Best Vegan / Vegetarian Restaurant
Fullerton, Orange (two locations) and Tustin
- Founded in Fullerton 40 years ago, the restaurants offer a different special at each branch every month, usually some type of dip or salsa.
- Once a bohemian coffeehouse in Fullerton that helped popularize espresso in Orange County, Rutabegorz has an extensive health-conscious menu.
- House favorites include Peasant Mushrooms (stuffed with a veggie medley) and a veggie Mexican casserole.
Why they're No. 1: Two dozen salad selections and 12 homemade low-fat dressings get the attention of health-conscious diners interested in flavor and variety. The rest of the menu offers plenty of intrigue as well: black bean chili, chicken-leek soup, pita pizzas, hummus, veggie mu shu, avocado sandwiches, smoothies, desserts baked in-house and even peanut butter and jelly on squaw bread for children.
Claim to fame: Owner/founder Paul Berkman has taken his love of eating out and expressed it in his restaurants – at first a cozy "hippie place" and now a full-service enterprise with menus that take awhile to digest (turkey and chicken is available for guests who want it). The menu is filled with "healthy alternatives to traditional restaurant offerings." The salads, some of which vary with the seasons, are known as some of the county's biggest. "Rutabegorz is a unique restaurant, not a big chain. An original vegetarian restaurant started by a hippie guy back in the 1970s. We're called old-school vegetarian," said Fullerton manager Dane Henderson.
Fan favorite: "Wonderful atmosphere, wonderful food. The salads are just the best. Everything is just right." – Nancy Wyatt, La Puente
Fun fact: Takeout customers get their meals in corn-based containers that are recyclable and biodegradable.
– Michelle Wu
2. The Veggie Grill
4213 Campus Drive, Irvine; 949-509-0003
81 Fortune Drive, Irvine; 949-727-9900
- The chain's nutritional philosophy encompasses wholesome food with "good calories and good fats" that are fully plant-based.
- Quinoa, considered a nutrition-packed "super grain," is part of all salads.
Claim to fame: The buzz around The Veggie Grill often centers on one word: tempeh. It is a whole soybean product with more protein and fiber than tofu, and it's grilled and sautéed and is the basis for many of the sandwiches and burgers. Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' is made from "Chillin' Chicken," a special concoction of marinated veggie proteins. Sweetheart fries, rather than French fries, are a common side order, along with veggie versions of "wings," nachos and mac and cheese. "Not many people know that well over half of our guests are actually omnivores (they eat meat). That means they're coming here because our food is delicious, and not because it's also great for you and 100 percent free of animal products," said Ingrid McLeod, manager of the UC Irvine campus location.
Fan favorite: "I am a huge fan of Veggie Grill. I've always had friendly service, and it's always very clean. The food, of course, is delicious! I'd say that my favorite dish here is the Grillin' Chickin' sandwich. ... Oh, and the sweet potato fries are amazing!" – Shahrooz Shahandeh, Irvine
Fun fact: Desserts are yummy, but also health conscious, using apple sauce, tofu and evaporated cane juice for healthy treats.
– Michelle Wu
3. Mother's Market & Kitchen
Locations throughout Orange County
- For more than 32 years, Mother's Market & Kitchen has served all kinds of special dietary needs, with its store and restaurants offering organic, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, low-glycemic and low-salt items.
- "Mother's Market & Kitchen provides foods that are not readily available at other vegetarian and vegan restaurants. We have protein alternatives, and special raw foods," said Costa Mesa manager Debora Rubino.
Claim to fame: Mother's began in 1978 when some friends and family members who practiced yoga together opened the original Costa Mesa store to provide vegetarian foods that were hard to find at the time. Restaurants at the six-store chain offer everything from breakfast to a children's menu plus an extensive selection of sandwiches and wraps. Ask a server what organic items are available. Four of the restaurants also have a juice bar.
Fan favorite: "They know how to prepare vegetarian food that is tasty." – Victoria Michaels
Fun fact: The website presents healthy, time-saving recipes that can be completed in 15 minutes.
– Michelle Wu
Critic's choice: Loving Hut
Huntington Beach, Orange, Ladera Ranch
By Michael Doss, ocregister.com
Don't blink, or you might miss it.
Hidden in a tiny strip mall in Orange, with only a yellow sign proclaiming "Grand Opening Healthy Cuisine" marking its existence, the Loving Hut doesn't look like much from the street.
Once you're inside and eating, however, it stands out with some of the best vegan Asian food in Orange County.
Specializing in pan-Asian dishes, Loving Hut is one of the few locations in Orange County where a vegan can get noodle soups such as pho without having to worry about a beef broth. More importantly, every soup is both delicious and beautifully presented, with fresh vegetable garnishes and ample portions of various meat substitutes.
The menu also features a variety of noodle dishes, Asian favorites like lemongrass "chicken" and eggplant tofu, and a few vegan-but-not-Asian choices, including veggie burgers and spaghetti. Golden Rolls, a crispy rice-paper wrapped appetizer with taro, cabbage, tofu and mushrooms, really stand out and are a perfect addition to any meal.
There are a lot of little touches beyond the food that make Loving Hut special. The staff is almost absurdly (yet genuinely) friendly and helpful. Given the large portions, the prices are very reasonable, with most entrees running under $7. And having "real" (nondisposable) chopsticks in a low-price Asian eatery was a nice surprise.
One drawback of the Orange location is its small size – the 10 or so tables in the tiny dining room fill up quickly at lunch. But the diverse crowd doesn't seem to mind waiting, and to-go orders (especially the soups) are packaged smartly, with the fresh items and broth in separate containers.
In addition to the strip mall spot in Orange, there are Loving Hut locations in Ladera Ranch and Huntington Beach. The menu varies by location, each with some specialties and unique items, all vegan, and worth seeking out.