NORTH PARK. A friend of mine recently told me about Mama’s Bakery. I had never been, but when I heard they specialized in Lebanese food, I knew I would be visiting soon. Mama’s Bakery is quite simply mouth-watering. Home made flat bread, hummus, baba ganouj, and falafels feature prominently on the menu, making this a spot that should not be missed! So thank you Andrew for the great suggestion!
I arrived hungry. I decided to order the Fool Mudamas over Hummus. The Fool Mudamas, a fava and garbanzo bean stew, arrived layered on top of a deep layer of hummus. Another bonus? The sides of flatbread (I saw them making it in the kitchen!) and pickled vegetables.
Mama’s Bakery flatbread is special. It was soft and still steaming when it arrived. I began enthusiastically dunking pieces of it into the Fool Mudamas and hummus. So delicious. There’s something special about home made hummus. It has so much more flavor than anything that can be bought in the store.
While eating the Fool Mudamas, I intermittently took a few moments to have some pickled vegetables. I particularly liked adding the olives to my flatbread, hummus, and Fool Mudamas!
Next up, was the Fried Eggplant Wrap. A home made wrap encases fried eggplant, baba ghanouj, tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, and pickles. If only all places made home wraps. The best part about this wrap? Double eggplant! Fried eggplant plus baba ghanouj! Add in some parsley and pickles and you have a filling and tasty lunch or dinner!
Mama’s Bakery has a cozy indoor seating area. The walls are painted green and red with plenty of wall hangings and pictures for customers to examine. I especially liked that the roof allows some of the natural sunlight to shine through.
Mama’s Bakery also understands that San Diegans like to get their time outside. Patio tables with umbrellas are set up for those to enjoy their food.
If you think being vegan means giving up your favorite Philly Cheesesteak think again. Anthem Vegan will wow you with their take on traditionally meaty dishes. What else will wow you? The friendly service. The founder and main cook, Patrick Murray, welcomes new eaters, speaks passionately about his menu, and cooks with gusto.
My favorite menu item? The Quinoa Black Bean Tacos. Two soft tortillas hold basil garlic quinoa with carrots, onions, kale, black beans, and pico de gallo. Why two tortillas? Because these are serious tacos, and a single tortilla would likely crumble under their weight. After eating two, I usually can’t move.
Sometimes the best dishes are made from an eclectic group of ingredients. Anthem Vegan’s menu describes the Breakfast Sausage Hash as “a big pile of pretty much everything.” As the menu suggests, there is a lot going on in this dish. Potatoes, seasoned herb tofu, breakfast sausage, and onions combine together to create a tasty entrée. It’s the kind of food I’d be happy to eat any time of the day!
One of Anthem’s most popular entrees is the vegan Philly Cheesesteak. Karne, red and green bell peppers, onions, Daiya Cheese and Cheese Whiz lie invitingly on a roll. Anthem Vegan’s karne is good. So good, that I have seen non-vegans pause for a sample at the Ocean Beach Farmers Market and decide to eat dinner there based on their taste. My non-vegan friend who ordered this sandwich reported between mouthfulls that she would happily eat it again!
Another great option is the SoyCAL Burrito made from karne asada, soyrizo, rosemary garlic potatoes, guacamole, and chipotle aioli. This time the karne is chopped into smaller pieces and plays more of a supporting role. The flavors of this burrito, especially the smoky chipotle, set it apart from the masses.
Below is Anthem Vegan’s full menu. Its rumored that Anthem Vegan also sometimes features amazing specials.
Where Can You Find Anthem Vegan?
Monday: 1st and 3rd Monday @ Ritual Tavern from 6pm – 9pm
Tuesday: SD Humane Society from 11am – 2pm
Wednesday: OB Farmers Market
Friday and Saturday: 30th and Lincoln (Auto Zone parking lot) from 11pm – 2:30am.
