I have wanted to write about dining out for a long time, but it's not an easy subject to address considering it's been one of the hardest challenges I've faced since switching to a whole foods plant-based diet. Every week I read restaurant reviews looking for raves about a tagliatelle with a pan roasted porcini and sherry cashew demi creme sauce, or ancient grains with roasted squash, fava beans, and greens with chimichurri, but instead, I see raves about restaurants serving corned lamb tongue panini, succulent pig trotters, foie gras, or a Japanese beef wagyu strip loin. Veggies rarely take center stage, but I have found a few restaurants that make plants look and taste very special and they are getting some seriously rave reviews. They give me hope that plants are catching on. I do know that when I go to one of these restaurants it will be a splurge, as there will be more oil in the dishes than those that I prepare, and the dishes will most likely be more creamy (albeit cashew or macadamia cream), or have fried food.
Lately, if I am at a good restaurant I have been asking if the chef will make me a low oil vegan meal and often they say yes, and I have had some great meals. I recently did this at Maude, Curtis Stone's restaurant and my friends and husband were trying to steal off of my plate. Every course was beautiful and colorful next to their meat dishes. If this isn't possible, I end up eating mostly salads and side dishes as my main course and I am fine with it. Sometimes I ill have a salad app and a salad main. I can just about always find something, and no, I don't feel deprived. I am happy to be out with friends. And wine is plant based.... just sayin'.
Most of the the plant based gems are in LA or Santa Monica and I can not get there that often, so for a bit, let's talk a typical night. We might be dining in or eating out locally. What is there to order and still stick with a whole food plant based diet? This is where it gets tricky, but it is doable. We only order in maybe once a week (if that) and dine out once a week (usually on the weekend).
Here are some of our typical order-in go-to's. Not perfect, but they work in a pinch when I have had an insane day and just can't imagine whipping up dinner. My kids are not all the way vegetarian (although they are starting to eat way more that way) so they can order what they want from a lot of these places too.
Chinese - We will usually order from a restaurant that is OK with greatly reducing oil in their dishes. Most don't get too excited about serving oil free, but you can always ask! Steamed veggies and tofu are always good and you can get the sauce on the side so you know how much you are using. We look for items. They will do must dishes with tofu instead of chicken so we can do mooshu tofu, or kung pow tofu. I find it is good to stick with tofu dishes that already exist since they are used to making these and they are usually good.
Thai - There are a lot of vegan Thai dishes and soups. You have to ask for them without the fish sauce to keep them vegan. Most of the curries can be made plant based if you ask and the noodle dishes can always be made without meat. Again subbing tofu is always a good option. There are usually many tofu dishes on these menus as well. No oil is not always an option but asking for very little seems to lighten the dishes up a lot. I have to add a shout out to Thai Vegan on Main St in Santa Monica. Anytime I can come back through West LA that way I do so I can swing in there. It is a hole in the wall. So good.
Mexican - I know it is hard for a lot of people to imagine Mexican without cheese, sour cream and meat. But it is doable. Veggie tacos (beans instead of meat) work here as do bean and veggie burritos. I always ask for a side of veggies lowest oil possible, beans, guac and corn tortillas and make my own tacos... Honestly my homemade tacos are SO much better that it is hard to order mexican anymore, but occasionally we do.
Japanese - I found a place that does sauteed tofu and veggies (Izakaya) and will do them low to no oil and they still taste really good and veggie rolls are yum.
Italian - We rarely order in Italian, but this is what we order if we do. Veggie pastas (we order one that is a lentil and spinach bolognese and is amazing!!!), pizza with lots of veggies (cheeseless unless they have Daiya cheese ( Pitfire has this) for me, the rest of my crew eats cheese once in a while), and salads, and veggies (like broccolini, squash, and roasted potatoes) are usually available. I often ask for a side order of white beans which a lot of restaurants have. The kids eat regular pizza so they just get that. Coop takes most of the cheese off.
Fast food - Nope, Sorry. Don't ever do it.
Here is a list of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan Beach and Santa Barbara that have good veggie options, so we go there if we go out for a quick bite or want take out. I wish any of these had specific no oil whole food plant based options, but they come close so they are my faves. I know there are other places to get vegetarian food, but I am a creature of habit. These are just my favorites. It is my blog, so I get to do that ;)
Veggie Grill - Manhattan Beach and multiple locations. Love the bowls with sauce on the side (go easy on the sauce). Great choices if you stick with veg heavy bowls and salads. There is lots of fried food that we stay away from, however I have been know to eat some sweet potato fries there on more than one occasion... I don't really eat the fake meat, but my kids and husband do. It is not as whole a food. I will do the tempeh though, and it is good.
Green Temple - In Redondo. Vegan and yummy. Go sauce on the side so you can control it. Ther savory sauce is to die for.
