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10 exemplary bearers of the farm-to-table spirit in LA
When we’re heading out to eat, it’s no surprise that flavor is usually our top priority—often with no questions asked. But as awareness spreads about food sustainability, supporting local agriculture, and ensuring ingredients are free of questionable qualities, more and more people are becoming interested in knowing all about what goes into making their meals—both in and out of the kitchen. California has long championed the farm-to-table ethos, and there are myriad restaurants in Los Angeles where chefs design their menus with both creativity and conscience. Here are 10 that we love right now, in no particular order.
Embracing the ethos of foraging, chef-owner Jason Kim sources from the best markets and farms in the neighborhood and throughout the region. The vegetable-dense menu reflects the season; this summer’s highlights are sweet corn and juicy tomatoes with a sprinkle of baby lettuces. Balance it out with organic free-range chicken, a succulent avocado sandwich, or crispy, baked mac and cheese made with white and yellow Cheddar and pecorino.
West Hollywood, Venice
A green sign over the counter spells it out: “No Fake Sh*t.” That means organic, kosher, no chemicals, no preservatives, no GMOs, no soy … the list goes on and on. The menu revolves around five falafel flavors, from the not-so-basic jalapeño-spiked original to the vivid green of the kale and cumin option. Freshly fried in grapeseed oil, they’re stuffed into pitas, flattened into burgers, or stippled atop salads and platters. Familiar accompaniments like hummus and baba ghanoush are offered alongside avocado tahini, house-made Thousand Island dressing, and lemon kale, to bring the California charm.
Less is indeed more at Echo Park’s Elf. In this cozy, vintage storefront on Sunset Boulevard, chef Dave Martinez expounds his sustainable philosophy through a menu of vegetarian plates. Elf was serving local, organic and non-GMO kale salads—dressed with sweet lime and cumin or herbed harissa and avocado mousse—long before the trend took center stage. Reverse-osmosis filtered water is standard for all cooking and in all drinking glasses. A generous list of natural and sustainable wine is offered for those looking for something a bit stronger. Plus, with their 10 year anniversary approaching this October, old favorites from Zwiezen's menu will be brought back.
Downtown, Larchmont, Venice
Some of LA’s toughest ingredient screening takes place at the beginning of the Café Gratitude supply chain. Everything going into the kitchen must be 100 percent organic and GMO-free—affirming the dishes that come out exceed expectation. While Gratitude can take credit for bringing sprouted probiotic brown rice bowls mainstream, executive chef Dreux Ellis recently introduced some heartier dishes. The I Am Resolved—a Southern Food sampler with spiced collards, blackened jerk tempeh, and macadamia cashew Cheddar biscuit—is a fast favorite.
Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Brentwood
M Café is Los Angeles’ home for contemporary macrobiotics, focusing on whole, natural, and seasonal foods served with minimal processing. The salad case displays tempting mounds of kelp noodles, green sesame kale, seaweed salads, and artful inari pockets. Bowls of organic heirloom Kokuho Rose brown rice topped with proteins such as grilled tofu, crispy seitan, and miso salmon stand out, among the many main attractions.
Inaka Natural Foods
When you step into the realm of Inaka Natural Foods, it’s immediately clear that unrefined minimalism is at the core of chef-owner Jay Abe’s vision. The stark dining room has presented traditional Japanese country cuisine from local, organic sources for the past 30 years. Utilizing no refined sugars, dairy, eggs, or animal fats, Abe celebrates the connection between mind, body, and a happy tummy with his vegetable and grain–dominated menu. While the fish soup and pan-seared scallops are standouts, diners are astounded by the subtle abundance of the Inaka Plate: an artful platter of macrobiotic staples such as calcium-rich hijiki, protein-laden tofu scallion dip, and iron-full kabocha pumpkin.
No one will ever doubt the frenzy that vegetables can excite after they’ve experienced a meal at Manhattan House. Produce is celebrated in made-from-scratch dishes like roasted cauliflower with pickled strawberries and maple-ginger vinaigrette, or the carrots prepared 12 ways with pistachio dukkah (an aromatic Egyptian spice blend) and roasted lemon puree. Chef Diana Stavaridis truly embraces the seed-to-table movement, and many of the vegetables throughout the menu are grown in the restaurant's own community garden. The rest are sourced from local farms vetted to share the food sustainability mission.
SunCafé sits just off busy Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, with an inviting outdoor deck, complete with a glowing fire table, and an eclectic dining room in a converted craftsman home. The menu offers an array of innovative, 100 percent organic, GMO-free plant-based burgers, pizzas, and classic American and ethnic entrées. The cast iron mac and cheese with gluten-free quinoa pasta and creamy cashew cheese is a standing favorite of vegans in LA. Made-to-order juices and shakes accompany the meals; some—like the mint shamrock shake sweetened with bananas and cacao and colored with the chlorophyll of spinach—are decadent enough to be dessert.
A luminary of the movement to capture California’s seasons in a jar, Jessica Koslow made her stake in Silver Lake with a copper jam kettle in one hand and a thick cut of ricotta-slathered burnt brioche in the other. The tiny shaded kitchen on Virgil Avenue scatters fans onto the street and into the colorful adjacent patio. Kokuko Rose brown rice and nut-free sorrel pesto set the stage for poached eggs or vegan kale. All-day toasts and porridges come with a huge dollop of Sqirl’s famous jam. When Blenheim apricot hits the menu, run for some!
A long glass display case focuses on elemental foods: breads, meats, vegetables—and coffee. Sweet galettes and baklava croissants round out the offering. Co-owner and frontman Travis Lett modeled the service after East Coast Jewish and Italian bakeries, combining efficient service with ultra high–quality ingredients. Thick cut sandwiches, platters of house-smoked fish, and leafy salads set the mood, although the highlight may just be the kale smoothie, with avocado, dates, bananas, and house-made nut milk.
Gjusta (photo credit: Peden + Munk)