Mammacoffee (Prague, Czech Republic)

Mello vibes fill the fair-trade cups lingering on the cafe tables at  Mamacoffee on Vodičkova. I order a cup of standard brewed coffee—yes, I like my coffee boring—because it seemed the thing to do; but I was really here for the food.

I’ve always liked dumplings. But the Varenyky se Smazenou Cibulkou, Koprem a Kyanou Smetanou (80czk / $3.25usd) permanently propelled me towards a lifelong infatuation. I seek these dumplings wherever I go, but have yet to find ones to match the majesty of Mamacoffee’s. A wreath of Ukrainian-style dumplings—thin tender sheets of dough stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions—come topped with a delicate pinch of minced caramelized onion and a confetti of fresh dill encircling a dollop of vegan sour cream. Even now, it’s painful to think I only order (and shared!) one serving of these. There are very few item I have 100% confidence recommending to all people—this is one. You would have to be some kind of monster who hates pure joy not to enjoy this dish.

I’m not usually one for veggie burger, yet the V Domaci Housce s Pecenymi Bramborami (135czk / $ 5.49usd) rang my bells. The spinach and barley patty comes topped with confit red onions, buttery red leaf lettuce, and a swab of soy dressing drooling off the sesame hard roll. The spicy baked potatoes come standard with garlic aioli, we sub’ed it out for hummus.

My basic brewed coffee served on a sliver tray with a dainty glass of water.  We sat along the window line, basking in dappled winter light streaming through the greens, at rest with nose-in-book students and politely gabbing girlfriends. Mamacoffee was a sheer delight that I should have punctuated with a double order of dumpling.

MamaCoffee
Vodičkova 674/6
Nové Město, 110 00 Praha

www.mamacoffee.cz

Lehka Hlava “Clear Head” (Prague, Czech Republic)

Drifting through the dusty snow we rounded the corner of Boršov—the shorted street in Prauge—where a small sign waved us into one of Paurge’s premiere vegetarian restaurant, Lehka Hlava. Behind (what an American like me considers) an ancient door this Gothic home opens into a slender atrium where a single wiry tree reaches toward the sky. Confirming our reservation, the hostess draws us into a space where the spirit of Bohemian thrives. Under the fiber optic galaxy an eclectic international menu is served out of the open rainbow kitchen. Vegan items are clearly marked—along with the requisite 14 allergens.

Evoking faux gras, Lehka Hlava’s Smokey Tofu Pâté blends smoked tofu with barley miso and cashews and is topped with a seemingly odd blob of cranberry sauce. Smokey, unami rich, and graced with a broad stroke of sweetness, this dish blows past any other vegan pate/gras dish I’ve tried! This is the best way to invest 100 Kč /$3.98 USD in the city which we did multiple times during our stay.

The Kimchi Tapas (115 Kč / $4.58 USD) offers a bowl of spicy probiotic napa cabbage with a scoop of sticky short grain white rice and seaweed. It’s a sort of build-your-own Korean sushi concept that puzzles after success of the smoked tofu pâté.

The Raw Spaghetti (225 Kč / $8.96 USD) arrives as a mound of spiralized cucumbers topped with a heavy dollop  of avocado and spinach pesto, with ground cashew nuts, garlic and then another heavy dollop of sundried tomato pesto. The dish is finished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and soaked goji berries. An odd combination on paper, but when it’s all mashed up in my mouth, the sweetness of the goji berries and sharpness of pesto sing and dance in harmony.

Tender whole grains cling to each other in the Bulgur Risoto (165 Kč / $6.63 USD). The nutty based is mixed with smoked tempeh, julienne carrot and fennel, and topped with a rich and tart sundried tomato pesto. Hearty and filling for a winter night, singed with the soft smoke of the cracking fire we lit later that night in our hotel room.

For dessert, the Raw Nut Balls (75 Kč / $3 USD)  come dashed with Japanese matcha powder and a side of rosewater dipping chocolate. Floral, delicate, and delicious.

