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

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Lunch (Culver City, CA)

With the gross-out-gobble-up-the-greasy-world undercurrent to food culture, I’m amazed when people are weirded out by my food choices. I don’t mean weird food, but apparently weird combinations. So while people think 100×100 burgers, miles of pastrami and tuna melts are perfectly normal, nothing makes a cashier pause, do a double take and say “that’s the weirdest sandwich I’ve ever heard of” like ordering a design-your-own Veggie Burger slathered in peanut butter.

Do you think it’s weird? I don’t.

People seem stuck on the word “burger.” They assume a veggie burger must be dressed like a its beef namesake. But veggie “patties” are nothing like a beef burger; nor does the brown rice and oat based Gardenburger, served at Lunch, want to be. So why treat it as such?

I approach my Veggie Burger like a salad and  the Americanized Thai Salad is one of my favorites. Crisp vegetables smothered in sweet peanut sauce. That is what’s on my mind when I order a Veggie Burger at Lunch. Topped with some combo of avocado, sprouts, carrots and/or cucumbers and Swiss cheese (although the cheese is rather superfluous), dressed in a slathering of peanut butter and fig jam ($9.95). I know fig jam is just as odd (and also cause side eye from the kitchen) but I sweat it’s a sweetly fresh and crunchy meal.

Each sandwich comes with a side, all of which are ‘meh’ except for the Apple Vinegar Slaw. Crisp and tart, this lightly dressed side is also delicious inside your sandwich!

If you hate sandwiches, are scared of carbs, or like predicable things… they make a perfectly decent Beet It! Goat Cheese and Beet Salad ($9.50).

Lunch
3829 Main St
Culver City, CA 90232
eatatlunch.com

Mustard Seed Café (Los Angeles, CA)

My ideal sandwich!

It was meant as an insult. A pastrami pocketing New Yorker once told me that I like “salad between bread” not “sandwiches.” I dissagree. I mean hello, I love bánh mì, grilled cheese, the ‘Shroom Burger from Shake Shack and so on. Still, I do love a “salad between bread!”

Getting a wad of vegetables balanced between bread—in terms of flavor and stackability—is a challenge many restaurant refuse to acknowledge. The key is thin slices carefully arranged, plus the use to vegetable cradling alfalfa sprouts, to prevent a vegetable sandwich from collapsing into the proverbial salad. One of the best examples I’ve found is at Los Feliz’s Mustard Seed Café. The Veggie Sandwich ($9.95) is served on toasted olive bread with tomato pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, swiss cheese, red onions, and avocado. It’s carefully constructed, guaranteeing every veggie in every bite. The tomato pesto—instead of humdrum mayo—adds a tangy undercurrent to the briny bread, plus makes it easy to turn this sandwich vegan (just order sans cheese)!

The lightly dressed Red Cabbage Slaw is my side of choice. Crisp cabbage tossed with a barely-there oil and vinegar blend finish off a perfect lunch. Light on the belly, easy on the wallet… very, very, sort of similar, but not at all, exactly like a salad!

A lesser construction, but still a damn good sandwich!

Mustard Seed Café
1948 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 660-0670