There’s pros and cons to living in LA. Pro: Thousands of food options to choose from. Con: Thousands of food options to choose from.
With over 10,000 restaurants in Los Angeles county alone, we often resort to a meal that’s comfortable or familiar. While there’s nothing wrong with routine, do we really need pad thai for the fourth time this week? No doubt, we’re just as guilty as every other millennial posting a picture of Indian food online, pretending they’re “exotic” and “cultured,” all the while knowing every other person in this city loves a good Chana Masala.
With a social enclave of nearly every culture in Los Angeles, it’s time we start looking for what we haven’t had instead of what we have. Starting with these five, largely unexplored cuisines, we’ll fill up our plates, wow our tastebuds, and satisfy our hunger.
Having maneuvered their way into America’s mainstream palate, Thai and Vietnamese food are worthy of their respectable hype, but they’re not the only Southeast Asian cuisines worth exploring. Indonesia contains over 15,000 islands, many of which have their own culture, cooking style, and source of ingredients. This enormous arpeggio is also responsible for introducing tempeh to the world—a sign they’ve got vegetarian options aplenty.
One restaurant brining Indonesian food to America’s modern taste is Little Tokyo’s Kasih. Upon walking in, you’ll notice an open kitchen, Asian-inspired cocktails, and four main vegan options on their menu, one such highlight includes their crispy, tempura fried Tempe Goreng. If you’re on the completely opposite side of town, swing by Wallflower in Venice for lemongrass coconut panna cotta with sweet jackfruit, rich coconut cream, and colorful pandan leaf. Lastly, for big portions of family-style entrees, stop by one of LA’s oldest Indonesian restaurants, Ramayani, for stir-fried tempeh in sweet red bell pepper sauce, crispy peanut fritters, and tofu coconut curry. Finish things on a sweet note with one of their chilled desserts, made with durian, coconut milk, fermented yucca root, and other traditional Indonesian ingredients.
Drawing influence from Spain, Japan, China, and indigenous cultures, Peru is home to one of the most diverse cuisines out there. The food is full of vibrant grilled vegetables, fried yucca, short grain rice, and a staggering array of spices.
To experience Peruvian food in a fine dining environment, look no further than Studio City or Hollywood’s Los Balcones. Each of their courses features at least one vegan option, making it a great spot for an omnivorous crowd, date night, or a solo food adventure. If you find yourself in Burbank, Pablito’s Kitchen—one of LA’s highest esteemed Peruvian restaurants—is right around the corner. With yucca fries that are fluffy on the inside, golden brown on the outside, and served with a thick, complex, and savory dipping sauce, we’re proud to say they’re the best we’ve ever tasted. For a main entree so comforting, wholesome, and filling you’ll be trying to convince yourself you can handle every last bite (you can’t), order their Veggie Saltado. The dish boasts mushrooms and seasonal vegetables in a savory soy-based sauce, served atop crispy fries (!) and a side of short grain rice (!!). Carb lovers rejoice!
As it slowly crawls its way into the spotlight, more and more people are discovering Filipino food, but it’s yet to reach the level of praise other Asian cuisines hold. From crunchy lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) to purple desserts colored with ube, Filipino food has a dish to touch everyone’s heart.
Visit Neri’s Casual Filipino Dining in K-Town for crispy vegetable lumpia or their twist on a veggie burger, which comes with tofu, mango, and ginger slaw (just get it without garlic aioli to ensure its vegan). For a truly elegant Filipino dining experience, reserve a spot at LASA’s in Chinatown, who has an incredible amount of artfully crafted vegan options, from Rice Flour Chicharons to maitake mushroom dumplings, that’ll have your eyes in wonder and taste buds in bliss. As a grand finale, RICEBAR combines eccentric Filipino flavors with American on-the-go needs This restaurant offers under 15 seats, an intimate environment, customizable rice bowls, and a menu item unlike any other: Impossible Meat Longganisa (a popular Filipino breakfast sausage). All in all, Filipino food is similar enough to other Asian cuisines to make you feel at home, but fresh enough to have you musing over every new flavor.
With a culture dedicated to reducing animal products and an entire ethnic enclave off of Fairfax, there’s no reason not to try Ethiopian food. This cuisine is unlike any other that most Americans have encountered, but it’s surprising flavors and textures are enough to arouse any foodie’s senses. Trustworthy Ethiopian joints suggest eating with flatbread in place of utensils, base their menus around stews, and serve a variety of dishes at once.
One place that stays true to tradition as well as veganism is Rahel Vegan in Little Ethiopia, who serves up spongy injera (Ethipioan flatbread), massive platters of shareable food, and indigenous drinks made from barley, flax, and sunflower seeds. Rahel isn’t the only restaurant clearing paths in Little Ethiopia; by making their way towards fine dining, Meals by Genet has surpassed cultural boundaries placed upon “ethnic food” and shown that white table cloths, pearly wine glasses, and romantic vibes aren’t only for the French and Italian. Meals by Genet also received high praise from renowned food writer Jonathan Gold, who took notice of the restaurant’s meticulous use of spices, time, and technique. Coming from a guy who ate at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard (plus hundreds more), we trust he knew a thing a two about outstanding food.
Little Ethiopia isn’t the only spot for divine vegan food however. Near Exposition Park rests Azla Vegan, a cafeteria-style vendor inside a bustling food court, dishing up quick, flavorful, and plant-based Ethiopian dishes. Be sure to get an order of their Tofu Tibs, Spicy Sweet Potato, and homemade Sorrel (refreshing hibiscus tea with cinnamon and ginger), which are equal parts satisfying, comforting, and exciting.
Thanks to one of LA’s most densely populated neighborhoods, Korean food (and particularly Korean BBQ) has maneuvered its way into the hearts of thousands LA-liens. Unfortunately, most vegans view this culture as being particularly meat heavy, which prevents us from taking part in their fragrant, spicy, and diverse cuisine. While many Korean dishes are traditionally meat-based, this is Los Angeles in the year 2019—veganism isn’t just for hippies and activists anymore!
Here’s a question: since moving to LA, how many people have invited you out to Korean BBQ? While we normally pretend we “already have plans,” all the while suffering from excruciating FOMO, Genwa Korean BBQ is here to relieve us of our pain. With over 10 vegan options on their menu, along with plenty of traditional dishes, Genwa is a perfect spot for mixed crowds. For the most extensive vegan menu we’ve seen at a Korean restaurant thus far, make a drive down to Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu House in Long Beach, who has an entire page dedicated to vegan dishes! To recoup from years of missing out, try their Vegan Hot Stone Bibimbap, which is a classic Korean dish with crispy rice, sautéed tofu, and an assortment of chilled sides, including kimchi, spicy cucumber salad, candied sweet potatoes, and more.
No doubt, there’s more than just five new cuisines to explore, but with at least a couple restaurants for each culture, this list is packed enough to fuel a week’s worth of take-out orders, reserved tables, and restaurant runs. Cancel that to-go order of pad thai, push Monty’s off till next week, and save the Italian food for next month’s date night because there’s new terrain to explore. Grab a piece of injera and hone your chopsticks skills, it’s time to update your itinerary!