Vegan Friendly: BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar in San Diego’s East Village

The Short and Skinny

Quivering curls of springy ramen noodles bathed in a creamy vegan both and inventive vegan buns await under the hospitable gaze of the East Village’s BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar.

The Vibe

Sunlight streams through the floor to ceiling glass walls into the modern interior of BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar. Stamped tin tiles and Gaslamp-style pendants line the far wall, reflecting the historic core of the city. Above a matte black counter, large windows provide an open view into the kitchen where steaming curls of noodles slip into deep bath of carefully crafted broths. Rustic wood tables and steel-backed chairs are set under an industrial steel rack neatly lined with sake bottles.

Owner Ayaka Ito, a certified sake master, opened BESHOCK in 2016, but the journey to get into this space was a long and winding one.

Ito spent nearly three years traveling thought over 100 ramen houses in Japan to learn the craft. Though her eyes were always focused on San Diego, she built her first ramen house—Three Little Pigs—in her hometown of Nagoya, Japan, a sister ramen shop—or “ramen lab” as Ito calls it—where she developed the recipes that would become the cornerstones of her East Village restaurant.

Read morehttp://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-beshock-ramen-sake-bar-san-diegos-east-village

Advertisements

Loving Hut Mira Mesa (San Diego, CA)

 

Delving into new-to-me dishes at Loving Hut Mira Mesa, I was sure to order a known ally: Amazing Chow ($10). Toothsome wheat noodles, echoing the Chinese egg version, twist around charred soy protein and vegetables. The sauce, sweet and one dimensional, caramelized like soy-candy on the seared edges of everything. Overflowing from the plate, this ample dish makes a meal for days to come. 

A wreath of rice paper wrapped around thin rice vermicelli noodles with mint, fried tofu, soy ham, and lettuce fill the plate of the Loving Hut Fresh Roll ($6). Offered with a fragrant pineapple peanut sauce tying together these mild elements at the start of the meal.

Tight buds of brown rice glazed in their own starch, spiked with curry powder, build the base of the Guru Fried Rice ($10).  Strewn with carrot cubes, petite peas, slivered green onion, and haphazardly cut fried tofu, this dishes holds all the notes of a typical Thai style fried rice.

Although I think the portion runs small, the BBQ Noodles ($10) hits all my wants: Cool knots of rice noodles, crispy spring roll, crisp cucumber, herbaceous mint, sharp green onion, mild and sweet soy beef, and dusting of roasted peanuts. Doused in a sweetly diluted soy sauce, this Vietnamese bun-style dish is a little kitchen sampler.

“Amazing Sauce” perseveres through the menu. The sticky sweet brown sauce pours over the Amazing Saute ($12). Similar to the chow but with rice instead of noodles and larger cuts of soy protein.

But, apparently the dish to get here are the Texas Fries ($8.50). According to the internet, Texas Fries are a thing that people who eat at places like Chili’s know and love. Traditionally, sour cream *could* be an ingredient—but more often it’s a cheese slick punctuated with bacon. At Loving Hut Mira Mesa the fries are tossed with raw white onions, scallions, a scant offering of jalapenos, spice powder, and a minuscule sprinkling of vegan cheddar under a huge glob of what the kitchen calls “sour cream.”

It’s a looming—and sometimes legal—question about how we apply words heavily associated with animal products to their vegan alternatives. So while I personally cannot tell anyone what is or isn’t vegan sour creme—to my taste, this is mayo. I’ll do the glob the service of calling it aioli… and aioli and fries…. do you see where I’m going here? These are really pommes frites. Modeled after a beloved world dish, it’s no surprise this is THE menu favorite… despite it’s mistitlement.

Loving Hut Mira Mesa
9928 Mira Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92131

lovinghut.us/sandiego2

Vegan Friendly: FaVe Tacos in Hillcrest and North Park

The Short and Skinny

Sustainable, farm-savvy T. Elizabeth Cramer fills house-made tortillas with fresh produce pulled fresh from the earth for vegan friendly tacos worth the queue at the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets.

