West Coast Food Porn

I recently spent a week traveling up the west coast of the U.S. for the first time in my entire life. I’m not very well traveled. Heck, I don’t even have a passport. Needless to say this was a pretty big adventure for me. I met two of my (also vegan) friends in Denver, while they were in the middle of their Punk Rock Karaoke tour. The PRK Collective is a great group of folks who put on fun events to benefit activist groups, including many animal rights and rescue organizations.

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Figs from a Santa Monica farmers market — my first time eating fresh figs!

From Denver we drove through Las Vegas to LA, up through San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. My plans of what to do and see were primarily motivated by one thing: food. I wanted to eat at all the wonderful vegan restaurants I’d heard about and never tried, and that’s exactly what I did! So, I present you, dear readers, a “food diary” of my west coast travels, along with my top 3 favorite spots that I visited.

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My first stop was Denver, which I spent less than 24 hours in, but had enough time to sample the menu wat WaterCourse and snap a few photos outside of one of my favorite food-related tourist destinations, Casa Bonita, which I’d been dying to visit ever since the South Park episode that pokes fun at the tacky eatery.

WaterCourse was excellent, and although they’re known for serving up quality breakfast, I’m more of a savory eater and went with a shared order of the seitan buffalo wings, which was a HUGE portion of deep fried seitan smothered in buffalo sauce, served with ranch. I ate so much of the seitan, I hardly had room for my Po’ Boy sandwich — fried wild mushrooms topped with coleslaw  and chipotle aioli (I ordered mine with fries and sautéed greens). I inhaled my food so quickly I forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through the meal! We didn’t eat at Casa Bonita, which is rumored to have horrible food and nearly no vegan options, but loitering around the fountain outside was satisfying enough. Onward!

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After driving straight through with a quick stop in Las Vegas (it was too late for Ronald’s, unfortunately), we arrived in L.A. bright and early. We browsed a Saturday morning farmers market in Santa Monica (Where I got the figs pictured above, in addition to a bundle of other fruits — have you HAD nectarines from Southern California? Amazing!) and went for a leisurely swim in the Pacific before going to one of my most anticipated restaurants — Doomie’s Home Cookin’ in Hollywood. I had been dreaming about Doomie’s after seeing a friend’s Instagram photos, and it was so, so worth it.

We shared an order of jalapeño poppers, which after a failed attempt of trying to make myself I’d been searching for on menus. I’m the type of person who orders an “11” on the spicy food scale of 1-10, so jalapeños stuffed with Doomie’s homemade cheez, battered and deep fried? Yea, I was all about it. Of course the only thing to order after poppers is a giant Big Mac, a specialty item from Doomie’s “secret” menu. I didn’t even order fries and could barely polish this off, slumping over in my chair and falling into an epic food coma. Doomie’s, you were wonderful and perfect and everything I’ve ever wanted in a vegan diner. I’ll never forget that meal.

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Then we headed north to San Francisco, where I had several delicious burritos in the Mission district that I didn’t photograph because they were eaten at night while sitting on the sidewalk. My favorite was the tofu mole burrito from Papalote. We stayed in Oakland, where I met up with my old friend Matt who suggested we try Olde Depot, a new bar serving vegan sandwiches and greasy finger foods. I had their chik’n tacos and onion rings, while Matt tried the BBQ “beef” sliders. The tacos were outstanding. Crispy, fried faux meat on a corn tortilla with a spicy mayo, fresh salsa and a heaping scoop of guacamole. Served with lime wedges and pickled jalapeños and carrots pretty much made these perfect. The onion rings were also good, served with a ranch sauce, but the tacos are definitely a must-have.

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We couldn’t just settle with dining in SF and Oakland, so the morning we were scheduled to head out we stopped at Cinnaholic in Berkeley, which my friend Jay had been talking about for months. The bakery is kind of like an amped up Cinnabon for vegans, serving cinnamon buns with a variety of frosting flavors and toppings to choose from. You can either choose one of their custom combos or create your own dream cinnamon bun, which is what I did.