Raw home-made Cheesecake (125 Kč / $5.09 usd) is an 2 inch wedge of fluffy whipped cashews and walnuts doused in vanilla poached raspberries sauce. The finale is loaded with sweetness backed up against the tartness of lemon spiked cream and piquant berries. Our fork tines clinked as we stabbed to the dish, scraping up every last bite.

Lehka Hlava
Boršov 280/2
110 00 Praha
Czech Republic

lehkahlava.cz

Fairouz Cafe and Gallery (San Diego, CA)

Art filled walls surround diners in San Diego’s Fairouz Cafe & Gallery, by owner Ibrahim Al Nashashibi, and numerous vegan options fill the hot and cold trays of the all day Greek and Lebanese buffet (Lunch $12.99 / Dinner $15.99).  All clearly marked and generous, the buffet makes for an easy-to-dine-together meal for difficult groups—but for those not partial to food sitting out all day, there is table service as well.

And the table service is exquisite. Cafe level friendliness with handsomely plated portions of masterfully executed Mediterranean favorites. The Hummus (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99)—rich and creamy with nutty tahini, a splash of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil—is a lovely as can be found in San Diego. The Falafel (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99), golden and pale with more chickpea then herb, comes with marinated red cabbage and a knob of salad.


Large chunks of baked eggplant, mixed with tomatoes, parsley, and garlic, all marinated in lemon juice and olive oil make up the Mufasakh (Small $6.99 / Large $8.99). Generous and easy to share but still, I’d probably skip this dish in the future.

A Fatoosh Salad ($6.99) is a welcomed addition to any meal. A crisp pile of chopped romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, mint, and parsley with crisps of toasted pita and tossed with lemon juice and olive oil.


The Baba Ghanouj (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99) is top of the line. A luscious puree of smokey eggplant,  tahineh, lemon juice and garlic that is a must order.

Perhaps the best dish is the Dolmathes ($7.99). Brined grapeleaves rolled up with rice, chopped tomatoes, onions and parsley that taste like kisses of Mediterranean sea air in a San Diego strip mall. In fact, it may be worth getting the buffet just to gorge on this fat thumbs of joy.

Fairouz Cafe & Gallery
3166 Midway Dr
Ste 102
San Diego, CA 92110

fairouzcafeandgallery.com

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

One of the biggest fights of my life occurred after someone asked “What is your favorite cuisine?”

After a pondering pause—with pizzas, banh mis, and pad see-ew fly through the flavor pockets of my mind—I said:

“Ethiopian”

To which they rebutted, “Ethiopian is not a cuisine.”

Let the gospel rain upon that poor naysayer. Ethiopia, and Ethiopian cuisine is an insanely rich and diverse historical treasure that speaks to my eternal taste buds. If you want to know to know more about the history of Ethiopian food, I recommend checking out Harry Kolman’s book Mesob Across America.

Ethiopian food is a tactile adventure of sour fermented injera, the rich nose-filling spice of berbere, a protein infusion of peas and lentils, sweet turmeric hued potatoes and cabbage, and greens spanning from deeply seasoned collards to bright lemon licked lettuces. The harmonious pallet offer enough diversity to sustain daily indulgence without encouraging food exhaustion… at least for me.

While my favorite spot lives in Los Angeles, San Diego’s Awash Market holds steady at number two.

Awash Market is easy to pass by, as I did, and I did many many times. With booze, coffee, flour, toiletries in the front it’s easy to overlook the outstanding food in the back. Once I overcame my intimidation of the convenience store en suite dining room, I found a kitchen that excels at all the Ethiopian vegan classics. Regarding the vegan options, while some traditional recipes call for clarified butter, the staff here has repeatedly confirmed that they proudly use oil as the fat in all their veggie dishes.

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Injera  – Made in house, the tender rolls of sour fermented wheat and teff are some of the freshest I’ve ever encountered. They are available for sale in the front market, and fly off the shelf for good reason. A gluten free, 100% teff, version is available if the kitchen is given a few hours notice.