The Vibe

A smile breaks through the hustle of the Hillcrest Farmers Market, as San Diego native T. Elizabeth Cramer stirs enamel pots filled with locally sourced vegetables—many purchased from the farms just a few stalls down. Curls of cabbage and flutters of cilantro drop from the tip of her tongs. Each day the offerings are slightly different as the rhythms of nature are embraced.

After walking the standard line of life, Elizabeth stepped away from an office job and onto a popular DC food truck to study the food business (something she strongly recommends to anyone wanting to start their own edible empire). Invaluable lessons were learned, followed by a spell of disenchantment, replaced ultimately by a deep desire to really understand farming and sourcing.

Read more at: http://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-fave-tacos-hillcrest-and-north-park

Vegan Friendly: Sushi 2 Launches a Vegan Sushi Menu

The Short and Skinny

After the wild success of their “All You Can Eat (and Drink!) Vegan Sushi” nights, downtown’s Sushi 2 has put their vegan sushi on the permanent menu.

The Vibe

Crowds clamor on the sidewalk outside of Sushi 2. The dining room windows seem to allow the baroque decor of the adjacent Spreckels Theatre lobby to spill inside, so much so that you might think the crowds are here for a show. But, don’t be fooled, they’re here for the sushi.

Owner Kuniko Holmes roams the aisles of her beloved restaurant, smiling over tables filled with colorful cuts and sparkling Sapporo towers. Warm red-orange walls rise high to the paper lantern lit ceiling.

Once the downtown outlet of the Sushi Deli restaurant group, Holmes’ dedicated management won her the opportunity to buyout location, whose menu still holds memories of its past, while carving out its own niche in the market. Ever popular for riding the cusp of quality and affordability, the vegan expansion (officially debuting on 3/28) is perhaps the clearest example of her thoughtful, purposeful changes.

Read more at: Edible San Diego Vegan Friendly

Influx Cafe (San Diego, CA)

This 2/3 bread sandwich is a gift to San Diego.

A faint twinkle of sea salt dusts the surface of Influx Cafe‘s house baked focaccia. The thicc crumb rises with tender, slightly sweet, and yeasty tones, offering a springy hand when clenched between the fingers.  That focaccia is not the focus of this cafe confuses me—but I guess in today’s gluten-fear environment, the many are still dull to the fine breads of San Diego.

Come early enough to Influx Cafe and your only vegan bread option is a bagel (their focaccia is still baking). That was the first annoyance one morning. After standing around 30+ minutes for two bagels (lost ticket) I was ready to blast them with a million ughs. But hot damn—these are the best vegan bangle sandwiches I’ve had in a very long time.

From the sandwich menu, the Tofu 1 ($6.95) are described with little fanfare. Slender slices of firm baked silken tofu layer with sliced red onion, tomato, mixed greens, and a smear of chile veganaise boom. I’ve actually never made it past the Tofu 1 before because it’s just so doggone good.

But because I was kind enough to share my bagel with my husband, I was able to get half of his Tofu 3 ($6.95). I’m sitting here now, reading the ingredients list, knowing I’ve eaten this combination a billion times over, always sucking—except now. Nothing suck about this. The same baked silken tofu is paired with briney olive tapenade, a juicy slice of roasted red pepper, and balsamic vinaigrette dressed arugula. This sandwich, which would normally elicit eye rolls from me, utterly slays. I am now dead. Please bury me between a Tofu 1 and Tofu 3 on India St in Little Italy.

Influx Cafe
750 West Fir
San Diego, CA 92101

influxcafe.com

Instagram: @influx_cafe
Facebook: Influx Cafe Little Italy

Beelman’s (Los Angeles, CA)

At brunch with the super smart, funny, talented and all around good person, Stacy Michelson we dove headfirst into this relaunched, 100% vegan, pub in Downtown LA. Easily agreeing on two cocktails to share, we sat back to enjoy good conversation and me accidentally smashing a glass candle holder. After the candle mishap, we shared the Accidental Guru ($13)—a blend of Jameson with forward notes of peach liquor, tempered with ginger, lime, and hefeweizen, served on the rocks—and the Trinidad Sour ($13)—a boozy crush of Redemption rye, angostura bitters, orgreat, and lemon served Snoopy sno-cone cute with a polkadot paper straw.

