food

veggie grill summer menu review

Yesterday I was sitting at the nail salon and ended up chatting with the woman next to me.  She brought up the recent earthquakes in California, how living in Los Angeles has changed compared to 10 years ago, and how people need to connect more and be kinder to each other.

“And stop eating animals,” she said.

Not knowing anything about me, she mentioned that she doesn’t consider herself fully vegan, but she’s almost there.

Here’s another thing that’s changed in the last 10 years: my go-to response in conversations like this always used to be, “have you been to Veggie Grill?”  It was the perfect place to send someone who wanted to try more vegan options at a reasonable price, right in the neighborhood.

But lately the menus have been iffy, the quality is unpredictable, and the prices keep going up.

These days, I’m more inclined to ask – have you tried the new Beyond Burger at Carls Jr.?

Veggie Grill’s new summer menu for 2019 was surprising.  Some items that I expected to be just okay ended up being my favorites, and a couple that I thought would be the best were actually disappointing.  Keep reading for my full review.

Note:  All items for this review were purchased at Veggie Grill in Torrance, California.

pattymelt

beyond patty melt

“grilled rye, beyond burger, grilled onions, melted cheese”

I usually like burgers piled high with veggies, so I’m rarely in the mood for a patty melt, but this day I was.  The bread was pretty dry, and it wasn’t buttered and grilled like you’d expect.  Were they trying to make it seem healthier?  Patty melts typically have Swiss cheese, but I believe they used cheddar.  It wasn’t a bad sandwich, but a little more attention to greasy-spoon detail could have made it much better.

Would I get it again?:  Probably not.  I’d go for the Luxe Burger or Steakhouse Burger instead.

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carne asada burrito

“carne asada, grilled peppers and onions, mashed avocado, crema, pico de gallo, salsa quemada | optional: tortilla chips | get it on fire: add jalapenos, sriracha”

Flavor-wise, this was delicious.  The taste and texture of the carne asada were great.  But it reminded me of why I don’t usually order Veggie Grill burritos – they’re watery as heck!  Nobody wants a drippy burrito.  I think this could be improved by replacing some of the veggies (or even some of the meat) with a layer of rice and beans.  The best part was the crema; it reminded me of a veggie burrito I used to get all the time in my pre-vegan days, and without that creaminess all other veggie burritos have paled in comparison.

Also, my burrito had a whole stalk of green onion in it, roots to tip:

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Would I get it again?:  I wouldn’t not get it, but I still haven’t had many of their tacos, so I’d probably try those first.  I also like their taco salad.  I have no loyalty to this burrito.

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tonkatsu chickin’ ramen

“choice of chickin’ katsu cutlet or fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, edamame, ginger, mushroom broth, ramen noodles, furikake”

I’ve made more exciting ramen with a tea kettle in a paper cup.  Next.

(Note:  I’m not a picky eater at all, and the only other times I’ve been less impressed with a meal than I was with this ramen, I ended up getting a cold the next day and realizing the problem was with my taste buds, not the food.  I waited a few days before writing this review just to be sure, and I’m still fit as a fiddle!)

Would I get it again?:  No.

salad
summer celebration salad

“bbq grilled chickin’ or tofu, quinoa tabbouleh, avo-kale hummus, fire-roasted corn+tomato salad over arugula + romaine, citrus vinaigrette | optional flatbread”

They had a similar salad last year – it’s so weird, and I love it!  It’s like taking all the leftovers from a summer BBQ and dumping them on a bed of greens.  This is one of my favorite salads from Veggie Grill.

Would I get it again?:  Yes!

streetcorn

chargrilled street corn bowl

“grilled sweet corn, chipotle mayo, parmesan, cilantro, fresh lime | get it spicy: add chile seasoning”

This is probably not something I would have ordered had it not been for this blog post, but it was one of my favorite items on the menu.  I thought it was a little too heavy on the mayo, but I won’t hold that against them.

Would I get it again?:  Yes.

