Being vegan in a non-vegan world can be rough. Living in Los Angeles, I have been blessed with a wide variety of vegan foods due to up and coming health trends. That said, it is hard going to a restaurant and having any sort of restriction.
It’s much easier and better received to say, “I’ll have the BBQ chicken salad please” than it is to say, “I have an allergy to gluten and dairy so can I please have the BBQ chicken salad but with no chicken, no bacon, no eggs, and substitute ranch for balsamic vinaigrette.” See my point?
While this may be true, you should never feel ashamed of being vegan. People can be vegan for many reasons, and you do not have to feel that you need to justify to anyone why you are or inversely, why you aren’t vegan.
So, my first tip to being vegan in a non-vegan world is to never let anyone’s disapproving glance get the best of you. People make assumptions as to why one has dietary restrictions, and you cannot take those personally. You must keep your head held high and order exactly what you want and how you want it. This is your body that you are fueling and you do not need to sacrifice your health for an onlooker’s approval.
My second tip to being vegan in a non-vegan world is always specifying that you cannot eat dairy. I have found that waiters and waitresses take the request more seriously if you tell them that you have an allergy to dairy, even if being vegan is a personal choice for you. Although I believe this is not mean hearted, people sometimes have the tendency to overlook requests that alter foods because they don’t think there is a substantial reason for doing so. If you don’t have an allergy to something or are conscious about a certain type of food, it can be hard for someone else to see the severity of your request.
Going off this tip, I always make sure to specify what ingredient in the meal I order has dairy in it. If you aren’t allergic or cautious of a certain food, it can be hard to identify what ingredients are in it. For example, although not vegan, a lot of people think that mayonnaise has dairy in it, when, in reality, it is dairy free. Also, if you are ordering a salad, make sure there is no cheese as well as specifying that you have a dairy allergy. It can be easy for waiters or waitresses to overlook ingredients like this and it is a lot of pressure to put on them to figure out which ingredients have dairy in them when you could easily say no cheese.
My fourth tip is to look up the menu of the restaurant you are going to prior to going. This way, you know if and what you will be able to eat and, if you are going with non-vegan friends, you will know your order before going so it is not as much of a struggle to find something to eat. Also, if you look at the menu before and realize that there are not a lot of options for you, you can always go somewhere new. You will completely dodge the chaos of realizing you cannot eat.
My fifth tip is to never be afraid to mix and match foods at a restaurant. What I mean by this is that a lot of meals are easily arrange-able. For example, when I get Mexican food, I always order a side of rice, a side of beans and veggies, guacamole, and corn tortillas. I make my own fajitas and usually have some left over for another meal. Although this isn’t exactly on the menu, I made my own meal with no hassle and had food for another meal. As a vegan, I love having leftovers because they make for super easy school lunches.
My sixth tip is to always carry around a snack. You never know when you will get hungry and as vegans we cannot just get fast food. Our options are much more limited and often take longer to prepare. Therefore, I always carry a packet of nuts or a granola bar with me in case I get hungry. Trader Joe’s has great pre-packaged nuts that make for a good snack.
So, those are my top six tips for being vegan in a non-vegan world. Although there are endless tips, I figured we’d start with six for now. I promise, one you get the hang of it, being vegan is not as hard as it may seem.
I’m sure that this post comes to no surprise. With my breakfast and lunch recommendations, I felt the need to finish it off with my current favorite dinner restaurants. I know that I’ve previously done five, but I could not choose which restaurant to cut out from my top six, so I decided to include them all. Also, I don’t think I blatantly said this in my past articles, but if I did, I just want to reiterate that regardless of what restaurant I go to, I always premise my order by saying, “Hi, I have an allergy to gluten and dairy, so can I please get…”And, while this infamous line begins every conversation I have with my waiter, I always specify what gluten or dairy food could contaminate my meal. For example, if there is cheese on a salad, I always make sure to say “no cheese please,” as well. If someone doesn’t have allergies, it is hard to know what would have dairy or gluten in it. For instance, a lot of people think mayonnaise has dairy in it, but really it is completely dairy free.
It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially if your health is on the line. So, with that said, here are my current favorite dinner spots!