I’m about to let you in on a secret: I am a suckers for tater tots. This innovation of waste management grip my heartstrings in its crisp chunky nugs. And so Beelman’s Tachos ($10) were an absolute outcome of brunch. The pan comes loaded with fried tots topped with soyrizo, cashew cheese, salsa, gochujang crema (although we had a hard time singling out this element of the mountain), housemade pickled jalapenos, bird’s eye chili pinto beans, and a toupee of cilantro. Carby and warm, with just a hit of spice, this is exactly what what I crave in pub food.

The appetizer portion of any menu is usually the best part. It is because apps are designed as small flavor packets meant to satisfy in one or two bites—such as these, the Wonton Mee Bites ($6). Golden arms of deep fried wonton wrapper reach up and around domino-sized cuts of smoked tofu. A sweet and tart balsamic reduction glistens over a base of sriracha aioli, all under a confetti of green onions.

The least successful dish of my brunch was the only actual brunch dish we ordered: Harissa Says It All ($15). Slivers of fried grits and seared tofu with togarashi—a japanese chili pepper—atop roasted potatoes with rainbow carrots and kale tossed in a mild house-made harissa. This dish simply didn’t live up to the complexity and kick that harissa promises. As for the fried grits, I would pay for just a plateful of these deep fried, sweet corn filled, shards.

We debated this choice. Neither Stacy nor I had yet tried the Impossible burger. Unsure if Beelman was where we should rip the hyman of this darling-of-mainstream-hype, our eyes locked and we decided: No, this would not be the one.

While ordering we mentioned that we had never tried the Impossible Burger.

“But you must! ” Vance said.

Apparently that was all it took because as you can see, we order a Classic Impossible Burger ($16). Slathered with chipotle aioli, a fat red tomato slice, spring greens, pickles, and spicy ketchup which is was thankfully not very ketchupy because ketchup is a garbage condiment and yes you should be ashamed of liking it. The burger party was thinner then I expected (have we all been spoiled by the girth of the Beyond Burger?) and… umm, well—OK, let me acknowledge here that it’s been at least 25 years since I’ve eaten cow. But, like many of us, I have vivid memories of the flavors of youth which in my case did include cowburgers. So, to my self-assessed strong sense of food recollection, this did not taste “just like meat.”

For me, this burger confirmed what I’ve suspected about the Impossible Burger—that it’s a high quality product benefiting from awesome PR and the sudden societal interest in WFPB “healthy” eating. This burger got lucky. Riding on the What the Health tailwind, there is a strong desires by vegans and omnis alike to believe it is a near undetectable substitute for cow. Personally, I don’t think it is. This burger’s miracle of science story and the corroboration of “non-bias” (aka not vegan) media has coddled hordes of omnivores into finally feeling it is OK to say a veggie burger tastes good. So I am very happy to complicity nod and smile when omnis tell me how much they love this vegan burger*.

But I think the real issue here is form. Because since this meal I’ve had Impossible meat in a shepherds pie—and there, there it tasted like eerily of beef. Without the palate numbing loaf of bread, and the 3:1 ratio of vegetables to meat, the irony tang of heme stands at the forefront of each bite.

Because we are gluttons, after all this food we went on to share an Ice Cream Sundae ($8). Scoops of Vanilla and Honeycomb Van Leeuwen ice cream drizzled in guava sauce, topped in coconut whip cream and eared with deep fried, wonton wrapped, sweet plantains. While I think ice cream is a weak dining-in vegan dessert (dear restaurants: please stop serving sorbet as a vegan, gluten-free, healthy catch-all. It is boring as f***) this was a light yet flavorful finale.

