Drive around Los Angeles, and you’ll see countless restaurants touting their meat-free options. “Impossible Burgers!” “Vegan Items!” “Plant-Based Kitchen!” scream signs all over town. It’s not surprising, considering L.A. has long been a hotbed for those seeking a healthy — and often meatless — lifestyle.
But it’s not just in the health-obsessed City of Angels where plant-based eating is on the rise: report by food consultants Baum and Whiteman, more than 30 percent of Americans have days where they don’t eat any meat, more than 50 percent drink non-dairy milk, and more than 80 percent are consciously adding more plant-based foods to their diets. Plant-based proteins are on the rise, too, with more meat-free chicken, bacon, egg, beef, and pork alternatives hitting grocery shelves than ever before. that the market for these plant-based proteins will reach $51 billion by 2025.
That's a lot of plant-based burger patties
So it’s no wonder that restaurants here in L.A. and around the country are jumping onto the meat-free bandwagon. Some here in Los Angeles, like the four locations of , are using now-beloved brands like Impossible Burger to lure in this new generation of plant-based eaters. Others — like on Fairfax, and — are turning out entirely homemade versions of classic American comfort food. I decided to try all three, and my takeaway: all of them are so good that even a regular meat-eater will find these new takes on their favorite foods not just satisfying, but downright delicious.
I should mention that I eat meat nearly every day, if not daily. My boyfriend owns on Melrose Avenue, so I have easy access to the highest-quality meat in the city. He sources directly from California farms, so I have the luxury of not only knowing where my meat comes from, but that it’s being raised humanely.
I’ve also been writing about food for more than 15 years. I’ve seen plenty of food trends come and go, but plant-based eating doesn’t necessarily seem like a “trend” — people are choosing to eat less or no meat for a variety of reasons, be they health concerns, environmental issues, animal welfare, or simply not liking the taste of meat. As information about the impact of the commercial meat industry on the planet continues to grow, more people are likely to follow suit. (Interestingly enough, the popular recipe website Epicurious recently , citing sustainability and care for the planet, and the renowned New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park just announced that .)
And look, the idea of plant-based eating taking center stage in Southern California is pretty obvious to me; stop by any of our farmers markets, for example, and you’ll find sweet, juicy tomatoes year-round and more brightly colored, nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables than you can shake a stick at. There’s easy access to incredible produce, so making, say, a delicious salad doesn’t seem like much of a challenge.
But I have been curious about how chefs and restaurants are tackling the challenge of comfort food, because vegetarian food has too long had the reputation of sprouts and leaves and seeds and other “light” fare. And in the past, I’ve been skeptical of plant-based meat proteins, because for a long time they never quite lived up to the taste and texture of the real thing (and for this carnivore, tofu can only go so far). I was excited to see how these restaurants reimagined a nice, juicy burger, a fried chicken sandwich with a crunchy slaw, and a plate of tacos slathered in guacamole — all traditionally thought of as meaty entrees — without using a speck of animal protein. So I set out to try all three.
“A great comfort-food option for vegans and non-vegans alike.”
Burg of paradise
— named for partner Bill Fold’s dog — has had tongues wagging in the press since it first debuted at Coachella in 2018 (Fold is the director of the massive music festival, and co-owner Nic Adler is its culinary director). Soon after, the company opened the doors of the first brick-and-mortar location in Riverside; outposts in Koreatown and Echo Park soon followed. The Monty’s crew most recently opened a fourth location on West Hollywood’s dining-and-retail hub 3rd Street mid-pandemic last August — no small feat for any restaurant.
There’s been no shortage of public praise for Monty’s meat-free patties. In April of 2020, VegNews named Monty’s Good Burger the , and Insider recently named Monty’s one of , calling the burgers “a great comfort-food option for vegans and non-vegans alike.” Even of-the-moment celebs like Billie Eilish and Haily Bieber have sung Monty’s praises.
I pulled up to the 3rd Street location recently, and I could instantly see why people like to eat there. Even though diners aren’t currently allowed inside due to COVID-19 restrictions, the entire place is an instant mood boost, with turquoise walls, diner-esque black-and-white checkered flooring, and everything from tees to pins to stickers emblazoned with cheeky slogans and Monty the dog’s face.
Monty’s sells all the accoutrements you’d expect from a classic burger joint — shoestring fries, of course, but also crisp tater tots, dipping sauces ranging from Habanero to Onion Aioli, and dairy-free milkshakes in flavors like Coffee, Chocolate, and Salted Caramel. But of course, the star here is the burger, made with a thin, fast food-style Impossible 2.0 patty, melty Follow Your Heart cheese, house sauce, lettuce, tomato, and pickles on a squishy potato-style bun.
How does it stack up to its beefy counterpart? Texturally, and flavorwise, it satisfies the burger craving: The Impossible patties are cooked smashburger-style, so they get a good amount of char from the griddle. The vegan house sauce has a Thousand Island-esque quality to it, which results in a Big Mac-esque nostalgia, in a good way. What really impressed me, though, was the crispness and freshness of the lettuce, tomato, and very lightly pickled pickle that adorn this relatively simple burger. I’ve eaten many a cheeseburger in my day, and the vegetable toppings usually feel like an afterthought. At Monty’s, though, they’re a carefully considered part of the whole package.