My all time favorite restaurant, and coincidently, a dinner restaurant, is Pace. Pace is a nice little Italian place right inside Laurel Canyon. When I was able to digest fish, I used to get their grilled salmon with asparagus and root vegetables. However, now, I get their gluten free pasta. Their gluten free pasta is the best pasta I have ever eaten, no exaggeration. I get gluten free spaghetti or penne (depending on my mood and what is available) with grilled vegetables and marinara sauce. The dish is seasoned just right, and the pasta is cooked so that there is still some bite to it. I usually ask for whatever vegetables they have to be put inside the pasta dish, and it usually comes with zucchini, carrots, and squash. I would drive in rush hour traffic on the 101 and Laurel Canyon to get this dish, and that is saying a lot. Aside from this pasta dish, I always start my meal with Pace’s soup of the day. All of their soups are vegan and gluten free, which is a plus! My personal favorite soup is their broccoli soup, but I have not tasted one that I didn’t like.
My second favorite dinner restaurant is Katsuya. Katsuya is a very popular sushi restaurant, and when I was able to eat fish, I ate there much more than I do now. However, I have found a way to enjoy my time at Katsuya without just getting a plain cucumber avocado roll. Don’t get me wrong, I love cucumber avocado rolls-however-as someone who used to eat all types of fish, it is a tad disheartening to walk into a sushi restaurant and ask for two cucumber avocado rolls. That said, I have devised a new creation that will change the way vegans eat sushi. When I go, I order one order of spicy tuna on crispy rice, but without the spicy tuna on top. I also make sure to specify that I have a gluten and dairy allergy to make sure that they don’t cook it with butter or fry the rice in flour. I then order one grilled asparagus appetizer, gluten and dairy free, and two sides of the steamed tofu that they use in miso soup. Once the food arrives, I take my rice cakes and layer them with the tofu, asparagus, wrap it in tons of ginger, and dip it in gluten free soy sauce. It is really delicious. If you can eat mayonnaise, I suggest getting a side of spicy mayo and making your own spicy tofu mixture to top the rice cakes with. While messy, I promise this dish is worth it.
My third favorite restaurant is Gracias Madre, located in West Hollywood (you are going to see a trend of Mexican food in this post because Mexican food is easy for me to eat - beans, rice, veggies, corn tortillas, guacamole and I’m set). My favorite meal at Gracias Madre is their Mushroom Fajita special. It is really flavorful and lasted me two meals since it was such a large portion. However, I don’t know if they are available all the time. My favorite appetizer is their Brussel Sprouts. They may honestly be my favorite brussel sprouts. They are crispy but at the same time allow your teeth to sink into them. They go very well with a sprinkle of lemon, and they give you a very large portion which is good because if you don’t finish them, you can take them home. My favorite dessert is by far their vegan and gluten free Pumpkin Flan. It sinks right through your teeth as you take a bite.
My fourth favorite dinner restaurant is Wokcano. Wokcano is a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. There are locations in Woodland Hills, West Hollywood, Culver City, Long Beach, Hollywood, and more. I get their vegetable fried rice without egg. I make sure to ask for gluten free soy sauce, and from prior experience, learned that they do make their rice with butter. So, I make sure to ask for no butter on the rice or vegetables due to a severe allergy. The only issue I have with Wokcano is that they often get the order wrong when I order takeout. However, I have never run into any issues when I eat there. The rice is a super simple dish but incredibly filling and very tasteful.
My fifth favorite restaurant is Sol Y Luna. Sol Y Luna is my favorite Mexican Restaurant and is located in Tarzana. Their rice is my all time favorite rice. It comes cooked with corn and onion and is absolutely delicious. When I eat at Sol Y Luna I make my own fajitas. Since they don’t have vegetable fajitas on their actual menu, I order each piece of fajitas on their own. I order one side of rice, black beans, steamed vegetables, corn tortillas, and guacamole. However, I make sure that there is no cheese atop the beans or guacamole because if not specified they will put cheese on top. The side of vegetables comes with carrots and green and yellow zucchini strips. They go very well with the black beans and that amazing yellow rice. Sol Y Luna also has very delicious strawberry lemonade!
My sixth favorite dinner restaurant is XOC grill. XOC grill is another Mexican restaurant located in Woodland Hills inside a little shopping commons called The Village. My favorite meal at XOC grill would have to be their Veggie Tacos. Their veggie tacos come with mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers. The olive oil used to cook the veggies is super flavorful and they are also seasoned very well. I get the tacos in corn tortillas with black beans and white rice. The white rice is delicious and paIRS really well with the tacos and beans. I always put the rice and beans atop the taco and eat it all together. It really is delicious, however, my recommendation would be to eat there because the olive oil tends to leave the dish soggy if taken to go. That said, I have never experienced soggy tacos while eating at XOC grill and have been very pleased each time I’ve gone.
