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.
3827 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92103