TASTES LIKE CHICKEN
One of the few food items that could rival plant-based eating in terms of newfound popularity in Los Angeles is the fried chicken sandwich. In recent years, a number of new spots have sprung up that offer crispy chicken on a bun — from a Nashville-style hot chicken stalwart in Chinatown famous for its hours-long pre-COVID-era lines, to a Top Chef champ’s new Szechuan-style breaded bird that’s been drawing lines of its own in Virgil Village.
started as a food truck (previously called Rock’n Hot Chick-un), and chef Richard Chang and co-owner Jason Eisner opened the brick-and-mortar on Highland Park’s eclectic York Ave. last fall. Today, that same food truck is parked inside the cavernous exposed-brick space — and it’s where cooks turn out several styles of fried plant-based “chicken” sandwiches available in four levels of spiciness: mild (akin to Tabasco), medium (a tiny bit spicier), spicy (habanero-level), and super (watch out, this is serious stuff). The Korean-style sandwich, for instance, is topped with gochujang glaze, kimchi vinaigrette slaw, kimchi pickles, and chili garlic aioli, while the Bourbon BBQ number gets dressed with bourbon barbecue sauce, creamy slaw, bread & butter pickles, chili garlic aioli.
“Right now, plant-based eating doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”
Aside from ketchup, nearly everything at the restaurant is made in-house; “chicken” tenders, fries with an array of dipping sauces, and the popular Elote (Mexican-style street corn slathered with chili garlic aioli, cashew parmesan, and mild chili powder) round out the entirely plant-based menu.
When I visited recently, I decided to go the traditional route, and ordered the Nashville-style sandwich, which is topped with spiced buttery Nashville sauce, creamy slaw, bread and butter pickles, and chili garlic aioli. I’m not afraid of spice, so I ordered it Spicy — and after a few bites, I was glad I had the cool, crispy slaw to balance out the (not overwhelming!) heat. The texture of the Seitan-based patty had a similar mouthfeel to chicken, and the fried exterior was incredibly crispety-crunchety. I frequently crave a good fried chicken sandwich, and this definitely lived up to the hype.
Pro tip: Whether or not you order the fries, which are hot, crisp, and topped with a smattering of dried herbs, don’t sleep on the house-made dipping sauces. The dairy-free Ranch, made with aquafaba, is punchy, bright, and herbaceous, while the Bourbon BBQ is made with real bourbon whiskey for a hit of smoky flavor.
LET'S TACO 'BOUT IT
On bustling Fairfax, you’ll find streetwear fiends waiting in line for the latest drop from Supreme, one of the city’s most iconic delis, and a handful of burger, pizza, and hot chicken joints. Nestled among all of the above is , a cheery spot from owner Jared Meisner and chef-owner Jared Simons, where the focus is on California-style Mexican food made solely with plant-based ingredients (and zero dairy).
Simons has been eating meat-free for about six years now — a decision the chef initially made to increase his performance competing in IronMan races. But he enjoyed how much he felt after nixing the animal protein, so he’s kept it up. And now he’s hoping to give more diners that option, stacking the menu at Taco Vega with ingredients like roasted poblano chiles, tempura-fried cauliflower (for a Baja-style taco), and grilled yuba pastor. He’s also digging into his San Diego roots with menu items like the California Burrito (a regional specialty where the burrito is stuffed with French Fries) and bowls brimming with taco-spiced quinoa and vegetables.
One standout menu item since the spot opened earlier this year has been the Asada taco, which I tried on a recent visit. Sitting on the restaurant’s sunny back patio accented by a colorful graffiti wall on one side, I savored bites of oyster mushrooms that have been marinated in a combination of guajillo chile for heat and smoke, and a touch of orange juice for sweetness. Simons settled on the oyster variety after testing out several types of mushrooms; he wanted a shroom that would act as a sponge to soak up the marinade, and could lend itself to that meaty texture diners are used to when they eat a carne asada taco.
I was blown away by the layers of flavor in the taco: The mushrooms do, in fact, have a nice chew, and taste of the essence of smoke with a little sweetness and spice without any one flavor outshining the others. The taco was also dressed with a dollop of housemade guacamole, some finely chopped onions, and spicy red ranchero salsa, which all work together to add freshness against the warm spice of the mushrooms. I want to go back to try some of the other tacos Simons is slinging — and I don’t think I’ll miss the carnitas.
Right now, plant-based eating doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. As more options become available to consumers — both in the restaurant and home cooking worlds — one can assume that more people will be open to cutting out, or at least cutting down on, the meat from their everyday diets.
I, for one, feel lucky to live in a place like Los Angeles, where restaurants are thoughtful and creative about the ways they prepare food — which more often than not means they’ll have tasty plant-based options available. I don’t know that I’m ready to throw in the towel completely on eating meat, especially given my relationship, but I like knowing that I can always find a delicious plant-based creation to satisfy any craving — even for these comfort-food classics.
Please consult your physician before making any dietary changes.