Beelman’s
600 S Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014

beelmans.com

Instagram: Beelmansla
Facebook: Beelmansla

*Yes, I am away of the vegan paradox surrounding this product. I absolutely respect everyone’s opinion on this matter and am personally choosing to call the Impossible Burger vegan.

Plant Food and Wine (Venice,CA)

Under the twinkling trees and against the rustle of climbing ivy, we perused the wine list. Our fingers faltered over a lovely 2013 Preston Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma​ County, CA) that was so nice we ordered it twice.

From day one, at the top of the Santa Monica Mall, Plant Food and Wine has been serving these Kimchi Dumpling ($16). Dehydrated cilantro and coconut skins folded over a soft paste of fermented kimchee, cashews, tahini, and ginger. The plate is finished with dollops of ginger and sesame milk foam, micro greens, and a twirling flick of red cabbage puree thinned out with kimchi juice. While the name implies heat, there is none to be found in these tender—almost sweet—bites now served in a non-mall atmosphere befitting of the price point.

Two Chinese-style folded rounds of sweet white bread with a tacky glazed finish make up The Steamed Buns ($14). The fluffy bread is folded around A: Smoked tofu, napa cabbage, and pickled chili with a miso mustard; B: Oyster mushrooms, scallions, and pickled cucumber with a cashew hoisen glaze. I can see how these complex yet delicate flavors made their way to the menu. But priced at $7 a piece, I also understand why they are no longer there.

Though the Cashew Raclette ($14) does not remotely resemble the gooey lava flow of a traditional raclette, the warm cultured cashew creme, glazed in tart brine, melts into the crevasses of the wholesome bread and is easy to share among friends. Served with grilled slices of Lodge Bread, petite gherkins, and a radish-parsley garnish that drives this dish further from it’s name and deeper into likability.

A man bun of marinated kelp noodles slick with black pepper cashew cream, slivers of sweet snap peas, and delicate curls of pea tendrils make up the Cacio e Pepe ($21). A swath of pea puree lays base under the sandy sprinkle of crisp, oil-cured, olives and pink arugula flowers.

A hardier dish for warmer weather, the Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Farro Bolognese ($24) offers carbs dressed in delicate micro greens and arugula flower. Tender potato dumplings melt into a creamy butternut squash sauce that no one will walk away hungry from.

Yes this is a whole serving of the Apple Pie with Caramel Ice Cream a la mode ($12). That’s not meant as a jab, I’m just stating fact. The raw halfpipe of pastry shell is layered with sweet and tart peeled apples with cinnamon, caramel sauce, and a quenelle of rapidly melting ice cream. I’ve repeatedly lamented the state of vegan desserts in restaurants but can say that at least this one is making an effort to be interesting.

To wind down the wine we shared a Turmeric Latte with frothy house-made almond milk laced with ginger.

While overall the dishes at Plant Food and Wine were quite good, at the end of the evening prices gore everyone’s bank account. While food quality and knife skills are what we’ve been groomed to believe we are buying, what one actually buys at Plant Food and Wine—and at any fancy high end restaurant—is status. The right to see and be seen sitting here, high in the corner booth, cocooned by twinkling lights and fluttering olive leaves on one of America’s most exclusive streets. We are the ones who have made it. Who through hard work and moxy—but mostly blind luck and inheritance—get to congratulate​ ourselves on making the good choices in life.

Plant Food and Wine
1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291

matthewkenneycuisine.com/plant-food-wine-venice

Instagram: @PlantFoodandWine
Facebook: PlantFoodandWine

Garden Kitchen (San Diego, CA)

On the edge of residential Rolando, far from the sparkle of coastal locations, chef Coral Strong’s Garden Kitchen pulls from San Diego’s soil and presents the treasures in their naked glory and preserved peaks. No dish captures this as well as the Kitchen Sink ($16).

