Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kickin' It Vegan, Santa Monica Style

Recently, I was in glorious, sunny Santa Monica, CA to celebrate my birthday.  Why Santa Monica?  Because a quick Happy Cow search revealed SIX PAGES of vegan/vegetarian restaurants - SIX PAGES!

Without a doubt, Santa Monica did not disappoint, it even blew my past Vegan Vegas trip out of the water with not only vegan options, vegan variety, but also in terms of healthy food.

Check of these highlights and yes I have to admit that the food was the highlight of my trip.

Day 1

We arrived just in time for lunch and I just had to check out Stuff I Eat - 100% vegan, 95% organic soul-food!  Yes, soul-food!  My bf got their house-made Nut Burger, made with: cashews, walnuts, & wild rice; served on Ezekiel sprouted grain bun topped with Vegenaise, German mustard, cucumbers, mushrooms, grilled onions, tomatoes, pickles, mixed greens and sprouts.  The burger was towering and proclaimed it to be the best veggie burger he of his life.  I had to get the Organic Soul Food Platter, which came with: yams, mac’n’ cheese, BBQ tofu, kale greens, black-eyed peas, a cornbread muffin, potato salad & coleslaw.  And, we couldn't resist their Tropical Blend Smoothie, made with bananas, assorted fruit and apple juice - so thick, rich and creamy!  I suspect the Smoothieista makes these on the fly because mine was a deep dark green and my boyfriend's was a bright pink.  Everything was AMAZING!  Bonus, this is a very laid back place with a very open atmosphere and super, super friendly staff!!!  If I'm ever in Ingelwood, CA again, I am going back for more!

For dinner, we hit Veggie Grill for a little vegan American fast food.  Seriously, Veggie Grill is a chain of fast food vegan restaurants in Cali!  Not as healthy (soy-based products) as an independent joint, but definitely blows any other fast food chain of the Pacific, Atlantic, etc.  We were overwhelmed with choices, everything on the menu is vegan and my boyfriend didn't believe it at first.  He opted for the Buffalo Bomber: crispy Chickin’ tossed with spicy Buffalo sauce, tomato, red onion, lettuce and creamy ranch dressing, while I indulged on the VG-Cheeseburger, topped with VG-Cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions.  And just because we could, we splurged on Mondo Nachos:
“Chicasa” taco blend of veggie proteins, caramelized onions, mashed avocado, VG-Cheese, jalapeños, soy cream on a very generous pile of corn chips.  For dessert, two Chocolate Chip Cookies for the road - we were off to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for movie night!

Day 2

After a personal morning meditation/yoga/walk on the beach, we stumbled on Gratitude Cafe in Venice and I am so glad that we did - I LOVE THIS PLACE!  It just so happens to be 100% vegan & organic!  You walk in and everything is white and open and airy and simple and soooo calming!  The staff is so nice too!  There is always a question of the day; since we were new, our question was, "What are you grateful for?"  I said that I was grateful for my curiosity because it drives me to learn new things.  I adore that each menu item is named with a positive affirmation.  So to order you would say "I am..."  My bf was OPEN-HEARTED: two buckwheat-flax pancakes with maple syrup and cashew whipped cream, while I was TRUSTING: a tempeh scramble with seasonal vegetables, shitake mushrooms, spinach, scallions, cilantro, avocado and a side of whole grain sesame toast.  We also have a very good time with their wide selection of freshly made juices before we were off to Beach Yoga with Brad!  After that we were right back to Gratitude Cafe for a quick smoothie on-the-go and vegan donuts to tie us over while we visited the awesome staff and animals at LA's Farm Sanctuary.

There was little vegan action to choose from in Acton CA, which is where the Farm Sanctuary actually is, so we headed back to Santa Monica and stopped in North Hollywood along the way to check out Lotus Vegan (Thanks Kara!) for dinner.  This 100% vegan, some organic restaurant has an extensive menu of delectable Thai and American dishes all MSG-free!  We started our meal with my go-to Asian staple, Seaweed Salad and their Fresh Rolls: rice noodles with romaine lettuce, basil leaves, cucumber, carrots and rice vermichelli wrapped in rice paper.  Both super fresh and super delicious!  For an entree, my bf had the Chef's Special: Chicken over Quinoa & Rice served with a ginger sauce and miso soup; while I had their Rad Nah: flat rice noodles with broccoli and gravy sauce. My bf really liked his meal; it was a little plain for me.  I felt like my dish was just swimming in sauce and didn't care for it all that much.  I do feel that I would have been happier with any other selection.  But, I couldn't get out the door without trying their vegan Chocolate Chip cookies - LOVE!  Very nice staff, I would like to visit again to try another entree.

Day 3

This morning, we were on our way out of Santa Monica to visit the San Diego Zoo!  So, we stopped for a quick breakfast at the Vegan Joint in Los Angeles; another 100% vegan place!  My bf went for the pancakes again, sensing a trend?  While I opted for Burrito #1: soy bacon bits, tofu scramble and cheese.  We both had a side of breakfast potatoes.  Overall, a decent meal.  Can't say one of my favorites or most memorable of the trip, but it did its job and kept us vegan fueled until lunch.

Now for lunch, we hit Evolution in San Diego!  This fast food, counter service, 100% vegan shack has a menu bigger than the place itself!  While there is a patio area, don't plan on eating inside.  But that was fine with us because our mission was to get our meals to go, so we could have a "picnic" at the zoo, since the zoo is basically not vegan friendly at all.  We were overwhelmed with all the options and I was tempted to order everything, but kept it reasonable with a two Cheeseburgers (one organic house made black bean and one Gardein patty) a Chocolate Shake (AMAZING), a Tropical Sunrise Smoothie: Orange juice, coconut milk, papaya, mango, banana, ginger and of course two Chocolate Chip Cookies (I really can't help myself).  Everything was awesome, made to order, fresh and since Evolution is minutes from the zoo, still hot once we were ready for lunch.  I had a pic, but it somehow disappeared, but trust me, this was no typical fast food meal.  I have to hit this place again someday!

