If there’s one thing that Los Angeles doesn’t skimp on, it’s plant-based and vegan-friendly restaurants. What you probably didn’t know, is that many of these vegan and vegetarian establishments are also Asian-owned. If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or like me and seek out a vegan meal every now and then, this guide will help you navigate some of the most delicious options in and around Los Angeles. These 10 spots will open your mind to the possibilities of how delicious plant-based food can be and who knows, maybe you’ll turn full vegan on me if you’re not already. Baby steps for now.
With Warm Welcome is a community organization that amplifies and humanizes Asian American chefs, restaurateurs, and founders by producing podcasts, crafting meaningful experiences, and collaborating with artists. It’s become ever more apparent that we need to find ways to advocate for Asian-owned small businesses as they’ve been the hardest hit during the pandemic. In partnership with The Infatuation, we’re spotlighting some of our favorite Asian-owned businesses to support now and forever.
A 24-year-old business run by Vietnamese/Vietnamese-American mother-daughter duo, Mai and Linh Nguyen, Au Lac might also very well be the longest-running vegan restaurant in Los Angeles. It all started over a quarter of a century ago when, after overcoming a severe health problem that involved several invasive surgeries, Mai had an epiphany - animals fear death just like humans. Over the course of four months, she completely left her dairy/meat-heavy diet behind for veganism, recovered from her illness, and opened Au Lac Downtown thereafter. Au Lac became Mai’s passion and outlet for advocating animal rights. And after trying their salt and pepper shrimp, I was influenced to seek out more vegan food and restaurants myself. The texture and flavor of this appetizer is so similar to the real thing that my reflex was to leave the shrimp tails on the plate. I also love their aromatic beef pho and crispy calamari made from king oyster mushrooms. Whichever your diet may be, they will curate and pleasantly surprise you with Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.
Skyler Tanksley started bussing tables and running food at 14-years-old. Eventually, he started a plant-based burger and bowls pop-up called Naughty Vegan Panda in Santa Ana. The Cambodian/African-American chef and founder wanted to offer the type of food he grew up eating at home, and make plant-based food accessible to underserved communities. After finding some success, Tanksley and his friend Adrian Garcia (of Naughty Boy Sushi) created a permanent niche space for Naughty Vegan Panda in Pasadena. My favorite item to order is the nami nami roll, which is made with vegan shrimp tempura and tuna sashimi, cucumber, avocado, spicy mayo, and sesame seeds. The menu includes a variety of other plant-based dishes like Luffy’s char sui, sumo sushi burrito, orange chicken fries, and more.
Even though Skyler Tanksley co-owns both Naughty Vegan Panda and Munchies Diner, the only thing the two restaurants have in common is plant-based food. Munchies Diner is located in Santa Ana and was named after stoner food which, for him, looks like a fusion of American and Mexican cuisines. At Munchies, the menu consists of food Tanksley grew up eating with his friends, but with a twist, including dishes like the VcGriddle, chicken and waffles, Big Munch burgers, supreme nacho towers, specialty milkshakes, and VcFlurrys. A round of applause for the clever play on words. I’ve been spoiled with some of the best breakfast burritos in California and will still always opt for Sky’s giant breakfast burrito here, which is loaded with bacon, chorizo, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, cheese, salsa verde, and is available all day every day.
Vibha and Kunal Bhojak are the owners of Samosa House and its five locations across the Los Angeles area from El Segundo to Silver Lake. It’s a family-owned business that’s been operating for 15 years, offering vegetarian and vegan Indian fare. Bharat Bazaar West is where it all started, first as a vegetarian Indian grocery store selling samosas and previously owned by another couple, Ramesh and Phulan Chander. In 2006, the Bhojak family took over the business and rebranded it to Samosa House to pay tribute to Chander’s signature item - samosas. The cafeteria-style counter at the Samosa House East location offers a menu of traditional Indian curries like aloo, daal, jackfruit, a variety of pakora, samosas, naan, and more. I love trying a little bit of everything, so I always order the combination plate of saag, chana masala, and veggie chicken with naan, rice, and yogurt.
