So, who told you only big cities have great vegan food? Sometimes the best spots are the big fish in little ponds, which is exactly what is occurring in upstate NY. Rochester, a pretty little city who is often overshadowed by New York and Boston, especially when it comes to restaurants, now has a big vegan fish! Within the city lives a delicious gourmet restaurant who caters to people who love food no matter what their diet is.  The Owl House, which opened it’s doors in the Fall of 2010 focuses on local, gourmet American foods and specialty beers and cocktails. Although the restaurant serves meat and dairy, it also has tasty vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes including desserts!

On a recent road trip through upstate New York, we had the chance to indulge in this restaurant. After driving six hours we were more than happy to see the adorable Owl House, which living up to its name is in a house in a residential area. One step inside and we felt like we were at part 20′s style bar, part art gallery, part cafe, and part cozy house. Needless to say, we found it hip and relaxing.  After a long drive we were happy to treat ourselves to their unique cocktails such as the Townsend, Bright Eyes, and Upstate.

Vegan Mozzarella Sticks

And what goes better with drinks than appetizers? The Owl House boasts a vegan appetizer we have never seen elsewhere:Vegan Mozzarella Sticks! These definitely live up the hype. We really don’t know how they’ve done it, but it is quite possibly the best mock vegan dish we’ve ever tasted! The “cheese” was perfectly melted and the crust delicious. Honestly, they haven’t left our minds since and the non-vegans among us were just as enthused!  We also tried their Rosemary and Cracked Pepper Fries with house made ketchup, House-made Pickles, and Marinated Olives. We love how everything here is house made and it definitely shows.

Tacos with Smoked Tofu

Next we shared the Viva Verde Tacos with smoked tofu (you guessed it, done in-house) and the Saigon sandwich.  The tacos were delightful, especially with the house smoked tofu and black bean and corn salsa. They were filling and really great. We also enjoyed the Saigon sandwich which is a modern take on the Vietnamese Bahn Mi. The sandwich was made with more of the great smoked tofu, pickled veggies, and roasted garlic Vegenaise on a baguette! Boy, were we satisfied! As Bahn Mi connoisseurs this sandwich, although not traditional, was tasty and it was great to have the Vegenaise, which is normally hard to find unless added yourself.

Vegan French Onion Soup

Even though the Owl House has a great list of vegan desserts, we opted for a bowl of soup to round out our meal. One of the best features of the Owl House is their daily specials. Some recent specials include: Grilled Citrus Tofu, Tomato Braised Seitan & Chickpeas, and daily soups. The daily soup for the day was Vegan French Onion soup with vegan cheese! Once again, the Owl House surprised us with a dish almost impossible to find vegan. And let us convince you, this soup was wonderful. The Daiya cheese and soup flavor was perfectly blended. To see their daily specials which include appetizers, soups, entrees, desserts, and drinks, check their Facebook page, which often causes us to almost buy a plane ticket to Rochester just from checking our news feed.

It is too bad the Owl House is so far from us, well perhaps it is good for our hips, we wish we could eat every meal there! However, it provides a haven for vegans living upstate that have limited choice. This restaurant makes visiting Rochester completely worth it, even on top of its quaint beauty. It is clear the Owl House offers unique vegan dishes and really takes care in the food they prepare. We must say, it has landed itself a spot on our Top 10 Vegan Restaurants!!

Native Foods, Palm Springs Photo by jeckmanThe sunny city of Los Angeles is thriving with great vegan eats from classy 5 star restaurants, to vegan drive thrus, and hip trendy spots, but for our restaurant pick we have chosen LA’s Native Foods. Native Foods is actually a small chain of 5 restaurants spread all over the LA area including Costa Mesa, Aliso Viejo, Los Angeles, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs. I’ve only had the chance to visit the LA spot in Westwood. Each location has a little different menu, which means next time I’m in the area I will be checking out a few more locations!

native foods Photo by cpandarThis relaxed restaurant overs the full gamete of California style food, only with a vegan twist. This means they offer a wide variety of dishes from around the world and plenty of fresh ingredients! I couldn’t help but smile as I entered the restaurant to a friendly sign that said “Einstein was a vegetarian. Think about it!” That sort of veggie love, warms my vegan heart! But really the restaurant atmosphere is a chilled out cafe far different from many LA hot spots. And that is perfectly fine with me, as I like to feel at home when I am eating a tasty meal.