To go along with my favorite brunch spots post, I decided write a post dedicated to my favorite lunch restaurants. I don’t cherish lunch as much as I should, because many of my lunches consist of a plain rice cake with peanut butter and apple. Making a lunch to eat at school is a pain if you have allergies. While a peanut butter rice cake is delicious, it does not satisfy me like I believe a turkey sandwich would. So, when I am able to eat lunch at restaurants or even cook lunch at home, I cherish it so much more.
My first restaurant recommendation is Marmalade Cafe, home to my all time favorite meal: a vegan burger. Marmalade has locations in Calabasas, Malibu, Westlake Village, El Segundo, the Grove, and in Sherman Oaks. Without fail, every time I go to Marmalade (which is a lot), I get a vegan burger in a lettuce wrap with a side of pickles and french fries. I have eaten a lot of veggie burgers, but this specific one is my favorite. They make the patties fresh, and you can visibly see all the ingredients inside. I have taken multiple gluten and dairy eating friends to Marmalade, and this burger has become one of their favorite meals as well. On the off chance that I don’t get the vegan burger, my second go to meal at Marmalade is their white bean and kale soup. It is incredibly flavorful and a great meal option if you are not very hungry. Without doubt, I recommend that everyone go to Marmalade, whether you have allergies or not.
My second recommendation is Veggie Grill. I get one of two things at Veggie Grill: their quinoa power salad with grilled tofu or tempeh, or their vegan beyond burger. Veggie Grill has locations in Woodland Hills, Encino, Westlake Village, Santa Monica, El Segundo, and Los Angeles. Veggie grill is unique in that all of the items on their menu are meat, dairy, egg, and any other animal product free. They are a completely vegan restaurant and cater towards “gluten friendly” people. Their Vegan Beyond Burger is made with a Beyond Burger from Beyond meat. The Beyond Burger is the world’s first plant-based burger that really looks, tastes, and cooks like ground beef. The patty is gluten, soy, and GMO free. It is really delicious. It comes with vegan cheese, tomato and Veggie Grill’s famous house sauce. I get it in a lettuce wrap and add pickles. I often get it without the vegan cheese, but that is not because I cannot eat it. The satisfaction I get from sinking my teeth into this juicy burger, the house sauce all over my face, is a really good feeling. The quinoa power salad is also a delicious alternative to the burger. I usually get the salad after I work out. It is the only salad that I have ever eaten that does not need dressing because it is THAT good. The kale in the salad is marinated, adding another element to the salad. I’m not going to lie, writing this is making me crave Veggie Grill If I hadn’t just eaten lunch, I would order it now!
My third recommendation is Baja Fresh. Coincidently, Baja Fresh is what I just ate for lunch! Baja fresh has a ton of locations. They are located in Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Northridge, Simi Valley, Sherman Oaks, and Santa Monica, to name a few. Baja Fresh serves very affordable and quickly prepared Mexican food. I found myself craving it today and gave into the temptation of veggie fajitas. When I eat from Baja Fresh I get veggie fajitas with no sour cream, black beans (no cheese on the beans), and corn tortillas. I also tell them that I have a severe allergy to dairy so no butter on the veggies. This meal isn’t big enough for me to finish in one sitting, which is great because I know I will have a pre-prepared snack or even dinner ready for me when I get hungry.
My fourth recommendation is Hugos. I spoke about Hugo's in my brunch post. But, to reiterate, there are Hugos located in Agoura, Valley Village, and West Hollywood. Hugos has SO many options for people with dietary restrictions. In fact, every single meal option is labeled with allergens. I’ve only been once, and I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs, which was really good, however, my Dad’s Asian Stir Fry was my favorite favorite. It is very tangy, and I can appreciate a good stir fry considering how often I make them for myself at home. Next time I go to Hugos, I want to try their Artichoke Dip and I’d like to create my own plate with veggies, brown rice and veggie patty for protein. I will keep you guys updated on that creation next time I go.
My fifth and final recommendation comes from a close friend whose dad is vegan. He recommended Follow your Heart, located in Canoga Park. After my friend gave me this recommendation I immediately looked it up in disbelief that I had never heard of it before. While the menu is not very large, the few options do look appealing. When I go in the near future I plan on getting a gluten free / vegan cheese veggie pizza with veggies and/or a tamale plate. My friend's father's favorite dish is either the Enchiladas Corizone or any of the sandwiches. His excitement for me to try their gluten free bread makes me even more excited to go as soon as I can to try it.
