Welcome to the first review in my Take Back the Brunch series!
The Vegan Joint is one of our neighborhood go-to’s. It’s in walking distance from our apartment, and they also deliver—and we’ve felt lazy enough a number of times to take advantage of that service. In a separate entry I’ll review some of the Vegan Joint’s awesome lunch and dinner options, but this entry is all about Buh-Runch!
I’ve been ordering the Vegan Joint’s breakfast burritos for as long as I’ve been living on the Westside. They are different from any other breakfast burrito—vegan or otherwise—than I’ve ever tasted, and once you’ve had one, you WILL get periodic cravings for one of these bad boys. When I crave a breakfast burrito and I want it STAT, I head over to the Vegan Joint (or have them deliver one to my slovenly self on the laziest of days). So even though I was always tempted to try out some of their other breakfast options, I always stuck with the tried-and-true #4 burrito that my stomach was calling for.
Today, my friends, that all changed. Luckily, I had two accomplices joining me on my Vegan Joint brunch mission, and therefore ample reason to order multiple items on the brunch menu. We ordered 2 different breakfast burritos (including my classic fave, because a review wouldn’t be complete without it), but I also finally ordered the item I had wanted to try for over a year: the tropical pancakes. You can read all the individual food item reviews below. We also ordered two different ‘cleansing’ juices, plus we were offered free tortilla chips and salsa while we waited for our meals.
Needless to say, we left the restaurant feeling a lot heavier than when we got there—luckily we walked and therefore worked off at least a small percentage of the food calories ingested in the name of Brunch. The Vegan Joint sits on the corner of National Blvd. and Motor Ave., nestled within a small Palms neighborhood amongst an eclectic mix of small sundry shops including a retro clothing store, a board and card game store, a few small ethnic restaurants, a deli, etc. On Sundays the block is closed to through-traffic and a small farmer’s market is held out front. Nice for people watching, but horrible for parking. Only street parking is available, so driving here on evenings, especially weekends, as well as Sunday mornings, can be a test of patience. Just be prepared for a few loops around the block.
The Vegan Joint has two other locations, though I haven’t visited them: one in Hollywood, and one in Woodland Hills. You can order from all three locations online or by phone. The restaurant chain is owned by a Thai family, and they are always courteous, attentive, and welcoming when you arrive (though sometimes ordering via phone is an adventure in inter-lingual communication). It probably makes sense, then, that some of the best food the Vegan Joint has to offer is their Asian/Thai dishes, like their amazing curries (again, to be reviewed in a separate up-coming blog entry). If you are looking for awesome vegan Mexican food, this is NOT the place to go, despite the several Mexican inspired items on the menu.
That said, the breakfast burritos are a major exception (though the name ‘burrito’ is the only Mexican-esque thing about them); and the pancakes and other breakfast items like hash browns and tofu scramble are equally mouth pleasing, as I can now personally attest. This is a no-nonsense, no-frills kind of place—many people compare it to a neighborhood diner that just happens to be vegan. You won’t get frilly parsley or fancy plating in this place; just huge portions that take two hands to eat (in the case of the burritos), and that you probably won’t be able to finish in one sitting.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend the Vegan Joint as the healthiest option for vegan brunch items, but there is something for everybody on the menu. Based on the menu and my personal experience, the Vegan Joint seems to incorporate much more refined wheat flour, sugars, fake meats (i.e. soy and wheat-based with high salt content), and vegetable oils in their dishes than some of the other more ‘upscale’ vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. You’ll notice, therefore, that my ‘health’ ratings for most items are lower than similar items at other restaurants I may review. However, compared to your ‘typical’ brunch spot or neighborhood diner, the Vegan Joint is going to be a healthier option item-for-item in regards to ingredients, fat content, and cholesterol, while still offering a lot of flavor.
As an easy, affordable treat once in awhile, this is a Brunch option with a lot of plusses—casual neighborly vibe, quick service, good prices, and most importantly breakfast served ALL DAY.