kids' plate Photo by chinagrrl

Dippity-Do-Dog-Combo with Save the chicken Nuggets at Native Foods

Westwood’s menu has the typical set up with Starters, Salads, Cold Sandwiches, Hot Entrees, Pizza and Desserts. I was happy to notice there was a kid’s menu. This is something I have never seen at a vegan restaurant before. They title their kid’s section “Green Kids Rule!” and provide children’s favorites such as Dippity-Do-Dog-Combo (soy dog chunks or chicken nuggets and brown rice) and ChimpanZee “Cheese” Pizza (cheese pizza with bananas on the side). If you have veggie kids this is a great place to bring them. Or if you have children you would like to introduce to vegan foods, this is a place where they would enjoy the meals and it wouldn’t seem too “weird” to them. Next time I’ll bring along my nephew to do a children’s taste test!

"Save the Chicken" Wings

"Save the Chicken" Wings

But on to the delicious adult sized meals. Perhaps my favorite thing about Native Foods is what they name their fake chicken: “Save the Chicken.” In the Snacks section, you will find the best incarnation of their “chicken”. This is what they call the “Save the Chicken” Wings with “Ranch” on the side. Oh dear, this appetizer is to die for! In fact, I once had a friend drive 8 hours to bring me this very appetizer. Even a little soggy this is the best fake chicken I have ever had! You will find many people talking about this dish, as I believe it may be a favorite among all vegans.  Other great starters include Chili “Cheese” Fries, Native Nachos, Get ‘Yo Greens, and Bindi Bites(veggie samosas). I haven’t had the chance to try them all, on account of my love affair with the “Save the Chicken” wings, but I promise I will branch out next time I am in LA.

Portobello & Sausage Burger

Portobello & Sausage Burger

They also offer a great variety of fresh salads if you shy away from fried foods (although you can get a Chinese “Save the Chicken” Salad). If you are looking for California Cuisine, I suggest your try the OC Raw Chopper, a salad which screams California with avocados, almonds, and sprouts. Also, they offer some pretty tasty vegan pizza. They don’t have a ton of variety as far as pizzas go, but they offer it on an organic wheat crust. I like their pizzas and salads but must say their sandwiches are the way to go. I really enjoyed their Philly Peppersteak Sandwich, but have heard excellent recommendations about their Portobello & Sausage Burger, Chicken Run Ranch Burger, and Ceasar’s Wrap.

Tijuana Tacos

Tijuana Tacos

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a bit of Mexican flare! The Tijuana Tacos and Baja Surf Tacos are worth checking out. This fresh take on California Mexican is quite delicious and even includes soy taco meat in the Tijuana and crispy battered tempeh in the Baja choice, a take on California Baja Fish tacos.  They also, offer a variety of hot entrees served in a bowl including Mad Cowboy (BBQ style), Greek Gyro, and the Hollywood Bowl (includes tofu spears). Another bowl worth trying out is the Soul Bowl with includes red beans, jasmine rice, grilled veggies, BBQ “save the chicken” spears, cornbread, and all drizzled in “ranch” dressing!!

Chocolate Tofu Love Pie

Chocolate Tofu Love Pie

Of course a meal isn’t complete without dessert. And with dessert, Native Foods definitely delivers. You can get any typical American dessert from Native Carrot Cake to Sam’s Native Cheesecake. But they also have their own unique creations like the Key Lime Parfait and the Elephant Chocolate Cake (comes drizzled in cinnamon peanut butter sauce). My favorite dessert is the Chocolate Tofu Love Pie made with Fair Trade chocolate and vanilla and completed by an almond crust. Its a great way to end a California Meal.

Next time you are in the Los Angeles area, make sure you get your self to one of the 5 Native Foods locations, it’s definitely worth the trip.  There is no other great California style vegan restaurant, at least not at this caliber. And if LA is a little too far for you, check out their Native Foods Cookbooks and try some great recipes at home.

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