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smoky corn bisque

“smoky corn bisque”

They couldn’t write a better description for the smoky corn bisque than “smoky corn bisque?”  Anyway, this was another unexpected favorite that I wouldn’t have ordered on my own.  It’s full of roasted corn and veggies!

Would I get it again?:  Yes, probably as half of a pick-a-pair.

peachcake

grilled peaches-n-cream cake

“baked fresh daily”

Those peaches are grey, y’all.  #nofilter

The first time I tried this was in a peak adulting moment where I went to Veggie Grill for dinner, remembered I didn’t have any breakfast food at home, so instead of stopping by the store I just got one of these little cakes to-go.  For breakfast.  You know.  The next morning I had it with coffee, and.. it wasn’t good.  I thought it might be my fault for refrigerating it overnight, so I got another one to eat fresh and write this review (pictured).  And.. it still wasn’t good.  It was a little better once I took the peaches off.  But still, yikes.

Would I get it again?:  No.  God no.

sangria

“prepared fresh daily”

This is the only item I didn’t sample, as I’m not drinking alcohol at the moment.  Have you tried it?

Would I get it again?:  n/a


Let me know what you thought of the summer menu!  What are your favorite things to order at Veggie Grill?  To view the whole menu, click here.

disneyland · food

my favorite vegan disneyland meals [under $15!]

This year I became a Disneyland Annual Passholder for the first time, and have spent the past three months eating my way through the parks!  There is a bit of a learning curve to eating vegan at Disneyland, but once you’ve got it down it’s pretty easy – and also kind of amazing.  Before you dive into my guide, here are a few things you should know:

  • Some Disney restaurants require reservations on busy days, but for the sake of convenience and spontaneity I’ve only included quick service options in this post – no reservations required!
  • All prices listed are before AP discount and before tax.
  • Please note the MODIFICATIONS bullet point below each item before you order.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk to the cast member who takes your order and let them know you’re vegan.  Sometimes I’ll give them my modifications and ask, “that makes it vegan, right?”  In my experience the cashier usually knows what that means, but if they don’t there’s someone nearby to confirm.

Please let me know if you have comments or questions, and have a great time in the parks!

 1. frontierland – rancho del zocalo | veggie tostada salad – $12.49*

  • Modifications:  This isn’t officially on the menu, so just ask for a veggie tostada with no cheese or sour cream.  You can also add rice, which is vegan.

This was the first vegan meal I had at Disneyland, and it’s still one of my favorites.  It’s hearty, flavorful, and loaded with veggies.  I think the only downside to having so many vegan options elsewhere is that I don’t get to come to Rancho more often!  *The price given is for the meat-based option; believe it or not, your veggie will actually be cheaper.

2.  paradise garden park [DCA] – paradise garden grill | seasonal vegan item

  • Modifications:  This will vary by item, but the last three seasonal items have been labeled vegan as-is.

So, I don’t even know what the next seasonal item at Paradise Garden Grill is going to be, but the last three have been so great that I had to include it on my list.  For Festival of the Holidays they had a vegan chile relleno, at Lunar New year it was a vegan orange tempeh bowl, and currently for Food & Wine Festival they’re featuring this Impossible meatball sub ($11.99).  These have all been clearly labeled as vegan, and a quick glance around the dining area proves they’re a huge hit with vegans and meat-eaters alike!  You definitely don’t want to miss this option – I would recommend putting it near the top of your list.

3. critter country – hungry bear restaurant | messy melvin’s vegan burger – $13.49

  • Modifications: As you might have guessed from the name, this meal is vegan as-is!  I definitely prefer the standard burger bun over the hard ciabatta this comes on, so you can double check with a cast member that it’s vegan (it usually is) and make that substitution if you like.

When they named this burger messy, they weren’t lyin’.  You might not start with chili fries, but you’ll end up with them.  The patty is from Beyond Burger so you can’t go wrong there, and Hungry Bear is one of my favorite restaurants for atmosphere and escaping crowds.  Look out onto the Rivers of America, watch the Mark Twain go by, and try not to drop chili on yourself.