Anchored in the furthest northwest and southeast parts of Los Angeles is Vinh Loi Tofu, co-owned by Chef Khoi and Kevin Tran who are Vietnamese. The name Vinh Loi means “always prosperous.” They created Vinh Loi Tofu as a way to help people live a healthier lifestyle, and the menu consists of Southeast Asian staples like banh mi, spring rolls, and bun thit nong - and everything is vegan. It also includes tasty, playful creations like the sexy buns - baos stuffed with lemongrass, vegan duck, pickles, onion, and cilantro - which Crystal Pang of @veganeatsnyc and I can’t get enough of.
If you happen to be visiting the Long Beach Hangar inside Long Beach Exchange on a weekend and have to decide on one place to eat for lunch, Morning Nights would be an excellent choice. It’s a vegan dim sum and bar restaurant co-owned by Stephen Le, who also co-owns one of OC’s favorite gastropubs, The Kroft. The menu includes dim sum staples and classic Chinese-American dishes like sticky rice lotus leaf wrap, walnut shrimp, scallion pancake rolls, and dan dan noodles - all made vegan. As a big fan of dim sum, Morning Nights is right up my alley especially since it’s available during dinner hours too. Crystal and I love the xiao long bao, siu mai, and crispy oyster mushrooms. It would also be remiss of me not to order one of the incredible cocktails and bask in the sun on the patio. My personal favorite is the Hennessy margarita.
If stuffed french toast or chik’n and waffles sound like the ideal brunch meal, The Wild Chive in Downtown Long Beach will not disappoint. It’s a vegan soul food restaurant that first began as a vegan pop-up series known for signature brunch items like the monte cristo sandwich and buttery grilled BLTs. After much success, it evolved into a brick-and-mortar in the fall of 2019. Soozee Nguyen is the Vietnamese-American chef/owner, and she wanted to create a space that brings people together through good food that just happens to be vegan. Nguyen celebrates her roots with popular menu items like the breakfast banh mi or banh mi bowl, which our friend Crystal highly recommends ordering in addition to the shroom city burger. I’d order the warm flaky biscuits with sausage and country gravy, and bring a few friends to hang at the communal tables.
Shojin has two locations in my favorite parts of Los Angeles, Culver City, and Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles. Tsuguhiro Morishima is Japanese and the owner of the vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic restaurant that’s most well known for its inventive sushi rolls, tempura, spicy tuna on crispy rice, and stuffed shiitake mushrooms. Crystal orders their spicy baked scallop roll and Shojin dynamite roll, which I would have to counter with the Pirates of the Crunchy roll mainly because I’m a sucker for crispy crunchy tempura flakes. While we’re on the topic of tempura, I would also order the tempura banana and chocolate mousse cake to finish off the meal.
As an Asian-American, boba is naturally part of my diet. The problem for me is that most boba drinks are dairy-based. Mary and David Dao, the Vietnamese-American co-owners of Soy Good in Garden Grove, are looking to change that. Soy Good was originally called Soy HV to pay homage to Mary’s parent’s tofu shop, Hung Vuong, but has since rebranded. They wanted to introduce soy-based products and healthier options to the current generation. Widely popular for their boba drinks, they also serve fried green onion and mushroom tofu snacks and freshly made tofu by the brick. I like to order the soy pudding with a flan-like texture and drizzle ginger or thai tea syrup on top. Meanwhile, Crystal loves the jade bliss signature drink made with pandan mung bean soy milk, soy pudding, boba, and coconut sago.
On Beverly Boulevard in Fairfax, there’s a vegan and gluten-free Thai restaurant called Araya’s Place, owned by Cheri Kim. Kim’s family has always believed that in order to make food great, you need the right ingredients and herbs, but also good company. So, family dinners have always been a priority. This is something that has carried over to Araya’s Place, inviting customers to eat and experience life one moment and one meal at a time. The expansive menu includes traditional Thai cuisine but is made vegan from stir fry to curries and fried rice to noodles. I go back and forth with ordering the spring and fresh rolls depending on the day, but always stick with a noodle dish when it comes to Thai food, so the drunken mushroom is my selection almost every time.