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Vegan food has become quite the rage in past few years, breaking through to the mainstream with chains like Native Foods, Veggie Grill and Real Food Daily. Still, by my estimation, none of them have managed to even come close to Silver Lake’s Flore Vegan Cuisine. This mainstay cafe has been a go-to for omnivores and vegans alike for years because it’s so damn good. The comfort-driven menu, grounded in organic ingredients, has all the hits, from sloppy burgers and classic sandwiches to fat burritos and breakfast til 1 pm. Their brunch menu even includes a gravy-drenched “Chicken & Waffles.”
I find it hard to veer from Flore’s generally gluttonous sandwiches. The Tempeh Tu-No Melt is close to the real thing but stands on its own, plus any deviation is made up for by the fact that it isn’t chock-full of mercury. Chunky with ideal crunch, the tuna-like tempeh mixture mingles with cashew cheese, which adds a luscious texture and light sweetness. It does the same for the Tempeh Reuben, grilled on rye and absolutely gooey with layers of cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. All sandwiches come with mixed green salad or potato salad.
The overhaul of Echo Park Lake was a seemingly endless one, but now that it’s finally up and running, I find myself strolling its picturesque path often. The long walk brings a combination of sights, including neighborhood joggers (of varying fitness levels), dogs galore, picnickers, and lots of bench-sitting old men just enjoying the day—the scene is downright European.
Of course, for me, one of the best perks of these new digs is the Echo Park Lake Cafe, situated in the lake’s boathouse. Operated by Square One Dining, which serves up a killer brunch at their Fountain Avenue location, the little eatery offers a succinct menu of breakfast and lunch options. The seating is all outdoors and comfortable enough to make you want to linger.
The prices are fair ($3-7), especially considering the much of the produce and some of the meat is organic. A well-assembled veggie sandwich with sprouts, radish, cheddar and avocado is served on hearty 5-grain bread with smatterings of grainy mustard and aioli. While it doesn’t quit live up to its perfect counterpart at The Trails, it’s still a keeper. The burger comes on an English muffin, so it’s small, but it’s also grass-fed, and tasty when you add on Gruyere cheese and a pile of sweet potato fries. Also promising are the Kale Salad, Potato Taquitos, and Chorizo Chili Dog.
If you’re not familiar with my hard-hitting journalism, then you should know, I’m always on the veggie burger beat. No fan of processed patties, it’s my mission to find vegetable-and-grain-centric burgers that aren’t packed with soy and other filler. By my estimation, the best veggie burgers are treated like their beef counterparts with tasty buns, pickles, cheese and all the usual All-American fixings. I’m not diametrically opposed to sprouts and other “health” toppings, but yogurt in place of mayo and cucumbers in place of pickles (heaven, help us) is just plain condescension. An insult.
Thankfully, none of that nonsense is at play at Echo Park’s The Park. The neighborhood restaurant makes their patty in house, and it holds together nicely with a combination that includes quinoa, carrots and zucchini. The patty isn’t thick, but it’s tremendously well seasoned, so the flavor doesn’t get swamped by the charred bun. I added Gruyere to mine, which played well with the red onions and the from-scratch tomato soup I opted for instead of fries.
I’m still calling Four Cafe’s veggie burger as the best in Los Angeles, but The Park is formidable competition.
The Park, 400 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
Well, since we’re on the subject of delicious veggie burgers, I thought I’d share my latest find. You have to drive a bit for it (or take the Gold Line), but you won’t be sorry. The veggie burger at Heirloom Bakery in South Pasadena has been a reliable daily special all summer long, and I’m hoping it’s here to stay.
Eschewing the loathed processed veggie patty that so many restauranteurs try to pass off on innocent veggie burger lovers, this one is made with grains and, you know, actual vegetables. Much like Four Cafe’s beauty, this one is treated like a beef burger, draped in cheddar cheese and dressed with mayo, dill pickles, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. The bun is also lovingly grilled for a little bit of crispness.