4. various locations | mickey pretzel & dole whip – $5.25 + 5.69

  • Modifications:  None.

Um, is this a meal?!  A lot of things revert back to a childhood when I’m in Disneyland: my imagination, my sense of wonder.. my appetite.  I don’t see any parents anywhere telling me it can’t be a meal, do you?  My favorite place to get a pretzel is Tomorrowland because the seating is usually less crowded (plus who doesn’t love that futuristic beep boop music from 2004).  But if you’re trying to hit up both of these at once, I recommend the pretzel cart across from The Golden Horseshoe, and Tropical Hideaway for your Dole Whip.  You can also get a Dole Whip Float ($6.49, vegan as-is), or Loaded Whip ($7.99, order with no cookie sticks).  Now, go spoil your dinner.

5. fantasyland – red rose taverne | enchanted samosa sandwich – $11.29

  • Modifications: Order with no fried green beans, and ask for fries or apple slices instead of pommes frites.

I didn’t list these in any particular order (it would be too hard!), but this sandwich is definitely in my top 3.  It’s pretty big and super filling, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.  It also has a great samosa flavor, and I loved every bite!  Red Rose Taverne is a cute little Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant, which makes it a hit in my book.

6. tomorrowland – alien pizza planet | gluten-free vegan cheese pizza – $6.79

  • Modifications:  For this you’ll actually need to place your order with a chef – which actually makes things really easy, because you can confirm you ordered correctly right with the source.  Just let them know you want a vegan cheese pizza, and your wait will be about 10 minutes.  This option is also gluten-free!

This doesn’t look like much, but the crust had a little herb thing goin’ on and was actually more flavorful than I expected.  Plus, it’s only $6.79!  If you’d like more toppings on your pizza, you’ll have to go over to Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta at DCA and ask for a vegan pizza with sauteed veggies.

7. disneyland hotel – tangaroa terrace | lentil garden bowl – $11

  • Modifications:  None.

Did I feel like a rich witch eating this spa food overlooking the Disneyland Hotel pool or what?  This bowl was really delicious, and as you can see from the bottom photo it’s full of hidden yellow curry sauce.  This is a great spot to escape the crowds, and eat something different from your typical park food.  You can also get Dole Whips here, or a cocktail from Trader Sam’s next door.

8. new orleans square – royal street veranda | vegetable gumbo – $11.49

  • Modifications:  None, but I still got nervous and said no cheese.. even after they told me none of the soups come with cheese.

I finally tried the infamous Disneyland bread bowl gumbo!  It was everything I dreamed of and more.  The dining area at Royal Street Veranda is pretty small and often full, so I took mine over to the French Market and ate there – just follow the trail of beignet dust and you’ll find it.  They also have a stage at French Market, and it’s likely you’ll catch live music there or coming from the river.

9. pacific wharf [DCA] – lucky fortune cookery | asian rice bowl w/ tofu – $12.49

  • Modification:  Not really a modification as this is a build-your-bowl kind of vibe, but thai coconut curry is the only vegan sauce and tofu is the vegan protein option.

It took me a while to come here because the option looked like a lot of veggies and rice, but it turned out to be really good and very filling.  The tofu is soft, which isn’t what I’m used to, but it totally worked.  They’ll give you a fortune cookie with your bowl which is sometimes vegan and sometimes not, but you can ask them to check if you’re really jonesing for one.

10. downtown disney – earl of sandwich | veggie sub – $8.99

  • Modifications: No feta, no dressing.  Add mustard or balsamic glaze.

This has been my go-to when I’ve had too much fun in the parks and haven’t stopped to eat, but now it’s time to go home and I’m starving.  It’s a pretty basic veggie sandwich, but toasting it and adding balsamic glaze is what makes it awesome.  If your feet are tired, take the Monorail from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, and it’ll drop you off just a couple doors down from Earl of Sandwich.