The Vegan Joint, West L.A.
Individual food reviews
Breakfast Burrito #3
If there were one word to effectively describe this burrito, it would be Savory. This burrito should more accurately be called a wrap (along with all the other burritos served here) because the filling is enclosed in lavash bread rather than a tortilla. As a result of this however, the burritos are huge because the lavash bread comes in large thin pieces, and the filling is then rolled up into layers of this bread. The Burrito #3 is stuffed full with a lentil loaf (a dense mix of lentils, brown rice, onion, bell pepper, and spices), grilled soy chicken, garlic sauce, and vegan cheese. No room for fresh vegetables in this monster. This is a burrito that even the most enthusiastic of meat eaters will marvel at for its flavor, density, and ability to fill you up for hours! The first few bites are a melt-in-your-mouth heavenly savory experience. The next few bites feel like guilty pleasures as you start to feel more and more full. By the time you finish the first half of the burrito, you feel like a lead weight and the other half seems to sit incredulously on the plate mocking you for your weak eating abilities. Seriously though, I wouldn’t recommend eating the full burrito in one sitting. But if you crave umami-dominant foods, this is going to fulfill your needs and then some. For me, personally, I can only handle about ¼ of this burrito at a time, and I have to eat something slightly sweet or lighter at the same time to balance out the heftiness of this beast.
Health: 2 out of 5 (good amount of natural protein from the lentils, and the lavish bread appears to be whole wheat; but loses points for soy chicken, salt, and processed vegan cheese plus lack of fresh ingredients)
Taste: 4 out of 5 (lots of flavor, but if you eat too much of this burrito at once, the salty/savoriness takes over and starts to strangle your taste buds)
Breakfast Burrito #4
This is my favorite breakfast burrito from the Vegan Joint because it’s the perfect combo of savory with a bit of sweetness from the potato. The #4 is stuffed with sweet potatoes, tofu scramble, and vegan cheese. This burrito is lighter than the #3 thanks to the tofu scramble (though it’s still incredibly filling), and less overwhelmingly savory and salty as well. The scramble has a seasoning that almost reminds me of Indian spice—turmeric and cumin, among other spices, but none are extremely potent. These flavors, in combination with the mild and slightly sweet potatoes and the savory aspect of the cheese, combine to make a wrap that’s hard to beat. Again, there aren’t really any fresh veggies in this (as if there would be room!), and it is tofu heavy which may not please those trying to reduce their soy intake. And like the #3, you’ll be pressed to finish the entire burrito in one sitting (not recommended).
Health: 2.5 out of 5 (sweet potato has natural vitamins and minerals, the tofu scramble adds protein and healthy spices—and I would say that tofu is a slightly healthier, less processed option than fake meats—but this burrito still contains the processed vegan cheese, decent amount of oil, and lack of fresh vegetables)
Taste: 4.5 out of 5 (like I said, a nearly perfect combination of sweet and savory, with a great texture and enticing mix of seasonings)
These vegan pancakes are probably the closest to the classic concept of light, fluffy pancakes that I’ve tried around L.A. Not only is their texture pleasant, but the flavor is light and these babies are jam-packed with fresh blueberries and banana—no skimping on the fruit factor! The pancake batter tasted slightly sweet, so I’m guessing there is added sugar in the mix, very likely white sugar. The pancakes come with vegan butter on the side, which tasted great and melted well, but was probably a margarine type vegan butter containing soy, canola, palm and similar type oils. The syrup served on the side tasted decent as well, so it was likely real maple syrup, but again hard to tell. If you are craving the ultimate classic, indulgent fruit pancake, these are the cakes you are looking for. For those of you looking to avoid refined sugar and wheat, stay clear of these and opt for one of the less processed versions I’ll review in my upcoming blog, particularly the buckwheat pancakes and crepes from Café Gratitude.