UPDATE: AS OF 12/9/2013 CASA DE LUZ IS CLOSED. THEY WILL BE MISSED
NORTH PARK. Casa de Luz is a 100% vegan, 100% macrobiotic, 100% organic, and 100% gluten free restaurant in North Park. Further, Casa de Luz offers itself as an educational community center. This is what makes it special. Casa transcends the common boundaries of a restaurant to focus on events, classes, and bringing the community together.
What is Macrobiotic Food?
For most folks walking into Casa for the first time, the question immediately becomes: “What is macrobiotic food?” Turns out, however, that this is a challenging question to answer.
The word “macrobiotic” derives from Greek and means “long life.” But the diet originated in Japan, then spread across borders of nationality and culture. Today, many advocates of the macrobiotic diet embrace both principles of East Asian philosophy and the objectives of the western vegan diet. And for many, it is a lifestyle choice.
Whether a diet or a lifestyle, macrobiotics promotes eating local, seasonal foods that are “balanced.” Specifically, this targeted balance is a function of (1) each food’s inherent acidity versus alkalinity, and (2) the dueling energies of yin and yang. First, because most people in modern society consume highly acidic foods – which yield a lower pH level in the blood – macrobiotics recommends more alkaline food and drink. The list of highly acidic foods is long and surprising. For example, both milk and sugar are highly acidic. If you want to see where other foods land on the spectrum of alkalinity and acidity, here is a good website:
Second, and much more mystifying to me, is the pursuit of a balance between the energies of yin (the expanding, outward force) and yang (the contracting inward force). The good news: the body seems to crave a balance between the two. The bad news: it often craves the extremes, paired together. Wine (yin) and cheese (yang). Beer (yin) and burgers (yang). Unfortunately, each of these foods is highly acidic and – huge surprise – not so good for you. As a result, macrobiotics relies on foods that are inherently balanced – even on their own – such as certain grains and most of the plant kingdom. Here is a more robust listing:
Bottom line, with macrobiotics, it feels like you need at least a Masters degree just to put together a single meal. But this is where Casa de Luz comes in! Casa has the experts who do all the thinking, all the planning, and all the cooking for us simple folk. All we have to do is show up!
Meals at Casa de Luz:
The menu at Casa de Luz changes daily. If you don’t like surprises, simply check Casa’s website for the daily menu! You can also consult the schedule outlining which cuisines (Asian, Italian, etc.) are served on certain days. Except for Friday and Saturday, because those days are Chef’s Choice!
Lunch: 11:00am – 5:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm – 9:00pm
For both Lunch and Dinner, Casa offers two options: (1) Plate or (2) Seasonal Bowl.
The Plate consistently offers the same building blocks for a true macrobiotic meal: leafy green + grain + bean + veggie + pickle. The Plate also comes with soup, salad, AND tea. In fact, you pick up your soup and salad immediately after ordering and paying at the front desk. Then, later, a Casa staff member will bring the main Plate to your table.
On my most recent visit, the soup was Wild Rice and Veggie. The veggies, celery, zucchini, onions, and carrots, were perfectly tender (but not overly soft). The flavor, sublime and wonderful, is an excellent example of how macrobiotic food stands apart. It is not salty, not spicy, and not infused with other flavors seeking to dominate the taste buds. This soup relies on the quality of its vegetables. And this soup disappears quickly.
Next up was the salad: mixed greens, carrots, and cabbage with a nutty fig balsamic dressing. Casa’s salads never disappoint. The greens and veggies are always fresh, and the salad dressings are unique and home made. The nutty, fig, balsamic dressing was a special treat.
The Plate showcased how simple, sturdy blocks can build something wonderful. The leafy green was kale with a walnut-dill sauce. The grain was a blend of coconut quinoa and brown rice. The bean of the night was the reliable black bean, and the vegetable was lemon-herbed broccoli. Finally, the pickle was not a single stick of cucumber but, rather, a fun medley of unexpected veggies.