This thing is hearty as heck.
An Italian sub can be a glorious thing, but cold cuts aren’t for everyone. If you’re a vegetarian, or if you just prefer a meatless lunch now and again, finding a good veggie sandwich can be a task. Sometimes all you get is lettuce, tomato and cheese. Talk about blah. Still, there are some satisfying veggie sandwiches out there that demonstrate real deliberation and craftsmanship. Here are three good ones:
The Trails Cafe: The Avocado Sandwich and The Trails in Griffith Park is one of the best citywide. Thick chunks of ripe avocado, tomato, red onions, alfalfa sprouts and cheddar cheese are stacked high between two slices of sweet squaw bread. Mayo and soy bacon bits complement each bite. It’s the kind of sandwich that you miss when it’s gone, but the lavender shortbread cookies they sell are will console you. 2333 Fern Dell Dr Los Angeles, 90068
Summer barbecues are traditionally meaty affairs, but there’s always room for a veggie burger. And I don’t mean a Boca Burger. I’m talking a homemade one that’s hearty, delicious and made with, you know, actual vegetables. I asked Eagle Rock’s Four Cafe owner Michelle Wilton how to make such a veggie burger, and she was nice enough to show us. On video. Check it out and then see the recipe and step by step instructions below.
The list of ingredients is lengthy but not too exotic, and the recipe makes about 12-15 burgers. Plus, you can freeze left over patties for 6 months.
1 red onion, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup of mixed kale and spinach
3 portobello mushrooms, chopped and grilled
3 c of cooked kidney beans
1 c of cooked black lentils
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded beets
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground flax meal
1 1/2 tsp agave
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp soy sauce
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Sautée diced red onion and minced garlic in a large pan over medium heat until softened. About 5 minutes. Add kale and spinach mixture and cook until softened for about 5 minutes more.
Step 2: Pulse grilled mushrooms, half of beans, onion mixture and half of lentils in a food processor. You can always mash and blend by hand if you don’t have a food processor. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Step 3: Add the rest of the beans, carrots, beets, quinoa and breadcrumbs.
Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the sauce. Add it to the bean mixture. Mix very well.
Step 5: Form patties and lay them on a cookie sheet. For best results, chill them for 30 minutes. This will help maintain their shape once you begin cooking.
Step 6: If you’re using a frying pan, make sure the surface is very hot and well oiled. If you’re using a grill, make sure it’s very hot. Cook each side for 3 minutes. Melt cheese on top.
Step 7: Dress it up. Michelle uses a brioche bun, pickles, a thousand island style dressing, butter lettuce, red onions and cheddar cheese.
Is there a dish at an Eastside restaurant that you’d like to learn how to make? Let me know, and we’ll try to get the recipe for a future post.
Not too far from Verdugo Bar, hiding under a “Bakery #1” sign in a strip mall, is a breakfast and lunch spot that should be packed every day. It’s not, and selfishly I’d like to keep it that way, but I believe in restaurant karma. So, here it goes: Lemon Poppy Seed Kitchen is a small restaurant run by friendly people that specializes in Romanian flatbreads called plachintas—two tortilla-like layers stuffed with feta, dill and scallion or bacon and cheddar, for example. They are divine, scrumptious, lovely, addictive, and served three ways: warm and sliced with a side of sour cream; folded over melted mozzarella, greens, olives and tomatoes; or under two yolky eggs, swiss chard and onions.
And that’s only half of it. Lemon Poppy Kitchen’s menu also covers big, meaty (and vegetarian) sandwiches, a breakfast menu that includes a biscuit sandwich and polenta cakes, a solid pastry case, real coffee and house-made sodas. It’s that place you’ve been looking for…that we’ve all been looking for.