Miser Wot – Split lentils and spicy red pepper brought together in a coarse and oily stew. The grease soaks through the injera base creating a sodden treat once the bulk is gone.

Kik Alicha – A mild split pea stew with onion, garlic and turmeric that tempers the palate between spicier bites.

Shiro Wot – A gorgeous slurry of ground chickpea flour, berbere, and tomato. Soft and silky on the tongue and by far my favorite dish at Awash. This treat is not usually offered on veggie combinations platters at other restaurants, so I relish receiving it as a baseline selection at Awash.

Ye’abasha Gomen – Spiced collards greens that often taste rather muddy to me at every Ethiopian restaurant. This one is no better or worst that the average gomen offering out there.

Tikel Gomen – Sweetly braised cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions with cumin, turmeric, and ginger. This is my second favorite dish at Awash.

Green Salad – Sometimes this isn’t on the platter—which is a shame. The light lemon dressing on the romaine, tomatoes and onions is notably more harmonious then the weird Italian dressing so many other Ethiopian restaurants tend to use.

Berbere – Sometimes the kitchen adds a mound of powdered and a dollop of berbere paste to accent the heat of the dish. If you like your food spicy, be sure to request these.

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market
2884 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104

Vege • ta • ble (Los Angeles, CA)

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Helming the Studio City kitchen, Jerry Yu delivers vegetarian—mostly vegan—dishes devoid of mock meats and omnivorous similes. Yu relies of the breath of organic fruits and vegetable adorn with nuts whipped into luscious sauces. On paper the preparations sound simple, but they comes together like magic on a plate.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Roasted Red and Golden Beets with Reed avocado, baby greens, pickled jicama, and shaved radish in a lemon garlic dressing. The earthy beets take center-stage, supported by the buttery avocado and peppery greens. The dish makes only the lightest alteration to already perfect vegetable embracing the spirit of the restaurant’s name.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

The Cheesy Fingerling Potato with nacho cashew cheese sauce, chives, and coconut sour cream. Buttery potatoes slathered in nutty cheese pull at the parabolic heartstrings connected to the notion of comfort food.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Grilled Corn on the Cob with guacamole, brown butter, Sriracha aioli, coconut sour cream and a light dusting of chives. This dish will enviably leave one with messy hands, but isn’t wiping aioli off your face and licking the brown butter dripping down your arms part of the joy of the summer corn harvest?

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Duo of Seared Maitake and Beech Mushrooms over a red pepper creme with wilted spinach and crispy sage. Now, I strongly dislike mushrooms. I despise their very existence and squirms at the sight of every single variety, in every preparation, by everyone*. So as lovely as these are (and yes I did take a bite) this is not the dish for me. The spinach, on the other hand, was perfect and I happy gobbled that down while everyone else ate these seemingly delicious ‘shrooms.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Teetering on the edge of being charred oblivion, the cast iron Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Vegetable continue to delight me. Their feathered fringe nearly black, these cruciferous vegetables retain a tender green core. Soaked in the juices of yellow peach and red onion, the sprouts burst in your mouth. The char is spiked with basaltic, crispy gluten free bread crumbs, and bright lime zest creating dynamic forkfuls with every pass of this dish.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

I was caution of the “healthy” brown of this artfully stacked Eggplant Lasagna. But the layers of thin eggplant, baby spinach and cashew ricotta made a plausible likeness to its pastaful namesake. Drizzled with a vegan alfredo, the stack balances on a mound of garlic sweet potato purée with pickled sweet onion and heirloom tomatoes strewn upon the balsamic painted platter.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

This unassuming bowl of Summer Fusilli Pesto was my surprise favorite. Ringlets of toothsome gluten-free pasta curl with cream and ultra fresh basil pesto and cashew ricotta. Tossed with sunshine sweet corn, tender sun dried tomatoes, and red peppers and topped with buttery Reed avocados and fig bacon this rich bowl of summer exemplify the “Guilt Free Comfort Food” ethos of Jerry Yu’s kitchen.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)
Key Lime and Sweet Potato Pie mason jars with Peanut Butter and Fig and Rosemary Ice Cream. I LOVED the Rosemary accent!

