Where we ate in LA
As I’ve mentioned before, Nic and I absolutely adore travelling and we’ve recently been fortunate enough to have work-related reasons to travel together. Our unexpected success with Matcha Maiden in the US market necessitated a quick visit to LA and NYC last month for some meetings, tastings and recon. It’s been three years since my last visit to the States during which we ticked off most of the “essential foodie experiences” (i.e. LA was basically back-to-back In N’ Out burger – nom!) This time, with our health-food-business-owner hats on, there was a whole new world for us to explore.
With its strong reputation as a health foodie haven leading the way in wellness and fitness trends, I had expected to be bowled over during the first week of our trip spent in sunny LA. While we did have some delicious, innovative and beautifully presented food, I’m quite proud to say that nothing lived up to Melbourne’s booming health food scene (I love how travel can refresh your perspective and renew your appreciation for things you have at home). I was surprised to find only a few Melbourne-worthy healthy hot spots which we ended up going back to time and time again (which is unusual given we generally prefer to try as many new things as possible). We, of course, didn’t confine ourselves to #cleaneating (balance is the key, after all) and still we found our options quite limited.
So although I would usually have a long list of places to share from any travel adventure, I actually only have a few favourites from the LA leg of our trip. As our time was more limited than usual, we were perhaps a bit less adventurous than we normally would be and of course limited geographically to where our meetings were scheduled. So this is by no means an exhaustive list of noteworthy LA places to eat, but just the ones we enjoyed most during our stay. One thing I did get absolutely hooked on which I haven’t yet found back home is Poke Bowls – to the person who brings these down under, I will love you forever! As usually, happy snaps included below. Enjoy!
1. Poke Bowls
After having had my ear bashed by Nic and our dear friend Mark (who has recently relocated to LA) about how great “poke bowls” are, I was amused to find that you actually pronounce the “e” so they should have been saying “poh-ke bowls” all along. Pokē is the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut” and pokē bowls are raw fish salads (most commonly tuna) served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. Reminiscent of a Japanese dish, they generally consist of a base of rice or kelp noodles, diced raw fish, and your choice of toppings such as kale, seaweed, avocado, edamame etc. The difference with sashimi is how thickly cut the chunks of fish are.
These made the perfect lunch option in LA’s scorching 40 degree heat – so refreshing and light! Nothing revolutionary and similar things have probably been around for years, but someone clever thought to turn them into a “thing” and they’re taking the US by storm. We frequented Mainland Poke and Sweet Fin poke, both of which were absolutely delicious and had a range of yummy options. They all have pre-set “signature options” but we preferred to build our own most of the time. If you’re a hungry hippo like me, I’d recommend the large size over small which weren’t enough to fill me up.
2. Backyard Bowls
Another bowl-related place we enjoyed multiple times was Backyard Bowls. I’m generally not a big fan of smoothie bowls (at least not as an actual meal), but things changed a bit for me on this trip. I used to prefer more substantial, hearty dishes at meal time and enjoyed smoothies as a beverage – they simply couldn’t fill me up enough if I had a smoothie alone. But this was because I hadn’t tapped into the more elaborate and calorie-dense smoothie recipes including ingredients like almond butter and protein powder. One morning it was so sweltering that all anyone wanted was a smoothie bowl, so I caved to the peer pressure and decided to give it a go. After trying the Power Bowl (Acai, Peanut Butter, Banana, Blueberry, Protein Powder, Hemp Milk topped with granola, almonds, banana, blueberry and hemp seed), I was full all the way through Runyon Canyon and well into the afternoon, so I became a smoothie bowl convert and went back everyday after that! The staff were great with us making changes to the menu too and the price point was quite reasonable for the massive serving sizes of the bowls. The menu is quite sugar-heavy but, as I said, modifications were happily accommodated so this became a daily favourite.
3. Cafe Gratitude
Most health foodies will have heard of this place and/or have seen it all over social media. For that reason alone, we weren’t leaving LA until we ate here. I can understand why it might be a bit too airy fairy for some and too vegan / healthy / hipster for others, but I was in absolute heaven! We went with our beautiful friend Jade who splits her time between LA and Melbourne and any place that this stunner frequents is a place for me! The menu is extraordinarily extensive and full of creative healthy dishes catering to every dietary requirement. Sweet, savoury, light, heavier, breakfast-y or more brunch-y, it took me forever just to process all the options. I settled on an amazing macro bowl with a delicious matcha latte on the side. Jade opted for the raw-open faced bagel and the raw house made granola. Nic was less enamoured than I was, finding the strictly vegan menu a bit of a challenge. But he was happy to settle on a burger option , which he found quite filling (but still not quite his jam). All dishes are described and pictured below.
The concept is also quite beautiful as you can see from the blue plate below – the staff have a question each day to ask customers to encourage a reflection on what you might be grateful for. I was a little bit too busy face planting my breakfast bowl, but looking back, it was quite a lovely question to ponder while eating such delicious food. Like all raw / healthy / trendy cafes, it was on the pricier side of things, but I could be coloured by the weak Aussie dollar at the time. Plus, this is an absolutely standard qualm of any health foodie anywhere – I figure it’s the best investment you could possibly make anyway, so it was totally worth it. Definitely recommend a visit if you’re into healthy food, but if you’re looking for bacon and eggs you should probably go elsewhere.