We stayed pretty late at the zoo and were dead tired, so we decided to grab dinner at a local mall which just happened to have another Veggie Grille!  I guess it was just a fast food type of day.  Despite that, I was feeling a need to get back to basics and went with a simple, gluten-free Bombay Bowl: herb-roasted veggies, super grains, steamed kale, cannellini beans, cilantro/green curry sauce with coconut milk, almonds and hemp seeds.  But lets not get crazy, I still had their Mac-N-Cheese on my mind since the first visit and just for fun threw in a Mexi-mini Wrap: “Chicasa” taco blend of veggie proteins, caramelized onions, Mexican spices, avocado, lettuce, spicy sauce in a flour tortilla.  Don't worry, I'm a sharer and my bf equally indulged as he gleefully chowed down on their Buffalo Wings, which are pretty non-existent in Ohio vegan restaurants.

Day 4

This was our last morning to have a leisurely breakfast and I didn't want to spend it anywhere else but the Cafe Gratitude.  I told you that I love this place!  We had to change it up for our last meal here.  This time we both had a freshly made smoothie.  My bf was BONITA, a breakfast taco plate: local brown rice, black beans, salsa fresca, avocado, cashew nacho cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, served with corn tortillas.  Tres yummy!  But, I wanted to go raw myself. I started with PEACE raw open-faced bagel: onion sesame crust, cashew cream cheese, nori, tomato, onion, capers & sprouts and "finaled" with being FANTASTI, a raw crêpe: cashew crêpe, fresh fruit, coconut yogurt, maple syrup, pecans.  It was AMAZING!  I highly recommend Cafe Gratitude to anyone!

On recommendation from a fellow vegan friend (Hey Katie!) we had lunch at the Golden Mean Cafe in Santa Monica.  Just look at that food! This little laid back 100% vegan cafe is not only organic, but also keeps the ingredients local!  My bf once again went with a burger, their Famous “Works" Burger to be exact: a homemade blend of 27 ingredients including a bean, grain & vegetable burger patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, avocado, cheese and smoked tempeh bacon with special sauce on a toasted whole wheat sesame seed bun and a side of potato salad. While I finally got my pizza on with their Tomato Pizza: made with tomato basil sauce, onion, bell peppers, mushroom and Daiya cheese.  Very light, but yet filling.  We both got either a juice or smoothie can't remember which - both made fresh!  I love that almost every restaurant in L.A. makes fresh juice & smoothies and if you're too busy for a restaurant, there are juice bars everywhere, like Moon Juice - just pop in and pop out.  Back to the cafe...with their bakery case staring at me, I jumped at one of their vegan cupcakes - mmmmm.  We had every intention of returning for dinner, but didn't quite make time.

For our last night in town, we decided to hit the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to drive up to Malibu. Not a whole lot of vegan options in Malibu; actually so dismal that Happy Cow had nothing, I had to hit Yelp just to find Plate, a vegan-friendly restaurant overlooking the (well across a 5-lane street and over a metal fence) ocean.  After having complete freedom at 100% vegan restaurants for the past four days, Plate was pretty disappointing.  Great staff, swanky digs, but the vegan options were scarce and unimaginative.  I take issue with the Yelp reviewer who stated that Plate was a must for any vegan.  I say this one is a pass.  In any other state where vegan restaurants are few and far between, I would have been ok with their vegan offering, but in Cali, you got to set up your game if you want to play in the vegan arena.  Nevertheless my bf opted for their
Garden Burger: grilled vegan patty, lettuce, tomato, onions, vegan wheat bun, hummus dip & shoestring fries.  Not bad.  I went for the Stir Fry Vegetables: seasonal vegetables, mushrooms in a ginger-garlic teriyaki sauce served over brown rice.  Again, fair - not bad.  I could not in good conscious recommend this place to a die-hard vegan - there are just too many other stellar places to check out in Cali.

Day 5 

I did my homework and discovered that there was one vegan restaurant at LAX, Real Food Daily.  But, RFD is located in terminal 4 and we were in terminal 6 and despite all our MacGyver moves could not get to terminal 4 without having to go through airport security again (they aren't connected).  I was to say the least disheartened.  However, ever the trooper, I made the Loteria Grill in terminal 7 work.  It took some fast talking, ok, a lot of talking to get two Papa Con Rajas Burritos: potatoes with roasted poblano peppers, salsa verde cruda, onion, cilantro and queso fresco (which were actually mashed potatoes and we suspected may contain milk, so I had to avoid) and two Calabacitas Burritos: zucchini and roasted corn succotash with salsa verde cruda, onion and cilantro and queso fresco.  You really need to emphasize no cheese!  I know it sounds like a lot of food, but one burrito was for breakfast and one was for lunch on our five hour trip home.  Remember, I don't touch airplane food.  They were...fine...I guess.  Not the high note I wanted to end our trip on, but it was better than starving.  I guess I was so brokenhearted over not getting to experience RFD, that I didn't even bother taking a pic.  You'll just have to use your imagination...

I hope this inspires you to take a trip to beautiful Santa Monica; it's a vegan paradise!

Happy vegan travels!

P.S Not a pound gained on this trip - now that is some healthy food!

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