Admittedly, if I was hired to track down some really outstanding and innovative vegetarian Chinese food, I would not expect to search along the aging stretch of Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills, within a thousand feet of my old high school*. But there it is; Vegetable Delight, despite its wartorn exterior, has my full support. Stare for a moment at the beautifully carved wooden mural in the window before entering.
Walking inside, you may wonder if you have plunged down a rabbit hole into a wedding in Toyland. Rows of gold-trimmed white booths gleam under ceiling tiles of powder blue; the water glasses are stuffed with baby pink pastel napkins. Somehow it's a happy absurdity, especially with the sound of keyboards and strings plunking Chinese melodies above, or of bereaved little piano concertos.
You suddenly realize that the room has the same salmon-and-spearmint color scheme as a Madame Alexander doll box. You may also suddenly wonder why Dave knows what the Madame Alexander color scheme is.
This is what you must order, because we say so. The "Chinese Pancake" is puffed and very slightly sweet, not entirely dissimilar to a wonton, perfect as is but utterly gush-worthy when you drip some of the lemony sauce over it. It is the appetizer of champions.
The Hot & Sour soup is pleasingly gelatinous, not dense enough to stand a spoon in but slowing everything down to a meditative crawl. It is rich, and beautiful, and obviously not one of those packaged deals other Chinese places might dole out. The Spring Rolls here also seem fresher than expected.
The Veggie Fish in Hot Bean Sauce may or may not have MSG, but is made of OMG. It looks a little dubious what with the lonely and purposeless carrots, peas and corn, like one of those TV dinners that used to come covered in foil instead of plastic. Pay no attention. These deep-fried "filets" with a thin skin of seaweed have a light crunch, in a thick, not-really-hot orange sauce, are insanely good. The chefs at Vegetable Delight are concerned with making flavorful dishes rather than merely cranking out the usual fare with meatless analogs.
The Tofu with Hot Bean Sauce, despite its similar naming convention, is totally different. Lightly fried triangular prisms of tofu** are combined with chopped green pepper and tiny mushrooms cut into quarters, as if to resemble peanuts; the sauce is thinner but soaks into the tofu nicely.
The Szechwan Shredded Veggie Beef has a slight textural resemblance but isn't fooling anybody. However, it's got a full-bodied presence, and combined with carrots and Chinese mushrooms cut into scalloped lengths, it's downright savory.
They kindly provide small dishes of red chili paste, decently hot, and a strong, take-a-blowtorch-to-your-nostrils Chinese mustard.
Vegetable Delight is open until 9:30 as Chinese restaurants often are, and are closed on Mondays, like restaurants over the hill often are. Come here for lunch. Why? Lunch and a Chinese pancake, enjoyed with a cup of hot tea, is under ten bucks.
* Going in the other direction, it's also a thousand feet from the seedy and abominable Oh Grady's, at which our good friends Bandwagon have played on occasion, and who hopefully will not be banned from Oh Grady's for my having called it seedy and abominable.
** This will be the name of my band if I ever create one. The Triangular Prisms of Tofu. Mathematically uniform and high in protein!
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Vegetarian/Vegan, The Valley )
Starting to be a weekly ritual
4325 Sunset Blvd. (@ Fountain)
Phone: 323-665-7818 | map
Despite being squeezed into the parking-spacially challenged corner of Sunset and Fountain, next to a liquor store and under a karate school, Agra has managed to thrive. Its interior is nicer, with dimly lit avocado walls and booths of a deep byzantium purple. Curtains stretch across the ceiling. The people are friendly and may have some Indian television on if it's not too busy.
The lunch specials are the easiest introduction, a round metal tray with a quintet of flavorful choices. Usually the sides are white rice, yellow daal, chickpeas in a tomato-based sauce that could be cooked longer, and a happy circle of raita in the center.
Their sog paneer is wonderfully dense and creamy steamed spinach*, with tofu-like cubes of white cheese appearing beneath. I order it spicy, but I suspect they are not taking me seriously. Halfway through the meal, though, the spice is awakened like an irritable tiger, causing the quiet suppression of coughing, but it does not stay awake long.
A specialty of theirs, which you won't find on most familiar Indian menus, is balti, a Kashmiri curry cooked in a wok-like dish. The Chicken Mushroom Balti is stew-soft, its black slices of mushroom rendered limp with all their flavor pulled into the whole composition. The sauce is tan and not immediately spicy, but complex and wealthy with nuance.
The Chicken Vindaloo is a hot curry of lemon, onion, tomatoes and potatoes crowding around gentle slabs of chicken. The Fish Vindaloo is even better, the fish soaking up the robust black-and-green speckled sauce.