The CRUNCHY raw granola (gluten-free apple cinnamon granola, fresh fruit, coconut yogurt), the PEACE raw open faced bagel (onion sesame crust, cashew cream cheese, nori, tomato, onion, capers, sprouts), MAGICAL double cheeseburger (see below) and WHOLE macro bowl (see below).
The MAGICAL double cheeseburger: two housemade black bean patties, grilled gluten-free amaranth and millet bun, shredded romaine, tomato, pickles, red onion, spicy cashew thousand island, chipotle ketchup, cashew macadamia cheddar, side of roasted garnet yams
The WHOLE macro bowl: braised garnet yams, adzuki beans, sea vegetables, seasonal sautéed greens, housemade kim chee, black sesame seed gomasio, garlic-tahini sauce, teriyaki almonds, sunflower sprouts, sprouted probiotic brown rice or quinoa
4. Gracias Madre
This is another SUPER-health-freak-oriented place that has been creating a huge amount of social media buzz and that I wasn’t leaving without visiting. Again, I dragged Nic (and a few other boys) out to dine here who wouldn’t usually opt for this type of cuisine but they were pleasantly surprised with the food. Nic probably enjoyed this more than Cafe Gratitude as the options, while vegan/gluten free/super healthy, resembled conventional dishes a bit more in taste and texture. Again, I was absolutely in love with everything about it. Who would have thought you could create a plant-based Mexican restaurant!? And a plant-based Mexican restaurant in LA that is permanently packed with “the beautiful people” who we were delighted to be surrounded by.
I understood the hype around this place before we even looked at the menu. The courtyard where we were seated was beautiful with gorgeous greenery and hanging lights creating a warm and could-be-on-a-beach-in-Mexico atmosphere. The cocktail list was quite spectacular and included a matcha option, much to our delight. The food menu was surprisingly extensive and between the 5 of us we managed to share quite a few different dishes. I had the tacos (three corn tortillas topped with seared cauliflower, grilled calabaza verde, and mushrooms. Topped with cashew crema, served with beans), which were absolutely DELICIOUS. There was a bowl dos (braised lentils, peanut sauce, spinach, coconut rice, pico de gallo, pineapple habanero salsa, pumpkin seeds) and a bowl tres (quinoa, kale, roasted squash, pesto cashew creme, white beans, peppers and onions) on the table, if I recall correctly. I think there were also some enchiladas (spicy mole enchiladas served open faced, grilled mushrooms, cashew crema, sautéed greens, black beans) and coconut ceviche tostadas (two tostadas, coconut ceviche, guacamole, lettuce, cashew crema, cilantro, side of black beans). Again I would highly recommend to a health foodie, and encourage regular foodies to at least give it an open-minded go. It will obviously not be the same as meat-based Mexican fare, but it was delicious all the same!
5. Erewhon Natural Market / Wholefoods
As I mentioned above, my foodie to-do list was surprisingly short this trip and we didn’t actually dine out properly more than a handful of times. In the end, our favourite go-to for meals was Erewhon Natural Market over the road from our hotel. I am a MASSIVE sucker for a health food buffet style self service situation so Erewhon was absolutely divine. A decent range of rotating options were available and this time not limited to vegetarian/vegan dishes, so Nic was quite happy to get take away from here. There was also a smoothie bar in the middle of the store and then aisles of healthy goodies to take home for later. I am also ridiculously obsessed with Wholefoods which had a much bigger range but was a bit further away than Erewhon, so we tended to alternate between the two depending on where we were that day. I know it sounds terrible to just get take away when travelling in an exciting new city, but the food was just such good quality and healthy but also filling that we couldn’t help but keep going back! There’s not much else to say about these places, they’re basically just healthy supermarkets, but they were our favourite option this trip particularly on the go!
6. Rice Bar
One random place we went to for a bit of a different experience was Rice Bar – the one day that we ventured downtown (which I don’t particularly love doing). Tucked away in a tiny little shoebox of a hole in the wall, you would never know it was a booming top-rated restaurant. Making a great name for itself especially among corporates in the area for a quick, cheap but delicious lunch, Rice Bar serves up Filipino food which is said to be extremely authentic. I haven’t eaten a great deal of Filipino food, but quite enjoyed these simple but flavoursome dishes.
The menu was a bit limited for my liking, but the simplicity is probably what makes it work. They have a small range of dishes served on different kinds of rice – the two favourites which the boys ordered were pork longganisa (House Made Sweet & Spicy Sausage with Pickled Vegetables & Garlic Crumbs) and bistek tagalog (Soy Marinated Black Angus Beef Sirloin, Pan Seared, with Red Onions & Calamansi). I had the chicken tinola (Free-Range Chicken Simmered in Aromatic Ginger Broth, Green Papaya, Chili Leaves) which was bursting with flavour. Servings were small but the food was filling and serving was quick and friendly. Apparently the queues are epic at peak times, but if you go at a random hour you can avoid them altogether. Wouldn’t go out of my way to visit if you aren’t in the area, but if you are, it’s quite delicious.
Alfred Coffee + Kitchen
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Places that came highly recommended but we didn’t get to:
Nourish Kitchen + Table
(This list is ENDLESS, so more than happy to e-mail if anyone wants it!)
NYC instalment coming soon…