Gravity Heights (San Diego, CA)

CITRUS SHANDY gh pilsner, grapefruit, orange, lime

Gravity Heights is a strange fellow. Atop the hilly landscape of Sorrento Valley—a wise move to capture the tech workers trapped by the 805’s unholy rush hour traffic—clear glass walls bath the space in light, while maple veneer and sky blue upholstery keep the interior on trend.

The latest project of Whiskenladle Hospitality, Chef Keith Voight (formerly of Prep Kitchen Del Mar which was formally a part of the Whisknladle brand) helms the only vegan-friendly menu of the group’s portfolio.

Perhaps vegan-friendly is too effusive a term for the two options, but when you’re the single vegan in a sea of omni co-workers, the little “v” on the menu becomes your good time enabler.

From the west coast of India to the best coast of America comes Bhel Puri ($10.75). Delicate puffs of rice—not unlike the healthy hippy cereals that filled many of our childhood bowls—come tossed with roasted peanuts, diced tomato, cubes of sweet mango, bites of red onion, quinoa, and a side of tamarind date chutney (the mint cilantro chutney is not vegan). It’s a fleeting dish, growing softer by the minute, that balances tastes and textures in a respectful (albeit very sweet) fusion.

The Sundried Tomato N’duja Pizza ($14.5) comes speckled in char. Spread with a thin tomato sauce spotted with thick nugs of umami in the form of sun dried tomato paste, wilted basil, red onion, and dollops of cashew ricotta.

“It’s my favorite… and I’m not even vegan” exclaims our waiter as he places it before us. Digging our toes into the wood chips below the purple picnic bench, a whiff of smoke from the distance oven falls over us as we raise the first slice to our lips.

Gravity Heights 
9920 Pacific Heights Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92121
Instagram: @gravityheights

Vegan Friendly: Telefónica Gastro Park in Tijuana

The indoor/outdoor Telefónica Gastro Park offers an array of global flavors infused with the creativity of some of Tijuana’s rising chefs.

The Vibe

Long under the influence of its northern neighbors, the relatively recent dip in tourism has given rise to a brave new breed of Tijuana restaurant. Aimed at feeding the local’s hunger for innovation and community, chefs are pushing the boundaries of Baja cooking.

Telefónica Gastro Park encapsulates this shift.

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a god-awful small affair: A Bowie Dinner with Joshua Ploeg

I’ve long espoused the idea that foodie culture rose from the smashed emotions of the Great Recession swizzled with Yelp. But lately I’ve been reading the theories of food as entertainment—a phrase that immediately rings true. Because foodie culture also rose along side Food Network, increasing obesity, grocery abundance, Salt Bae, and other bastions of 21st century American culture.

Our Birthday Lady, Beth

But for longer than that, food has been the fuel of the party season. Entertainment not aimed to sell us more or make us docile, but to share a bit of joy with friends, and friends of friends. Touring chef, Joshua Ploeg, tied it all together in an unironic David Bowie themed dinner theater for Beth’s birthday.

Is Ploeg’s food Michelin star worthy. LOL, of course not. His food is crafty, sarcastic, joyous, and frankly more fun then any tweezers plated, food as art, tasting menu could ever wish to be.

Dinner starts off wet with the Ploeg Ziggied out and serving up “In the wilds of Oh Lordy, Oh Lordy, You Know I Need Some Iced Tea”—a hibiscus lavender brew spiked with fresh mint and self-administered rum.

Joshua Ploeg as Ziggy Stardust

life’s a well-thumbed machine


Course 1
Doped up on 70’s cocktail party air, the meal opens with “Some Cat Was Layin’ Down Some Rock ‘n’ Roll Veggie Shrimps.” Adorned in Japanese robes, Ploeg shimmied little plates of turnip and jicama “shrimps” towards us. The bits are skewered with mini potatoes and broiled zucchini over a swirl of cocktail and garlic sauce.

