In this week's review, I take on the state of vegan food in Los Angeles and the issues with the vegan cooking at Little Pine in Silver Lake. As I expected, much of the blowback from readers involves the fact that I'm a meat eater and therefore have no place judging vegan food. But as I've now responded to many readers, we here at L.A. Weekly love vegan and vegetarian food — we love all food, as long as it's delicious. (And as I stated in the review, I don't think the problems at Little Pine have anything to do with veganism.) So here now are 10 things — restaurants, dishes, cupcakes — that are vegan in Los Angeles, and that we adore.
Vegan cupcakes at Lark
There are plenty of vegan cupcakes in Los Angeles, and they have come a long way in the past few years. But the best I've tasted are the chocolate orange cupcakes at Lark Bakery, which has stores in Silver Lake and Pasadena. There's something about the stickiness of the orange cake topped with dark chocolate icing that is just beautifully balanced and decadent. It's a cliche to say, “You'd never know it's vegan!” But seriously, you'd never know it's vegan. larkcakeshop.com.
Bowls at Sage Vegan Bistro
Sage Vegan Bistro has three locations and a food truck, and its menu spans the spectrum, from salads to imitation chicken. But my favorite part of the menu is the bowls, and in particular the bowls that pair hearty grains with fresh veggies and tangy sauces. sageveganbistro.com
Chocolate pie at Little Pine
I know this is a bit ironic, given that this post is in part a response to the backlash received from our less-than-positive review of Little Pine. But the chocolate pie really is fantastic. From the review: “… this pie was masterful, silky and chocolaty and delicious, a treat for me and likely a true thrill for a vegan craving the kind of decadence that's hard to find while trying to eat morally.” littlepinerestaurant.com
The owners of Kitchen Mouse in Highland Park want people to understand that this isn't a vegan restaurant (and they aren't claiming it is). You can get an egg on your grain bowl and milk in your coffee. But the offerings aside from that are almost 100 percent vegan, and it's some of the tastiest vegan food around. The Buffalo Bowl in particular, which combines black beans, brown rice, sticky yams, garlicky collards and a dill cashew sauce, is hearty and balanced and cravable. kitchenmousela.com
Jason Neroni's cauliflower T-bone
This has been one of L.A.'s must-eat vegan dishes since Jason Neroni first served it at Superba Snack Bar back when it opened back in 2012. Superba, sadly, is no more, but Neroni is again serving the dish up the street at the Rose, where it is as hearty and full-flavored as ever. rosecafevenice.com
Elf's Mediterranean menu isn't 100 percent vegan, but it is vegetarian, and there are a lot of vegan options. Its bright flavors and homey vibe make it one of my favorite restaurants in Echo Park, even counting all the meaty options. elfcafe.com
Fautas at Gracias Madre
Gracias Madre is probably the prettiest vegan restaurant in town, and it also might have the best cocktails of any vegan spot. While I don't love all the food here, the flautas are fantastic. Stuffed with caramelized onions and sweet potato before being deep-fried, they make expert use of the inherent fat and heft of guacamole, which dots the top of the dish. They're also heavy enough to induce a food coma, which some might see as a bonus, given the veggie-based context. graciasmadreweho.com.
Falafel at Dune
Presented on stretchy, slightly charred bread that's grilled to order, Dune's falafel balls are large and crispy but soft on the inside. They sit atop a smear of hummus, a handful of fresh herbs, pickles and a smattering of thin, fried potato spears. The falafel itself is made without any flour, which makes it less bready and spongy than some falafel. The term “best falafel in town” has been thrown around, and I'm not one to disagree. dune.kitchen
Noorook at Baroo
Not everything at Baroo in Hollywood is vegan, or even vegetarian, but much of it is, and those dishes also happen to be the best things to eat here. Chef Kwang Uh ought to have people rethinking the possibilities of vegan cooking. His flavors are so original, so bright, it's kind of mind-bending. The noorook is a fine example: Uh combines a ton of grains, including Job's tears, kamut and farro, with roasted koji beet cream, concentrated kombu dashi, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, fingerlime and rose onion pickle. It's a kaleidoscope of flavor, and it's plainly delicious. baroola.strikingly.com
Crossroads in Beverly Grove remains the standard-bearer for vegan restaurants, the place you take your meat-free friends on their birthdays and secretly enjoy your meal every bit as much as you would if it were sprinkled with bacon. Chef Tal Ronnen — who just released a fantastic cookbook inspired by the restaurant — focuses on the vegetables themselves rather than messing around too much with fake meat (aside from a couple of “comforting classics” for the vegan desperate for veal scallopini), and each dish is a fully realized composition, making for a meal that’s far more compelling than the usual grain bowl or collection of sides. crossroadskitchen.com.