My Journey by Donna Karan

Omnivore comes from the Latin words omni, meaning “all, everything,” and vorare, meaning “to devour.” So an omnivore will eat pretty much anything in sight. Humans are genetically designed to be omnivores, but some people choose to limit their diets.

Next to this definition in the dictionary is a picture of me, I’m sure of it, as I am the furthest from being a vegan as one can be.

So it was by accident that I ended up eating in a vegan restaurant, without realizing I was eating in a vegan restaurant. It truly was one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile and tasted just like the chicken and bacon I’ve enjoyed all my life. (Even though it was neither.) This happenstance of sorts got me to thinking and searching for vegan restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange County that have menu items the non-vegan, such as myself, will enjoy just as much as if we were in the local steakhouse.

Try one of these, all you non-vegans out there. I promise, from one meat-eater to another, you won’t be disappointed!

Native Foods Café

Chicken, bacon, avocado, chipotle sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onions and carrots, served on a multigrain ciabatta – who wouldn’t want to dig into that dish? Dig in I did, thinking it was one of the tastiest chicken sandwiches I’d ever had with thick, rich bacon second-to-none. But it was neither chicken nor bacon.

The chicken, I found out after polishing it off, is actually made of soy, wheat and pea protein, while the bacon is sliced organic tofu marinated in a secret recipe, baked and then fried to order. A side of lemon dill potato salad was an excellent accompaniment and the whole meal had me questioning my omnivore ways.

Other dishes for the non-vegan include the Meatball Sub – you won’t know the difference – or the Baja Tacos, made of three soft corn tortillas stuffed with blacked Native Tempeh, a super protein made with soybeans and millet that will blow your mind when you realize it’s not fish. Polish off whatever you order with a watermelon fresca, which tastes like a health infusion with each sip.

Photograph of a Native Chicken dish at Native Foods for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Lee Walters Photography

Locations: Westwood, Costa Mesa, Aliso Viejo, San Diego and more
Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
nativefoods.com

Vegan Nirvana – World Peace Cuisine

One of the most popular vegan restaurants in the OC, located in Huntington Beach, is funky Vegan Nirvana. Another one of those places where you could easily walk in and not realize you were eating vegan, their most popular dish is Ultimate Liberation. Crispy fish-free fillet tacos topped with fresh cabbage, pico de gallo, cilantro and chipotle sauce, these are the best tacos you’ve ever had even though no fish will touch your lips.

Or try the Kingdom of God. With a name like that it better be good – and boy is it. Made with poultry-free bites, tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, red onion, red bell peppers and jalapeno wok-flamed in a Korean BBQ sauce, served with your choice of white or multigrain rice.

Be sure to leave room for a peace of Blissful Ambrosia, a raw cheesecake made from raw cashews infused with organic raw coconut oil on a walnut crust, with your choice of organic raw chocolate or fresh strawberry. You’ll think you’ve just eaten one of the richest cheesecakes around.

Photograph of baja tacos at Vegan Nirvana for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Courtesy of BigTentVegan.com

Location: 7862 Warner Avenue, Suite 110, Huntington Beach
Open daily 11 a.m.–midnight
(714) 847-4080

Café Gratitude

Easily one of the trailblazers in the vegan restaurant space, Café Gratitude has taken its healthy offerings to Los Angeles, Venice, Newport Beach, San Diego and soon-to-be Beverly Hills. And there’s a reason they’re growing: it’s the great food! And not just food only a vegan would love.

One of my favorites, and how could it not be considering my southern roots, is a dish known as Resolved. Described as Southern Soul Food, it’s a combination of red beans and dirty rice, blackened jerk tempeh, smashed maple yams, spiced collards and coleslaw and served with a jalapeño cheddar biscuit. You had me at red beans and dirty rice!

Looking for something a little spicier to start your afternoon? Try Eclectic/Buffalo Cauliflower. Flash-fried cauliflower, with an adobo buffalo sauce, celery, and a spicy cashew aioli, you’ll swear off those unhealthy buffalo wings and start craving this dish. And since you’re eating healthy, go ahead and order the Illuminated. An immunity-boosting goji-citrus smoothie, made with orange juice, goji berries, pineapple, coconut, banana, infinity-C powder and citrus essential oil, you’ll feel your white blood cell count going up as you drink it down.