He’d like to come and meet us But he thinks he’d blow our minds

Joshua Ploeg as Starman


Course 2
In the kitchen, baby leaves turned matte side up. Plated as “Nights Are Warm and the Greens Are Young,” the salad hides bits of rainbow carrots, Golden Years of young tomatoes, crescents of shaved fennel, and black lentil sprouts under a wild drizzle of sweetly aged mulberry balsamic.

gold whop whop whop

Joshua Ploeg in Station To Station


Course 3
The flair of “Living Nostalgia… Humble Pie or Bitter Fruit?” overshadowed the DJ performance on the soup course. A shallow dish of slow cooked squash and cucumber layered soup capped in a semi-sweet almond crust tart stuffed with black garlic pate. To the side, a sweet tamarind and bitter melon chutney bleeds slowly into the broth.

Joshua Ploeg as the DJ

I am a D.J., I am what I play


Course 4
As our ears filled with the ashes and melancholy of Major Tom, the “…But the Little Bean Wheels Are Following Me, Oh No Not Again” soothes our entry into the closing acts. Irregular pats of fava bean cakes arrives under a sandy toss of garlic herb crumble and creamy splats of pale pesto. Beside it, hearts of fancy mushrooms and roasted beets come obscured in the crumble as well.

Joshua Ploeg as Scary Monsters

The shrieking of nothing is killing

Course 5

With miniature Muppet dressed in trash bags and jute, Ploeg dons the classic fitted pants and shock of white hair of to deliver the Magic Dance of “Slime and Snails, or Corny Dog Tails?” Bamboo skewers of pecan caramel came battered and fried in sweet corn breading. The tip rests in a muck of coconut vanilla ice kreem snails swirling with blackberry slime sauce and bits of crunchy praline.

Joshua Ploeg as the Goblin King

Slap that baby, make him free


Joshua Ploeg:

Debra with Joshua Ploeg as the Goblin King

Vegan Friendly: Thali and Chaat at Sattvik Foods in Miramar

The Short and Skinny

At Sattvik Foods the menu flutters through a well-honed collection of curries and rice, offering only a few options each day. Lay your trust in Kanta Jina’s spice-tempered pots and pans and follow her around the metal thali, because they’re all good.

The Vibe

Counter height tables line the walls leading to a small window overlooking the open kitchen. Here, the women of Sattvik Foods can been seen stirring pots of daily dishes like sesame aloo and turia patra—ridge gourd stewed in colassia leaves and topped with gram noodles.

The space has the feel of a catering kitchen, which reflects the fact that half of the meals produced here are delivered to local businesses. Kanta can most often be found overseeing the kitchen with deserved confidence, though you might also see her wiping down tables, chatting with customers, or demonstrating the joys of eating Pani Puri.

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Vegan Friendly: An Unbiased Review of Every “Beyond Meat” Vegan Menu Option at Del Taco

Every January healthy resolutions and organized efforts drive up the demand for vegan food and someone will proclaimed it the “Year of the Vegan.” Then February rolls around and the food world returns to the status quo. This February is different.

Towards the end of 2018, partnerships between thriving plant-based protein brands and the fast food industry were taking root. One of the biggest pairings here in Southern California was the union of Beyond Meat and Del Taco.

But, why?

While vegan options at fast food outlets may seem absurd—as an insider in the vegan community I can tell you that this has been the goal of many all along.

See, I often hear omnivores deflect vegan ideas, lamenting “…if only the food tasted good…”. But we all know that in reality, most Americans will eat plastic garbage if it’s cheap enough. And for new vegans, what many miss more than eggs and cheese are cheap convenient foods.

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Sweet Earth Foods

It’s not often that companies offer me products—and even rarer that I accept. But seeing as Sweet Earth already has a place in refrigerator, I accepted their mystery swag box.

This plant-based company, helmed by former Pepsico and Burger King important person Brian Swette and former Calvin Kline important person Kelly Swette, offers an ever growing array of refrigerated vegan meats and vegetarian and vegan frozen foods to grocery stores nationwide. Though known mostly to me for the unexpected burrito combinations, my box arrived with (2) frozen bowls and (2) mock meats.

I don’t often post my own cooking—mostly because if I’m cooking food that means I’m tired and hungry, the least photography compatible mood I have. Also, frozen meals are meant to be eaten in moments of rushed convenience wedges between the bustle of work, which is exactly when I devoured these bowls.

