As a native of Northern California who spent my college and young professional years traveling to Los Angeles to visit friends from high school, I’m familiar with LA’s sprawling urban layout and myriad pockets of diverse neighborhoods. My knowledge of the food scene as a healthy foodie has been limited to a binge-on-a-budget strategy of frequenting high-volume, low-cost meals at restaurant chains and trendy taquerias. Vegan restaurants in Hollywood? Didn’t know a thing about them.
Finding Vegan Restaurants in Hollywood
During a recent mother-son trip to this television and film industry capital, I adopted a decidedly different meal strategy: seek out under-the-radar vegan restaurants in hollywood. We stayed in Hollywood to play tourist for five days–my teenage son had only been to LA as a young child, and I hadn’t exported the city on my own–um, ever. Meanwhile, the vegan food scene has exploded in Hollywood, so much so that I had to narrow down our dining choices to just a few among many dozens of plant-based dining options. Here are the spots where we ate, and those on my wish list for other visits to come.
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The neglected cousin among the three venues in Dommies restaurant group, Next Mex is the epitome of a hole in the wall tucked away in a tiny two-level strip mall in central Hollywood. The obscure, miniscule space was dead empty when we arrived around 5 p.m. on a weeknight summer evening. The decor, ironically, was festively Mexican inspired, with colorful papel picado cluttering the ceiling. The space was set up simply, with an order-at-the-counter, and a few tables and chairs.
The menu, listed on a small paper flier and posted on a self-serve computerized screen, included an impressive array of vegan dishes–salads, nachos, burritos, tacos, and more. All of the items were customizable–they could be ordered with or without several types of sauces, vegan cheeses, onions and other toppings. We ordered three or four items, not knowing the portion sizes. Within minutes, we were served our dishes in Styrofoam containers (I was surprised; I thought Styrofoam had been outlawed). The portion sizes were huge. We gorged on what I can only describe as seriously greasy spoon Mexican vegan food. The burrito–stuffed with pinto beans, rice, shredded veggies–was smothered with vegan white sauce. We were impressed by the robust nachos, with a pile of beans, veggies, sauce and mock mole chicken. We couldn’t even finish half of our orders. I dwelled briefly on the injustice of not having access to such indulgent vegan Mexican food in New York. I pined to return for take out there again and again and again.
Dear Bella Creamery
A few doors down in the same dingy building complex was situated Dear Bella Creamery, a vegan ice cream business known for making its own artisanal flavors from scratch. The design of the space was adorable and colorful, with baby pink walls painted with multicolored sprinkles. Considering our huge dinner, we only had enough room on our stomachs to order one scoop each.
I couldn’t resist getting a vanilla base with cookie dough, while my son, predictably, ordered chocolate. The vanilla base, made from almond milk, was tasty but not quite as creamy as Ben and Jerry’s coconut-based vegan flavors. I was told that the ingredient bases–oat milk, almond milk, sunflower seed butter, etc.– varied depending on the flavor. The shop has a creative selection of toppings we didn’t try, including honeycomb and salted caramel, one soft serve flavor–Hong Kong milk tea–ice cream sandwiches and milkshakes. I could have done serious damage given the chance to return and try everything on the menu.
This slip of a Thai restaurant located in the heart of homeless row on Hollywood Boulevard could not be more understated; the signage and front door could easily have been missed next to a dingy corner market past an abandoned-looking parking lot. Despite having modern and clean decor, the seating area spanned no more than 20 or so feet, with only a handful of tables. I realized upon arriving that it was more of a take-out place.
The food, however, met every possible expectation for fresh, well-seasoned, healthy fare without being greasy. We ordered the vegetable spring rolls with peanut sauce (an all-time favorite), a green salad, and a tofu vegetable dish. We cleared all the plates clean. Similar to Next Mex, we were the only sit-down diners; I seriously questioned how the place could stay in business and felt a pang of disappointment that I would not be back anytime soon.
In the diner dining category, Johnny Rockets turned out to be the most unexpectedly exciting vegan dining experience of the trip. I chose the diner chain without knowing its vegan options so that my son could have a hearty greasy-spoon meal with French fries. After hiking earlier to the view of the Hollywood sign outside the Planetarium, then walking a good two miles down Hollywood Blvd along the dingy star-paneled sideways to the center of Hollywood Square, we were starving, overheated and grumpy. As soon as we seated ourselves at a booth, we scanned the menu, the spotted signage advertising vegan burgers and milkshakes. Done.
The exceptionally friendly waiter took our orders and brought out our food within minutes. After finishing, paying the bill and leaving, we strolled through the Hollywood mall as we sucked up our milkshakes with abandon. A beautiful moment for a foodie who loves her vegan dessert.
Ok, so Yamashiro Hollywood is neither a dive nor a diner. But kinda an essential dining experience for any visitor who appreciates a cool urban scene and view. It’s even recommended for vegans despite its very limited plant-based menu options. The Japanese temple (or “tera”)-inspired building, bonsai-filled gardens, pebbled walkways and views of the city are a thing to behold. Even locals flocked there on an early summer evening–the place was packed, everyone dressed in their West Coast finest.
Once we got seated, I ordered the single vegan roll–clearly marked with a vegan “v” symbol on the menu–made with spicy tofu, cucumber, daikon sprouts, avocado and vegan mayo. For my son, I ordered miso soup and the portobello steak served with veggies and “forbidden” lack rice. I badgered the waiter about a side of tofu not offered on the menu for protein– he did ultimately come out with a small bowl of soft tofu chunks. We missed out on the experience of ordering the pineapple fried rice, which was served theatrically in half a pineapple rind. The vegan roll was fulling and epically delicious, with spicy, crunchy, smooth elements. The other items were polished off as we lingered in the open-air setting and relished the transportive atmosphere.
LA, I will be back, and I will be hitting up more plant-based menus.
What We Missed–Hollywood Vegan Restaurant Wish List
The Plant Lab
My Vegan Gold