Boca (Burger) To California
By Shari Black Velvet
Every time I go to California I think about the Sugarcult song ‘Back To California’. Us vegans may prefer the title to be ‘Boca (Burger) To California’. I’ve been to California – more specifically mostly to LA, a whole bunch of times. It tops the list of my favourite places. After my most recent trip back there, I decided I’d write about some of the vegan diners I’ve visited there. Los Angeles in particular is thriving with vegan eateries. Sadly, this time I was only there for about 2 ½ days – so couldn’t fit loads of them into the equation, but here’s a tip of a few places to go if you’re ever over there.
Firstly, let’s not start off with LA, but San Francisco. I flew over to San Francisco for an event before going down to LA. I visited Herbivore Restaurant for the second time (well, second and third time, since we went twice). I actually visited Herbivore the first time right when SaveAScream.com started as I recommended it back in 2009 after a trip to San Francisco’s Warped Tour. Billed as ‘The Earthly Grill’, Herbivore has three locations – one on Divisadero Street, one on Valencia Street and one in Berkeley. Back in 2009 my accommodation was just a couple of streets from the Valencia location so I went there, therefore this time we decided to go to the Divisadero diner instead to balance things up. Herbivore’s menu is awesome – so many things to choose from. The diner is a good size too. It is also open for long hours, from 9am until 10 or 11pm, depending on the day. As a pizza addict I had to choose the pizza (Herbivore proudly uses Daiya cheese... and I proudly wanted to eat it). Herbivore has a range of wraps, salads, sandwiches/burgers, starters and entrees such as tacos, chilli, lentil loaf, ravioli and red curry, soup, kids meals such as macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches and of course pizza with a range of toppings to choose from. The pizza was amazing. It was so good that I had to go back the very next day and have another. If I lived in San Francisco and could afford to eat out regularly, Herbivore would get a weekly visit. On the second day, I felt like I should try something else – but still couldn’t resist the pizza – so after pizza I also asked if I could have the grilled cheese sandwich from the kid’s menu. Thankfully they said yes! I was getting a little full at that point so had to leave half of it and took it back to the hotel for next morning’s breakfast! Each day I chose a shake to go with it – vanilla the first day, strawberry the second. The vanilla one was my fave but both were amaze. They’re the nice soya ice-cream type shakes that fill you up and act as a dessert and drink combined.
Herbivore - outside & Drinks (vanilla shake, far right)
I was sharing a room with two meat-eating friends and they came with me. Both loved their vegan meals. We also invited a vegetarian friend the second day and she naturally gave Herbivore the thumbs up too! Check Herbivore’s website out at www.herbivorerestaurant.com
A vegan/vegetarian diner I tried for the first time on this most recent trip was Source – www.source-sf.com at 11 Division Street. It was a Saturday evening around 9pm when we got there and it was very busy. They have inside and outside patio seating. As it was a bit chilly we wanted to sit inside so had to wait a few minutes as all of the inside tables were occupied. The wait wasn’t too long though. Obviously I’d already checked out the online menu and knew that I had to be predicable and go for the pizza. This one was a ‘Brick Oven Pizza’. Although Source is not 100% vegan (it's vegetarian), everything can be made vegan – so I had the Da Bronx pizza made vegan. The pizza was a little more expensive than Herbivore's, although with a thicker crust. They also have a great range on their menu – with everything from pizza burgers to Country Shepherd’s Pie to Vegan Mousaka to ‘Bow Wows with fries and slaw’ (Bow Wows being smoked apple sage field roast sausage). The menu is mouthwatering! I had my first ever vegan Twinkie for dessert (cream inside sponge… it tasted like it was very fattening!) along with a strawberry snowball (I was wondering if it’d be like an English snowball, but these are like cupcakes with vegan buttercream icing on top). Source, as a ‘multi-dimensional dining experience’, also offers ‘vibrational multi-dimensional elixirs – drinks featuring plant extracts and herbal infusions as well as a range of teas, superjuices and smoothies. To be a little boring I had a strawberry soda while one friend tried a kale superjuice. If this had been nearer our hotel we’d have gone back again.
Source - from the outside
Source - inside (last to leave!)
Source Da Bronx Vegan Pizza & Twinkie and Snowball
Down in LA, the first vegan diner I wanted to go to upon hitting Hollywood soil was Truly Vegan. I’d visited Truly Vegan a few years ago and liked the fact that they had grilled soya cheese sandwiches on the menu. The prices were also good and they’re on Hollywood Blvd (5907 Hollywood Blvd) – although a bit further down than all the tourist attractions and stores. I chose to have a grilled ‘Say Cheese’ sandwich again. It comes open showing the two halves of bread with vegan cheese, tomato and lettuce and is only $5. I’d have preferred the cheese to have maybe been a bit more melty, but it tasted nice. My friend had a pad thai. Truly Vegan had some nice cakes in plastic containers in the fridge for $5 each – so I decided to take two with me to eat later/next day. I had a lemon cheesecake and a cookie and cream chocolate cake. Both were delicious. Truly Vegan was fairly quiet when we were in there mid-afternoon which was a shame. The cheap prices ought to draw in more people. It’s not the most exquisitely designed diner, being more basic – but if you’re on a budget or just want something wholesome to eat, take a trip to Hollywood Blvd and find it. They also deliver up to a 5 mile radius. Truly Vegan sells all sorts of vegan items such as vegan chicken nuggets, soy fish sandwich, pepper steak sandwich, soy beef burger, vegan sushi, curry, noodles, salad, soup, breakfasts such as pancakes or hash brown, soy sausage and tofu (or bacon) and more. They are the best priced vegan diner in LA and thus every time I go to LA I'm going to make a stop there. Check www.trulyvegan.net for more info.