They recently added soft serve made by Chicago Vegan Foods, but Cinnaholic is still working to perfect the production. The vanilla was a little watery and goopy, but if made correctly is rumored to be delicious. The chocolate looked like what you’d expect soft serve to be, but I’m not a fan of chocolate (yes, really) so I didn’t try it. The bun I had was butterscotch frosting with a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, and although it was delicious and satisfied all of my cinnamon bun fantasies, it was way too much sugar for me. Definitely a treat to be shared, unless you’re my friend Wayne, who ate 2.

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Almost immediately after eating a big ol’ cinnamon bun, we decided to go to Flacos, also in Berkeley, which is a tiny shack of an all-vegan taqueria. Although my burritos in SF were good, I’d been craving an authentic taco experience since arriving in California. You know, with sliced radishes and cabbage and some yummy faux meat or bean concoction all wrapped up in a corn tortilla. The tacos at Olde Depot were great, but not authentic. Luckily, there’s Flacos, which serves up outstanding seitan taquitos and tacos. It was taquito Tuesday, which meant cheap taquitos. Overall, their menu is reasonably priced, but I couldn’t argue with $1 taquitos, so I got 2. I also got two of their three salsas, a spicy habanero acovado salsa and a milder red salsa. The avocado salsa was dangerous, but satisfied my masochistic spicy food tendencies.

Photo Jun 26, 10 55 04 AMAfter driving 20 hours straight up Rt. 1 and through the Redwood Forest, we arrived in Portland, where we recuperated with breakfast at Vita Cafe, a vegan-friendly diner. I got the Mexican tempeh scramble with potatoes and a big, fluffy biscuit, which hit the spot. Normally I’m skeptical of tempeh, but I’m slowly coming around.

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Because this was my first time in Portland, I had to visit Voodoo Doughnut, which has a broad, crazy selection of vegan (and non-vegan) doughnuts. I got a couple different treats, including an apple fritter, a cinnamon maple triangle and a cream-filled “cock” doughnut, which was obviously my favorite.

portobello

We have friends in Portland, and met up with everyone for a big group dinner at Portobello, a fancy-pants all-vegan restaurant where you must have a reservation. I’m not the classiest, but I do like good ravioli, which is what I had in addition to sharing their eggplant “bacon”-wrapped mushroom “scallops” and beet tartare with everyone. Honestly, I should’ve written down what kind of ravioli this was because it changes frequently and I just don’t remember. It had a lot of cilantro, which I liked. The food was good, but not amazing for the amount of hype that surrounds it. Still, a nice place for special occasions.

homegrown

Our last food stop in Portland, after riding a tandem bike to the vegan mini mall, was Homegrown Smoker, a place I specifically insisted I must try. I haven’t had much vegan BBQ, but I’d seen photos of their mac and cheese that made my heart sing. Unfortunately, their mac was a bit of a letdown (I had really high hopes, people), but their BBQ soy curl sandwich with coleslaw, aka SloSmoMoFo, was out of this world. The smoked soy curls smothered in BBQ sauce made me perfectly content during our drive to Seattle. Plus, can I point out that on their menu they call hush puppies STFU puppies? Perfect.

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When we arrived in Seattle, I went hard at Wayward Cafe, an all-vegan diner with a huge menu that specializes in breakfast. I got french toast and the Mexi-Biscuit, served with a cilantro tofu sour cream and hashbrowns. Everything was wonderful, but at this point I was getting tired of greasy spoon places. Still, you can’t deny a delicious biscuit, tofu scramble, hashbrowns and french toast. We also dined at Pizza Pi, which has a variety of crazy pizzas and gluten-free breadsticks (their creamy garlic sauce is excellent), and Araya’s, my first all-vegan Thai restaurant.

Overall, it was an amazing vacation spent with awesome friends and filled with fun karaoke and a ton of food. My top 3 favorite restaurants from the trip are as follows:

3. Homegrown Smoker
2. Flacos
1. Doomie’s Home Cookin’

Do you have a favorite west coast vegan eatery that I missed? Something I should try on my next trip out there? Let me know!

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