The delight is in the details. The walnut-dill sauce brings the kale alive, and the grains are cooked to the point of perfection – not beyond. Also, pickled vegetables inject the plate with acute flavor that somehow ends up on the alkaline end of the spectrum. It is a weird science, but delicious.
2. Seasonal Bowls:
Your second option when ordering lunch or dinner is one of two Seasonal Bowls. These bowls are a recent (and welcome!) addition to Casa’s menu. They are great for those times when you are not hungry enough to eat a soup, salad, AND entree plate (or when you don’t have a lot of time to eat).
The two Seasonal Bowls available right now are the: (i) Tempeh Chili with Tofu Crema and Cornbread and (ii) Grilled Pineapple Curry with Brown Rice. I recently tried the Tempeh Chili. Wow. The chili was warm with a hint of spice. The tofu crema was creamy (move over, sour cream) and the cornbread was soft, moist, and full of actual kernels of corn. Always real food. Always amazing.
Casa de Luz has recently stopped serving breakfast on the weekdays. However, rumor on the street is that Casa will begin a weekend Champagne/Kombucha brunch in November. This is one brunch I don’t want to miss. Stay tuned for a follow up post!
If you have room for dessert after your meal, take a look at Casa’s display case to the left of the cashier. Cookies, puddings, maple bars, cheesecake, and more! How are they vegan? Casa magic.
Most recently, I tried the Mexican Chocolate Mousse. To say it exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement. This was the richest, most intensely chocolate mousse I have tasted. Ever. The type of rich where you close your eyes each time you take a bite.
Smoothies and Juices:
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the special smoothies and juices offered at Casa de Luz. Casa offers four smoothies or you can create your own juice! Because the ingredients are of the highest quality, each smoothie and juice is a standout.
I enjoy the Leafy Green Smoothie. Made from kale, green, apple, cucumber, Vitamineral Green, almond yogurt, almond milk and dates, it is smooth and creamy. You would never know by its taste that it’s full of veggies!
Even Casa’s water is special, as it is somehow filtered and transformed to an alkaline friendly pH level of 9.5. Drink it straight up, or infused with cucumber.
Tea and Coffee:
I have mentioned that the lunch and dinner plates come with complimentary tea. Customers are able to fill (and re-fill!) their glasses with Kukicha Tea.
Before Casa de Luz, I had never heard of Kukicha Tea. It is made from the twigs of the same plant that produces green tea. Because they come from the same plant, Kukicha Tea shares the same antioxidant properties as green tea. It has a smoky flavor and has 90% less caffeine than coffee (green tea has 60% less caffeine than coffee).
If Kukicha tea doesn’t sound appealing, Casa also has a variety of herbal, green, and black teas available by the pot.
I don’t drink coffee but if I did, Casa de Luz would be my first stop. I often see individuals sitting with a blissful look on their faces as they wrap their hands around their Guatemalan French Press Coffee. And don’t worry, Casa has non-dairy creamers and sweeteners if you don’t like your coffee black!
Casa’s space is the product of the owner’s passion for community. The main floor has beautiful dark wood tables of all shapes and sizes, including large community style seating. The outdoor patio offers a sunny spot for those with dogs. And the upstairs features an educational utopia, complete with extensive seating, state-of-the-art kitchen, and vast counter space for demonstrations. Casa is ground zero for food and cooking enthusiasts.
I could never list all of the events Casa offers, but I will take the time to highlight a few!
Test Kitchen Tuesdays:
Test Kitchen Tuesdays is a series of vegan cooking classes, taught by Liz Gary, that are held every Tuesday morning from 9:30am – 11:30am. The class is a donation based, hands on cooking class – attendees break up into groups to make the recipes in Casa’s amazing upstairs educational space. I attend almost every week. Our creations range from vegan doughnuts to quiche!