On menu it is a meat and cheese plate—but I rolled the dice on Coral’s veganization and won a bonanza. The dairy cheeses were replaced with luscious sunflower seed pate and a lemon and chive spiked cashew cheese. Served alongside spicy picked beet stem (a scrumptious no-waste solution), strawberries, blackberries, cherry tomatoes, avocado, gherkins, radish, pickled cherries, curry hummus, strawberry sage jam, strawberry rhubarb compote, smokey grilled bread, and glossy Surinam cherries from La Vigne Organics in Fallbrook (distributed via @wesavegoodfood). But the pot that I wished to drown in was the sweet and earthy fennel carrot marmalade. Assuming all vegan variations of this dish provide this level of quality and innovative, I’d say this is THE must order item in this restaurant.

The beverage menu is short and well curated. We diversified the table with a Benchmark Brewing Brown Ale and a glass of Chuparosa Vineyards (Ramona) 2016 Albarino ($12). I took a shot of the South Coast Winery (Temecula) California Girl Table White midway through the evening, but I stuck with the Albarino for the meal.

Sometime when a item is marked “vegan option” you look at the subtracts need and wonder if it will still be good. Such was the case when I eyed the Greek Artichokes ($10). Described as “baby artichokes with arugula, feta, roasted red bell pepper, tzatziki, and grilled lemon” I took the risk and ordered it. The result exceeded expectation. Feta was replaced with an invisible to the eye, but not to the tongue, sage oil and the tzatziki gave way to a rich thai coconut curry. I filled the crevasses with drippings of charred citrus and devoured the entire flower, including its carefully dissected heart.

Waves made still in the mire of Cream of Butternut Squash ($8). Pureed squash with a modest amount of house-made vegetable broth and topped with crisp sage leaves.

Berry Goat ($14) arugula, strawberries, blackberries, roasted fennel,  candied pecans, shaved radish, and red onion in a strawberry champagne vinaigrette. In lieu of goat cheese, chef Strong offers up avocado and radishes. Roughage was needs for this meal, but the avocado didn’t temper the tart of the berries they way a cheese would. But having just indulged ourselves in the Kitchen Sink, I understand the chef’s attempt to not repeat herself with a cashew cheese.

Tacos–especially those filled with mushrooms–are never my first pick. But that was the vegan option my night at Garden Kitchen. Double stacked, scratch-made, corn tortillas could not contain the heaping base of finely ground cremini “Chorizo,” nugs of hass avocado, cabbage, carrot and fennel slaw finished off with a strawberry pico de gallo ($20). As I’ve always complained about tacos, a fork was necessary to transport these into my mouth. But while I may lament form, I am thrilled to encounter fruit in unexpected places. Here, strawberries got to expose their savory side–tart and crunch twinkled in the forefront as sweetness slid behind the scenes. The pot of black beans were rich with seasonings of the southern islands and I feel eminently guilty for having not scraped that ramekin completely clean.

With one vegan dessert option listed, Chocolate Mousse ($9), the waitress let us know the kitchen could also make us a Peach & Blueberry Crisp ($9). Stuffed silly and unable to reach a conclusion, we let the kitchen choose: The kitchen chose both. The base of summer fruit, tart with lemon zest, lies hidden under a crisp on top and oatmeal gooey below cinnamon and steel cut streusel. Mildly sweet, as fruits should be, it was no match for the luscious glass of chocolate-whipped avocado and coconut cream, grounded by base notes of mocha powder and tart cymbals of strawberries.

Beyond the thoughtful vegan options, Garden Kitchen stands as my ideal restaurant. A space build without pretension–a renovated home patio made cozy with awnings and heat lamps and the occasional wail of a babe living next door–Chef Coral’s presence screams sincerity. She takes each table to heart, serving her talents without ego, and enabling her staff to funnel the kitchens graces through attentive service and culinary accommodation. It kills me to think there are people missing out of this restaurant simply because of its location.  But on a random week night the house seems full enough to keep a smile on chef Coral’s face and my table full of wine and surprise vegan dishes beyond what the menu promises. If I had the means, I’d eat here regularity. But till then, I’ll be directing as many as I can to come to Rolando for what is truly a taste of San Diego.

