiri (rice ball) shop, with a ton of yummy filling options.
My faves are the the spicy salmon and miso mushroom onigiris! Their kimchi and cucumber sides are also great. Also love the fact that you can choose between white and brown rice. Only complaint there would be that the brown rice is inconsistently fresh, and sometimes there seems to be a massive amount of rice and very minimal filling. I think this depends on the time you order/person making your order.
It's a very small shop, so you order at the counter and wait. There are usually only two people making the onigiri, even at busy hours, so the wait may be a bit longer than you'd think for a relatively simple meal! However there is complimentary water and tea by the door. Although Sunny Blue is not great for groups, it's perfect for an easy and delicious snack/lunch/dinner. Also very friendly with any dietary restrictions/allergies. Parking, on the other hand, is limited- you'll need some luck finding a spot on the street.
Other noteworthy spots I will write about soon:
- The Butcher's Daughter
- Sushi by H
- Wild Living Foods
- Au Lac
- Real Food Daily
- Live Beaming
- Gracias Madre
- Punta Cabras