Casa de Luna:
Casa de Luz holds its donation based “Casa de Luna” celebration on the first Saturday night of every month beginning at 9:30pm. The event features activities like partner yoga, meditation, and an art show. And no event would be complete without delicious food and drink: Casa offers organic wine and sake, juice, tea, and desserts to attendees!
On many Wednesdays at 6:30pm (check the Casa calendar for an detailed list!), Casa de Luz is home to the Kale University Meetup group. Kale University advocates a whole-food plant-based diet and is open to individuals who are interested in taking health into their own hands. Kale University uses Wednesday evenings to bring in speakers and to provide classes for its members. To learn more check out Kale University’s Meetup page at:
NORTH PARK AND OCEAN BEACH. Long-time San Diego vegans know Ranchos. Both locations feature a multitude of vegan options, including vegan pancakes, burritos, tortas, soups, salads, enchiladas, tacos, and desserts. YUM!!
First, no Mexican restaurant would be complete without chips and salsa. Here, we have a hand-crafted, mild salsa that disappears almost immediately.
Second, I love that Ranchos serves breakfast all day, because sometimes dinner is the perfect time for breakfast. On my most recent visit, I ordered the Vegan Breakfast Burrito, a mix of tofu scramble, house made tempeh sausage, potatoes, and beans and wrapped in a tortilla. The tempeh sausage is spicy, which compliments the light scramble and hearty potatoes and beans. This is a well-rounded burrito, a personal favorite, and something that I would recommend to vegans and non-vegans alike.
Next up was the Grilled Tofu and Black Bean Torta. Recently, I learned that a torta is really just a sandwich! And this particular torta comes stacked with hearty tofu slices, black beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and onions. The tangy guacamole is excellent. Another great dish.
If you are craving a burrito, but aren’t in the mood for breakfast, the Chipotle Seitan Burrito is a great option. You might be thinking, “What the heck is seitan?” Seitan is made from wheat. It has a firm texture, making it a popular meat substitute. If you want to know more about seitan, click on the link below!
Back to the burrito in question. The chipotle seitan in the burrito gives the burrito a smoky flavor. The guacamole helps to temper the spice of the seitan, resulting in a tempting burrito. I planned to eat only half, so imagine my surprise when when I looked down and saw a clean plate!
Even though I don’t drink dairy, I still enjoy creamy beverages. So I was excited when I saw that Ranchos had a vegan Horchata drink made from soymilk, cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla. This drink can definitely pass as a dessert. It tastes like a sumptuous, vanilla, cinnamon milkshake.
Things to know about Ranchos. Although there is some overlap, Ranchos North Park and Ranchos Ocean beach have DIFFERENT menus. My blog post is based my most recent trip to the North Park location. However, both locations offer numerous vegan options!
Ranchos Ocean Beach is also known for their salad bar. Aside from having the usual fresh produce and veggies, the salad bar also boasts a wide variety of raw, vegan options and salad dressings. (For an explanation on raw food, see my post on Go Raw L.I.F.E. Center: www.thefussyfork.com/go-raw-life-center)
Both locations have a relaxed and inviting interior with wooden tables and chairs. But, again, the following photo depicts the North Park location. Both also have a few tables outside for outdoor dining. This option is particularly popular with dog owners!
NORTH PARK. Participating in Meatless Monday just got easier. Moncai Vegan has partnered up with Mike Hess Brewing to serve delicious vegan dinner and dessert starting every Monday at 4pm.
Each week, partners Don Jackson and Princesa Vitela create and serve a new vegan meal. On Monday, I showed up hungry. So obviously I decided to try one of everything!
First up was the Cauliflower and Potato Soup with fall greens, served with a side of bread. The soup was strikingly flavorful, and the potatoes, cauliflower, and kale were tender, but not mushy. (Expertly done.) The bread – topped with a garlic and kalamata olive spread – was a special treat and perfect for dunking in the soup!