Garden Kitchen
4204 Rolando Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92175

gardenkitchensd.com

Pokez (San Diego, CA)

One thing I know to be true about San Diego vegans: You are either a Rancho’s person or a Pokez person (plus a few Liticker’s punks). Me, I give all my marbles to Pokez. One of the few quantifiable reasons I can understand people preferring Rancho’s is their vegan cheese. But a dusting of unmelted Daiya isn’t going to sway my heart—especially when I can bask in the warmth of Pokez’s Potato Flautas ($8.79).

What do potato flautas have to do with vegan cheese? Well, if you’ve ever been online you’ve probably seen a million links to vegan “potato cheese.” People swear by the gummy, oozing, texture of warm, zealously-whipped, hot potatoes—and when you take that concept and roll it up in a deep-fried flour tortilla and top it with guacamole, pico, and iceberg with a side of rice and beans, you get my favorite San Diego Chicano dish that is not a burrito stuffed with tofu, potato, and mushrooms.

The Tofu, Mushroom, Potato Burrito ($7.75) at is where my Pokez’ affection began. Charred chewy bits and pale hearts ngari-firmed San Diego Soy Dairy tofu clump together in creamy potatoes with chewy sauteed button mushrooms. Wrapped with crisp iceberg and pico, the heft is smothered in (an optional) gravy-like Rancho sauce. Served with a signature scoop of Pokez’ cabbage salad—a crisp collection and simple and mysterious ingredients that gain infamy to all who try it.

 

The Tofu Fajitas ($11.75) are another frequent visitor to my table. Yes, both these plates above make up the single dish. Smoke singles arise from the sizzling cast iron platter of seared tofu with tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions dripping with a glossy, almost teriyaki-style, sauce.  The second plate holds the “garnishes”: guacamole, salsa fresca, the infamous cabbage salad, yellow rice, refined beans and a roll of seamed corn or flour tortillas. There should definitely be leftovers when ordering this dish, if not, I think there maybe something wring with you because no human should be able to consume this much good food in one sitting.

 

Apparently Machaca ($7.25) is a classic thing people ate growing up, or growing out, and still get really excited about. The blend of sauteed onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and crushed tofu is more akin to a scramble in my eye—and as a vegetable laden scramble, it is quite successful.

Every so often I wild flame runs through body and I order something new to me Pokez. I’ve yet to be dissatisfied with any—ANY—choice made. Such as the time I ordered this Tofu Burrito ($7.50)—a girth of refried pinto beans, rice, San Diego Soy Dairy tofu, a cool swath of guacamole, salsa fresca, and lettuce.

One day I was feeling “healthy” and so ordered the Tostada Tofu Salad ($8.75) which I now think is the unhealthiest menu item. The deep fried flour tortilla bowl is layered with beans, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa fresca, and guacamole then topped with a fan of seasoned tofu. Despite feeling engorged before ordering it, I loved the quarter of the bowl that I managed to devour right after this photo was taken and the 3/4 of the bowl I ate for lunch the next day.

Intellectually I understand that there are people who don’t like Pokez–the vote tally on Vegan in San Diego’s Best of SD made the majority opinion all too clear. For those who don’t care for sticker laden bathrooms, kind but non-pandering service, and sharing a dining room with people putting Mitski and Misfits on the jukebox, it’s awesome that San Diego has other vegan friendly Mexican joints for you. But for those of you who value food that tastes good, I’ll see you in one of Pokez’ wooden booths soothing our hunger with cabbage salad and smothered our souls in Ranchera sauce.

Pokez
947 E St.
San Diego, CA 92101

pokezrestaurant.com

Chopsticks Inn (La Mesa, CA)

Swollen with naivety and fortitude, in 2003 I moved in New York City. I knew few people so though nothing of the 90 minute subway ride from Bed Stuy to the Bronx to see a familiar face. The reward for this proved to be much more then conversation, it was my introduction to an iconic NYC dish: General Tso’s Tofu.  A quintessentially Chinese-American sauce—cloyingly sweet and salty with soy—shellacked on cubes of deep fried soft tofu, scattered with ornamental dried chilies, and strewn with lightly steamed broccoli. To be cliche, it was love at first bite.

