December 13, 2008
West LA Vegetarian Restaurants Quick Reviews: Veggie Grill, Real Food Daily, A Votre Sante, Interim Cafe, Rahel
Lisa and I took a 48 hour veggie-tourist getaway to Los Angeles last weekend. Our principal agenda was to visit some old vegetarian favorites and explore some new ones. A quick recap of the tour:
Veggie Grill, El Segundo. Website. This is a relatively new chain with 2 locations in Irvine and 1 in El Segundo just a couple miles south of LAX. The menu architect is Ray White, who was also half of the brains behind my long-time favorite Native Foods in the desert. Because of their common heritage, the menu at Veggie Grill reminded me a lot of Native Foods--which is a good thing! The restaurant has been receiving accolades, including this year's VegNews' restaurant of the year, so we were anxious to try it.
Physically, the El Segundo restaurant is attractively designed, with the now-standard high ceilings, concrete floor and modern furniture. It looked like a hip college hangout. Patrons order at the counter, put a number on the table and wait for the food to be brought from the kitchen. Wait times were minimal at 5 pm on a Saturday, and seating was ample. By 7 pm the place was crowded but not full.
We ordered four items: the V-burger, the Carne Asada sandwich, the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin sandwich and the Beam Me Up chili. Entrees were $8-10. Everything was good, although I especially liked the Carne Asada sandwich, which I thought was a first-rate dish. We got sweet potato fries and steamed kale as side dishes, and both were very good as well. I'm not a huge fan of sweet potato fries but these may be the best I've had. I personally don't like kale but they put a nice dressing on it and made it taste palatable. I'd say it was the best kale dish I've had, and I wouldn't be adverse to ordering it again.
So, very high marks for this restaurant all around. I can't wait to go back and sample more things on the menu and get the Carne Asada again. The restaurant is so close to LAX that I may just have to swing by next time I'm flying in or out of there. Even better, I'm crossing my fingers that maybe someday the chain will expand to the Peninsula. I promise to be a regular and hungry customer!
Real Food Daily, Santa Monica. Website. I like Real Food Daily. I've gone there numerous times over the past decade, and I've never had a bad meal. The problem with Real Food Daily is that it's just a few miles away from a restaurant I like even more--A Votre Sante--and given our scarce time in LA, A Votre Sante usually wins out.
We went for Monday lunch and tried the Tac-o-the-Town and a weekly special, the Burger in a Salad. The food was good, but as the server told us, RFD does Mexican food really well, and the tacos were IMO better than the salad. I might focus on the Mexican dishes on the next visit.
My real problem is that RFD is expensive and, frankly, overpriced. Lunch entrees were $14-$17, about $5 more than comparable dishes at A Votre Sante and Interim Cafe (discussed below). So while the food is good, I think the food at A Votre Sante is better and cheaper. So I will gladly go back to Real Food Daily, but preferably on someone else's dime!
A Votre Sante, Santa Monica. Website. If I had to pick a single favorite restaurant in the world, I might very well pick A Votre Sante. It's not fully vegetarian (only about 1/2 the menu is vegetarian), but their vegetarian food is consistently outstanding. I have loved this place for 2 decades, and I go as many times as I possibly can. I've been disappointed watching their empire consolidate--in the 1990s, they had as many as 4 locations, and now they are back to just their original San Vincente location--although I was heartened to see that they had taken over the neighboring space, doubling their seating capacity, and had done a renovation that gave the interior a decidedly more upscale feel.
The surface had changed, but the food was just as good as I remembered it. It was so hard to choose only 2 dishes! I got the T&T, one of my favorites (along with the Dragontail, a classic), and Lisa got the Stir-Fried Vegetables. Yum! Both plates were completely cleaned before I left. I'll be back!
Interim Cafe, Santa Monica. i couldn't find a website for them. I wasn't able to make it to Interim Cafe, but Lisa picked up a couple of dishes to-go for our ride to the airport. The Interim Cafe is by the same folks who launched Newsroom in West Hollywood. Two years ago we tried the Newsroom and were less-than-impressed. It was fine, but not worth an extra schlep to West Hollywood. This time, Lisa picked up their basic burger and a stir-fry. The stir-fry was pretty heavy on the tofu but was otherwise fine. The burger was excellent, and I really enjoyed it. The menu is about 1/2 vegetarian, but it's a big menu with lots of attractive options. Prices were $8-$10 per entree, making this substantially cheaper than Real Food Daily. I definitely want to sample more things from the menu, so next time in the area I'll try to swing by.
Rahel, Little Ethiopia/Fairfax District. Website. I love Ethiopian food. Indeed, it's a little known fact that Lisa and I went to an Ethiopian restaurant (the Blue Nile in Berkeley, sadly now closed) on our second date. There is a cluster of Ethiopian restaurants in Little Ethiopia, a modest district on Fairfax, but Rahel stands out because it's entirely vegan. Furthermore, on our first visit 2 years ago, we thought it was absolutely terrific food. We've been salivating to visit again.
I think the best time to visit Rahel is for their all-you-can-eat lunch specials on the weekdays for less than $10. That's a pretty good deal. We went on a Sunday for lunch and instead got the Veggie Paradise combo. It was more expensive than I expected ($15/person), and I'm not sure we ordered the right combo because I remember our last visit including more options that were truly terrific. Nevertheless, the food was good, the service was good by Ethiopian restaurant standards, and we got more food than we could eat. We will definitely go back to Rahel, although because our last visit was a 4 instead of a 5 star visit, we probably won't view it as an essential stop.
Farmer's Markets. In addition to all of this eating, we went to the Sunday morning Santa Monica Farmer's Market on Main Street and the Sunday afternoon Brentwood Farmer's Market between San Vincente and Montana. Both were fine farmer's markets, although the Brentwood market had a limited number of produce vendors. Both farmer's markets had numerous vendors of ready-to-eat vegetarian food that was absolutely mouth-watering, and it took a lot of restraint not to pig out there instead of our restaurant destinations. If you're around, you might decide to pick a meal at the farmer's markets instead of the local restaurants--there are some good options.
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