This week I welcome friend, fellow vegan, foodie and blogger Kelly Bone of The Veg Foodie to Cowgirls & Collard Greens! Kelly and I have met briefly a few times during my vegan travels to sunny Southern California. After learning of her great talents and incredible palate I knew that I wanted to feature her on my blog one day. And folks, that one day has officially arrived! What struck me about Kelly is that she’s got great style– from her restaurant choices to her amazing food photography. She seems to always be venturing to new and interesting eats in Southern California that are not your typical vegan restaurants. She’s been known to find eateries that offer just one vegan dish and once discovered, she goes after them! I’d love to travel with this lovely lady in search of some of the finest veg-friendly food in the state. Welcome Kelly and take it away!
Leaving the City Behind
As the fall of 2010 settled over Brooklyn, I stepped on a plane bound for Los Angeles. In the flurry of elation and bittersweet farewells the heaviest weight on on my heart was the loss of my favorite NYC restaurants. “There are no upscale vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles” I pouted to anyone who could muster sympathy for the girl about to escape another NYC winter.
Flying over America, I pined for Candle Cafe, Pure Food and Wine, Dirt Candy (and so on and so on and so on) and landed in pre-Crossroads, pre-Gracias Madres, pre-Mohawk Bend Los Angeles. Moping my way through LAX I was greeted by my parents and a boxed Veggie Grill Thai Chickin’ Salad . My mood instantly changed and within the month I figured out that Los Angeles is the land of stellar casual (and now high end) vegan dining.
Five years later, I loaded my car bound for a new job, an apartment with a swimming pool and a long distance boyfriend turned fiancé in San Diego. Although life rapidly overflowed with good fortune, that same nagging feeling numbed me. Leaving my friends and family was just as hard to abandoning the flourishing LA vegan restaurant scene. I was leaving behind a city shimmering with buffalo cauliflower, beet dyed noodles and artichoke oysters. But like I learned coming to LA, San Diego has its own vegan labyrinth begging to be explore—and in my one month (and counting) residence I’ve found solace in a lot of notable vegan options.
San Diego Primer
If San Diego is new to you then start with the basics: Pokez, Plumeria, Ranchos, Sipz, Moncai and Evolution. These are the spots that are—deserving—on most “Top Vegan Eats in San Diego” lists. But, if you’re looking to be charmed off the beaten path, here are the highlights I’ve found (so far) in my journey to love in San Diego:
Every morning you can spot Linda Dami and her dad toiling in the kitchen of Donut Panic frying or baking batches of the airy and crisp donuts. She is now making vegan donuts everyday (she use to only offer them on weekends) with glazes like Lemon Lavender, Maple and Coconut Bacon and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Donut Panic is my number one, best, favorite, ultimate donut anywhere. I love these better then Donut Friend, better then Ronalds [please note, due to an car accident inside the store, Donut Panic is currently closed for remodeling. Be sure to check the Facebook or Instagram for news of their reopening].
Tiger!Tiger! is home to my second favorite donut in San Diego, these made-to-order Coconut Glazed beauties pictured above. Available during Sunday brunch service only, Tiger!Tiger! also makes delectable breads in house which they offer on vegan options such as the Tofu Banh Mi and Neuben (a Seitan Reuben inspired by Chicago Diner).
There are a handful of popular vegan pizzas in San Diego… and so far I’ve not cared for any of them. The one pie that does get me going is the Marinara at Pizzeria Bruno. A tender Neapolitan crust topped with rich crushed tomatoes, slivers of garlic and aromatic leaves of basil. This is and the Market Salad (without Parmigiano) are pretty much the only vegan options on the menu—which are the best two options in town.
The Manakeesh Plus—a flatbread slathered with thyme, olive oil, sesame seeds, herbs, tomatoes, olives & mint—only sounds slim. At Mama’s Bakery this wrap is the size of a forearm. The flavors chase each other around the palate in a wonderful game where your taste buds are the winner.
The branches of Loving Huts reach around the world, but none are in LA so this establishment is relatively new to me. The pan Asian menu—littered with a few “Western” options—offers low prices and generous portions. My go-to is the Heavenly Salad, a mound of shredded cabbage, carrots, onion, bell pepper, tofu, soy meat, mint and peanuts in a sweet and sour dressing. For dessert, your not likely to find a better vegan cake then their Vegan Pandan Cake anywhere else in San Diego.
Stroll past the shelves of beer and bagged lentils and you’ll find the concealed dining room of Awash Market. A hairnetted woman frequently transverses the space with trays piled high with injera (a spongy fermented flatbread). The kitchen supplies this fresh flatbread to local restaurants and families plus acts as a full service Ethiopian restaurant. The $9.99 Veggie Combo is an ample portion for two people. Scoops of split lentils, split peas, shiro (a creamy powdered chickpea stew), collard greens and turmeric stewed cabbage, carrots and potatoes—all made with oil instead of traditional clarified butter—come atop injera with a crisp lemon-dressed salad. It’s some of the very best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had. Ever.
Notorious for its long waits and creative/ultra cheap sushi, Sushi Deli caters to all. The vegetarian menu is worth the wait, offering thrilling vegan options at ultra cheap prices (veggie rolls average around $4.99 for a generous portion). All three locations serve favorites like the Orange Crush (Sweet Potato Tempura, Inari, Avocado, Mango and Cucumber topped with Orange Slices and 7 Spice Powder) or the Vegetable Roll (Avocado, Zucchini, Lettuce, Gobo, Carrots and Seasonal Veggies topped wrapped in soy paper with Lemon Juice).
Sirena Gourmet Latin Seafood
I recently stumbled upon sous chef Pancho Castellón’s innovative vegan Instagram account and made a beeline to meet him in the most unexpected kitchen: Sirena Gourmet Latin Seafood in Little Italy. The chef meticulous maintains vegan integrity throughout the kitchen process: no butter sauces, housemade almond and cashew cheese, they even use a separate fryer for the vegetables which translates almost any item on the menu into a vegan masterpiece.
Extra Credit: Tijuana!
Perched at the base of a twirling glass and concrete tower, Misión 19 feels worlds away from the density of Tijuana. Chef Javier Plascencia’s kitchen happily accommodates vegans for the 6-course tasting menu with advanced notice. The lavish meal—which is much more than 6 course after amuse-bouches and a few visits from the bread waiter—clocks in at a sensible $55 per person.
While wandering through Pasaje Rodriguez in Tijuana I spotted this little stall called Happy Vegan serving grab and go burgers, burritos, pizza and tamales. Primarily a delivery service, animal rights activist Claudia Lomelí spends much of her time cooking and rescuing pets so hours can be spotty.For guaranteed service–along with a handful of other vegan vendors–head south of the border for the Love, Eco & Friends Vegan Festival.
About Kelly Bone:
After stints in the Bay Area, NYC and Los Angeles, Kelly now live in sunny San Diego. She is seriously obsessed with pizza and banh mi sandwiches and is constantly seeking the next great bite on her blog TheVegFoodie.com. She has written for publication such as Serious Eats, WhereLA, Pizza Today and Edible Orange County and has photography featured in The Los Angeles Times, Thrillist, KCET and LA Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram: @KellyBone or Twitter at @TheVegFoodie.