Last week i was fortunate enough to head back to one of my favourites cities in the world, Los Angeles, for some much needed winter sun and more importantly, amazingly indulgent food! I headed out earlier this summer in July, but being in mixed company wasn't able to visit the extensive restaurant list i'd had recommended to me on Instagram (thank you!) Needles to say, i kept the list and added a few more places, and once settled in, made my way over to Runyon Canyon to build up an appetite before my reservation at Crossroads that evening.
Crossroads Kitchen is located on the corner of Melrose & Sweetzer, opening back in 2013 as LA's first upmarket vegan restaurant with cocktail bar. The setting is upscale and comfortable, with no reference to vegan or plant-based other than the instruction from the server. My advice would be to order 4-6 small plates, in particular both mushroom dishes and the kale caesar. The oven roasted potatoes were especially good, and if you're a pasta fan the rigatoni was excellent. Price wise it correlates with other restaurants of a similar standing. I would estimate a large proportion of guests were not strictly vegan, and my impression of the restaurant's market position is that of an upmarket, health conscious eatery - not necessarily a vegan restaurant.
The following morning i met up with my amazing & unassuming tour guide Darbi (@Darbigwynn) to visit Moby's restaurant Little Pine for brunch (100% of profits are given to animal charities.) I went for the savoury option, choosing the scrambled tofu & bell peppers, whilst Darbi had the blueberry & raspberry pancakes. Amazing portion sizes and great service, plus a really quaint setting make Little Pine a must visit. The menu's pretty varied and the staff are happy to adapt based on your preferences.
Other good spots for breakfast/brunch were Real Food Daily, which is a casual/semi-healthy spot, and a restaurant that was recommended by everyone, Cafe Gratitude in Beverly Hills. Real Food Daily was the original vegan restaurant in LA, opening over 10 years ago but recently entering new ownership. The menu's been updated and the place given an overhaul, with a relaxed and colourful new layout. I had the vegan burrito, packed full of rice, beans, mushrooms, onions and a generous portion of guac!
Cafe Gratitude's ambience, concept, and the way its delivered, is brilliant. The menu lists items with a trait (e.g. Glorious - Blackened Tempeh Caesar Wrap) and encourage you to order by saying i am... We had the pulled mushroom sandwich, with barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw and spicy cashew aioli on ciabatta bread, with a "soul" bowl - blackened tempeh, black bean dirty rice, smashed yams, coleslaw, deep-fried chickpea frittata, sautéed kale & barbecue sauce.
I'd been keen to try the "beyond meat" burger, as it's not yet available in the UK and i'd seen the hype online. We visited Veggie Grill (there's plenty across LA) and put it to the test. Really efficient, fast food model allows an informal dining experience, the closest i've felt to a vegan McDonalds, albeit a nicer environment but equally as convenient. The beyond meat burger patty was very realistic, although the Impossible burger that night somehow blew it away. We headed to Mohawk Bend, where the menu is predominantly vegan and if not, states so, which i thought was a nice role reversal and signifies how far ahead the population of LA's understanding is on vegan food. The Impossible Burger is quite literally that, i find it impossible it's vegan. The texture, taste and consistency is the exact replica of a well made, thin beef burger (photo below.)
Vegan events in LA are famous the world over. Not wanting to miss out, and being very fortunate there was such an event on whilst i was in town, we heading 45 mins north to Eagle Rock for a santa-themed xmas vegan meet-up (we didnt get the costume memo!) The whole street was adorned by vegan vendors, with one in particular hosting a 30 person queue - Cena Vegan. The plant-based meat & cheese combination here was incredible, with enough packed into the burrito to make it heavy to carry. Desperate to make room for the vegan doughnut shop across the street, we managed to leave some and headed to "Donut friend" where the selection exceeded 30 different flavours, including make your own. I challenge anyone to produce a better tasting donut, animal products or not! We personalised ours, as most were far too sweet, but the long queue was testament to the shop's reputation.
We headed out to Yoga-Urt in Glendale, a 40 minute drive from the hills, to sample their new yoghurt pies, sundaes and cookies. Nowhere in LA is close, but Yoga-Urt is definitely worth the drive. A small, family own dessert parlour on a strip of shops that would look more in place on the east coast, Yoga-Urt were hosting a blogger's tasting event in the rear terrace, meaning we got to try lots of different desserts. The coffee flavoured pie was incredible, and if you're appetite is big enough, the stacked cookie is a the perfect contrast between soft and chewy. There's a chalk board outside encouraging guests to write messages or answer questions - what change would you like to see in the world?
The diverse variety of options, understanding and different price points available around Veganism in LA make it probably the most vegan-friendly city i've visited. People view it less as a limiting diet, and more a lifestyle they can adopt and dip into when they feel like it. Many people who don't class themselves as vegan eat in vegan restaurants or buy vegan products, although there is a large present and committed vegan community. On the events side, it seems there's a nice balance between social, food and educational gatherings, whilst the make-up of attendees is diverse. There's plenty of low price options and an abundance of health stores promoting vegan products as a health option.
Venice has my heart for its art, relaxed attitude and proximity to the beach. West Hollywood's Soho House was my work base for the week, with panoramic views across the hills and LA. Its best to rent a car, although uber is relatively cheap, and although i didn't use public transport i haven't heard great things. Runyon Canyon is a must for amazing views and a good hike, whilst my curve ball favourite part of the trip was my visit to WiSpa, a korean spa in Hollywood (trust me!) Eating is heavy work!
Other restaurants to visit:
Locali - order the Badass breakfast, anytime all day!