Vege•ta•ble
3711 Cahuenga Blvd W
Studio City, CA 91604
vegetablela.com

Instagram: @vegetable.la
Facebook: Vegetable

All food hosted.

*There is one exception to this personal rule: @panchopalmera. He spikes his mushroom with some sort of magic and I’m completely under his spell.

Make Out (Culver City, CA)

In the shadow of the Culver Hotel, the wellspring of Matthew Kenney’s Make Out quietly places vegan—mostly raw—foods in a glass front case for viewing.  The shelves offer a colorful selection of huge rolls of green, tiny rolls of carrots, flatbreads, and bowls of kelp noodles. Further back, stainless steel holds two daily soups. Samples of both were offered to us and the velvety Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup—drizzled with cashew creme and crunchy pepitas—leaped to the top of our order.

In heyday of NYC’s Pure Food and Wine, Kenney dazzled me with his dehydrated jicama pine nut sushi rice rolls. So I couldn’t pass up his new rendition, the Spicy Carrot Rolls,  with jalapeno cream cheese and shredded carrots. Stuffed with red bell pepper, cucumber, avocado, and young pea shoots these cool and crunchy bites almost lived up to expectation.

Wrapsespecially collard green ones—are the crutch dish of vegan cafes. So I was least excited by the Cobb Collard Green Wrap. But my trepidation was unfounded, this wrap is exceptional. A massive collard husk filled with crisp romaine, sweet and smoky coconut bacon, meaty portobello, creamy avocado, and ranch. I would definitely order this sucker again.

Make Out: Everyday Plant Food
9426 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
makeouteveryday.com

Instagram: @makeouteveryday

Chennai Tiffins (San Diego, CA)

I always thought North Indian food was my jam, but I’ve quickly fallen head over idli for South Indian cuisine! Chennai Tiffins is now my favorite Indian restaurant in San Diego. The food is simple, made with mild hands but with a soft complexity that comes through if allowed. Plus they are always super accommodating when I ask for my food to be prepared without ghee.

I love to start with an order of Idlis (steamed lentil and rice cakes) with sambar (unlimited and free!) and an array of chutneys. I’d come here for the chutneys alone! Rich bowls of tomato, peanut, mint, coconut, and ginger that span the range from sweet and mild (coconut) to punchy and hot (ginger)… although none are over the top spicy.The tomato is my favorite, but there is something here to please all palates.  

The Spring Dosa—a fermented lentil and rice crepe stuffed with tomatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, cilantro and chilies—is my top pick. The light balance of the crisp veggies against the soft tang of the crepe suites me greatly. If you order this be sure to emphasize no ghee…this wasn’t one of the dosa the waitress originally offered me as vegan-friendly but I pressed her on it because it’s my favorite combination. When she brought it to the table she proudly proclaimed “With no ghee!” and gave me a reassuring smile.

The Poori with Bajji, one of the vegan as-is dishes floats to the table on air-filled pillows of deep fried bread with a cup of potato curry. It’s great option for those who think Indian food is too spicy.

Anahre Kara Dosa is a simple lentil and rice flour crepe slathered with red chili paste. The slow burn of the chili lets the fermentation of the dosa shine.

When I’m extra hungry I also order a plate of Samosas. The two peaks arrives sprinkled with cilantro, chopped red onion, and kala namak (black salt) and are finished off with a squeeze of lime. I never thought to add lime to a samosa, but the fresh acidity deeps the earthy spices within.

Special Rava Dosa with potato masala is also favorite of mine. 

Or there is the simple the Onion Rava. This crispy sheet of editable lace made of rice flour and cream of wheat, flecked with sharp and sweet red onion, is addicting. 