Those are all of my favorite lunch spots for now. I am sure that that list will continue to grow as I venture outside of my valley bubble. Leave a comment below if you agree with my recommendations and if you have any other recommendations that I should check out! Be sure to expect a dinner recommendations post coming soon. :)
While my allergies are not ideal, having allergies and living in Los Angeles is. Los Angeles is a very up-and-coming city and very accommodating to dietary restrictions. Here are my favorite allergy-accommodating restaurants, and my favorite meals at them as well.
First, Blu Jam. Blu Jam is this delicious brunch spot. They have restaurants in Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Studio City, and deeper in the city. Not only is the food delicious, but their menu has all allergens labeled. They have a plethora of gluten free, vegan, and gluten free and vegan meal options. My current favorite meal at Blu Jam is the Scrambled Tofu Rancheros. It is absolutely delicious! The meal consists of piece of grilled tofu on a crunchy tortilla with grilled peppers and potatoes. Their potatoes and homemade ketchup that comes on the side may be my favorite potatoes and ketchup ever.
The second recommendation I have is Le Pain Quotidien. Le Pain (for short) is a really delicious place to grab a quick bite or sit down for a more lengthy meal. My two favorite meals are their Avocado Toast and their Zucchini Pad Thai. I would say that Le Pain is known for their avocado toast, and for good reason. I substitute in gluten free bread, and it is deliciously crispy when toasted. There are spices on top of the avocado, I believe salt, pepper, and even a hint of garlic powder, giving it more layers of flavor. The Zucchini Pad Thai is a new addition to the Le Pain near me. It is tossed in a sauce that I swear tastes like goat cheese, but is in reality completely dairy free. It is really tasty if eaten alongside a piece of gluten free bread.
My third recommendation is Sunlife. Sunlife is located in Calabasas and Malibu. While a little more expensive, sunlife has great acai bowls and various smoothies, perfect for when you are not very hungry, but hungry enough to enjoy a sweet breakfast. I personally always order the Hawaiian bowl. It consists of a blended acai mixture topped with strawberries, bananas, hemp hearts, and gluten free granola. It is the perfect thing to satisfy a sweet craving in the morning or early afternoon. They also have a variety of gluten free/vegan prepackaged foods, but, I have never tried one. I stick to my hawaiian bowl and occasional Kombucha.
My fourth recommendation is Hugos. There are Hugos located in Agoura, Valley Village, and West Hollywood. Hugos has SO many options for people with dietary restrictions. In fact, every single meal option is labeled with allergens. This way, everyone knows what ingredients are being put into their foods, and for people with allergies, this is extremely helpful when choosing what to eat. Their gluten free / vegan cinnamon swirl french toast and blueberry pancakes taste so deliciously sweet you won’t even be able to tell that they are gluten and dairy free.
The fifth and final recommendation comes from a peer of mine. He suggests The Waffle, located on Sunset Blvd. Again, I have never personally been to The Waffle, but my friends recommendation prompted me to look further into what The Waffle offers to people with food allergies. What I found was that, The Waffle, while not extremely accommodating to vegan and gluten free requests, does absolutely cater towards a vegetarian and gluten free audience. They have more gluten free accommodations than vegan, however, do have vegan waffles. If I do go to the Waffle in the future, I would try and see if they could make me a batch of vegan and gluten free waffles. They have both separate and hopefully could make a batch meeting both restrictions.
I hope that this helped give all of you allergy stricken people more brunch spots, as well as people who can eat all of the food on the spectrum more places to try out. These five restaurants do not disappoint, and I would love to hear your feedback on what you get and how it is when/if you go. A favorite lunch spot article is coming soon! :)
As someone who absolutely loves sushi, I was heartbroken to recently discover that I can no longer eat fish. Eating salmon and getting sicker than I had been in a while was one of the worst experiences. Not necessarily because of the physical pain I was in, but more because of the emotional ties I had with salmon. When I went on a recent trip to Uruguay with my school, all I ate was salmon. It was my go-to protein source (besides tofu) and has been since I discovered I could no longer eat meat. Now, salmon was gone and so was sushi. Or so I thought.
A few nights ago, out of desperation to find something I could eat for dinner, I decided to make tofu sushi. I had made sushi at home in the past, so I knew it was a pretty simple and easy meal to prepare. I got out some seaweed, layered on some brown rice, avocado, cucumber, hemp hearts, orange bell peppers, and topped it off with grilled tofu. I had nothing to lose, I thought. Well, let me tell you, this tofu-sushi concoction far exceeded my expectations. It was delicious! This new meal excited me because it was next best thing to a cajun salmon cut roll (at least that's what I keep telling myself).
