by Christina Berke
1. Real Food Daily. A family friend first introduced this place to me back in 1999. It was before veganism was trendy, and the thought of a meatless sandwich was appalling. But this little restaurant breathed new life into vegetarian and vegan dishes. Founded by Ann Gentry in 1993, this restaurant now has four locations (including one in LAX airport).
TRY: the Real Food Burger. Its lentil mushroom base (which, believe me, is tastier than it sounds!), is topped with caramelized onions, arugula, pickled jalapeños, and chipotle aioli on toasted ciabatta. But go big or go home right? If you’re feeling hungry try “the works” to add avocado, bacon, and their creamy melted cashew cheese. It comes with a side Caesar or fries – delicious.
2. Natural Cafe. This small chain started in Santa Barbara and made its way to the Los Angeles area before long. Right when you walk in, you get this laidback beach vibe, order at the counter, and get your water and condiments as they bring out the food to you while you wait under bamboo fans. While not exclusively vegetarian (they offer chicken and fish dishes), there are plenty of options for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan patrons at affordable prices.
TRY: the Tempeh Tacos— ground soy tempeh in a zesty red sauce on corn tortillas with cheese, topped with shredded lettuce and sprouts.
3. Native Foods. Their original location opened up close to the UCLA campus in Brentwood, but it’s gone to San Diego, the OC, Palm Springs and even a few states. But I do like this smaller Brentwood spot which offers some of the best vegan nachos I’ve ever had. In fact, I was such a fan, I bought their cookbook and made their cashew cheese and even their cheesecake.
TRY: the Native Nachos—corn tortilla chips, black beans, chipotle sauce, Native Cashew Cheese, and salsa fresca with roasted corn, green onions, cilantro, and fresh jalapeño peppers. And add the Seitan Taco Meat. This is honestly enough to eat as an entree, or share with a few people if you want to try one of their scrumptious “chicken” burgers.
4. Veggie Grill. Don’t let the boring name distract you. In fact, I vetoed this place many times because I don’t like grilled veggies and my logic kept me from going to a place that seemingly only served grilled veggies. But they offer bowls, burgers, salads, tacos and other great vegetarian-friendly dishes. I love a great faux chicken sandwich and this place doesn't disappoint. It’s got locations pretty much all over Los Angeles and has a laid-back vibe so you can get fed fast without the guilt of unsustainability and animal killing lurking in the corner.
TRY: the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’. It’s a pretty basic, no-frills burger— fried chickin’, lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado with spicy mayo, but it’s quick and tasty.
5. SweetGreen. Lucky for me, this salad place is in New York and California. Their casual, seasonal salads and bowls use local farms to make their delicious creations. The employees are energetic despite lines usually curling around the corner and there’s always trendy music playing to make you feel like you’re waiting in line for a cool club that you’re not too old for.
TRY: the Harvest Bowl— organic wild rice, shredded kale, apples, sweet potatoes, chicken, goat cheese, toasted almonds, balsamic vinaigrette. One of the great things about this place is you can create your own salad, or customize one of their dishes, so if you’re veg, ask them to leave out the chicken and goat cheese.