The plant-based restaurant boom

Thai green curry bowl at Love Life in Culver City.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)
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Saucy Chick meets the Goat Mafia, a reprieve for Jamie Lee Curtis’ favorite steakhouse and a “Succession” fan’s search for “Peter’s special cheese.” ... I’m Laurie Ochoa, general manager of L.A. Times Food, with this week’s Tasting Notes.

Vegan cooking’s next wave

Chile-roasted whole cauliflower with heirloom borlotti bean sofrito and micro cilantro at Love Life in Culver City.
(Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles has long been a vegetarian-friendly haven, often to the point of mockery. Consider the classic Sunset Strip health food spot the Source (where founder Father Yod fostered a cult). Woody Allen parodied it in “Annie Hall” when his character Alvy tells the waitress, “I’m gonna have the alfalfa sprouts and, uh, a plate of mashed yeast.” The line showed up again in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Gilmore Girls” and countless smart-aleck conversations about “hippie health food.”

But as even the most avid meat eater knows, vegetarian and vegan food has evolved since the days of sprouts and seitan, and Los Angeles restaurants are a big part of that change. Recently, Eater’s Mona Holmes called Los Angeles “the center of the plant-based restaurant world.”


This week, I ate at a new plant-based restaurant that showed how far vegan food has come in terms of flavor and approach. With an admittedly hippie-like name, Love Life (with the subtitle Nourish) is a modern space with an approach to cooking that doesn’t try to replicate meat but rather highlights the deliciousness of vegetables. Many people are starting to rethink highly processed veggie burgers and other meat substitutes, and instead are looking for food that focuses on the flavor you can get from local, seasonal produce. At Love Life, for instance, a whole chile-roasted cauliflower is presented as a main course and served with heirloom borlotti beans. Even better is Love Life’s Thai-style green curry with lots of gorgeous vegetables and tofu. This dish is a perfect example of what vegan food at its best can be — flavorful, fresh and, yes, nourishing.

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Goat Mafia finds its Saucy Chick

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20 2023: The Birria Plate at The Saucy Chick / Goat Mafia
The birria plate at Saucy Chick Rotisserie / the Goat Mafia has everything you need to build your own birria tacos.
(Oscar Mendoza / For The Times)

Los Angeles’ always-changing taco scene has a fantastic new addition with the collaboration of the Goat Mafia and Saucy Chick Rotisserie, which emerged from the career-making Sunday food market Smorgasburg curated by Zach Brooks. Just as Tacos 1986, Wanderlust Creamery, Shrimp Daddy and others found bricks-and-mortar success after tapping into their audiences at Smorgasburg, the Goat Mafia’s Juan Garcia and Ivan Flores and Saucy Chick’s Marcel Rene Michel and Rhea Patel Michel were able to unite their Mexican and Indian flavors in a new space on 3rd Street after meeting at the market. Times restaurant critic Bill Addsion reviews the new place and loves what he ate.

Bougie tots reprieve

CULVER CITY, Dining room captain Hank Kelly prepares a classic caesar salad table-side at Dear John's June 7, 2019,
Dining room captain Hank Kelly prepares a classic Caesar salad tableside at Dear John’s.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis loves the retro steakhouse Dear John’s so much that it’s her voice you hear on the restaurant’s phone line touting the menu’s bougie tots (caviar- and salmon-egg-topped tater tots). And when it looked as if Dear John’s was about to lose its lease and shut down on May 31, she wrote “an impassioned letter,” as co-owner Patti Röckenwagner put it, to the building’s owner in an attempt to save the place. As Stephanie Breijo reported this week, Curtis’ letter plus social media posts from Dear John’s fans, including John Stamos, Tiffany Haddish, Melanie Griffith and Clark Gregg, helped support owners Josiah Citrin and Hans and Patti Röckenwagner in their negotiations to get the lease extended. For at least another five years, the restaurant that opened in 1962 — and became one of Frank Sinatra‘s L.A. hangouts, then in 2019 “gained new life,” as Breijo writes, once the Röckenwagners and Citrin took over — can stay in the space where steak, lobster thermidor, chicken parm and tableside Caesar salad live on.

Also read Bill Addison’s 2019 review of Dear John’s to find out more about the food, plus Addison’s review of Dear John’s seafood sequel Dear Jane’s.


Sergio and Maria Esther Valdivia, who made chilaquiles at Tacos Delta starting in 1981.
(Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Breijo and Nathan Solis write about the passing of Tacos Delta matriarch Maria Esther Valdivia.

Ani Duzdabanyan takes an in-depth look at the growing popularity for Armenian wine.

Jenn Harris examines the savory cheesecake trend and has two recommendations.

— Stephanie Breijo has the week’s restaurant news and openings, including David Kuo‘s mega-bodega Fatty Mart, Bar Next Door, Red White Ramen, Champion’s Curry and Hart House from actor Kevin Hart.

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Finally ...

Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong) in HBO's "Succession."
The Roy siblings (Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong), not the best dining companions in HBO’s “Succession.”
(Macall B. Polay / HBO)

A lot has been written about the unsavory eating habits seen on HBO’s “Succession,” including Tejal Rao‘s analysis of the Roy siblings’ indifference to food, including the luxury offerings at New York’s Jean-Georges plus the 2021 piece by the Cut’s Danielle Cohen, who asked, “Why Is the Food in Succession So Gross?” True to form, the show saved its grossest food scene for the series finale that aired on Sunday when Shiv and Roman made Kendall a “meal fit for a king” — a retch-worthy smoothie with, among other things, frozen bread “knobbies,” Tabasco sauce, the dark and viscous chutney-like Branston pickle, raw egg and a chef’s kiss of Shiv spit. Then there was Roman’s defouling of “Peter’s special cheese” — the cheese their mom forbade them from eating because it was her husband Peter’s prized snack. Roman gleefully licked it all over, leaving a special saliva gift on the special cheese. British GQ’s Brit Dawson saw the scene and wanted to know more: “It’s not just the act of licking the cheese that’s keeping me up at night, but Kendall’s piercing faux British accent, as he squeals: ‘Don’t go down on Peter’s special cheese!’ And so, the real question post-finale is, WTF is Peter’s special cheese?” Dawson asked several British cheesemongers to weigh in.

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May 18, 2020