Chennai Tiffins
9474 Black Mountain Rd.
San Diego, CA 92126

chennaitiffins.com

Soy Leaf (San Diego, CA)

After finding success slinging organic smoothies from a train car in Flinn Springs (at the east end of El Cajon), Soy Leaf opened a second location on Magnolia Ave. Filling the menu with pulled jackfruit and house made Italian seitan, Melanie Arce brings quality vegan food to east county.

I jumped instantly to the ever popular BBQ Jackfruit Burger. Tender chunks of saucy pulled jackfruit tempered with crunchy slaw on a soft wheat bun. While I would have preferred more heat less sweet, I totally get why this is the top selling item on the menu.

Carly of VeganinSanDiego.com ordered the Hickory Black Bean Burger. A house-made patty of quinoa and black beans glistening with a Dijon glaze and served on a bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo. She loved it!

The burgers come will a small side of coconut oil and sea salt scented kale chips. There is a small dining room (with art by some on Soy Leaf’s young fans) although there seemed to be ample take out service as well. As we sat there eating a few people wondered in, looked at the menu, then walked out.

“That happens like once a day,” explained Melanie. “This use to be a BBQ joint and not everyone realizes it has changed hands.”

Their loss, our gain.

Soy Leaf
Juice Bar & Healthy Grill
330 Magnolia Ave El Cajon, CA
SoyLeaf.com

Instagram: @soyleafcafe
Facebook: Soy Leaf

Souley Vegan (Oakland, CA)

Flush with Gold Rush fortune, in 1857 Theophilide St. Germain built herself an opulent wine shop at 301 Broadway in downtown Oakland. Stalwartly as the city evolved around it, its perseverance makes it the oldest building in Oakland.  Now, it’s outfitted by the equally indomitable Tamearra Dyson who quit her day job to follow her creole roots into the kitchen. It was a high risk move from which we all benefit.

Colorful tiles adore the surfaces of the large, double dining room interior. A long dessert counter turns into a wine and beer bar—although anyone seeking a deeper selection of brews can head next door to outside-food-welcoming Beer Revolution.

We started with the classic 3 Item Combo. A little pre-reading proved the Mac n’ Cheese and Southern Fried Tofu both strong recommends, so I ran with those. For the third, a vegetable seemed appropriate so I ordered the Collard/Mustard Greens. The ensemble is finished off with a sweet slice of cake-like cornbread. This platter is really more then one person should eat at a sitting; so bring a friend… or tupperware.

For those skimming, here’s my breakdown of the platter:

Mac n’ Cheese: I was hesitated about ordering this. I’ve exhausted my tolerance for the endless stream of mediocre noochy noodles but the guy taking my order reiterated that is a must and so I caved. Being such a popular item, I imagine the kitchen has a huge 30 gallon vat of this stuff constantly simmering 24/7—or at least that is what it tastes like.

Southern Fried Tofu: This is another dish I’ve been constantly disappointed by (sorry Doomie’s and Southern Fried Vegan) but Souley’s pulls through. I loved this crisp cornmeal shell filled with a tender slab of tofu. Served with a tangy tofu-based tartar sauce, this definitely lives up to expectation.

Collard/Mustard Greens:  This turned out to be the best item on the platter. Savoy greens stewed—but not over cooked—with a hint of sweetness from the tomato. We were fighting over the last bite!

For dish two, the Seitan Chick ‘n’ Waffles sounded irresistible.  But the leathery sheet of battered and fried seitan atop a crisp waffle is better avoided.

A few days later we met up with friends at Beer Revolution so you know what that means… take out from Souley! The BBQ Tofu seems the next appropriate protein to try. It’s a saucy winner. Tamearra Dyson is a master of tofu! On the side I revisited the Collard/Mustard Greens because it’s kind of the greatest.

I also ordered a classic Biscuit and Gravy. It is fine… like just okay… but why anyone would choose this over the luscious cornbread is a mystery to me.

Souley Vegan
301 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94607
souleyvegan.com

Instagram:  @SouleyVegan
Twitter: @SouleVegan
Facebook: Souley Vegan