What’s better than a combination of Instagram-friendly art and vegan noshes? Sip, snap and eat your way through L.A’s trendiest neighborhood.
Located just a few blocks from the financial center of the city, bordering Little Tokyo, the Arts District is an ever-expanding area filled with galleries, small restaurants, music venues and a wide variety of street art. Come for the art and stay for the food.
One of the newest additions to the Arts District is the trendy housing-shopping-dining destination on South Santa Fe Avenue. This multi-use destination includes cute, murals, outdoor seating and an arts-focused bookstore.
Start the day with a refreshing acai bowl from Amazebowls. Tucked in a corner spot, this tiny shop is all windows which provides ample lighting for your food snaps. Born of a USC food truck, Amazebowls provides a fruit-filled pick-me-up any time of the day. Their menu is completely vegan and offers a choice of blended bases – mint, pitatya (also called dragon fruit) or classic acai – topped with fresh fruit, coconut shavings, granola, homemade nut butter, and more.
Take note, the coconut bowl can only be filled with the AMAZEBOWL combo. This top-of-the-menu item features an acai base topped with vanilla almond granola, sliced bananas, blueberries, strawberries, coconut shavings and a drizzle of agave. I like to think of acai bowls as a smoothie deconstructed – still healthy and refreshing but with just enough crunch to keep me from reaching for a snack an hour later.
While you’re there, grab a free Amazebowls sticker and check out their selection of healthy drinks like kombucha and freshly pressed juice. Don’t forget to post that iconic pic of your bowl on their bright yellow tables or with the neon “Grab life by the bowls” sign in the background.
Located within the same complex, is the vegan mecca known as Cafe Gratitude. This light, airy space includes a full bar, outdoor seating and plenty of space for a big group or intimate date night. This entirely vegan restaurant is known for their focus on positive energy.
Each menu item is named after a positive affirmation (I Am Grateful, I Am Splendid, etc.) and guests are requested to order by saying “I Am….”. Servers also pose a question of the day to guests, something like “What do you love about life?” which can add to the feel-good ambiance and provide fuel for first-date conversations.
In addition to crafted cocktails and a small selection of wine and beer, Cafe Gratitude also has pressed juice, tea and kombucha to quench your thirst. Sip the summery Rose Sangria or try a glass of hard (alcoholic) kombucha.
Start with the BRILLIANT, young coconut ceviche which comes in a bowl topped with coconut bacon, avocado, lime and a side of house made corn tortilla chips. This savory iteration of coconut has a soft mouthfeel looks enough like fish to trick the casual onlooker. Coconut is undoubtedly the star of this dish and the coconut bacon adds a savory crunch that matches perfectly with the crunchy tortilla chips. With the variety of flavors and textures, this appetizer is brilliant indeed.
Cafe Gratitude bowls are a go-to item for many vegans (and non-vegans alike). But the entrees really shine. Nothing beats the FABULOUS a raw Mexican lasagna. This cold, layered veggie-centric dish replaces the pasta with layers of squash and includes heirloom cherry tomatoes, cilantro pumpkin seed pesto, corn, cashew queso fresco and cacao mole. The creamy, flavorful sauces save this dish from being just a pile of fresh veggies. If you’re expecting traditional lasagna, you may be disappointed but if you’re looking for an artistically presented vegetable-based dish, this is your meal. How fabulous.
Don’t leave without trying something sweet. Cafe Gratitude isn’t the best place to influent vegan sweets but their healthy, updated desserts can still satisfy. The IRRESISTIBLE coconut cream pie packs a punch of cacao and coconut into a dainty slice. Made with a coconut and date crust, this petite dessert is barely sweet which allows the rich cacao flavors to come through.
Also worth mentioning is the fully vegan restaurant, Shojin. You’ll find this dimly lit, romantic venue in an unexpected spot – on the second floor of a shopping center in Little Tokyo. But don’t be followed by the unsightly exterior, this gourmet vegan Japanese restaurant provides upscale service and dining in a softly lit room – for a price – there are strict rules governing etiquette – no standing, no photos – plus a to plate minimum for all diners and no takeout options. If you’re looking to impress someone with an intricately prepared vegan meal, Shojin is your spot, otherwise visit a more casual spot for tasty vegan food.
On the border between Little Tokyo and the Arts District is Angel City Brewery. It’s hard to miss this colorful building papered with wheat paste posters and stickers. This casual beer-filled destination is a must-visit.
One thing almost all vegans can agree on is their undying love for avocado. Angel City doesn’t disappoint with their signature Avocado Ale (check out their Avocado Festival for even more avo-love). This kolsch-style ale has a creamy taste thanks to the avocado but still manages to be light and refreshing. Avocado lends a smooth texture, making this ale easy to drink.
But, if avocado beer seems a bit too unusual, grab a flight and sample the best Angel City has to offer. Wash it down with a bite from one of the rotating food truck options while playing cornhole or hanging out in the cozy upstairs area. Keep a lookout for events like the weekly Sunday Bazaar featuring local artisans, trivia nights, comedy specials, and even yoga classes (it is L.A. after all).
Although not fully, vegan Zinc Cafe and Market has a standout vegan pizza and the option to customize any of their pies with vegan cheese or use non-dairy milk in any of their drinks. Other menu items, like the crispy truffle fries, are great vegan options for sharing.
Zinc’s overlooked pizza section is a win for vegans and their dairy-free friends. The only off-the-menu vegan pizza is the VEGETARIAN SAUSAGE & FENNEL which comes with your choice of red or white sauce, vegetarian sausage, fennel, onion, chili flakes, and sea salt. The fennel adds an unexpectedly bright taste which complements the hearty portion of vegan sausage. The crust, a make-or-break component of pizza, won’t disappoint. The vegan, wood-fired crust is the ideal combination of chewy and crispy – it doesn’t wilt under the strain of vegan sausage and fennel. And tastes just as good cold from the fridge the next day, which is the truest test of pizza perfection.
On your way out, walk past the circular murals on the Willow Street side of the restaurant and cross the street for a post-meal coffee at Blue Bottle. In addition to wall murals, there are also a considerable about of quirky murals on the sidewalk surrounding the restaurant and throughout the Arts District.
These vegan stops will provide plenty of fuel for your picture-perfect tour of the Arts District and may even inspire you to create some art of your own.