There you have it!  Did I include any of your favorites, or miss one of your must-eats?  If you try any of these options, I’d love to hear what you think!

food · local

a celebration of suncafe & their anticipated new location

On Saturday, March 2, I joined a small group of guests to celebrate SunCafe and learn the details of their highly anticipated second location.

This event also marked the launch of their KickStarter campaign, which will help them secure a great new space in Santa Monica offering ample parking, a full bar, a banquet room for community and private events, and even a dog-friendly patio.  Did I mention they plan to stay open until 2 a.m.?

If you’ve not yet had the privilege of dining at SunCafe’s Studio City location, you’ve been missing out.  Any time I go, I know I’m guaranteed a special meal no matter what I order (although I tend to be pretty loyal to those nachos).  If I had the power to move any of LA’s vegan restaurants closer to my house, SunCafe would be it!

Super Sun Nachos / Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake (both gluten-free)

In addition to their amazing food, SunCafe is a restaurant with a lot of history and heart.  Throughout the event, owners Ron Russell and Rebecca Smith shared stories of their experience as new restaurant owners working 16-hour days, and how it was the positive feedback from their guests that kept them focused.  Russell mentioned one customer in particular who told him how plant-based eating had greatly improved his health, making it clear the positive impact this restaurant was destined to have.  Over the past ten years, several of LA’s top vegan chefs have called SunCafe home, and it’s not uncommon to find them on food critics’ “best of” lists.

One of my favorite things about SunCafe is that they’ve always been open and authentic about why they run a vegan restaurant — for animal rights, for the environment, and for human health.  The food is impressive enough on its own, but a business with a purpose I believe in is one I’ll gladly support.

SunCafe’s Kickstarter will run through the end of March, and offers exciting perks including food, merchandise, cooking classes, and special events.  Be sure to check it out, donate, and share to help make this new location a reality.

disneyland · food

vegan crepes at downtown disney!

If you’ve been to Disneyland, you know the smell.  A kind of smelly smell.  A smelly smell that smells.. like churros.

Now, imagine being vegan and having that warm, sugary, pastry smell wafting into your nostrils literally all day long, with no way to sate your cravings.  If you understand this feeling, you’ll understand why I was so excited to learn that there is a food truck serving up sweet vegan crepes at the west end of Downtown Disney.

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Crepes Bonaparte is a Food-Network-featured truck that once appeared on The Great Food Truck Race, and is now appearing in a temporary residency in between The Lego Store and Earl of Sandwich.  They’re not exclusively vegan, but they do offer a vegan batter and an extensive list of vegan toppings:

– apples
– avocado
– bananas
– bell peppers
– blackberries
– onions
– strawberries
– tomatoes
– walnuts
– chocolate
– cinnamon & sugar
– granulated sugar
– dairy-free whipped cream **
– lemon juice
– dijon mustard
– cookie butter
– peanut butter

** A note about the whipped cream:  I was told they do sometimes have a vegan version, but their standard whipped cream is not vegan although it is labeled “non-dairy.”  Employees were happy to let me peek at the ingredients to confirm for myself.  They did not have the vegan whip when I was there, but if they had I would have ordered it!

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I ordered mine with strawberries, bananas, chocolate & powdered sugar.  It was great, and my first crepe in at least 9 years!  Next time I would probably add cinnamon & sugar and/or cookie butter, because that’s just how I live my best life.

The truck at Downtown Disney typically opens at 3pm, but be sure to check their posted schedule if you’re planning a visit.  I’ve also been told that the truck will only be at it’s Disney location until construction wraps up and new restaurants open — there’s no official date yet, but it’s estimated they’ll be moving out of Disney by early summer.

If you miss them, you can still get your fix at the Crepes Bonaparte restaurant located at 115 S Harbor Boulevard in Fullerton.  And the two trucks, known as Pierre and Gaston, will continue to make the rounds in Los Angeles and Orange County.  Bon appétit!

food

vegan shakeology balls

I’ve been drinking shakeology pretty consistently for over two years now – and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to make these!  I recently bought some delicious peanut butter protein balls from a local juice shop I routinely give all of my money to, so I decided it would be worthwhile to figure out how to make my own at home.