Next, we tried the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Creamy Kale Sauce which came with Caesar Salad, and a side of bread. I love that Moncai served an entrée that is normally full of meat, cheese, and dairy, because the easy comparison showcases how vegan food can just as easily be comfort food. Sandwiched between layers of firm noodles, the zucchini and broccoli burst with flavor. The creamy sauce was decadent. And all stray pieces of lasagna were quickly mopped up by my bread!
The vegan caesar salad was fresh, crisp, and delicious – the perfect complement to the warm, filling lasagna.
There were two doughnut options: (1) chocolate topped with vegan marshmallows and (2) vanilla topped with pistachios. And the chefs told me that they had mixed Hess beer into the doughnut batter. Wow! It was a tough choice with no wrong answer. Ultimately, however, my sweet tooth decided the issue and I walked away with the chocolate version. A masterpiece. It was dense, rich, and deeply satisfying. And how in the world did they make these vegan marshmallows?
Monvai Vegan does not have a storefront. Yet. They are currently fundraising to open a bakery in North Park and hope to have it open in the next 4-5 months. They are using IndiGoGo as one of their fundraising tools:
NORTH PARK, DOWNTOWN/LITTLE ITALY, and MISSION BEACH. Every table occupied? On a Wednesday afternoon? After my visit to the Mission, I understand why.
We started with the Vegetarian Roll-Up – pan friend noodles, sprouts, julienne vegetables, and cilantro are wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and served with Thai peanut sauce. The pan fried noodles are the standout ingredient – crunchy, light, and an excellent contrast to the softer veggies in the wrap. And the creamy peanut sauce, with just the right amount of salt, was artistically drizzled on the rim of the plate, complete with a light dusting of sesame and poppy seeds. Throw in the side salad and you have a well-rounded meal!
Next, the Ginger Sesame Tofu with Brown Rice. This dish includes brown rice with zucchini, gold bar squash, bean sprouts, broccoli, and braised ginger sesame tofu with peanut sauce.
I know some people have lukewarm feelings about tofu. The most common complaints I hear are: (1) the texture is too soft and (2) it is tasteless. These complaints are often justified, but you need not worry at the Mission. Each piece of tofu is firm and infused with a penetrating ginger, sesame sauce. In fact, in my humble opinion, it even edges out the hand crafted treasure of Dao Fu. Regardless, the competition for the best tofu in San Diego is strong.
If you want some more information about the different types of tofu, how it is made, and how to cook it, check out:
The vegetables and rice in this dish are also prepared with care. They are soft, but not soggy. When mixed with the peanut sauce (also artistically displayed on the rim of the plate!) and the tofu, magic happens. Bottom line, the Ginger Sesame Tofu entrée is a new favorite.
The interior of the Mission has inviting dark wooden tables and warm reddish, earth toned walls. The servers were extremely attentive – my water glass was never empty – and my waitress patiently answered my inquiries regarding vegan food.
Also, the Mission is committed to supporting the community. Local artwork adorns the wall of the Mission, with 100% (!) of the proceeds going directly to the artist. Further, the restaurant donates to a variety of charities and participates in a number of annual fundraising events.
I am going to do my best to return to the Mission soon!
NORTH PARK. I have fond memories of foods like pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. I associate them with the 4th of July, helping my dad grill, and outdoor summer parties. Luckily for me, Veg-N-Out’s menu provides a huge selection of vegan items that satisfy my nostalgia.
Veg-N-Out has a 100% vegetarian menu and many items are vegan or can be made vegan. The menu is huge—it is not unusual for customers to take at least ten minutes to read through the descriptions of the appetizers, burgers, hotdogs, desserts, smoothies, and juices available. A green “V” indicates that a menu item is vegan or can be made vegan.
On my most recent trip to Veg-N-Out, I was fresh off a run and ready to eat. I scanned the menu for a vegan starter and found Vinny Bread—a pizza bread that could be veganized! I had my doubts, because vegan cheese can be tricky, but I should not have been worried. The final product of wheat bread covered in homemade marinara sauce, vegan Mozzarella, garlic, and basil surpassed my expectations. The bread was soft and chewy, the marinara sauce was fresh and tangy, and the cheese was warm. The garlic and basil gave the appetizer a delicious and fresh final taste. A great start to the meal.
