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The onslaught of vegan food and culture has made its largest impact in the region not through the veins of Los Angeles but in the heart of Long Beach.
Our local vegan scene is extensive, diverse and high quality, with distinctly unique offerings that can’t be found anywhere else. Surely, some transplants have found their way into Long Beach—The Grain Cafe’s flagship is in L.A. while Seabirds, arguably the city’s best vegan restaurant, has its original location in Costa Mesa—but that only strengthens Long Beach’s standing as a major vegan destination.
Grab your cashew cheese, folks. Here is your complete guide to Long Beach’s massive vegan food scene.
Steamed (801 E. Third St.)
I begin with Steamed for a very specific reason: It is the true pioneer that brought vegan food—quality, decadent, addictive vegan food—to the masses in Long Beach when it took over a former pot dispensary in 2011.
Owner Stephanie Carlough has created a Mexican-inspired menu. Steamed lets you build burritos and quesadillas to your vegetarian and vegan delight without the single use of a microwave, fryer or grill. Even beyond the food, they taught restaurateurs (and diners) how to avoid waste: they print their menus on banana paper. All their silverware and plates are second-hand. Their to-go boxes have been compostable since day one.
Seabirds Kitchen (975 E. Fourth St.)
Seabirds has a cult-like following and for good reason: The small shop off of Fourth Street, just a tad east of Alamitos, serves up some of the most quality vegan creations in the entire region, distinctly unique plates that are addictive and comforting.
Seabirds opened its truck in 2010 with the sole mission of “pushing the boundaries of vegan cuisine.” That mission proved successful, giving the restaurant actual location at Costa Mesa’s The LAB.
Directly across from a McDonald’s (scoring extra points for Awesome Dichotomy), you can score elegant dishes such as Cauliflower Ceviche or go full-out decadent with their unparalleled beer-battered avocado tacos.
The Wild Chive (Sunday Farmers Market at 6602 E. Marina Drive)
Soozee Nguyen is one of the region’s most creative and talented vegan chefs, and her Wild Chive pop brunches and dinners are proof of that.
Nguyen’s keen sensibility for high-quality food kept vegans and non-vegans alike returning for signature dishes such as stuffed french toast filled with house-made chocolate-hazelnut spread, fresh strawberries, bananas, coconut whip and topped with maple and almonds. Or a breakfast bánh mì filled with tofu, tempeh bacon and ham, pickled veggies, cucumber, cilantro, chile, fried shallots, and a chive-cilantro aioli.
Once sharing space with Portfolio and then with MADE by Millworks, the vagabond vegan eatery has now shacked up with the farmers market in Alamitos Bay to offer a weekly Sunday vegan brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. that is unlike any other.
Under the Sun (244 E. Third St.)
The first entirely raw vegan joint to open in Long Beach, Under the Sun is the brainchild of Chrissy Cox and Dawna Bass, both of whom had already built a local juicing empire with Rainbow Juices. And it was extending their reach into almond milk for Rainbow Juices that allowed them to cultivate relationships with farmers to create Under the Sun, their love letter to the edible.
If anything, Under the Sun focuses on the magic of raw food, creating seemingly impossible dishes without a single ounce of heat.
We’re talkin’ raw vegan cheesecakes (like the masterful guava cheesecake pictured above) and truffles. Cashew-culture cream cheese. Almond activated bread. Papaya sushi.
Viva Falafel (4400 E. Fourth St.)
I stumbled into Viva Falafel, craving some type of Levantine food and didn’t quite notice the “vegan” part of the signage. I went with a chicken kabob plate that I was happy to pair with some Iranian polo, a rice pilaf that comes in a variety of options, including ones that are originally vegan (like the baghali rice, an offer that is tangy with dill and buttery with lima beans).
The taste of the chicken immediately reminded me of something: The chicken tacos directly across the street at the also-vegan Grain Cafe. At first sensing some type of competition, I grabbed my phone and discovered it was a marriage since they have the same owner: SoCal transplant by way of Oaxaca chef and vegan Myra Garcia.
The Grain Cafe (4403 E. Fourth St.)
