All that bacon worship getting you down? In a city where you can find a farmers market any day of the week and a collective love of kale that borders on obsession, discovering a plate of perfectly prepared vegetarian (or even vegan) cuisine is easy. We've combed through the city's eateries to find L.A.'s best vegetarian restaurants—you might want to leave your hamburger-loving friends at home.
The best vegetarian restaurants in L.A.
Stepping into Elf Cafe makes you feel like you've stumbled into the ideal Echo Park dinner party; the interior is dimly lit, punctuated by lush plants and textured art, and the organic, local food is thoughtful and nuanced. While most of the staff was in a band together years before the restaurant began, the recent addition of chef David Martinez has only added to its allure. This pioneer of the (now ubiquitous) kale salad continues to boldly forge forward—roasted tomatoes left on the vine balance beautifully with a full-bodied sheep feta ($15); the blackened heart of romaine Caesar salad begs to be picked up and eaten by hand, manners be damned ($12); and the carefully assembled, sustainable and biodynamic wine list is eclectic and enticing. Oh, and they finally accept credit cards.
Ring the doorbell on the heavy metal gate and you’ll be buzzed into a wholly unexpected patio full of twinkly lights—an oasis in the middle of a nondescript stretch of Sunset—and diners in many variations of yoga pants. Paru’s serves South Indian food, redolent with spices and herbs that permeate the restaurant’s interior in a warm, piquant cloud that hits you as soon as you enter. The full dinners are the best way to try everything: Indian Thali ($14.95) gives you a selection of puri, two curries, sambar (a lentil gravy), rasam (a yogurt-based soup), papad (lentil crackers), pickles and dessert; while the Queen Paru is a creamier choice, with coconut chutney, raitha and ghee to accompany your paper-thin dosa (rice flour crepe) and idli (a savory rice and lentil cake).
When it was announced that Café Gratitude was bringing vegan Mexican food to West Hollywood in the form of Gracias Madre, there may or may not have been a considerable amount of eye rolling, but some skeptics are probably believers now. The absence of traditional cheese also means an abundance of cashew "cheese" or cream, served over nachos, tacos, enchiladas, flautas and almost everything else on the menu. Fortunately, the next best thing is sometimes just as good. The quesadillas de calabaza are topped—but, thankfully, not drowned—in the faux dairy, and we fully enjoyed the sweet butternut squash and salty caramelized onions tucked inside the tortillas. The food here is a necessary reminder that vegan doesn't have to mean void of flavor.
Serving both raw and vegan-cooked food and making almost everything from scratch, SunCafe offers Valley dwellers healthy lunch and dinner options. There are your standard soups and salads, sure, but there are also burgers made with sunflower seeds, BLTs with tempeh bacon and zucchini lasagna. Stick around for their popular smoothies, which range from kale to mint shamrock shakes.
Hugo's Restaurant truly sets the standard for vegetarian-friendly dining. What began as a butcher shop, then transitioned into a gourmet foods store with a few tables that helped coin the term "power breakfast" in the late '80s, is now a gathering place for eaters of all stripes to enjoy great food and a warm sense of well being. A dish is just as likely to contain Kapha spices (an Ayurvedic healing mix for spring), organic tofu or house-made vegan salami as it is old school carne asada. Almost any dish can be transformed into plant-based cuisine with delicious results, and the smoothie, juice, coffee and exquisitely curated tea list is guaranteed to please.
Yes, Shojin is eccentric. Located on the third floor of an indoor mall in Little Tokyo, this pretty Japanese restaurant has very specific instructions for seating and bag placement: handbags are placed in a designated basket next to your table and a portfolio of exuberant pro-vegan cartoons make an appearance at the beginning of the menu. But almost everything on that bill of fare is excellent and instead of wheat-based faux meats, Shojin uses tofu and tempeh, along with an interesting range of veggie and grain substitutions. For example, a mix of quinoa, miso and vegan-mayo make for an interesting and tasty topping on the traditional Dynamite roll, which we can’t get enough. Other Japanese dishes are easily vegan, such as versions of tempura, fried shishito peppers and seaweed salad, as well as savory ramen and miso soup.
Simply put, Crossroads is a high-end vegan restaurant for carnivores. Plant-based chef-to-the-stars Tal Ronnen—he counts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres as clients—is reinventing meat-free meals with flavorful and imaginative dishes that are reasonably priced and served in a cozy, white-tablecloth Melrose Avenue dining room that have been drawing in a surprisingly older, suit-clad crowd. Both the thinly shredded sweet and tangy kale salad flecked with currants and pine nuts, and the Farinatta, an arugula salad dressed with a sun-dried tomato pesto over a thin earthy and umami-rich pancake made from chickpea flour and roasted wild mushrooms, are standout plates. For a more substantial dish, try the lasagna.
Always crowded with tables of chattering Chinese families (and their sullen teenagers), this San Gabriel Valley joint serves vegetarian versions of American favorites of the sweet and sour pork and cashew chicken (both $5.50 lunch specials) variety, but the real draw is the all-you-can-eat menu ($13.95). Dishes are brought out a couple at a time, and with dozens of choices, a dedicated eater can sample everything from green mustard with bean curd sheets ($7.95) to the sesame chicken ($8.95). Of course, vegetarian doesn’t always mean healthy. The fried bread adds an appealing (and greasy) crunch to every bite.
Zinc doesn't define itself as a vegetarian restaurant—it's just that you might find yourself thoroughly enjoying a breakfast banh mi with seitan, or an asparagus sandwich with cauliflower purée, all while not missing meat for a second. The Arts District restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a spacious and modern setting, where diners can peruse a grab-and-go market before sitting down for a meal in the airy courtyard or indoor dining area. A bevy of salads, pizzas and sandwiches are offered, but if you want to branch out, there are dishes like stuffed peppers, mushroom nut loaves and potato enchiladas. Stop by for a fantastic cocktail at the adjacent Bar Mateo.