Vegan Friendly: Plant-Powered Vietnamese at Thanh Tinh Chay in City Heights

Thanh Tinh Chay courts locals with a $5 baseline price for nearly all dishes. It’s a bargain tempting to everyone—vegan or not.

Van Bui had never run a restaurant, but the need for one was clear. 

Cost is a large hurdle for those exploring vegan and vegetarian dining, and while City Heights is filled with affordable Vietnamese restaurants, most have limited options for those seeking meat-free meals. 

The lack of affordable vegetarian food in City Heights (and beyond) begged for a solution. 

Read more: https://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-plant-powered-vietnamese-thanh-tinh-chay-city-heights

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.

First Look: Au Lac DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

A sputtering fountain in the shadow of the Disney Music Hall marks the entrance to the softly open Au Lac DTLA. Retaining the opulence of the former First & Hope, the modern Art Deco dining room is a refreshing upgrade from the Fountain Valley location. We take our seats in the dinning room as Chef Ito takes the helm of the kitchen. From there he executes a handful of favorites plus a few new tricks. Still in the dawn of the restaurant (official opening on January 1, 2015), Chef Ito’s working menu promises many more new item to come.

Stuffed with mushroom, taro and carrot, the eggless Eggrolls are served with lettuce, mint leaves and soy fish sauce. These rolls are simple with a light but tight interior. The greens, confusing at first, are used for gripping the rolls and lighting the oil fried wraps.

Vegan sushi in Los Angeles is a tricky subject, many strong opinions exist, and I frequently find myself in the minority (aka: I think Sojin is just okay). So with that caveat, I say Au Lac’s varietal of raw vegan sushi is some of the best in Los Angeles. While I prefer Chef Ito’s Dragon Roll, the Cali Roll filled with pine nuts, dulse, bell pepper, cucumber, avocado and coconut flesh wrapped in nori is light, crisp and delicious.

My go-to dish has always been the Salt & Pepper Tofu, creamy tofu lightly battered in a saline shell. Peppered with jalapenos and sprigs of cilantro, this delicate dish comes off as bland if you don’t take time savor each bite and let the salts develop… like a Polaroid picture.

Raw rice is a real thing… I had no idea. This Curried Rice starts with soaked organic wild rice tossed with broccoli, cauliflower, peas and corn tossed in spiced macadamia sauce. It is served over avocado, olives and cucumber and topped with marinated mushroom, crisp onion, carrots and cilantro. It’s a lot of elements, a lot of flavors and a lot of goodness.

The Downtown menu includes the new Garlic & Basil Noodles. Slippery brown rice noodles are tangled with pinenuts, large cloves of roasted garlic, nutritional years and apple sage sausage (or your can sub veggies for a gluten free option).

The best dish of the entire night–nay the entire menu–is the Tostada. The sweet cornmeal shell is piled high with shredded cabbage, macadamia cheese, ground mushroom, salsa, dill-ranch sauce and cilantro. Complexly layered with savory and sweet element, this dish is very share-able but I’ll likely be ordering one all to myself from now on.

In addition to the new menu, Au Lac DTLA also has a full bar, complete with mini grand piano and crystal chandeliers. This beloved Orange County institution is a welcomed addition to the DTLA vegan dining scene.

Thanks to my dining crew: Elana, Tim and Alice!

Au Lac DTLA
710 W 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
www.aulac.com