It’s no longer the norm for the vegetable to sit idly on the sidelines as a mere side item. Though meat-focused restaurants are hardly diminishing in popularity, veggie-centered places are having their moment in L.A. and beyond.
Here are five restaurants at which the vegetable truly shines:
Can a complete meal be had of just lettuce and tomatoes? At Commissary, where vegetables are arguably the best thing on the menu, these two side dishes are hearty enough to fill your plate and your belly (for a light dinner, anyway). Complex without being fussy, the grilled radicchio and little gem lettuce comes with avocado and Asian pear, tossed with a tomatillo, basil and avocado sauce and topped off with parmesan and bacon. It's a twist on salad that feels nothing like salad. The tomatoes, when in season, celebrate the juicy freshness of the fruit while bringing out their latent meatiness. Lettuce and tomatoes for dinner could just become the new normal. 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-381-7411
The croque-monsieur is a classic French sandwich of toasted ham, cheese and béchamel. Huckleberry’s vegetarian croque comes with spinach, caramelized onion, cave-aged gruyere and béchamel. (An egg is optional.) In this combination of creamy, crunchy, umami goodness, the béchamel is rich but not too rich, the spinach adds texture without dominating and a spicy, nutty gruyere sharpens the mix. 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-451-2311
Superba Snack Bar
Chef Bryan Weaver's veggie-based dishes shake up the norm. The cauliflower T-bone is topped with duxelles, pickled beets and horseradish, and the cauliflower is an enormous slab, nearly enough for two. The butternut squash “soup” comes brulèed with a sugar crust and is topped with orange-juice-plumped blueberries, crispy sage leaves, crunchy hominy and bay-leaf-infused foam — just like fairy food. Pair with Schloss Schonborn’s Dry Silvaner then float home on a cloud of pixie dust. 533 Rose Ave., Venice; 310-399-6400
Fritzi Dog’s 26 hot dog options dazzle in their plenitude. Pork, beef, turkey, duck and chicken are all on hand, but the true sign of genius comes in the form of a carrot. Substantial and full of flavor, the loaded carrot comes topped with parsley gremolata and crispy Brussels sprouts. Cauliflower popcorn and Brussels tots make for moderately healthy sides — and transform veggies into something your inner child will love. 6333 W. 3rd St. Stall #742, Los Angeles; 323-936-9436
One of the more charming restaurants in the city, Pinot Café, is nestled in the courtyard of DTLA’s grand library and channels a vacation in the South of France. The roasted butternut squash panini embraces its veggie-ness, delivering the flavor and heft one desires in a good sandwich. Melted bocconcini (small, soft mozzarella balls) add a creaminess and the addition of sage, saba vinegar (a sort of pre-reduction balsamic), mustard greens and grilled red onion cut the richness of the squash, creating a delicate balance. The chicories salad with burnt cinnamon vinaigrette is a great pairing. Sometimes, even if it is only lunch, one must indulge. 700 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles; 213-239-6500