When I was kid, I fell in love with vegetarian cuisine when my mom and dad brought me to the nunnery in Shatin where we would pay respects to my ancestors whose soul plates were placed there. My family and extended family would have a vegetarian feast with my favorite dish “Vegetarian Goose,” which had skin that was crispy outside and inside were layers of soft tofu skins. The memory of that dish has lingered in my mind until this moment.
I am forever grateful to my parents who have really developed my palette as a kid. They brought us weekly to all kinds of cuisine from Korean to Indonesian to Greek to McDonald’s… you name it. I can eat anything as long as it’s tasty. One semester at Berkeley, I decided to have Julie’s low fat muffins for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did it for a semester and I finally had to quit and have never eaten a non-fat muffin since the 90s.
Coming to Los Angeles, I thought about being a vegetarian again and explored different vegetarian and vegan restaurants over the past decade. Where in the world does a city have the best and most diverse cuisines? New York and Hong Kong stand pale in comparison to Los Angeles.
Why? Because New York and Hong Kong are more cultural melting pots while Los Angeles is place where cultural collage thrives with independence. You can stay as small and niche as you wish. No wonder vegetarian and vegan cuisine thrives here. I can be eating vegetarian every day and every meal with delight going to different restaurants, just like I can be taking a great hip hop class almost every hour of the day between 10am and 9pm. Where in the world can you do that?
If you want some good vegetarian fast food, go to the Veggie Grill. I have not gone wrong with anything I’ve ordered despite always desperately trying to avoid the All American Stack. Please don’t tempt me with their sweet potato fries. Go away!
If you have not gone to Paru’s in Hollywood, you should. It’s an Indian vegetarian restaurant and their signature dish Queen Paru is to die for with a crispy pancake filled with vegetarian ingredients inside. Vegetarian can’t get better… but it can!
I love the salads at Westwood’s Native Foods, especially the Save the Chicken Chinese Salad. I would always order the tempeh fries with my salad. Heavenly vegan!
Monterey Park’s Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant is a de rigueur for Chinese vegetarian food lovers. They serve more Taiwanese Chinese vegetarian dishes which are all very delicious, but I am missing my Cantonese. The General Tsao’s Chicken, made with fried mushrooms, is a must.
A gourmet step up from Happy Family is Gourmet Vegetarian in Alhambra. It has a variety of creative vegetarian Chinese dishes that have never failed to disappoint. Even a dish as simple as fried tofu with pumpkin slices in brown sauce has a flavorful and more complex taste than your average vegetarian.
Shojin in downtown Los Angeles should be reserved for vegetarians and vegans for special occasions. It’s a cool spot with sophisticatedly prepared vegetarian dishes but spending around $20 for a Seitan Steak with Herb Garlic Butter was a bit too high end for me. I’m totally open to going back again to try more of the vegetarian rolls and other Japanese dishes… so call me!
I’ve followed Doomie’s Hone Cookin’ vegan cuisine from downtown to Hollywood, and I highly recommend the place if you haven’t tried it. I tasted the pulled pork sandwich for the first time from Lynn Chen’s husband Abe’s plate and it was so delicious. Their desserts are to die for… so get ready for the extra calories!
I’m going to end with one of the most unique vegan place I’ve been to—Cru—which is also a raw restaurant. Raw and vegan… I’m in for a treat, aren’t I? It’s macrobiotic, raw and vegan.
“So do you have anything cooked?” I asked the waitress.
“This is like the third time you asked me… Occasionally for dinner we do but we don’t today,” said the Silverlake chick with a smile.
“Well, I’ll start with the cream of beet soup and then I’ll have the cashew ravioli as the main dish. So are the raviolis cooked?”
“No,” said the waitress patiently, “The skin is made with Jicama, a kind of root vegetable.”
“Bring it on,” I said.
And let me tell you… I’ll totally go back to Cru for another raw vegan meal. It’s delicious and quite out of this earth.