The Purple Mint Vegan Bistro (San Diego, CA)

Summer Rolls are one of the great culinary inventions in the history of man. A perfect package of crunchy vegetables, fragrant herbs, and the soft but snappy bite of rice paper enriched with the sweetness of some sort of sauce. At Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro I appreciate that they don’t dilute the rolls with extra noodles, offering rice paper stuffed with tofu, purple mint, lettuces, basil, jicama, and carrots.  The sauce, although spiked with crushed peanuts and pickled carrots, runs bland and benefits greatly from a kick of hoisin ($5.95).
Purple Mint ups the anti on summer rolls with the Double Delight Spring Rolls ($6.25). A crispy egg-less roll bisected and wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled daikon, carrots, and cucumbers. Served with a light and thin sweet vinaigrette that is apparently unladylike to slurp directly from the cup.
Doubling down, the free-range Satay “Chicken” Lettuce Wraps ($12.95) is a DIY adventure of marinated chicken strips, bean-sprouts, coconut curry vermicelli, pickled daikon and carrots. Served with the same peanut sauce as the Summer Rolls, the neutral nature the sauce is bolstered with the selection of well-seasoned lettuce fillers.
Fiery “Shrimp” ($9.95) was order and enjoyed by the rest of the table. The lightly battered soy shrimp are smothered in a nightmare of sweet and sour spicy-pineapple vegan mayonnaise that everyone but me thought sounded appealing. My parents claim they taste just like the real shrimp… the exact reason I can not stomach it.
A temple of iceberg and romaine lettuce serve as the base of the Asian Chicken Salad ($11.95). Glazed with grilled soy chicken and accented with the juicy crunch of bean sprouts, slivered snow peas, tiny mandarin oranges, almonds, and crispy vermicelli, the confetti of toppings are finished with a light plum-sesame dressing.
For those avoiding protein, the Chinese Broccoli & Shitake Mushrooms ($11.50) serves simple vegetables in a light brown sauce. A few sharp onions and a mound of rice flush out the bowl.
In an industry where consistency is key, I’m caught in the conundrum that is the Kung Pao “Chicken” ($11.95)—the dish comes out different every time. Battered hunks of deep fried soy proteins come drenched with a sauce that is sometimes sticky, sometimes muggy, but somehow always good. I’m guess it’s the high salt content with the light crunch of scallions mix in pungent garlic, seared cashews, and ornamental dried chilies. The pile of steamed broccoli and jasmine rice offer respite from the salty richness of this dish that I order almost every time I’m here.
Soy shrimp, mock chicken, tofu, cashews, and tiny vegetables make up the House Combination Fried Rice ($11.75). Luckily for me there was only one shrimp, but I guess the other three people found this offerings stingy. I gnawed on the chicken while rest of the table divide up the shrimp into tiny morsels of sadness. *
Tender medallions of Japanese eggplant and sugar-cube sized nuggets of tofu under way too much sauce manages to be my second go-to dish. Be ready to eat all the rice with the saucy Eggplant & Tofu Delight ($9.95).
The fresh oranges sing with the battered Orange “Chicken” ($11.50) but the dish begs for a vegetable… so I add broccoli and $2 to my bill. Because this dish doesn’t warren broccoli, compared to the complex King Pao which does include broccoli, it prevents me from ordering it more.
Yam & Sweet Potato Curry ($10.95) with taro and king trumpet mushrooms in a thin coconut broth is a straight forward dish which offers much more flavor then is expected from its watery consistency. Served with choice of French baguette, jasmine rice or vermicelli noodles—I personally go for the rice.
If you’ve made it this far through this rambling review, here is your prize: The Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi ($7.95). Confidently the best item on the menu (this statement applies to all of their Banh Mis). Warm soy hunks fragrant with lemongrass sauce are served warm saturating the thin walled baguette. Twisted with threads of cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon that offer more texture then flavor. But that’s alright. Against the meager offering of vegan Banh Mis in San Diego, this is the standout of the city.

The Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro
6171 Mission Gorge Rd
San Diego, CA 92120

ThePurpleMint.com

*We did complain and ask for more shrimp—offering to pay for it—and were told no.

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

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

Chego (Los Angeles, CA)

As you eat them they truly become ooey and gooey

When I moved to LA in 2010 the very first thing I asked people was: “Where should I eat?” Their very first response was normally: “Kogi BBQ!” But whenever my schedule opened up, Kogi BBQ was in the depth of the OC and I’m not about to waste 60 miles of gas for tofu tacos. Fortunately, Chef Roy Choi had also opened Chego in Culver City. Still, the long dinner queue usually shooed me away to less hyped restaurants.

When I finally tried Chego, it offered exactly what I expected: A mediocre vegetarian option.

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A-Frame (Los Angeles, CA)

Swanky IHOP!

As a native Culver City girl, I’m absolutely floored by the bunny rabbit style growth of the restaurant scene in my little town. I may live in East LA now, but when I heard that one of the hottest new restaurants had popped up in my old hood, I had to go asap!

Pop pop chomp chomp

First out, the Furikake Kettle Corn ($5) Blazin’ Jay’s, Hawaiian Style. The kettle corn is richly buttered with the salty sweet goodness we all know and love, but then rocketed into the gourmet stratosphere with the addition of puffed corn, sesame seeds, nori flakes, and a blast of spiciness. The punchy mix is sourced from local popcorn vendor Blazin’J’s – watch out J, the word is out, and your booth will surely be blazin’ with foodies in the future.

These are not "pickles"

Along with the kettle corn, we ordered the Moooooo Kimchee ($3)—a modest plate of cubed white radishes swimming in lactic brine. Other than the salty brine, these bite-size dices of crunchy daikon bear no resemblance to kimchee. We selected this over the Heirloom Pickles because my friend doesn’t like “pickles.” She was later surprised to discover the pickle plate wasn’t all cucumbers. Instead it was an earthy mix of carrots, parsnips, red radishes, and something that looked like an apple… maybe an Asian pear?

[Memo to the world: Pickles are not just cucumbers! Also, not all pickles are made with vinegar! The fact that this information is not inherently known stuns me every time]. Continue reading