Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (coming out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mian, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.
A vegetarian, or more colloquially “veggie,” sandwich is something that often used to taste like an afterthought, running the checklist of the same two or three ingredient combinations. You can almost always count on grilled cheese with American cheddar. Maybe some roasted squash or eggplant with Swiss cheese between slices of sourdough bread. If you were lucky, you just might get a swipe of pesto. Otherwise, maybe some mozzarella with tomato and basil leaves in a ciabatta, masquerading as a Caprese panini. You get the picture.
It's not to say there hasn't always been a community of chefs and bakers in Los Angeles who respect the possibilities of a veggie sandwich. It's just that, more often than not, they were dotted around the Westside. The veggie sandwich options have improved in quality and style, thankfully, in the past few years, maybe because more Angelenos have gone vegetarian. It helps, too, that farmers markets continue to pop up practically in our backyards, giving us fresh produce to cook with. Turn the page for our favorites among a growing list of great vegetarian sandwiches around town.
Good Girl Dinette welcomes a cross-section of folks just off the busy blocks of Figueroa in Highland Park. A page from its diner ethos, all banh mi come with a choice of slaw or the popular spicy french fries tossed in a blend of chiles, garlic and salt. Each sandwich is dressed with a mayonnaise punched with Maggi, a soy sauce–like seasoning popular throughout Asia and Eastern Europe, as well as the requisite pickled daikon-carrot mix. Chef-owner Diep Tran uses a glossy mini baguette that looks almost pretzel-like. There are currently two meatless banh mi choices here, a roasted oyster mushroom and a Cherokee tomato and Persian cucumber iteration. Pair this with one of the seasonal fruit sodas made in-house, maybe Valencia orange or pink grapefruit, or, if you're really hungry, a pint-sized vegetarian brown rice porridge with Napa cabbage, mushrooms and shallots. 110 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park; (323) 257-8980.
There tends to be an emphasis on Christine Moore's skill with most things sweet, from caramels to flavored marshmallows, such that her approach to savories can be overlooked. Locals are just as likely to stop in to her bakery-cafe for sandwiches, rice bowls and salads. Simply named and expertly layered, the tempeh sandwich is emblematic of Moore's mastery of making new flavors familiar to us. It's usually on wheat bread; in the event they run out, you're just as well-served with an Italian roll or baguette. Tempeh seems easy to cook, until you've had Moore's version, with enough crisp and none of the residual bitterness from the ingredient's raw form. It's good on its own, but that much better when it's among avocado, onion sprouts, thinly sliced red onions and — key to the whole sandwich — both garlic aioli and tapenade. There is no side, but two types of pickles are offered with each order. It should go without saying that you'll want to save room for dessert. 1424 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 304-4800.
A behemoth, the farmers sandwich is what it sounds like it is — built with layers of vegetables and the occasional fruit. If you happen to run into café owner Sarkis Vartanian, he'll share his philosophy of honest food, which includes using as little added sodium as possible and avoiding soy (or corn) products for their genetically modified properties. While it will be clear that he doesn't believe in feeding you anything outside his ideology, you may not be prepared for the stunning display of colors. Nor can you anticipate the vibrancy of heirloom tomatoes, avocado, fingerling potatoes and squash (sometimes sweet potato) layered with burrata cheese, ancho-chili jam and pesto. And you probably won't even notice his no-salt policy unless you're told. True to his word, one or two ingredients may be swapped or left out completely if the quality doesn't meet his standards. 1820 Industrial St., dwntwn.; (213) 281-9300.
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