October is National Vegetarian Month, but adding meat-free options to your diet is a good idea any time of year. So why not do your body, the planet and all those adorable animals a favor by indulging in some meat-free nourishment? Even if you’re the bloodiest of carnivores, you can beat your meat habit with these 10 starters at some of my favorite LA area restaurants. (Baby steps, right?) I promise it’ll leave a great taste in your mouth.
Edamame Dumplings @ True Food Kitchen – Newport Beach & Santa Monica
Stuffed with pureed edamame and mushrooms, topped with blanched edamame, daikon radish and drizzled with white truffle oil, this smoky-creamy-chewy starter is $9 of edible bliss. You also can’t go wrong with the herb hummus with tomato, kalamata olives and feta. To live.
Brussels Sprouts @ Cleo – Hollywood
Eat your veggies. That’s exactly what you’ll want to do at Cleo. Fork over the $9 for the Brussels sprouts and get ready for a mind-blowing, tongue-exploding sensation. The shredded leaves are deliciously crispy and chewy and oily and salty (capers, parsley, almonds and red wine vinaigrette are in there). You’ll never look at these green little nubs the same way again.
Ground “Beef” & Pickle Taco @ Mas Malo – Downtown LA & Silver Lake
You won’t even miss the real thing when you bite into the veggie ground beef, cheese & pickle hard-shell tacos at Malo (two for $6). As a Mexican American and native Angeleno who grew up in East LA-ish, I can confidently say that even with the fake meat, these tacos taste just like home.
Fried Cauliflower @ Rustic Canyon – Santa Monica
This place is so good that you really can’t complain that you’ve spent half your paycheck by the time your meal is over. They do lots of great things with vegetables here, what with the whole farmers’ market thing, but one winner you’ll definitely love: Fried cauliflower with garlic, parsley, lemon, capers and bread crumbs. It’s tangy and crunchy and robust and worth the $12.
Zucchini Carpaccio @ Fig & Olive – Melrose Place
The vegetables are pricey at this swanky spot on Melrose Place ($7 each or $19 for four), but in this case you get what you pay for. Served with freshly baked olive oil bread, the zucchini carpaccio is a must, topped with shaved Parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts and just the faintest hint of lemon. So simple. So fresh. So ready for a second serving.
Sauteed Field Mushrooms @ L’Epicerie – Culver City
This casual restaurant and market in Culver City has plenty of meat and fish on the menu (it is French, after all), but you won’t even care if you order the sauteed mushrooms. Served atop a crispy slice of country bread and mixed with garlic, parsley, arugula and just a little touch of cheese, this starter is rich and dare I say, quite meaty.
Bruschetta a Modo Mio @ L’Opera – Long Beach
If you want awesome bruschetta, this Italian restaurant in Downtown Long Beach is where to get it. Grilled ciabatta bread is topped with creamy burrata cheese, hand-ground pesto and marinated yellow & red cluster tomatoes drizzled with olive oil ($8.95). Order it and there’s a good chance you’ll be singing an aria before you even touch your main entree.
Spinach Dumplings @ Din Tai Fung – Arcadia
You know how they say San Gabriel Valley is where to go for hardcore authentic Chinese food? Yeah, that’s true. But if you want incredibly delicious dumplings that aren’t stuffed with unusual animal part, you must hit up Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. There are lots of different dumpling options on the checklist menus, but forget the pork or shrimp. Dipped in soy, the spinach and vegetable dumplings are by far the tastiest and oh so worth the drive.