Photography of a dish at Cafe Gratitude for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Courtesy of Cafe Gratitude

Locations: Los Angeles, Venice, Newport Beach, San Diego and coming soon to Beverly Hills
Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m.
cafegratitude.com

Erven

Located in Santa Monica, Erven is one you’re going to want to make a reservation for. An entirely plant-based menu, Chef Nick Erven, although not a vegan himself, knows what vegans and non-vegans alike want in the way of good food and he’s definitely providing it. He recommends starting with the Black Garlic-Chickpea Fritter with yuzu and Aleppo pepper. Another great choice is the Kale Cavatelli. Made with squash, hen of the woods (a very tasty mushroom), pear and tom yum gravy, you’ll think you just sat down in a Tuscan restaurant.

Be sure to save room for the Chocolate ‘Liquid’ Donut, made with frozen peanut brittle ganache, huckleberries and potato chips. The Black Sesame Cake with passionfruit custard, cilantro sorbet and coconut meringue is another dessert offering worth the trip to Santa Monica alone!

On your first trip to this somewhat new restaurant, I recommend ordering the Taste of Erven. It gives you the choice of a snackable, shareable, principal and sweet and is a great introduction to the many delicious favors Chef Nick has at his command.

Photograph of a dish at Erven Restaurant for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Courtesy of Erven

Location: 514-516 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica
Open daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sun.–Thur., 5–10 p.m.; and Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.
(310) 260-2255 or ervenrestaurant.com

Seabirds Kitchen

It started as a food truck and has now morphed into a restaurant at the ultra-trendy The LAB, and Seabirds Kitchen has been pushing the boundaries of vegan cuisine since its beginning. Even making all of their sauces and condiments in house, they are constantly experimenting with what’s local and what’s fresh.

I asked my waiter what a non-vegan such as myself should order, and he steered me to several dishes that were right on point. Starting with the Burnt Brussels Sprouts made with fried garlic and a lime Dijon mustard, these are a great rendition of Brussels sprouts and lived up to the advanced billing I’d received from a friend who dines here often. Next up was the Beer Battered Avo Taco, which is Seabirds’ interpretation of the ever-present fish taco. Prepared with fried avocado, Seabirds sauce, cabbage, red onion and lime, you’ll swear you’re eating a fish taco, although I did note that the filling was just a little mushy compared to the real fish tacos I get down the street. Last to be delivered were the Purple Taquitos. Made with purple potatoes, chipotle sour cream, fermented curtido, and almond feta, the taquitos are served in a portion size of three; they are perfect for sharing and taste as good as any “real” taquito I’ve ever had.

If you like iced tea be sure to try their Jasmine Green, which will be served with a side of agave syrup if you want to sweeten it. Very tasty – and bottomless! And how could I pass up on the homemade pop-tart that was staring at me as I checked out? I went with the mixed berry and was not disappointed.

Photograph of several dishes at Seabirds Kitchen for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Lee Walters Photography

Location: At the LAB, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
(714) 549-2584 or seabirdskitchen.com

The Grain Café

Even vegans have to eat breakfast, and The Grain Café is serving up healthy and extremely tasty dishes to fill that need. I challenge any of my fellow non-vegans to tell the difference between what’s coming out of the kitchen and what’s coming out of your typical breakfast joint.

Take the Huevos Rancheros for example. Made with tofu egg (yes, there is such a thing) and bedded on two corn tortillas, the dish is topped with a ranchero sauce, avocado and served with black beans. It’s as tasty as any Huevos Rancheros I’ve ever had.

Another breakfast classic: French Toast. Theirs is prepared with whole wheat bread that’s soaked in vanilla soy milk and served with seasonal fresh fruits. Not what I consider a really “out there” vegan dish, but the vanilla soy milk definitely adds a flavor profile I wasn’t expecting. And who doesn’t like a Breakfast Burrito? This one is made with the aforementioned tofu egg, onions, tomatoes, vegan sausage, potatoes, cheese, tempeh bacon and served with baked potato, and it’s another one of those dishes that any non-vegan will love.

Last, but definitely not least, are the Crepes. My favorite is the Grain Crepe, filled with strawberry, mango, blackberry spread, spelt berry and topped with whipped cream. Yum! They also have an extensive menu of other “dessert” crepes, as well as savory ones that you really should try.

Photograph of a crepe at The Grain Cafe for an article on BoardwalkGemini.com

Courtesy of The Grain Cafe

Location: 4222 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Mon.–Thur., 6 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sun., 7 a.m.–10 p.m.
(323) 931-4034 or graincafeonline.com

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