If there’s anything Californians know a thing or two about, it’s how to look after themselves, whether it’s being mindful of their diet or living a well-balanced lifestyle, and when the local produce is this fresh and tasty it’s no wonder. The California vegan-scene is one of the hottest in the world and with "Veganuary" in full swing, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite restaurants serving the tastiest plant-based cuisine.
With five locations in the Los Angeles Area and beyond, Café Gratitude is the hangout for plant-based foodies. With hit dishes such as buffalo cauliflower and cashew cheese nachos, there’s no denying that this place really helped to put veganism on the L.A. foodie map. One of the joys of eating there is the ordering experience itself; you choose the dish you want and are encouraged to preface it with phrases like "I am" or "I feel," so with food names like Nourished, Bountiful, and Humble, there’s no end to the positive vibes here.
Oliver’s of Montecito
You don’t need to be a vegan to appreciate the fine dining offerings crafted by Chef Craig Riker at Oliver’s in Santa Barbara. In fact, once you take a bite, you’ll forget it’s all plant-based. From the artichoke "crab cakes" and chickpea niçoise salad, to the cauliflower bucatini and wild mushroom tostada, there’s a surprising richness to the meat-, egg- and dairy-free cuisine. The cocktail menu also uses juices sourced from the local Juice Ranch.
For vegans who live for fine dining, Millennium Restaurant in Oakland, the Bay Area’s coolest hangout, offers diners something a little special. There’ll be no chili cheese fries found here, and the only ketchup in the kitchen is that of the pear variety. This long-standing vegan paradise has had even the most devoted meat-eaters queuing up for the past 20 years. Those looking to up their dinner-party game can take advantage of the chefs’ masterclass in plating, with each dish being a stunningly photogenic creation.
California is known for being a little bit out there at times, but did you ever think things could get weirder than a cauliflower-steak at a death-metal-themed restaurant? Try a night at Kindred, nestled in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood, and you’ll understand what we mean! This local favorite is a draw for the wacky décor alone—think light pink wallpaper emblazoned with fighting plants and a large wolf head adorning the back wall, all the while heavy metal music blasts out of the speakers. The food is as loud as the surroundings; dishes pack a punch and options such as Memphis BBQ jackfruit sandwich and green garbanzo chilli prove worthy alternatives to meat entrées.
Few restaurants do vegan and vegetarian fare quite as stylishly as Lowell’s; a sleek, chic Italian café in Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Recipes are full of flavor and the dishes created so lovingly that meat is barely missed. Try the beautiful gemischter salat of hearty winter greens, shaved root vegetables, toasted pepitas and a roasted beet vinaigrette.
Birba in Palm Springs goes a long way to dispel the myth that vegan food means carb-free—this cool hangout serves pizzas to die for. Gluten free? No problem! Order your pizza with a cauliflower or a gluten free crust and let the tasty toppings do the rest. But don’t just stop with the pizza—the inventive craft cocktails are a must too, so take a seat at the garden patio bar and try the Birba Bramble or the Italian Greyhound.
The Nest Ojai
Ojai is fast becoming a firm favorite with Los Angelinos, who often return from a weekend in this hillside retreat raving about the abundance of quality chefs and restaurants. Fairly new to Ojai’s culinary scene is The Nest, created by Ojai native Kiona Wachter. After the previous incarnation closed in the 1980s, Wachter reopened the doors to offer classic comfort food that is both sustainable and locally grown. Her take on her old family recipes have been reinvented and given a new life, which adds to the homey atmosphere.