Speaking of Garcia, The Grain Cafe, located across the street from Viva Falafel, is actually her original Long Beach restaurant and is nothing short of an ode to both her vegan cooking skills and Oaxacan origins.
You can find a burrito drenched in a mole negro, complete with your choice of vegan chicken, vegan burger patty, or tempeh. (I suggest the chicken whether you’re at Grain Cafe or Viva). You can find chicken pesto pasta.
And you can find plenty of sweets by the form of multiple cakes, including the astounding strawberry almond cake and coconut cake.
Appu’s Cafe (3816 Woodruff Ave., suite 100B)
Easily one of the vegan scene’s most underrated of grub hubs (if not the most underrated), this pseudo-Indian, maybe-fusion joint caters to the vegan lifestyle right when you walk in with a sign written on a paper plate: “Please advise the cook if you are vegan.”
Fear not: it’s not because they cook meat but, given that the owners are from India, they have vegetarian-friendly dollops of yogurt or paneer (or, amusingly, straight-up quesadillas). And though they are common at Appu’s, they are also easily avoided by simply mentioning you want pure vegan.
My suggestion? Go for their pav bahji or one, some, of their incredible soups. From both yellow and black lentil offerings to a mushroom soup that is genuinely stellar (and make sure to get the croutons added), there’s little to go wrong with. But their mulligatawny soup is where it’s at: black pepper, an assortment of split legumes, and overall deliciousness.
The HipPea (2023 E. Fourth St.)
The HipPea, the tiny-but-mighty falafel shop that replaced The Flea Espresso Bar in the minuscule space on the west side of the Art Theatre on Retro Row, revolves around one type of food: the vegan giant that is falafel.
Based on owner Vered Azari’s grandmother’s Egyptian recipe, this wonderfully bright green ball of deliciousness will fulfill any meat eater or vegan. Served Israeli-style—a little bit of parsley, a little bit of cilantro, chickpeas, onion, cumin, some other magic—and put into a pita pocket, you can either walk-and-eat or enter the struggle of attempting to find a spot at the small diner (unlikely because there is usually a line to begin with).
Ahimsa (340 E. Fourth St.)
Once home to one of the original vegan spaces in Long Beach known as Zephyr, Ahimsa was a welcomed addition to the vegan scene not only because it outshone its predecessor—by miles, I might add—but returned vegan food to Long Beach at a time when it seemed it might never survive.
While you’ll find the typical wheat-and-soy mock meats that are ubiquitous amongst vegan joints, what stands out most in Ahimsa’s food is when they steer clear of trying to cater to mock meat crowds. Surely, their Ahimsa Burger is great but not because it attempts to create a patty that tastes like beef. It’s great because it’s a house-made patty that doesn’t taste like meat.
Just like their spring rolls, don’t expect mock shrimp or fish or any mock meat protein. Expect bean sprouts, baby greens, carrots, cucumber, mint, basil, and their absurdly addicting tahini ginger dipping sauce that also comes as a dressing on other plates.
And now, for some honorable mentions that come from restaurants which aren’t entirely vegan but have vegan offerings that are not just stellar, but outright essential in incorporating into your daily grub.
Ammatoli (285 E. Third St.)
Let’s get one thing very clear: Ever since my first review of Ammatoli, it has proven that it is one of the city’s best restaurants and it hasn’t even been open a year. Many of their entrées are rife with animal protein. But they have one of the most extensive list of vegan offerings for a restaurant that isn’t focused on being vegan.
Their lentil soup? Spectacular.
Their foul? A common breakfast item throughout Middle Eastern food, especially in Lebanon and Egypt, foul from Ammatoli is nothing but beautifully pale fava beans mixed with garbanzo beans and mashed with garlic, lemon juice, tahini and a heavy pour of olive oil. The result is a chunky, hummus-like bowl of dip or, if you prefer, a bowl of beans that needs no flour-based forklift; a regular fork will do fine.
Or, amongst of ton of other delights like tabbouleh and mujaddara, you can get their fully-loaded zaatar manoush (sans cheese for the diehard vegan), a Levantine pizza of sorts piled with peppers, olives, and deliciousness.
