Burnt Brioche Toast at SQIRL ($8)
The love for Jessica Koslow’s jams —delicious right out the jar — has spread across Los Angeles and beyond. Her restaurant SQIRL has a menu both savory and sweet, with a healthy selection of newly-trendy artisanal toast and jam. Brioche from local favorite Proof Bakery is toasted until it's burnished on the outside and custardy within, then draped with a loose housemade ricotta and the jam “of the moment,” which might be a deep blueberry thyme or a tart elephant heart plum. When the early summer Blenheim apricot jam hits the menu, RUN for this delectable bite of the season.
SQIRL offers an off menu vegan option with two slices of toasted baguette and freshly milled almond hazelnut butter.
Buffalo-Style Cauliflower at Mohawk Bend ($7)
When Kenji published his recipe for Crispy Buffalo Fried Cauliflower, I already knew how delicious this dish can be. When I don’t have the wherewithal to make it myself (which is...always), I head straight to Mohawk Bend for their Buffalo-Style Cauliflower. Juicy florets of lightly breaded cauliflower are soaked in a spicy and tart buffalo sauce and laid across a swath of vegan bleu cheese dressing. Slivers of celery make the perfect squeegee for scraping up the leftover swirls of cheese and sauce. It’s more elegant than using your fingers… trust me.
Fried Green Tomato Po’boy at My Two Cents ($9)
Soul food restaurants are not usually safe havens for vegetarians, but at My Two Cents, hearts sweetly scatted throughout the menu mark the vegetarian and vegan items. This new mid-city outpost serves a vegetarian version of their popular Fried Green Tomato Po’boy and side of choice. Delicately battered slabs of thickly-cut beefsteak tomatoes, fried to order, make up the bulk up this sandwich. A Thousand Island-style dressing is slathered on the soft bread, with Morning Star brand veggie bacon and tender field greens thrown on for good measure. The sides range from a Sweet Potato Pecan Crumble to the Black Eye Pea Stew, but I've found the Market Vegetables to be consistently outstanding. The lightly sautéed green beans and squash simmered in a tomato coulis on my last visit was delicious.
Chili Cheese Dog at Earlez Grille ($6)
Greasy smoke rising from a grill scattered with hot dogs and burgers does not normally entice the hungry vegetarian. It took an in-the-know vegan to lead me to this veggie dog haven. The Chili Cheese Dog smothered in vegan cheese and spicy chili is delicious on its own. But the addition of “New York-style” cooked onions—simmered in tomato sauce and garlic paste until they take on a deep, rich flavor—makes this the best in the city!
Tofu Balls at Starry Kitchen ($6.50)
“Please enjoy our balls in yo mouth!” is Nguyen Tran's stock line about his iconic dish. Born at an underground pop-up-turned-legit restaurant-turned-roving kitchen residency currently at Chinatown’s Grand Star Jazz Club, the Crispy Tofu Balls are beloved by veggies and omnivores alike. Golf ball-sized nuggets of pressed tofu with corn and scallions are dipped in buttermilk and coated in glutinous rice. When fried, the rice crisps up into a snap-crackle-chewy green shell, finished with a drizzle of spicy cream sauce.
Fried Brussels Sprouts at Freddy Smalls Bar and Kitchen ($8)
For years, tight knobs of Brussels sprouts were the darling of every chef. Lately, they seem to have fallen into the shadows of kale and cauliflower, but Freddy Small’s Fried Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Goat Cheese remain an exceptional case. Charred to juicy bitter bits, the sprouts are drenched in the sweet acidity of apple cider. Spooned over a dollop of creamy smoked goat cheese and sea salt, these are the best Brussels sprouts I have ever had. Sitting at the bar last week, I looked around and realized every single person was also eating the Fried Brussels Sprouts—they're that good.
Potato n’ Cheese Taco at World Wide Tacos ($2.75)
Walking up to a safety glass window and yelling into a broken speaker-mic does not hint at the ridiculous quality of World Wild Tacos. The hour-plus hour wait—at a take-out stand with no seating—emphasizes the sublime ridiculousness of the experience. The vegetarian taco menu is 90 items deep. Some options are startling (blueberry lamb?), but there are many vegetarian classics, like the crispy shelled Potato n’ Cheese Taco (+$1.25 for vegan cheese). Spice-battered potato wedges are decorated with a sloppy filigree of shredded leaf lettuce, cubed red onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. They will ask if you want hot sauce, and unless you have some condition that hinders your ability to consume smoldering chili-saturated amazingness, always always always say yes.
Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich from Bean & Thyme ($9)
The first time I ate Paul Osher’s Roasted Cauliflower Sandwich, I swore I could eat it every day. Alas, it's only available on Sundays at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, at Osher's Bean & Thyme stand, which serves sandwiches and slow-poached egg bowls sourced right there from the market. I’ve tried much of the menu, but always circle back to the cauliflower. Roasted florets are smothered in creamy Gruyere, then topped with a slow-poached egg and seasonal baby greens on grilled multigrain. It's a messy farmer's market delight.
Vegan Pupusas at Los Cocos Panaderia y Pupuseria ($2)
Finding good vegetarian pupusas isn't hard. Finding good vegan pupusas is considerably more difficult. My favorite vegan pupusas come from a little strip mall in West Los Angles called Los Cocos. They offer the traditional veggie options like cheese and pinto, plus a separate vegan menu with intriguing combinations like squash/loroco and squash/carrots/onion. Made to order, the pupusas are served with two types of curtido—a mild pickled red cabbage, and a spicy green cabbage—and a thin tomato salsa.
Carrot Corn Dog at Fritzi Dog ($3.75)
For those who are not interested in soy-based veggie dogs, you have a friend in Neal Fraser. His Fritzi Dog stand at The Original Farmers Market elevates the carrot to center stage (or...make that the center of a bun). This unprocessed alternative to a hot dog underwhelmed me at first. Buried under a mass of traditional “hot dog” topping, the nuance of this carrot is lost. But in an eggy cornbread batter, all 26 of the spices infused in the carrot come fourth. Because it’s cooked sous-vide, the carrot is both tender and snappy within its lightly sweet, crispy shell.