Veg-N-Out is best known for its burgers. Each veggie burger is served on a wheat bun with a side of potato wedges, a homemade daily side salad, or a green salad. Customers pick their own patty from the following choices: (1) homemade veggie burger, (2) soy patty, or (3) Boca burger. Each patty is vegan. The homemade burger (my favorite!) is made from veggies, brown rice, rice flour, quinoa, and spices.
My wingman and I decided to split two burgers. First up was the North Parker, a patty topped with “Swiss” cheese (we asked for the vegan cheese), onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and vegenaise (mayonnaise is not served at Veg-N-Out!). The caramelized onions bring this burger to life. They add a deep flavor that complements the Swiss cheese, making a thick and satisfying final product.
Our second burger was the Ultimate Vegan Burger: a patty topped with vegan Cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses, sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and vegenaise. The mix of vegan cheeses provided a layer of rich, creamy flavor, which paired nicely with the crunch of sprouts, onions, and pickles. I have a strong suspicion that I will be ordering this burger again. Perhaps a new obsession. (Luckily, North Park is out of my way.) Also, the light and sweet cucumber and mango salad was a great side dish.
Although I was full at this point, I dug down deep and ordered one of Veg-N-Out’s Super Food Smoothies. The Mystic Mayan is a blend of banana, dates, maca, cinnamon, raw cacao, chia seed, and rice milk. Maca, raw cacao, and chia seeds are all considered “super foods.” There is no exact definition for a “super food,” but the general idea is that they are nutrient dense and provide health benefits.
Maca root is part of the cruciferous family (broccoli and radishes are also members). In commercial form, it is usually ground into a very soft powder. (Think of the old can of Nesquik powder from your childhood.) It has an earthy, nutty taste and goes great with oatmeal and nut milk smoothies. Maca is native to the Andes Mountains and was used by the Incas for energy and . . . um . . . well, it is known as nature’s Viagra.
As a chocolate lover, I know that my chocolate cake and hot chocolate would not be possible without the cocoa bean. I became confused, however, when I realized cacao existed—the color and the smell (not to mention the spelling!) of the two items were so similar. So I did some research. The final answer was simple: a cocoa bean is roasted while a cacao bean is NOT roasted.
Raw cacao tastes like very, very dark chocolate. It has high levels of antioxidants and may help to improve heart function and to alleviate stress.
Chia seeds are full of nutrients like fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, manganese and protein. Chia seeds can also help stabilize blood sugar and are being studied as a possible treatment for diabetes.
So back to the smoothie. The bananas and rice milk provide a smooth base.. The dates dial up the sweetness, and the cinnamon and maca powder add spice and flavor. The cacao nibs add bursts of chocolate goodness. And the black chia seeds are along for the ride – no flavor, but add nutrients and an aesthetic appeal. Overall, the smoothie was satisfying and guilt free!
The inside of Veg-N-Out is casual with a beach and surf theme. Bamboo and light toned wood surround the register. Artwork of waves and other beach scenes adorn the walls. There is also an outdoor patio space available for those who want to soak up some sun or eat with their pet!
HILLCREST. On Wednesday, I ate at the Local Habit for the first time. On Thursday, I ate at the Local Habit for the second time. This could be my new addiction. In a good way.
The menu is clear and instructive, using colorful symbols to highlight which items are vegan (or can be made vegan). This, I appreciate. There is no need to annoy the server with a recitation of every ingredient or an interrogation into whether a dish is vegan. Everybody wins.
I am ALWAYS on the look out for delicious vegan pizza. Vegan pizza can be hit or miss. The lackluster versions usually include a lot of bread, tomato sauce, and some sad looking veggies. A great vegan pizza, however, will rival even the best of the traditional mozzarella vanguard. Local Habit falls into the “great” vegan pizza category.