Cauliflower Mac

Noodles cut with cauliflower florets smothered in a cauliflower and sweet potato sauce under shreds of panko and vegan parmesan. Once microwaved, the dish still looked startlingly frozen, but when eaten seemed fully cooked. I found the small portion reasonably filling for 290 calories but followed up the meal with a bag of kettle chips.

General Tso’s Tofu

The ultra sweet glaze of General Tso’s is, by far, my favorite American-Chinese dish—both raising my bar of expectation and making me easy to please once the bar is met. This dish meets that bar. The cornstarch crusted tofu gives the glossy sauce something to cling to against the not-soggy broccoli and brown rice.  My only complaint is that the 330 calories is not nearly enough to complete a meal—I could easily eat double this for lunch. Still, I’ve already purchased more for my office’s freezer.

Harmless Ham

This is an example of me being too hungry and forgetting to take pictures before eating. These rounds of wheat gluten—which taste of an unspecified flavor I would liken more to onion, garlic, and pepper over “ham”—were quartered and caramelized in pineapple juice and turned into a Hawaiian Pizza.

Benevolent Bacon

Bacon. One of the more popular non-sequitur utterances after the mention of veganism—and one of the hardest meats to mimic. Expectations demand a flattened and fried vessel for delivering sweet, smoke, and fat—fat here being the hardest to deliver. So I took the wheat gluten strips—peppered with hickory, smoked paprika, tomato paste, maple syrup , and so on—and fried them up in an avocado oil greased cast iron for a luscious Buffalo BLT on everything bagel.

Sweet Earth
Facebook: @SweetEarthFoods
Instagram: @SweetEarthFoods
Twitter: @SweetEarthFoods

The Blind Burro (San Diego, CA)

It is becoming delightfully common to happen upon vegan staff at very non-vegan restaurants. Through the kindness of my server, Emily, I found my way through the menu modifications at The Blind Burro.

This is the kind of space a vegan would probably not find themselves at alone. A gathering corner a quick jaunt from Petco Park, this is the kind of restaurant your onmi friends will suggest meeting at because they like it. But don’t worry, you’ll like it well enough too.

The only vegan as-is items are the Guacamoles—Tradicional and Especial—I went Especial ($12). Mashed avocado binds chunks of roasted sweet potato, corn, and rajas with house made plantain chips (shared fryer). I scraped some of the salt from Caramelized Pineapple Margherita ($12) to season it.

Pinto beans and rice are prepared with animals, leaving the Veggie Tacos ($14) and Power Bowl ($13) as the substantial entrees. Over two corn tortillas, a generous plop of boiled or fried cauliflower comes drizzled in a fruity chipotle-orange BBQ sauce over kale salad, avocado, and matchstick radishes. I asked for all the hot sauces and received a rainbow of actually spicy house-made pepper slurries.

The Power Bowl is filled with scoops of quiona and kale salad under avocado (subbed for goat cheese) and benefited from what ended up being my favorite disha side of Mole Black Beans that came with the tacos. The spiced, and slightly sweet beans, smothered the blatantly healthy ingredient under better tasting but just as healthy sauce.

The Blind Burro offers an extensive printed allergen listhighlighting what dishes independently have nuts, egg, soy, and dairyalthough deciphering it requires detailed reading while hungry… Which made our friendly server indispensable in creating our pleasant evening in a very non-vegan establishment.

The Blind Burro
639 J St.
San Diego, CA 92101

Facebook: @TheBlindBurro
Instagram: @TheBlindBurro
Twitter: @TheBlindBurro

All food hosted.

Vegan Friendly: The Far West Lounge by Modern Times in Encinitas

The Short and Skinny

Large windows open onto Highway 101, pulling the ocean breeze into Encinitas’ newest vegan food and beer destination.

The Vibe

Dozens of cyclist fly by as the crowd slowly forms outside of The Far West Lounge by Modern Times in Encinitas. Within 20 minutes of opening, the bar is full of breakfast sandwiches and beer flights.

Curling around a marble top horseshoe bar, friends sip beer as their kids climb the underlit stadium seating in soccer practice threads. The papered walls wear badges of the company’s strong “mid-century maximalist” branding—from trays of felted TV dinners to cross-stitch rackets by Modern Times’ inhouse “art gnomes.” In the corner, a mini mart offers beer cans, coffee beans, and Modern Times branded swag to-go.