The Hawk’s Vegan Taco Tuesday (468 W. Anaheim St.)
When Kyle Flavin opted to vacate his management of The Blind Donkey to create his own watering hole near the 710 and Anaheim—taking over a dive that had been called The Nugget for decades—everyone’s hopes were high.
He has succeeded in creating one of Long Beach’s most unique bars—and bringing with him some spectacular grub that is served at the bar’s parking lot, including a weekly vegan Taco Tuesday that hosts a different host each week.
This past week, The Hawk welcomed Xochitl Vegan, the L.A.-based vegan pop up known for creating delights out of the hibiscus flower. Yes, hibiscus flowers: Marinated and charred to a crisp that mimics carne asada, eaters enjoyed everything from tacos to mulitas go nachos.
The Social List (2501 E. Fourth St.)
Owners Luis Navarro and Brenda Riviera—the pair behind Lola’s—have been one of the city’s smartest when it comes to keeping menus up-to-date.
While at first struggling to find an identity, their second concept, The Social List, has found its way—and that is, in large part, due to catering to vegans.
Launched earlier this year, the vegan menu at The Social List is genuinely spectacular—and includes the city’s best vegan burger.
Their Impossible Burger—made with the popular Impossible vegan patty that mimics the smoke and flavor of beef while not necessarily acting like beef—is a vegan ode to the In-N-Out burger.
Add onto this vegan sausage and mozzarella for a flatbread, vegan ravioli, vegan creamy Brussels… Well, you can have a vegan feast.
The 4th Horseman (121 W. Fourth St.)
While I am awaiting to do my full write-up on The 4th Horseman—you’ll feast your eyes on some of the most delicious pizza porn this side of the wood-burning oven come next week when you meet its owners and chef in the Post’s feature—it wouldn’t be right of me to exclude the best vegan pizza in Long Beach.
The Frailty pizza is a vegan masterpiece that starts with its base: perfectly chewy, non-Neapolitan, full-on California-style dough that is topped with a light, tangy tomato sauce, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, sliced cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.
But you have to vegan it up more and—essential here—add the house made vegan sausage and house made vegan parmesan. The latter is made from cashew cultures and is, unquestionably, great; but the sausage is where it’s at.
Get it. Now.
Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu House (621 Atlantic Ave.)
Sura is one the Korean gems of Long Beach (especially after Korean-fusion joint Seoulmate closed up shop earlier this year), offering up not only solid KBBQ but also one of the city’s best vegan menus.
Soups are offered with vegan broths—go for the dumpling soup—and tofu offerings of their popular tacos and burritos. Fish sauce is replaced by a natural seaweed extraction (which has one of the best experiences through their vegan Napa Kimchi).
But their vegan ddukbokki—commonly made with fish cakes—and vegan labokki is truly where their vegan sensibility come in.
The Good Bar & Eatery (3316 E. Seventh St.)
It was once The Bull Bar, a watering hole that largely failed to connect with Long Beach on a level outside a half-mile radius
Enter The Good Bar.
Skate-loving, just enough divey-ness to make a local comfortable, and far more food-centric, The Good Bar has created a solid following as a place to whet your whistle and wash it down with food to help your excessive drinking.
They have vegan tacos and taquitos. A vegan Cali burrito stuffed with fries and vegan ground beef. And the star: vegan chili cheese tots (or fries).
Ike’s Love & Sandwiches (5745 Pacific Coast Highway)
When this NorCal sandwich shop legend arrived in Long Beach, it brought what is arguably the most vegan-friendly sammie shop with it.
Ike’s sandwiches eschew simplicity in the name of Have-It-All. Each creation, named after an assortment of creators, celebrities, cartoon characters, and other bits of human randomness, filled with a heavy set of ingredients, including one of the city’s largest offerings of vegan meats, including vegan chicken, vegan meatballs, vegan turkey, and overall vegan happiness.
Note: I Love Vegan at 2264 Pacific Ave. is excluded from this list because they have yet to achieve a level of excellence on par with these other establishments though, I’m confident they will because vegan Thai food is a vegan’s dream.
Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.