The best vegetarian restaurants in L.A.
The small market inside Botanica bodes of great things to come when you eat here: local produce, biodynamic wines, freshly-baked bread and Middle Eastern spices. Whether eating in the luminous dining room or the plant-adorned patio, you’ll find the menu abundant with vegetarian options, while still offering choice cuts for omnivores. The cassoulet vert is a brightly herbaceous affair with heirloom beans in a garlicky pistou with fresh greens.
Simply put, Crossroads is a high-end vegan restaurant for omnivores. Plant-based chef-to-the-stars Tal Ronnen 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. The fare draws the fashionable, youthful Melrose crowd and a surprisingly older, suit-clad type alike. 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, as are the faux fried oysters. For a more substantial dish, try the carbonara, which comes topped with a tomato “egg yolk” that really bursts.
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. This pioneer of the now-ubiquitous kale salad continues to boldly forge forward—an earthy, salty Greek risotto with kalamata olives and zucchini is a master class of salinity with all of that Aegean sheep’s cheese ($22); the house-baked breads are a thing of beauty, with or without the gluten ($13); and the carefully assembled, sustainable and biodynamic wine list is eclectic and enticing. Oh, and they now accept credit cards.
The absence of traditional cheese at this Café Gratitude offshoot 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 can be just as good, and here, it is. The quesadillas de calabaza are topped—but, thankfully, not drowned—in the faux dairy, and we fully enjoy 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.
Across Café Gratitude’s locations, servers are beginning to seem more lax about that whole “order with intentions” shtick—which is all the better for guests who just want to sit down to a gorgeous plate of vegan food without all of the corny “I AM [insert affirmation-based dish name here]” business. The food menus are universal—which means you can get seasonal kelp noodles and that coconut ceviche at any spot, thankfully—but in the Beverly Hills location (simply called Gratitude), you’ll also find an impressive cocktail menu in addition to a sunny patio that’s prime for people-watching.
Always crowded with tables of chattering Chinese families, this San Gabriel Valley joint serves vegetarian versions of American favorites of the sweet-and-sour pork and cashew chicken variety, but the real draw is the all-you-can-eat menu ($15.50). Dishes are brought out a couple at a time, and with dozens of choices, a dedicated eater can sample everything from fresh lily flower soup ($7.95) to kung pao “shrimp” ($11.50). Of course, vegetarian doesn’t always mean healthy. The fried bread adds an appealing (and greasy) crunch to every bite.
Hugo’s Restaurant truly sets the standard for vegetarian-friendly dining. What began as a butcher shop 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, juice-tinged cocktails and exquisitely curated tea list are all guaranteed to please.
Ring the doorbell on the heavy metal gate and you’ll be buzzed into a wholly unexpected patio full of twinkly lights—an oasis hidden along a 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 ($13.95) 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).
Matthew Kenney’s sleek Abbot Kinney restaurant serves all-vegan dishes that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Locally sourced and ever-changing, the menu is packed with health-conscious takes on classics: Cashew raclette, kelp cacio e pepe and kung pao cauliflower are just a few items to expect, all best paired with that organic and biodynamic wine list, of course.
Josef Centeno’s vegetable-centric restaurant rounds out his Downtown hub with brunch, lunch and dinner that’s just as vibrant in flavor as it is in hue. Offering a number of vegan dishes and vegetarian house-baked breakfast pastries, it’s a spot that offers something for everyone—picky eaters and meat lovers included. Expect hand-torn pastas, blistered peppers, roasted root vegetables and near-raw produce with burrata. The menu changes constantly, depending on the what’s freshest that day, but you can always bank on gorgeous presentation and a creative combination of flavors.
Yes, Shojin is eccentric. Located on the third floor of an indoor mall in Little Tokyo and on a sleepy corner in Culver City, this pretty Japanese restaurant has very specific instructions for seating and bag placement: Handbags are placed in a designated basket next to your table. Almost everything on the 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, of 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.
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 smoky tempeh bacon and wedges of zucchini lasagna. Stick around for their popular smoothies, which range from kale to mint shamrock shakes. Look out for monthly food and drink specials, plus a full brunch menu.
Zinc doesn’t define itself as a vegetarian restaurant—it’s just that you might find yourself thoroughly enjoying a breakfast bành mí with seitan or an asparagus sandwich with cauliflower purée, all while not missing meat for a second. The Arts District restaurant serves weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner and a weekend brunch 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, wood-fired 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.