I first sampled the Green Pizza, which layers pesto, pickled zucchini, bell pepper, kale, onion, micro greens, and chive on top of the crust. The sublime pesto, sweet bell pepper, and tart pickled zucchini play in harmony. And the oven baked kale is crisp, salty, and crunchy. The chive and micro greens are fresh – they are sourced from local organic farms! – and, more importantly, they ease the guilt of inhaling an entire pizza.
Local Habit offers three thin crust options: (1) traditional, (2) whole wheat, and (3) gluten free. On this particular day – my maiden voyage – I ordered the traditional crust. It was soft and delicious.
Twenty-four hours later, I was back. Same table. First, I selected the Mountain Meadow pizza with crimini mushrooms and fresh herbs. Even though this pizza is traditionally served with jack cheese, you can sub in a spicy almond ricotta cheese (or leave the cheese off all together). I tried the almond ricotta. And loved it. The “cheese” is thick and has a fun kick, slightly subdued by the light, sweet tomato sauce. The mushrooms are cooked and seasoned to perfection.
And I walked into the world of the satisfying gluten free crust – bean flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and salt. The crust has a personality that evolves throughout the slice. For the first couple bites – where the ingredients and sauce are most prominent – the crust is gentle and plays a supporting role. For the last couple bites, the crust becomes the centerpiece, crispy and satisfying like a fine pita chip. This is the best vegan, gluten free pizza crust that I have ever tried.
At some point during my pizza indulgence, I ordered the eggplant sandwich, vegan style, which means (1) grilling the eggplant (instead of frying it in buttermilk) and (2) using house made mustard and hot sauce as condiments (instead of tartar sauce). The eggplant went well with the mustard, and the bread was thick and soft. I also tried the side salad of crisp, fresh lettuce served with onion and citrus vinaigrette.
In the past year, I’ve become obsessed with Brussels sprouts. Local Habit puts their own twist on the vegetable by not only roasting the sprouts so they are crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside, but also by adding a tangy mustard dressing. I could have eaten these Brussels sprouts for lunch – and nothing else – and been perfectly happy.
I couldn’t leave without trying the vegan dessert, a chocolate almond pudding with whipped coconut cream. The pudding layer was smooth and creamy. On top, whipped cream was light delivered the blissful taste of . . . not surprisingly . . . coconut. A good end to the meal, but the spotlight belongs to the pizza.
The inside of the Local Habit is warm and inviting. The tables and chairs are all dark wood, and the walls are painted in a variety of earth tones. And these walls display large photographs of farms and local produce, representative of the core mission of the restaurant. I will be back. Often.
NORTH PARK. Ritual Tavern sits quietly on 30th Street in North Park with an unassuming wooden structure and a beautifully crafted sign. There is no large awning with its name or neon sign announcing it’s open. A person could pass by without noticing. But that would be a mistake. Ritual Tavern is my “go to” restaurant when I am taking a group out to dinner. When my family last visited, Ritual Tavern provided chicken, steak, fish, and vegan dishes, with compliments all around.
The two vegan appetizers are onion rings and a scalloped beet salad. The beet salad offers roasted beets, grilled endive, arugula, and grapefruit. The beets provide the fresh, sweet centerpiece of this salad. In contrast, the arugula, grapefruit, and endive inject citrus and slightly bitter flavors. A light and fun way to kick off dinner.
Sometimes, I admit, I miss the traditional meals like turkey at Thanksgiving. Especially with family gathered around hot, steaming food on a cold day. Food that warms the belly, warms the room, and makes a nap the top priority of the afternoon. For me, Shepherd’s Pie fits this category. And so I am grateful that Ritual Tavern has crafted a most satisfying vegan version. This is a hearty dish that will warm you from the inside out. The vegetables in the bottom layer are soft and flavorful, and the toasted mashed potato topping is light, yet filling. And the vegetables in the dish change with the seasons, strongly suggesting that Ritual Tavern actively seeks the freshest ingredients.