It says it's very hot, but they don't make it that way if you are not obviously Indian. It is forceful, with a persistent and patient burn, but not fiery. I'm going to ask for "British Spicy" next time and see if that makes a difference.
We're always a big fan of garlic naan, but when I'm lunching I like the keema naan, which is like a thin, lamb-and-peas-filled quesadilla; the lamb is ground into paste like chorizo, and the bread is charred around the edges. It's fun, but doesn't serve as a utensil as naan usually does.
To take off the heat there are a few beers like Taj Mahal or Haywards 5000, or you can grab another Indian brand from the liquor store next door.
* Or steamy creamed?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Indian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
What with Los Angeles City College looming nearby, a miniature culture has been striving to invent itself at the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose for a while now, businesses appearing and vanishing, the various shops not quite attaining a feeling of community. The presence of Scoops Ice Cream has helped, of course, and so has the battered green hulk across the street with the astoundingly good vegan food.
I have to get a better photo, since I always come by here when the sun is lowering behind the 101, but it really is that run-down-looking, and the sign is from another age.
Once past the housey exterior, you can pull up a wooden stool inside, feeling calmed by all the wood and the bamboo forest mural. There is a constant presence of handbags and hoodies, hipster hats and tats.
Surprisingly, in this vegetarian haven there isn't a Thai dish in sight, except perhaps for the Spring Rolls; rather, Pure Luck takes its Angeleno psyche into consideration.
The Avocado, Chips and Salsa, for instance, are basic, fresh and honest. Slices of green lie over a thickly chopped pico de gallo. The chips are like pita chips in thickness and attitude, fried moments before and perfect for starting appetites or conversations.
In Todd's BBQ Sandwich, the "pulled pork" is actually jackfruit, and jackfruit is one of those messiahs of vegan cuisine (unlike soy cheese, which is sort of the leper). Jackfruit provides a slightly sour tang which blends nicely with the sweet, dark, KC Masterpiece-ish barbecue sauce, and the texture is there. You could almost forget you're not eating shreds of meat, and it's better than some sandwiches I've had with actual pork in them. It all settles nicely with pickles and vegan mayo in a solid, gum-scratching roll.
The french fries here are right-on, infused with rosemary, and rustic-looking, the skins crisscrossed like snakeskin. Fat grains of what seems like kosher salt give them spark.
The jackfruit (which is, you've noticed, also a fun word to say) is more convincing as barbecued pulled pork, but the "carnitas" are still part of a brawny, flavorful taco experience. The onions are cut thick as a thumbnail, and the cilantro is diced hard so the stems aren't annoying.
The Rice and Beans are, for want of a more writerly juxtaposition of adverbs and adjectives, seriously rad. The red pintos are refried just so, swimming over dense Spanish rice. A green chimichurrian sauce is layered atop. I want to have rice and beans like this all the time. All the time, I say.
The fish taco is even better than the carnitas. It's got the thin veneer of nori on its outside edge to give the textural impression of skin, and therefore looks a little dubious; put together with the white sauce, though, it tastes like a fish taco and is superb.
A handpainted sign out front says parking for Pure Luck is in back, but the tiny, graffitied lot has threatening verbiage on each space, so I chicken out and find metered parking along Heliotrope.
And get this! Pure Luck? Closed on Sundays, but otherwise open until midnight daily, so you can get your grilled tofu on after seeing a late movie.
Many thanks to Carol Elaine for pointing out this place, despite the fact that it's right near me and nowhere near her. I owe her lunch.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Late Night/24 Hours )
The Culver City location is green and beige and blocky, with a reserved clientele inclined toward neck scarves and iPods. The West Hollywood location is artfully walled with black and white photography from gay protests and street life of the '60s and '70s. White shorts, beards and sailor outfits abound (at least in the photos).
The menu* is split into salads, grilled meats, and soups, but is more creative than that sounds. The fare comes from those places of which you approve: produce from local farms, grain-fed, hormone-free, free-range meat, artisan bakeries, all the good words.
This is the gentlest and most rewarding thing you'll eat all day. The Salt & Pepper Chicken Sandwich is grilled to excellent firmness; it retains a little of the skin on it, peeling and crispy, adding touches of fat and flavor. Roasted red peppers are julienned and support it with an outspoken aioli sauce. The ciabatta bread is soft and powdery, sex in bread form, and I felt compelled to lay my head upon it and grab forty winks.
The salad that accompanies this is not outshined; the baby spinach is absurdly green, with softly crunchy hazelnuts. The cabernet vinaigrette is subtle and nearly absent, but still manages to balance the billowy taste of goat cheese that spackles your palate. The insistent freshness of the spinach is prominent.
The Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad is trendily named but is a mouth-caressing experience; at least four other people nearby will have ordered this.
Avocado and sour, suck-up-the-cheeks queso fresco lay atop lots and lots of cooled, crispy-skinned chicken. The tortilla strips add toastiness instead of annoyance; the cilantro dressing adds snap.
* The menu is scribed in a font that looks like the Dakota, Divine and Bradley Hand ITC typefaces got together and had a love child. Thankfully, it's not Papyrus.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Santa Monica/Culver City )
A self-contained yoga studio, market, bookstore and lifestyle hub, Golden Bridge Yoga stoically ignores the nearby food destinations: a McDonald's, a KFC, and the sultry Los Balcones del Perú.
I'm usually a little awkward when entering such serene locations as this, especially with a book right up front with the title That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things.
Doubts race through my head: do I belong here? Do I exude the soulless stink of the omnivore? Am I emanating the waves of stress and anger of the working U.S. American? Am I inferior to these thin people wearing airy clothes, these willowy women with smooth-skinned tummies emerging from their prenatal yoga session?
However, there seems to be a sense of tolerance for such a murderous savage as I, and there is the Nite Moon Cafe to help me get a little more balanced*. A long counter winds around two walls, displaying foil-wrapped delicacies buffet-style or offering complex plates of well-assembled sandwiches.
The Tiki Masala Veggie Burger is a most impressive tempeh patty, with more heart and soul than most veggie translations of ground meat. Onions are barely caramelized and mix sweetly with a mango chutney and fresh basil. The whole wheat bun is scratchy but does not scream its grains.
The affair comes with mixed greens, straightforward enough, with crunchy seeds (bigger than sunflower, smaller than pumpkin... we're betting pine nut) and enough shredded carrots to make me feel like something good is going on in the vitamin-accumulation department.
One can build a salad from the buffet counter, and also ladle up some thick soups from metal bins. The warm, loving presence on the left is the repetitively-named Lentil Dhal; all the earth tones in the world are here, deep and robust, with bits of carrot and kidney bean for mass. It seems Indian-inspired, and unfortunately is not as good heated up the next day.
The curry-colored, cayenne-dusted bowl on the right is Mung Bean and Rice, which tastes remarkably like Aloo Gobi despite there being no cauliflower that we could detect. There are sparks of cumin and ginger.
The Grilled Goat Cheese sandwich is fairly plush, with the (non-vegan, by the way) goat cheese meshing with onions, spinach, Moroccan carrots, and tomato. The organic whole wheat bread, like the bun, is subdued.
Drinks are bottles of water (useful after long, cleansing bouts of yoga, which I don't do much), restful teas, or blended smoothies. I usually continue my healthful pursuits by getting a Berry Antioxidant, which whips up rice milk with berries of the blue, straw and rasp persuasion, and some hemp protein. It's deeply purple like moody velvet curtains, and vibrant.
* For example, from those occasions when I am recovering from a recently well-demolished plate of juicy carnitas, oh Lordy.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Indian, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
My local-est Mexican cafe
620 Silver Lake Blvd.
Phone: 213-484-9090 | map
Las Glorias poses demurely along the auto-repair stretch of Silver Lake Blvd., across from the dubious Mom's Donuts & Chinese Food To Go stand. The red sign hides behind trees. A small counter-order window and an open-air patio which pleads for descriptive words like "quaint" and "tropical" hides under that.
The menu is simple and broad--the usual meat choices and a few soy/vegetarian prospects--and after a moment someone will raise the window with a click and await your pleasure.
The grilled fare is well-defined here, almost too nicely done, savory but without gritty parts. The pollo is clear and clean and confident in its freshness, the asada seasoned and chopped fine, heavy with flavor.
The burritos have a satisfyingly high content-to-condiment ratio, with green bits of pepper, avocado and peas for sensibility. An occasional pocket of pinto beans settles in the corners. The burrito mojado you see here floats in a small sea of thick red sauce with white striping; the sauce is not too cloying but not too heavily spiced either.
The fish tacos are big on batter but feathery soft, more prominent than the bare wisps of shredded cabbage. More white striping occurs on top, with fresh tomatoes.
For salsas, the pico de gallo is thin and more for color than zing; the red is smoky with a suspicious glare. However, on request, you can obtain a mustard-colored habañero salsa, that will paint your tongue with anger and make the rest of your meal a study in repentance. We love it.
Las Glorias has a little green lane for 30-minute parking, perfect for those quick pick-ups (and it's under a mile away from our place). The liquor store next door has a 15-minute lane; otherwise Silver Lake usually offers a spot somewhere.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Vegetarian/Vegan, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Seafood )