The Spot - In Hermosa. This place has been around forever and has always been a healthy staple for me. Vegetarian comfort food. Meatloaf etc. I think they originated the savory sauce. Sooo good. On ANYTHING. Go easy, it's not light on calories. My recipe for savory sauce is from their cookbook.
Natural Cafe - Santa Barbara and multiple locations. Lots of salads and soups and baked potatoes
From here down offer both vegetarian AND non vegetarian options.
The Source Cafe - Hermosa Beach. Offers some very good plant based options. Love their kale salad, spicy hummus wrap, avocado toast, raw oatmeal, and many of their smoothies. Wish they had even more vegan options because they do them so well!!
Rice - Manhattan Beach, Large selection of vegan dishes. The vegan sushi is very creative and I was sure they had given me the fish by accident. The texture and taste of every dish is unique and so good!!
True Foods Kitchen- In the Point in El Segundo but has many locations. Newer to MB. Definitely many vegan entrees that are delish. Wish they would go lighter on the oil when you ask.
Mendocino Farms - In the Point in El Segundo but has many locations. Newer joint as well. Vegan Bahn Mi is fab, as is the tofu chinese chicken salad. Again, sauces and dressings on the side will ensure oil is lower as you control how much you put on.
Whole foods - Salad bar is one of my faves. It ain't fancy but they have a lot of choices. Wish they had the nutritional yeast there more consistantly. I have to bring my own and I feel like a weirdo and that people think I am stealing it when I pull it out of my bag. Some guy asked me to use it last time I was there. Of course I said sure. We yeast eaters need to stick together.
Savoy Deli In Santa Barbara - Best soup and salad bar ever!!! And they have a veggie sandwich that is amazing as well.
Via Vai - Montecito - Lots of good salads, will add white beans to anything. Roasted veggies and potatoes are good. Meat and cheese lovers are happy here too so nice to go with a group.
Pierre Lafond - Montecito - Lots of veggie options on this menu. And your meat loving friends will be happy too.
Los Arroyos - Montecito - I get a side of roasted veggies, guac, beans and rice, and corn tortillas and I am a happy girl.
Those are my main local faves. Would love to hear about yours!! Please comment at the end of this section!!
As to LA faves. Here is the list of places we go when we want to get out of the bubble. We don't go out often so if we do we try lots of different things on the menu and do not adhere too well to the no oil thing. Total infrequent splurges, though I am conscious about what I order. I try to be reasonable. If something is fried or drowning in sauce or oil, I know I won't like it so I don't bother. I know that there are way more restaurants out there that I am dying to try but with 2 busy kids and LA traffic KILLING our getting-outta-dodge-out-mojo we haven't gotten to them all. Here is a list of best LA vegetarian of which I would love to try them all. Below are the ones that I have been to and been back to, and will go back to again because they are amazing.
These top 3 I will call "Date Night Vegan"....
Crossroads - LA - Go for dinner. Tal Ronnen is a vegan cuisine god. White table cloths, creative, delicious vegan food, great wine, and to-die-for desserts make this a great special occasion restaurant. I want to go here right now. **the picture at the top of this blog is this restaurant.
Plant Food and Wine - Santa Monica - Matthew Kenney has a plant based cooking school and is incredibly gifted in making plants sing. Good food + good wine = happy me
Gracias Madras - WeHo - Can't say enough about this place. Last time I was there I was with T. Colin Campbell and he was loving this food as much as I was. He even ate a few tortilla chips which JD was quick to point out... "See... Even T.Colin Campbell eats a few chips". This always makes him feel better as he eats a whole bag.
These are more chill:
Real Food Daily - Santa Monica and multiple locations - Ann Gentry was one of the first to go for it in the organic plant based world. I love her cookbooks and I still love this restaurant with a menu filled with vegan comfort foods.
Cafe Gratitude - Santa Monica and multiple locations - Honestly, I don't go here a lot because 3 times now I have asked for no garlic (sadly, it makes me sick) and 3 times my order had lots of thinly sliced garlic cloves sneakily floating around in it. If you like garlic though, do go. It is delicious.
eLOVate - Santa Monica - Newer vegan from Roberto Martin. Limited menu but cool to sit at the bar and have a drink and eat very good vegan food. Even my kids loved their vegan "chicken".
Mesa Verde - Santa Barbara - VERY beautiful, creative plant based cuisine. Greg Arnold's all organic cuisine pulls in world tastes from places like Libya, Morocco, south of France, Sicily, the whole Middle East (Syria, Lebanon), North African, Southern Spanish and southern Italian style cuisine.
ENJOY!!! Share your great finds in comment section below!!
*** TOP PIC IS CROSSROADS RESTAURANT IN LA