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The hunt for vegan food in DTLA

By Sonali Kohli
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 01:17PM
Sonali Kohli

Leslie Flores works at Babycakes NYC, a vegan bakery with a location in Downtown.

Downtown may be a great place for carnivores, but for vegans it can be slim-pickings.

While there are a number of new restaurants in Downtown, the demand does not yet exist for vegan food, said Tony Torres, the chef of Artisan House , which opened in December.

Artisan House is part market, part restaurant, at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets. Vegan items like quinoa tabouleh and green beans with pine nut tahini populate the deli counter, but Torres said he has yet to incorporate meat substitutes or other vegan entrees into the menu.

“There’s no real demand for us,” Torres said. "If there's a higher demand I'd love to meet (it)."

Before opening Artisan House, Torres worked at Cut in Beverly Hills and Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica, and he said veganism and healthy lifestyles are much more prevalent on the Westside than they are in Downtown.

Many chefs see veganism as a trend, and Downtown hasn't been as traditionally trend-driven as other parts of LA, Torres said.

Santa Monica and Venice dwellers can adopt veganism easier than Downtown residents can, partly because of the availability of fresh foods at farmers markets like the one on Third Street Promenade, Torres explained.

The only high quality, fully vegan restaurant in Downtown that Harris Samuels, the baker at Downtown's vegan bakery Babycakes NYC could think of was Shojin, a Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo that serves up sushi with a vegan twist, using ingredients like seitan and kale.

Leslie Flores is also an employee at Babycakes and she’s been vegan for six years. Although it's easier to find vegan food in L.A. than in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Flores said the DTLA food options are still limited.

"(Restaurants in Downtown) have to accommodate meat eaters," Flores said. “You take what you can get."

DTLA Vietnamese restaurant, Blossom, located near the intersection of Fourth and Main streets, is one of Flores' favorites. It's not vegan, but was voted by Los Angeles Downtown News to be one of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants in 2011.

Blossom manager James Pham said he’s used to requests for vegan food.

The restaurant offers a number of vegetarian dishes with tofu that's fried in the same oil that meat is fried in, but they accomodate vegans by serving the tofu raw on request, Pham said.

“The most requests I’ve had in a day for vegan food is four,” Pham said. “That’s not too common, but it happens.”


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