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Jennie Cooks Plant Based Parties (Los Angeles, CA)

There are few chefs I truly trust*—Jennie Cooks is one of them.

Beneath an angled mirror at Surfas, Jennie—my hometown culinary champion—poured a generous amount of olive oil into a pan and whipped up Sweet Potato Pistachio Fritters with Saba and Jaffna Potatoes. I sat there waiting for the non-vegan ingredient to get dumped in—a pat of butter, a drizzle of yogurt —but it never happened. As the Endive Avocado Potato Salad and Cape Verda Vegetable were passed around, I realized every dish she made was vegan—and that never happens on accident.

At that moment I knew I wanted her to cater an event for me. That event turned out to be my wedding reception.

In her Atwater Village kitchen vintage pitchers, cookbooks, and salt and pepper creatures stare down at us. Jennie dances in and out of the kitchen, filling the tables with food. Some dishes are by request, some are by surprise. Wedding meal planning—as I learned—is a strange balance of personal taste tempered with the attempt to please the sometimes irrational and sometimes dietary needs of guests.

First up, a fritter—the overlooked champions of cocktail hour. Jennie’s Sweet Potato Fritters with Pistachios and Crema are flecked with meaty bits of pistachios and pan kissed to a crisp. Spinning the globe, we toasted with Sweet Potato Samosas dripping with raven dark tamarind glaze. I loved them both, but sometimes the needs of others trumps love.  Translucent rice paper swaddling bean thread, red pepper, carrot, and cucumber as Fresh Rolls with Peanut Sauce (gluten free) were selected as our tray pass appetizer.

Not shown here are the Chicken and Waffles because there as no questions those would be served.

One of Jennie’s surprises turned out to be my favorite: Korean Dave’s Amazing Tempe with Campania. Caramelized onions, red peppers, and capers pucker with balsamic vinegar over panko crusted tempe—a distinctly Los Angeles ingredient. This chewy cutlet of fermented brown rice and black bean that is a local cult classic. Dave has no online or marketing presence yet almost everyone knows his Framer’s Market food. After sampling Jennie’s prep of this protein, there was no question my guests needed to taste it as well.

To balance the fried dish, we followed with the Spinach Salad with Crumbled Fettata, Apricots and Toasted Walnuts. While I had expected fresh apricots I realized such ideas were ridiculous for a March event. The soft fettata—seasoned tofu—clings to the leaves which we switched out for romaine to accommodate oxalate sensitive attendees.

Roasted Vegetables seemed boring option—one I’ve consumed ad nauseam in my vegetarian then vegan life. I had every intention of nixing this side until suckling on sweetly charred yet still juice carrots, onions, peppers, and zucchini caramelized kissed with balsamic vinegar.

Through the experience of wedding planning I learned that I basically love Thanksgiving food. I fell quickly for legumes melting into the Red Lentil and Apple Load of Love—the flavors blooming in a pool of thyme spiked creamy dijon gravy. Paired with rolling hills of Sourdough Stuffing cradling crescents of celery, carrot, and tart cubes of granny smith apples.

Just to prove that I’m not simply gushing, the soft mash layered inside the Sweet Potato Lasagna became too monolithic for my taste. But when these dishes made their way home as leftovers, my soon to be husband loved the lasagna more than the loaf. So we ordered a half pan of each because compromise and making each other happy is what marriage is all about.

Jennie Cooks
3048 Fletcher Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90065

Facebook: Jennie Cooks Catering & Plant Based Parties
Instagram: @jenniecooks

*They are: Pancho Castellón, Jennie CooksGenet Agonafer, my mom


Vegan Friendly: PlantBasedPopUp Offers Fine Dining Vegan Wine Pairing Dinners in San Diego County

The Short and Skinny

“Historically, food and wine events and prix fixe menus with wine pairings have centered around meat,” says PlantBasedPopUp founder Anna Keeve. “Because of this, plant-based eaters miss out on these tyes of experiences. It’s time to reframe the way we look at this concept of pairing food and wine.”

PlantBasedPopUp is here to change that, partnering with top-tiered restaurants to host monthly plant-based wine pairing dinners in San Diego County.

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