My fiancé picked the other vegan entrée: the lentil burger. The patty is made from lentils, brown rice, oats, carrots, and shallots. It is substantial and does not fall apart after one bite (a pet peeve of mine with veggie burgers!). Ritual Tavern then tops the patty with greens and a spread of tomato and red bell pepper, served on foccacia bread.
On the side, the house cut fries are especially crispy and alluring – I routinely steal them off nearby plates. The pickles, too. And be sure to try the house made condiments—ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce—for additional flavor!
For me, the only thing missing from Ritual Tavern’s menu is a vegan dessert. On my last visit, however, we learned that the chef is focused on the issue and hopes to add a vegan dessert to the menu. I wish him swift inspiration!
Ritual Tavern boasts a variety of seating areas. There are front and back patios, both equipped with space heaters and dog friendly! The inside seating area feels like an upscale English pub. Beautiful dark wood floors, chairs and tables are set in soft lighting that provides a relaxing, warm atmosphere for diners.
CLAIREMONT AND NORTH PARK. I miss sushi. After I became vegan, I came down with a big case of sushi envy. While sitting at sushi restaurants, I picked at bland avocado or cucumber rolls while my friends gushed about their rainbow and spider rolls. But then I stumbled upon Sipz. Vegan rolls crafted with creativity and injected with flavor. A game changer.
Sipz is not limited to vegan sushi, however. It originally debuted as a coffee/boba tea shop in 2002. Since then, the menu has expanded into a “fusion” of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese dishes, the majority of which are vegan.
This is the joy of Sipz. Options. From stir fries and curries to soups and sushi, it would take months to eat through all the vegan plates. Or list them in a blog. However, I will highlight some of my favorites . . .
I recommend trying the Seaweed Salad appetizer. It is a curious mix of salty and sweet. And don’t we get bonus points for eating the sea vegetables, packed full of peculiar minerals and vitamins? I say yes!
My favorite vegan sushi roll at Sipz – or in the world – is the Dynamite Roll. Traditionally, a Dynamite Roll is made with fried prawns and vegetables, topped with a spicy mayonnaise dressing, then heated. The Sipz version rolls avocado, cucumber, tofu, and “crab,” which are then baked and drizzled with a spicy house sauce. It takes about 10 minutes to bake, but it is well worth the wait. (After all, you are busy savoring your seaweed salad.) If you can deliver an entire piece into your mouth – with toppings intact – you have surpassed my Sipz skills.
My other “go to” roll at Sipz is the Caterpillar Roll. Traditionally, the interior of a Caterpillar Roll contains eel and vegetables, and avocado tops the exterior. From the outside, the Sipz version is identical, featuring vibrant, green avocado and a teriyaki sauce that punctuates the “head” of the caterpillar with a pair of eyes. Inside, however, you will find shitake mushrooms (playing the role of eel), yam (best supporting actor), and cucumber.
Let’s not forget desserts. I cannot pick a favorite. The cupcakes, cookies, and brownies are all amazing. On my most recent trip, I branched out and tried the Stuffed Coconut. Imagine a whole young coconut stuffed with sweet rice, mung beans, and warm coconut cream, then topped with salty, crushed, peanuts. Whatever you are picturing in your mind, the real thing is better. I nearly balked at mung beans being an ingredient in a dessert but went forward based on my faith in coconuts and the fine folks as Sipz. Both delivered. The dessert is sweet – but not too sweet – and now ranks as one of my favorites.
Sipz has two locations: one in North Park and one in Clairemont. Please note that the vegan sushi is only available at specific times. The Clairemont location offers vegan sushi from 5pm to close every day. The North Park location also offers vegan sushi from 5pm to close Sunday through Thursday, but serves rolls ALL DAY on Friday and Saturday.