So, you can imagine my excitement, when one day in class my friend Emma approached me and asked if she could come over to my house to make sushi. She had heard that I liked to make it and wanted to give it a go. Two days later a few of my friends, including Emma, came over to make sushi. We made spicy tuna, cut up a ton of vegetables, and I made sure to grill some tofu. We set everything up on the table, and before I was even finished making a second batch of rice, all of the tofu was gone. The tofu was gone before the spicy tuna! Keep in mind that all of my friends (with the exception of Emma) came over to eat fish.
I was blown away. Not only did my friends like my tofu-sushi concoction, they liked it better than the fish-sushi we had prepared. When I originally told them about putting tofu in sushi they were hesitant. However, so was I. But that's the beauty of all of this. Finding vegan and gluten free foods is all about being open to trying new things.
I think that vegan/gf cake is delicious while my friends taste it and spit it out with a look of pure disgust. They want that buttery, delicious flavor of red velvet that my cake doesn’t have. So, you can imagine how good I felt when my meat eating friends found my food delicious! :)
Have you ever had one of those days when you can’t exactly pinpoint what went wrong? Well, I did, about two days ago. I was sitting at home complaining to my mom about my sub-par day at school while shoveling handfuls of popcorn into my mouth. I was simply having a bad day. Why? I have no idea. Anyway, about ten minutes into my complaining session, I got a text from my friend Hannah asking if I wanted to go to a cardio barre class in exactly a half hour. Hannah and I don’t go to the same school, so it is often hard for us to make time and see each other. It’s safe to say that the majority of our plans are a result of spontaneous planning. I jumped up out of the chair, ran to my room, quickly put on workout attire, and ran out the door. I don’t think I could have been more excited to receive that text.
As I drove to the cardio barre studio, I realized that I had absolutely no clue what cardio barre was. I assumed it had something to do with a bar, and I knew that it required a lot of strength. What I didn’t know, was that it would take just as much mental strength as it did physical. I arrived to the studio right on time, took off my shoes, and entered the room. Having never been to a cardio barre class, the room was still exactly as I envisioned. The one I went to has mirrors on all four walls, and each wall was lined with a bar. There were also two sets of two bars in the center of the room. Hannah and I each had our own bar in the center left of the room. The room was quiet when I arrived, however, within minutes, it transformed into a loud, motivation filled environment.
We began by doing some exercises on the bars themselves. We stretched out our backs, legs, arms, and chests. After about five minutes, I looked up at Hannah, my face beet red, and said, “Wow, this is difficult.” To which she replied, “Gab, this is still the warm up.” I knew then that I was in for a unique work out. Throughout the hour, we did a lot of cardio that involved core, leg, back, and arm engagement. When we did ab or arm exercises, we did them in squats. It was strenuous. However, the woman leading the class was extremely nice and helped me with just about every exercise we did. She probably thought I looked ridiculous, though she never made feel like I did. When I was pointing my toes instead of flexing them she walked over and flexed my toes for me. When I was leaning on the bar and lifting one leg up behind me, she helped me adjust the foot that was balancing on the floor.
At one point, I said, “I swear, by the end of class I’ll be able to get something right.” She laughed and went to go help someone else. As the class went on, I began to get the hang of it. I tried really hard to push myself to the best of my ability. And although this was an intrinsic motivational goal, it was also repeated multiple times by the instructor. Throughout the hour-long workout, the instructor kept reminding the room full of women to work hard for no one but ourselves. She taught me that each exercise has a purpose. When I rotate my core to one side, punching my arm with each rotation, I should be envisioning that I am pushing all of the negative energy out of my body. With each breath, I was told to gather strength.
I said something before about how while this was very physically demanding, it also required a lot of intense, positive thought. To be honest, sometimes it was hard for me to get into that zen mindset. I was still thinking about all of the work that had to be done and all of the college supplements that had to be written. However, by the end of the class, I was way calmer than I had been when I came in. I was even able to catch up with Hannah for a good 20 minutes after the class ended without feeling like I had to be going home to work.
So, while this class was hard, it taught me how much mental strength influences our body’s ability to workout. When I had a more relaxed mentality I became less tense and my leg was able to lift higher. I encourage all of you to do the same next time you work out. Regardless if you go to a barre class or not, try to imagine that with each motion you make you are releasing a stress in your body. That said, I 100% recommend everyone to take a cardio barre class at some point in their lives.
My name is Gabriella. Join me on my health and wellness journey as I discover foods that not only please my taste buds but my stomach as well!