Lately there have been a few mornings I’ve been ready to hit the road (*cough*disneyland*cough*) and decided I didn’t have time to make the shake I had planned, so this will be a great way to just grab a few balls from the fridge and take my shakeology to-go!

Ingredients
  • 1/4 vanilla shakeology
  • 1/4 oats
  • 1/4 shredded coconut
  • 1/4 c peanut butter
Steps

Literally just mix all of the ingredients above in a bowl!  I started with a spoon, then switched to hand-kneading to really get in there.  When you’re done mixing, it’s ok for the finished product to have some slightly crumbly bits, as you’re going to smoosh them back together when you make your balls.  At this point you might want to do a taste-test, and if it’s a little too dry or not as sweet as you’d like, go ahead and add a little liquid sweetener such as agave or vegan honey.  Shape into bite-sized balls and keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.

food

marinated sesame tofu

I’ve been vegan for nine years, and I’ve been paying too much for overpriced salad bar tofu for about as long.  Not anymore, buddy!

I almost never marinate my tofu.  Who wants to sit around and wait for their tofu to be ready?  But it turns out that having this prepped for the week was actually a huge time saver, and for about $2 per serving compared to $7 per serving at the salad bar, I might be able to learn to be patient.

Get Pressed:  You’ll want to press your tofu before you start working with it.  Here’s a quick tutorial video if you’ve never done that before!  I’m a super lazy presser and usually just squeeze mine a bit over the sink, before wrapping it in paper towels and pressing it by hand.  I think I’ve only placed a heavy object on my tofu once or twice in my life!

Marinade Ingredients

This was enough for me to marinate three pounds of tofu (one pound at a time), and I probably could have squeezed in one more.  I don’t suggest cutting the marinade amount though, as you’ll want enough volume for your tofu to actually, um, marinate in.

  • tofu (firm or extra firm)
  • 1/2 c soy sauce
  • 2 T coconut sugar
  • 1 generous T minced or crushed garlic
  • 3 T toasted sesame oil
Stir-Fry

For this version, I cubed my tofu and marinated it somewhere between 4-12 hours on each side; honestly I just let it do it’s thing in the fridge until I felt like dealing with it, but an hour should be plenty.  It’ll soak up a lot of the marinade, which is why I recommend this method for a stir fry — all that flavor your tofu just absorbed is going to explode out onto your veggies.  I stir-fried my veggies in a little oil first and set them aside, then cooked to the tofu, then added them all together for a couple more minutes (I usually add a big squeeze of lime here).

Cooking the tofu separately should help it keep its shape: more cubey and not so scrambley.  Cooking time depends on your texture preference, but you probably want your tofu lightly browned on all sides so don’t forget to flip!

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Baked

Baked tofu is definitely my favorite, because you can cook it plain and decide how you want to use it later.  For this batch, I baked first, then marinated once it was cool.  It won’t be as spongy this way, and takes on flavor in a way more similar to marinated chicken.  Since more water cooks off with baking, your tofu will be more firm — and if you slice it thin like the photo below, you can get a slightly chewy, meatier texture.  If you’re not into that, you can also do cubes, sticks, or thicker slices.  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 400° oven for about 20-30 minutes on each side.  Again, cook time will depend on your preferred texture and the thickness of your tofu.  Marinate for about an hour on each side, then use it however you like.  Served below over jasmine rice, with Sriracha, sesame seeds, and Saucy Lips zesty cilantro.

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food

basic vegan chicken salad

One of my goals with this blog is to provide easy vegan recipes that don’t require a lot of ingredients or skill to make.  Something I hear often is, “I would love to eat more vegan food – but I don’t know how to cook!”  (I used to feel that way, too.)  But that’s fine, because this is barely cooking!  All you really have to do is put ingredients in a bowl, and your friends or partner or stomach will think you’re a genius.