During my NYC tenure I ate this dish frequently—about 52 times a year—but moving to California killed the affair. Not because my heart no longer yearns for glazed crispy tofu, but because it seems no one else in San Diego’s does. General Tso’s Tofu is near impossible to find*—although I have a good source in Los Angeles, made with soy chicken, if you are so inclined.

Enter Debora, who queued me in on a source to quench my craving: Chopsticks Inn. The restaurant is built on the pan-Asian kitchen of Annie Chui and retains all the charm of it’s 1988 debut. They don’t have General Tso, but it’s close enough. It’s close enough…

Chopsticks Inn (San Diego, CA)

Before we hit fryers, lets take a moment to honor the perfect execution of this classic 1960’s Chinese-American dish: Vegetable Moo Shu ($12.25). Prepared table-side, the thin flour pancakes are spread with sweet and pungent hoisin sauce then stacked with sautéed vegetables and rolled burrito style by the waiter using only a set of spoons. On my last visit the waiter shooed me away from this dish, swearing that commercial hoisin sauce is not vegan. This lead me down an internet rabbit hole of research from which I emerged knowing that in Chinese hoisin literally translates to”seafood” or “sea freshness” but today’s rendition of the sauce contains no seafood nor is it used on seafood. I also scoured the ingredients of various restaurant grade hoisins and could find none that were not nominally** vegan.

No matter how much we insisted we were cool with hoisn the waiter was having none it. Moving on to purer pastures we tried the Vegetarian Dumpling ($6.55). Slicing one open I halted consumption, sure we accidentally got chicken. Waving the waiter over I showed him the interior looking to confirm my suspicion. Instead he explained that their “vegetarian dumplings” are not “vegetable” but are instead filled with minced soy meat mimicking a chicken dumpling. Relieved we devoured them with the fresh ginger laced soy sauce. They were okay, rather bland. I would have preferred a minced vegetable filling… which leads me to believe that maybe vegetable dumplings are simply better then chicken ones, vegan or not.

Although there is no General Tso on the menu, the Sweet and Pungent Chicken ($12.55) keeps me coming back. Battered soy chicken fried crisp and enameled in a sweet pineapple, soy, and chili sauce with chunks of pineapple and broccoli. While I’m not sure what makes this dish pungent, it otherwise hit all my happiness receptors. 

The sticky sweet Orange Flavored Sauce Veggie Chicken ($12.25) is a close second. The same battered and fried soy nuggets are tossed in a glassy orange sauce with chopped celery and plated with charming orange slices and maraschino cherries. 

On one particularly indecisive day, we mulled over the menu unsure of what to get. The waiter saw our fret and recommended the Sauteed Fresh Asparagus with Beef ($12.75). We were hesitant but he insisted, promising this was one if their best vegan dishes. Proudly he presented the wok kissed asparagus tossed with slivers of carrot, onions, and tears of vegan beef glistening in black bean sauce which up until then I thought I hated. But I don’t hate it. At all.

In fact, I now love black bean sauce. Until Chopsticks Inn I assumed the black beans in question were the same kind served with rice at Cuban restaurants or Chipotle–I know, naivety persists. This black bean sauce is composed of pungent salt fermented black soy beans, soy sauce, garlic, and some other wonderful things.

Chopsticks Inn (San Diego, CA)

This is the waiter. I should know his name, but I don’t. I do know his father is vegan (including the omission of onions and garlic) and that no mater how much he huffs about Chopsticks Inn not being a vegan restaurant, he is one of the most accommodating waiters I’ve have the pleasure of dining with.

Chopsticks Inn
8687 La Mesa Blvd.
La Mesa, CA 91942

chopsticksinncuisine.com

*Yes, Spiz has General Tso Tofubut it’s not, ummm, good.

**I say nominally because some have the “may contain” disclaimer. Some also include “red dye 40” which some still think is made of bugs. It is not.