Health: 2 out of 5 (sugar, wheat flour, margarine, and syrup do not add up to healthy, but the abundant fresh blueberries and lack of animal fats keep these pancakes from getting the lowest score)
Taste: 5 out of 5 (I have to admit these really hit the Brunch spot, despite the subtle guilt I felt knowing I was probably eating several servings worth of white flour and sugar)
Apple Sage Sausage
I will go out on a limb and suggest that these vegan sausages may actually appeal to meat eaters just as much as vegans and vegetarians. I’m not sure where the Vegan Joint gets them from, but one of the only brands that makes vegan apple sage sausages is called ‘Field Roast Grain Meat Co.’. If this is indeed the source, than these are actually a fairly healthy option. As opposed to most ‘fake meats’ that are made out of processed soy and wheat gluten, Field Roast sausages are made from chopped vegetables, whole grains, and natural seasonings. The texture of these sausages alone is remarkable, but the flavor is outstanding—an excellent balance of savory sausage flavor with the slightly sweet apple and an umami smoked flavor (if you haven’t noticed, I’m obsessed with foods that combine sweet and savory flavors). These sausages are a great addition to any of the burritos on the Vegan Joint menu, or as a savory side to go with the pancakes or other sweet breakfast item. I typically ignore the sauce that is served with these sausages; I don’t know what it is, but while I enjoy the food at the Vegan Joint, the sauces that come with their dishes always seem a bit lackluster.
Health: 3 out of 5 (better option than other fake meats, likely decent amount of protein, but hard to tell what actual ingredients are in them)
Taste: 4.5 out of 5 (hard to beat in terms of flavor balance and texture; some even contend that these win out over many actual meat sausages!)
Green Cleansing Juice
This fresh juice contains kale, grape fruit, green apple, cucumber, pineapple. I love this juice—its not overly sweet, and has a fresh crispness to it, a slight tang from the grape fruit, and a tropically vibe from the pineapple. This is a great mix of fruit and veggie flavor, with no one ingredient overpowering the rest. Highly recommended!
Health: 4 out of 5 (Probably not using organic fruits and vegetables, and probably has a decent amount of sugar, albeit naturally occurring from the fruits, but overall seems fresh squeezed and healthy as juices go)
Taste: 5 out of 5!
Veggie Power Juice
This juice is a potent mixture of beet, carrot, orange juice, spinach, broccoli, ginger, celery, green apple, bell pepper, cucumber, and alfafa sprouts. This juice gets a big plus for the number of healthy fruits and vegetables packed into it. However, you really have to like beets and ginger to enjoy this juice, because these flavors dominate. If you can handle a bit of spiciness from the ginger and the earthiness of beets, than this juice is going to rock your liver-cleansing world. There is a pleasant slight sweetness to this juice that makes it very drinkable, though a bit heavier and stronger than the cleansing juice reviewed above.
Health: 4 out of 5 (would get a 5 if the fruits and veggies were organic)
Taste: 4 out of 5 (great flavor but a bit strong on the beets and ginger; some will love it, others not so much)
Smoothie (sorry, no pic for this one yet, but it is a light purplish color from the blueberries)
This is an all-around crowd-pleasing fruit smoothie, filled with banana, blueberries, papaya, pineapple, soymilk, and orange juice. It is the sweetest of the three drinks in this review, which is to be expected from a smoothie as opposed to a juice. But the sweetness comes from the high fruit content, with some of my favorite fruits blended together! The blueberry/banana combo is always a winner, and the other fruits in this smoothie are an added bonus. The soymilk adds creaminess as well as some protein, though people trying to avoid soy products will want to pass on this drink. The smoothie is filling (though it is not huge—it comes in a regular 16 oz plastic cup), and is great on its own or to complement a meal (or as dessert, which is how I treat it when I order one!).
Health: 3.5 out of 5 (lots of fresh fruit, but probably not organic, plus high sugar content from fruit; also contains soy)
Taste: 5 out of 5 (super scrumptious!)