Ingredients:

  • Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Strips (1 package)
  • vegan mayo (1 generous tablespoon)
    • I like Trader Joe’s brand – pictured below – or Just Mayo
  • green onion (1 stalk)
  • pickle juice (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Mrs. Dash (a few shakes)

About Beyond Meat:  I’ve always been loyal to the grilled variety of Beyond Meat chicken since because they’re super basic and can be used in any recipe.  I got lightly seasoned this time because, uh, to be honest I don’t think I was paying attention.  But they did add a nice flavor to the chicken salad, and I will definitely try them in more recipes in the future.  I could be a convert?  These babies are gluten free, and have 20g of plant-based protein per 3-oz serving.

Preparation:

If you can cook a frozen product according to package instructions, congratulations — the hard part is over.  Sauté your Beyond Meat in a little oil until warmed and slightly browned/crispy on the outside.  Remove from pan and allow to cool for a bit; honestly 10 minutes at room-temp is probably long enough if you’re trying to eat this ASAP, or wait a little longer/refrigerate if you’d like.  Cube your chicken and add green onion, vegan mayo, Mrs. Dash (or seasoning of your choice), and pickle juice.  Mix and serve.

About Pickle Juice:  Listen, not only is this recipe not fancy, it includes probably the most not-fancy ingredient you will ever use.  Start with a little, and add more until the dressing is the consistency you want.  I love pickles but I’m very picky – my personal pickle picks are Claussen Kosher Dills, and Sonoma Brinery Wild West Dills.  It doesn’t really matter what kind of juice you use, low-end or gourmet, but I would go for something tangy or spicy over sweet.

I ate this as lettuce wraps this week, but it’s great on sandwiches, crackers, salads, or all by itself.  Enjoy!

food

baby’s first spaghetti squash

A few weeks ago I was out grocery shopping with my dad when I decided that, finally, the time had come for me to buy my first spaghetti squash.  I saw them stacked on an endcap in the produce section, and just as I was about to walk over and put one in the cart, I pictured the conversation that would follow:

“What is that thing?  Have you ever had one before?  Do you know how to cook it?  What are you going to make?”

“Spaghetti squash.  No.  No.. I don’t know.”

To preserve my culinary pride, I decided to go home, do some research, and come back to buy my own spaghetti squash in private.  Then, I would cook the shit out of it and pretend I had been an expert all along.  Like you do.

Preparation:

  • the exterior can be tough to cut through, so help yourself out by stabbing a dotted line along the equator (length-wise) where you’ll eventually cut.  then, throw that sucker in the microwave for about 3 minutes.
  • now that it’s a bit softer, you can cut it in half.  don’t worry about the stem – just cut the rest, then break the stem when you crack it open.
  • scoop out the seeds – I’ve found it’s easiest with a fork.
  • brush the inside with olive oil thenplace cut-side down on foil covered cookie sheet.
  • bake at 425° about 45 mins.  you’ll know it’s done when you can pierce the outer shell.
  • fork it:  use a fork to pull the meat from the skin, working width-wise.  it’s ok to be a little aggressive to get all the squash out, you probably won’t break the skin.

I kept it simple by adding mixed veggies I had already roasted, a dab of store-bought vegan pesto (Sprouts, $2.99), and a shake of lemon pepper.  The leftovers got dressed up a bit more with all of the above plus veggie meatballs, avocado & nutritional yeast.

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for the veggies:
pan 1  halved brussels sprouts, orange bell pepper, olive oil, herbes de provence
pan 2  broccoli, red bell pepper, olive oil, mrs. dash

bake at 425°

30 minutes for the broccoli, a bit longer for the brussels

I kept things pretty basic this time, but I’m really looking forward to trying this recipe with peanut sauce, and this one for spaghetti squash lasagna.  Do you have a favorite spaghetti squash recipe?  Let me know!

Another reason I kept it basic?  To share with the pup!  You could simplify things even more by omitting the oil; the squash has enough moisture to cook itself without drying out.  So, essentially I just gave you instructions on how to cut a vegetable in half and stick it in the oven.  You’re welcome.

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