It’s a picturesque summer day and in honor of a loved one’s birthday, you and your friends are sitting down for a late lunch. As you settle in, you appraise the seemingly endless menu and grin with anticipation at the delicious meal you’re sure you’ll order and savor. You scan the offerings and find one, maybe two meatless options. That’s fine, as both salads look satisfying. That is until you look at the price. If anyone ever said a salad couldn’t break the bank, they clearly have been proven wrong.
As a vegetarian, and a picky one, the aforementioned situation is much more anecdote than a tall tale. And, living in Los Angeles, reigning monarch of wildly overpriced acai bowls and avocado toast on slices of multi seeded bread, quality meat-free food is often accompanied by a price tag that’s worthy of an audible gasp.
Whether you’re a vegetarian for the environment, your health, or because of allergies, or even if you’re just trying out the meat-free lifestyle meatless-Monday style, what Chef Paul Prudhomme once said is true: “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” Though it may take more trial and error, this certainly applies to meat-free sustenance in Los Angeles.
The following are the five restaurants with vegetarian food that I, as someone who admittedly has no culinary accreditation beyond strong opinions and a penchant for baking, relish.
While different people have varying levels of comfort in regards to how meat-free food is prepared in restaurants that do offer meat options, I especially appreciate these places because of the minimal cross-contamination and maximum precaution taken to separate any meat from meat-free dishes.
Azla Vegan is, in a complete turn of events, a vegan restaurant that serves delicious Ethiopian plates in a casual yet warm environment. Perfect for the selective or intrepid eater, you choose the dishes that make up your plate, and between the 2 item, 3 item or feast options, your meal can be just the right size for one person who knows precisely what dish they want or a family of four who wants to try a little of everything.
Despite being vegan, Azla doesn’t use any meat substitutes (except for occasionally in seasonal specials), making the spot a hit for my non-vegetarian family as well who have never fully warmed up to the idea of soy alternatives.
Personal favorites include the kik (curry split peas), shiro (stew laden with tomatoes, onions, and garlic) and yatakilt (curry with potatoes, carrot, and cabbage), though it’s hard to go wrong with anything on the tailored menu.
Monty’s Good Burger is a distinctly fun spin on the classic diner, with the most significant twist being its 100% plant-based menu. Like most burger joints, Monty’s features a single patty (the Impossible Burger) in four burger forms, but the real kicker is the elaborate fry and milkshake offerings.
Tatertots with caesar salad tossed in? A Chamberlain Coffee milkshake with middle-of-the-brownie bits strewn throughout? If you’re looking for either, Monty’s can deliver both.
The fries and burgers are slightly greasy, thoroughly salted and if you feel comfortable enough to eat your meal at the restaurant, you’ll be rewarded by the overall fun — if not hectic — atmosphere.
The main deterrent is the impossibly long lines that at times accumulate around the block outside Monty’s, and while judging if the wait is worth the food is a decision too contentious to declare, this exceedingly Californian restaurant rewards patience with a chance for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike to try out a spin on the classic burger experience.
A well-deserved recipient of national attention, Chichen Itza serves vibrant Mexican food that is filling, memorable and a neighborhood favorite. The expansive menu isn’t saturated with meatless options, but the limited vegetarian fare offered is phenomenal.
Walk into Chichen Itza expecting to have a hard time deciding between the veggie tamales or the eatery’s version of a breakfast mollete, in which homemade bread is topped with flavorful black beans, tomato puree, cheese and fresh avocado.
If you’re not hungry enough for a full meal, the fried plantains are a fulfilling side and the horchata never disappoints. With numerous options for meat-lovers but strict adherence to no cross-contamination policies, Chichen Itza offers a bite of warmth that everyone can enjoy.
With a high concentration of storefronts in Southern California, Veggie Grill serves up quality meals at a quick pace and casual manner. With an expansive menu that includes meat-mimics and soy-free dishes, tempeh lovers and haters can dine in peace over the dozens of sandwiches, soups, bowls and wraps offered.
A tragic victim of the $12 salad phenomenon, Veggie Grill otherwise offers akin-to-the-price large portions that are still good the next day as reheated leftovers. The nachos, lentil soup and Santa Fe chicken sandwich earn especially commendable places in my heart for their lovable flavor profiles and reliable yet memorable textures. A reminder to all lactose-consuming diners, however: yes, that is vegan cheese. Approach with caution as you see fit.
Los Angeles has plenty of excellent falafel, and still, Mizlala exists in the best of the best. Though the menu of this Meditteranean grill is tiny, its falafel is crisp on the outside and warm through the middle, its garlic sauce is something to write home about and ordering any of the sides while in a group will leave you with people clamoring, no, warring, for a bite.
Forget meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters uniting, if there’s any Southern Californian restaurant that can convince vegetable fanatics and dissenters to agree that some vegetables are heavenly, it’d be Mizlala. The brussel sprouts alone have been known to turn grown men who avoid the produce at all cost to order the roasted brussel sprouts doused in paprika and cilantro on repeat. Seriously, they’re that good.
Options for meatless main meals besides falafel are zilch, so as long as you’re game for falafel wrapped in fresh pita or tossed in a bright salad, meat-eaters and vegetarians alike shouldn’t have a hard time finding something to rave over.