Our 99 Essential Restaurants issue came out earlier this month. In celebration, we're highlighting some of the spots for their special attributes. Today: Vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
It's one thing to look through our list of the 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles and plan a night (or two ... or 99) on the town. It's another thing altogether to try to do this with a vegetarian diner in tow.
While none of the restaurants on our list are veggie-only, there are a ton of them that are great for vegetarian eaters. With this in mind, we thought we'd highlight the spots that are particularly great for meat-free eating.
5. Baco Mercat
Chef Josef Centeno should win an award for his dedicated efforts to elevate vegetables: Half of Bäco Mercat's menu is dedicated to vegetable creations, each one a quiet triumph. Japanese eggplant comes as tender as pudding, set against the cooling snap of cucumber, with creamy feta and cipollini vinaigrette for added contrast. Sunchokes are showered with tarragon, dusted with dukkah and tossed with buttered croutons. (Though not on the 99 Essentials list, Centeno's Tex-Mex joint around the corner, Bar Ama, provides some pretty swell vegetarian eating as well.) 408 S. Main St., dwntwn; 213-687-8808.
4. Hinoki & The Bird
David Myers' Japanese-Californian restaurant Hinoki & the Bird is a great restaurant for vegetarian dining. The menu has a whole section of the menu dedicated to vegetables and grains: steamed greens, grilled mushrooms, haricot vert, smoked pee wee potatoes. And on other parts of the menu, incredibly cool vegetarian options exist: Escarole and watercress with roasted carrots and yoghurt, spinach with miso-cured cheese, the delicious and almost hearty pumpkin toast with miso jam and goat cheese. I'm sick to death of kale salads, and yet I loved Hinoki's version, a jumble of crispy and raw kale with curried almonds and pecorino. 10 W. Century Drive, Los Angeles; 310- 552-1200.
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3. Rustic Canyon
Chef Jeremy Fox once presided over the most celebrated vegetarian menu in the country at Ubuntu in Napa. So now that he's taken the helm at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, it is no surprise that it's quite easy to eat incredibly well without meat at his current endeavor. On the most of his menus, more than half of the small plates section celebrates Southern California produce without a lick of meat. Where other chefs in town serve beets with their goat cheese, Fox accompanies his with vibrant green kiwi fruit, topped with curlicue pea tendrils, pine nuts and the sweet tang of saba. Fox may no longer preside over a vegetarian kitchen, but Rustic Canyon is nonetheless welcoming for all types of eaters. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-393-7050.
Bucato is one of those restaurants where you could eat a fully vegetarian meal and not even realize it. Evan Funke's Italian restaurant at the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City has its share of meaty pleasures - many of the pastas are sauced with thick ragus, and there are whole sections of the menu dedicated to meats and fish. And yet, so many of Funke's best creations are meat-free that this restaurant would be a treat for almost any diner. Feast on squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta; filling, fried cauliflower served in a triangular stack with salty capers; figs with burrata and basil; crispy polenta with wild mushrooms and a fried egg. This is not a restaurant where you would have to suffer through another boring salad while your friends feast on beasties. Bucato is presenting vegetarian food that is in every way as compelling as its meaty menu counterparts. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City; 310-777-7777.
1. Trois Mec
Planning a super special occasion for your vegetarian love (or your vegetarian self) can be a challenge when it comes to dining. Sure, most good restaurants now have plenty of vegetarian options, and yes, if you were to head to any of the city's best restaurants you could pull together enough meat-free dishes to make something work. But sometimes the collection of sides gets old. Sometimes you want something really special, something along the lines of the tasting menus that meat-eaters enjoy. Trois Mec provides vegetarians with such an option.
While their 5-course menu is set every evening and doesn't allow substitutions, they do offer a vegetarian option. They cannot accommodate vegans, nor can they make special meals for people with specific allergies, and you must let them know in advance if you wish to eat the vegetarian option (by emailing at the time you make the reservation). But given the quality of chef Ludo Lefebvre's amazing meat-free dishes on the regular menu, Trois Mec likely provides one of the most engaging and delicious meat-free dinners around. It's hard to think of another chef who could make the highlight of a meal out of a grilled cabbage leaf, but Lefebvre chars the sturdy leaf and serves it with a silken miso flan, smoked almond milk anglaise and fennel pollen. It's stunningly good. For the right vegetarian, tickets to Trois Mec could be the blowout meal they've always longed for. 716 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; no phone number.