A giant spotlight is on plant-based dining after Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm made a major announcement earlier this week. When his New York City restaurant reopens on June 10, he’ll introduce a $335 completely vegan tasting menu, and eliminate the unique dishes that made his three-Michelin-starred restaurant a worldwide sensation.
Reactions were mixed: from those who support a chef most well-known for making meat taking a step toward sustainability, to those who questioned its overall impact, and others who wondered aloud about the tastiness of the food. Some felt Humm’s shift isn’t new, as other fine dining chefs made similar leaps into plant-based cooking, including Dominique Crenn, who in 2019 announced she would no longer serve land animals in her restaurants. And while Wolfgang Puck’s menus are not plant-based, the LA-based chef served a mostly vegan menu for the 2020 Oscars with dishes like sweet potato tempura and wild mushroom bolognese.
As an incredibly inventive chef, there’s little doubt that Humm’s menu will move plant-based dining into a different realm. But Los Angeles has played a large hand in shifting plant-based foods for decades, with some of the nation’s longest-standing Indian and Ethiopian restaurants. The city also has chefs who push the entire genre forward by introducing new approaches that appeal to omnivores as well as vegans.
To illustrate some of that forward-thinking, here are five plant-based dishes in Los Angeles that showcase that innovation and creativity.
Note: We do our very best to make sure our stories are current, but menus frequently change. Please reach out to these restaurants to confirm these menu items are still available.
The sopes duo at Chicana Vegana
In the middle of 2020, Jasmine Hernandez opened her family-run restaurant Chicana Vegana. Stationed in the middle of Downtown Fullerton, the lively space hardly speaks vegan with neon pink and purple walls adorned with Latina cartoon characters, and a dish that’s full-on flavor: the jackfruit sopes. Traditionally made with a fried masa or corn flour base and topped with pork or chicken, Chicana diners can substitute luscious jackfruit carnitas with shredded cabbage, plant-based crema, and cheese atop wonderfully prepared masa. It’s all technique and seasoning, which Hernandez has in droves.
Korean-fried mushroom and kimchi waffles
Michelle Jane Lee is an LA-based visual artist who had no prior experience cooking for crowds until she launched a sit-down vegan Korean tasting menu from her Lincoln Heights apartment in 2019 called Sung. Lee’s popular pop-up dinners took a pause during COVID-19, but still creates stunning takeout, including her tribute to Los Angeles with fried mushrooms and kimchi waffles.
Smoked tofu florentine at Plant Food + Wine
One of the common concerns by some vegans is giving up eggs or butter. A traditional florentine uses a healthy dose of both for hollandaise, but Plant Food + Wine owner Matthew Kenney’s smoked tofu florentine has a certain richness to it that really shows his technique.
Pasta carbonara at Crossroads Kitchen
Chef Tal Ronnen opened Crossroads Kitchen in 2013, where he introduced an entirely plant-based menu with white tablecloths and full bar. He introduced a pasta carbonara, complete with a runny tomato-based “egg” yolk for added effect and flavor. The entire dish is a huge step forward in plant-based cuisine, as fresh pasta usually requires the use of eggs.
Ronnen also co-founded Kite Hill Foods in 2014, introducing store-bought vegan cheeses that simply taste better and with more variety. This field evolved considerably thanks to Ronnen along with Plant Food + Wine’s Kenney.
Vegan al pastor from Masataco
Whittier’s plant-based restaurant Masa Taco placed celery root on a traditional trompo, layered it with pineapple, marinade, and onion to produce something new and fun for Los Angeles. Masa Taco’s plant-based asada was featured in 2019 at Dodger Stadium during a vegan takeover in the Left Field Pavillion.