There’s really not much I can say about Guisados that every other blogger, restaurant reviewer, or food enthusiast in Los Angeles hasn’t already said. It’s popular, to say the least, and now there are two locations: the original in Boyle Heights and a new one in Echo Park. However, if in fact you haven’t heard, here’s the story: this family restaurant turns out glorious tacos on thick, handmade tortillas filled with meats or vegetables that hold beautiful, complex flavors.
The chickens tinga and mole are particularly good, and veggies and non-veggies alike will appreciate that even the calabasitas (a mix of squash and corn) aren’t an afterthought. Note that the cochinita pibil is ordered according to a 1-10 spicy barometer, with even the lower end capable of setting your mouth on fire, so don’t get smart. There’s always the 6 mini taco sampler if you can’t decide—it’s chef’s choice, and he’s usually right.
Lastly, don’t miss out on the drinks. I like the cantaloupe agua fresca, which is cool, refreshing and not overly sweet. Horchata lovers won’t be disappointed, and neither will jamaica enthusiasts.
Fact: grilled cheese, as with pancakes and steak, always tastes better when someone else makes it. Heywood, the newish grilled cheese shop in Silver Lake, has ambitiously taken up the task. Named after John Heywood, a 16th century British writer who once wrote an ode to cheese, the little eatery is, itself, an ode to the art of ultimate comfort sandwich.
The menu runs the gamut from recognizable to experimental. There’s The Classic, a standard combination of white bread, cheddar and butter, and then there’s The Bon Appetite Brie on cinnamon raisin bread, sweetened with fig jam and topped with raspberry sugar crystals. Fantastically unsubtle, The Italian Blue Jeans is a well-proportioned mix of mozzarella, blue cheese, walnut pesto and sundried tomatoes that packs quite the wallop. You can also choose from a list of breads, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and spreads to build your own. Vegan cheese and butter can be substituted on most sandwiches.
All sandwiches are served on a wooden board with mixed greens and a small cup of tomato soup for dipping. The soup is a velvety bisque that far outshines local contenders like the rather watery one they sell for an arm and a leg at nearby LAMill, for instance. It’s so good that you—but not I—could forgo the sandwich and pair a full-sized portion with one of the two salads on the menu. We tried the Mix Spring Salad, mixed greens topped with cheese and tomatoes. It was nice enough.
Prices range from $7-11, and some will argue that you can make 20 grilled cheeses for that kind of money, but if you just want one really good one, leave your griddle in the cupboard and check out Heywood.
They’re open ’til 3am Fridays and Saturdays.
Heywood A Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop
3337 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, 90026
Order one grubby thing and one (relatively) sensible thing, then split both. That’s the way my husband and I usually navigate menus. This best-of-both world’s tactic works well at a place like Dave’s Chillin-N-Grillin, where there are plenty of options of either persuasion. The Eagle Rock sandwich shop has a big, but not overwhelming menu of melts and subs made with locally-sourced produce and unprocessed meats and cheeses. Not to mention malts, smoothies and sherbert coolers. It’s a real Northeast LA gem.
In addition to favorites like their famous Tuna Melt and Italian Sub (made with a delicious housemade red pepper spread), Dave–the likeable Bostonian behind the counter–also serves up daily specials. The week starts with a Grilled Reuben on Rye, giving way to the Pulled Pork with Bourbon BBQ Sauce midweek. On Fridays, it’s the Meatball and Sausage Combo, stuffed with Italian meat and made sloppy with spicy tomato sauce. This sandwich is of the classic hoagie variety, made with high-quality ingredients. If you miss it, you can get it sans sausage every day of the week.
While vegetarians get the shaft at most sandwich shops, Dave’s puts real effort into their veggie options. A good one is the Hott Hippie, an avocado sandwich with hummus, tomato, and cheese. Pepperoncini give it the oomph it needs while grilled rosemary bread makes it extra special. It’s not one of those contemptuously thrown together lettuce and tomato sandwiches that leave you wanting more.
But if you do want more, seriously, get a shake.
2152 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, 90041