Truly Vegan - outside & Strawberry Shake
Truly Vegan Say Cheese Sandwich
Truly Vegan Cookie & Cream Chocolate Cake & Lemon Cheesecake Cake
Truly Vegan Pad Thai
California Vegan (www.californiavegan.com) is well known and on Sunset Blvd (7300 W. Sunset Blvd). I love that they are a mainstay with such a big sign for everyone to see. They have free wifi which wins them bonus points, although they lose points for not having any vegan bacon the morning we went in. I wanted the vegan BLT but was told they had no bacon. I ended up choosing a pancake instead, since I’m not big on curry, noodles or rice. They sell a lot of faux meat such as ‘cowboy steak’ and ‘crispy chicken’ – although I’m generally not a big faux meat eater. I can handle fake bacon and veggie burgers/sausages but I prefer to avoid a lot of faux meat. The pancake was nice and very filling (I couldn’t eat it all) although not as nice as a BLT would have been and I spent the day a bit bummed out that I hadn’t been able to have the BLT!
California Vegan - outside, the night before!
California Vegan - inside, 11.30am
California Vegan Blueberry & Banana Pancake (oops, forgot to take a pic before I started eating!)
… That was, until that evening when we went to Veggie Grill in El Segundo. This is now one of my new fave diners ever. I feel the need to rave about Veggie Grill as it is the closest thing to a vegan… dare I say it… McDonalds… or a Dennys. Veggie Grill has a handful of branches in California – ranging from West Hollywood to Irvine to Santa Monica. They are also in Seattle and Portland. I really hope Veggie Grill keeps on growing and spreads throughout not just the USA but the world. Veggie Grill is an awesome idea. It’s a fastfood diner where you can buy veggieburgers, cheeseburgers, chipotle BBQ, chicken burgers, fries and more. If diners were people, Veggie Grill would be God. You go up to the till and pay and then dine in or take out. The prices are not bad – around the $8 or $9 mark for a burger. To really compete with McDonalds they may have to reduce prices a bit, but the idea is there. Healthy meat-free fastfood is the way to go. I loved that this place was bustling with activity and people – a lot of whom looked like they probably weren’t vegan or even veggie. Meat eaters for sure would love this place as much as McDonalds – and when you realise it’s 100% cruelty free – wahey! It does not advertise itself as being ‘vegan’ although the menu states that it is ‘100% plant-based and free of cholesterol, animal fat and trans fat’. Someone open one in England quick! Veggie Grill really rounded my day off perfectly and put a huge smile on my face and in my stomach! I’m still dreaming of my time in Veggie Grill. www.veggiegrill.com
Veggie Grill in El Segundo
Inside Veggie Grill
VG Cheeseburger & Sweetheart Fries (looked so good I started eating before taking a pic and only remembered halfway through!)
I also managed to make a trip to Sun Café in Studio City, CA (not far from Hollywood) and got to say hi to Roi of The Material who works there. Sun Café is a very pretty place at 3711 Cahuenga Blvd W – a lot has gone into the décor. If you have a certain standard when you go out to eat you’ll want to visit Sun Café. It’s very neat and tidy inside. The prices reflect this a little though – it was the most expensive place out of the diners I visited. The BLT was a standard size and cost $12 (with veggies and dip). That said, the rent for the place is expensive, so no doubt they need to make this back from the meal prices. Sun Cafe prides itself in its largely raw menu – the BLT was one of the non-raw items. My friend opted for Mac and Cheese – which looked like more time went into it. If you’re raw, a restaurant like Sun Café would be a Godsend. You can get raw pizza, raw burgers, raw lasagne bolognese and more. Using fresh organic ingredients, Sun Café is one for the individuals that care about their body and what goes into it. The staff were very polite and helpful too - not just Roi! Visit www.suncafe.com for more info.
Sun Cafe from the outside
Sun Cafe - inside
Sun Cafe BLT with Veggies & Dip
Sun Cafe Mac N' Cheese
While these were the only diners I had time for this time, I’ve previously visited Vegan Express, also on Cahuenga, Vegan Plate (too thai for me) and Jax, which has sadly closed down. There are many places I still need to visit – Real Food Daily is top of the list for next time. And one day I need to go to Babycakes!
Whether you’re a veggie, vegan or meat eater, why not try one of these places if you’ve never been there before? It’s always a fun adventure to go somewhere new – and you’ll be positively glad you did afterwards.