Clean Eats: Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free? These Spots Feed Your Needs

Plant-based eats at FreesoulCaffé in Tustin


Vegan Enchiladas
Gracias Madre offers a variety of vegan Mexican cuisine—including chiles rellenos, chimichangas, tamales, and more—but it’s the enchiladas verdes ($18) that stand out. With tomatillo, zucchini, avocado, potato, black beans, and cashew crema, you won’t miss the cheese and meat. The dish comes with a side of black beans, brown rice, and kale to round out your meal. Newport Beach, 949-386-8100

Garden Box
Combining hearty brown rice, firm chunks of tofu, perfectly steamed veggies, pickled cucumbers, peanut shards, and fried shallots all dressed in a tangy curry sauce, the Garden Box at Asian Box in Irvine is a feast for the senses ($10). This shop specializes in gluten-free Asian street food and quickly doles it out to students and professionals alike from its spot in Campus Plaza. Irvine, 949-769-6196 

Cauliflower Ceviche Tostada
Plant-based favorite La Vegana Mexicana shines at the 4th Street Market with its vegan tamales and memorable creations such as its gluten-free cauliflower ceviche tostada. The tostada doesn’t rely on any processed proteins, just marinated cauliflower kissed with tart citrus and hit with a bit of chile heat ($6.25). Santa Ana, 949-988-4268 

Veggie Pizza and Crispy Wings
While Rocket Man pizza with cherry tomatoes and Mucho Veggie pizza with zucchini and eggplant ($13 each) star at its Packing District location, Healthy Junk, right, simulates a traditional party favorite in taste and texture with vegan Crispy Chick Wings ($8.50) served with celery, carrots, and ranch or Buffalo sauce on the side, an item exclusive to the eatery’s original location. Anaheim, 714-772-5865

Short Rib Radiatori
Every pasta dish can be made gluten-free at North Italia. But even with a wealth of options, there are few as unique as the short rib radiatori; little ruffles of pasta said to look like radiators are slicked with Parmesan cream and fresh horseradish and tossed with wilted arugula ($22). Irvine, 949-629-7060

Charbroiled Tofu Kabob
The organic tofu kabob at Panini Kabob Grill is marinated in lemon juice and doused with a blend of spices that light up the palate. The dish includes hummus; a choice of basmati rice, brown rice, or bulgur wheat pilaf; skewered veggies; and a side salad ($13). Multiple locations

Tofu Tacos
With quinoa, cashew Parmesan, and an apple-jalapeno slaw, tofu tacos at Green Bliss bring a bit of heat ($8). For a lunchtime sandwich fix, try the Avo-Campania panini with mushrooms and artichoke hearts on flax bread ($11). Fullerton, 714-773-0018 

Gluten-Free Fried Chicken
Japanese fried chicken specialist Tenkatori batters its birds in potato starch, making this crispy, juicy treat gluten-free. There are several cuts on offer as well as sauces such as yuzu aioli and curry with which to customize. You can’t go wrong with the five pieces of boneless thigh with a side salad and rice ($7.90). Costa Mesa, 714-641-7004

Spicy Tuna-less Roll
At Kensho, each sushi roll is plant-based but astonishingly mimics its fishy counterpart. One of the most popular is the Spicy Tuna-less Roll with avocado and cucumber ($10). Some rolls can also be made gluten- or soy-free. Westminster, 714-514-8726 

Fish-Free Tacos
Your taste buds won’t believe it, but the main ingredients in the seafood tacos at Vegan Nirvana are wheat and soy, while the shrimp version is gluten-free and created with konjac root ($13.50). Huntington Beach, 714-847-4080 

Ranchero Burrito
Chorizo might be culinary blasphemy for vegetarians, but the version served in the ranchero burrito at Mead’s Green Door Cafe is saintly, made with walnuts. Combining the chorizo with peppers, onions, black beans, and guacamole, this burrito ties it all together with a red coat of its namesake ranchero sauce ($10.25). Orange, 714-771-8556

Gluten-Free Pizza
Trenta Pizza & Cucina’s menu features 11 delicious pizzas ($14 to $19)—including the Milano with mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sliced potatoes, pancetta, shallots, and rosemary—which can all be requested to have a gluten-free crust. Can’t pick just one? Opt for the Trenta Trio ($52), where you can choose to have any three split into a 30-inch pizza. Costa Mesa, 949-270-6652

Vegan Sushi
Enjoy sushi with seasonal vegetables rather than raw fish at Cafe Sakana. The vegan sushi set ($14) comes with a bowl of house miso soup that is vegan as well. Top off your veggies with the low-sodium and gluten-free house soy sauce. Newport Beach, 949-287-6511 

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Vegan Diner
Vegan cheeseburgers ($9.50), carne asada fries ($12), and wings ($11) highlight a throwback-style menu at Munchies Vegan Diner, right. Also try the bratwurst, a nicely browned faux sausage nestled in a big hoagie bun and made all the better with house-made truffle sauce and vibrant parsley ($8). Santa Ana, 657-699-3076

Mediterranean Veggie Combo
Anaheim is known to have great Mediterranean food, and one of the best places to get a smorgasbord of Lebanese vegan delights is Zait & Zaatar. The veggie combo ($13) includes all the hits—hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, falafel, and tahini sauce. Anaheim, 714-991-9996


Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Vegan Ramen
HiroNori’s vegan ramen is intensely satisfying. The broth is a creamy sesame-miso base; the noodles are springy and toothsome as in any other bowl here. At right, it’s topped with a garden of vegetables: broccolini, corn, bean sprouts, and baby kale. There are cubes of tofu, too, plus a drizzle of chile oil for an extra shot of flavor ($12.90). Irvine, 949-536-5800

Vegan or Gluten-Free Shabu
Tabu Shabu is popular for its quality meats, but the menu also has vegan and gluten-free options, such as the spicy miso broth and kombu seaweed dashi broth ($14). Diners can also choose the paleo option with no rice, tofu, or noodles. Costa Mesa, 949-642-2660; Huntington Beach, 714-951-9204 

Vegan Ecstasy Bowl
Huntington Ramen and Sushi has acquired a cult following with six vegan ramen options ($10 to $11) as well as vegan sushi, dumplings, and karaage (fried tofu). Try the Vegan Ecstasy bowl with a rich, broth reminiscent of tonkotsu (pork bone), or the Vegan Tan Tan with a sesame broth and soy-based ground “pork.” Fullerton, 714-213-8228

Buddha Bowl
Gluten- and nut-free, this bowl at plant-based favorite Native Foods blends sweet potatoes, cilantro-tinged jasmine rice, roasted corn, avocado, pineapple, and shiitake mushroom chips in what could be the foodie definition of “clean eating” ($9.75). Costa Mesa, 714-751-2151 

Vietnamese Crunch Salad
Avoiding dairy and gluten often means exhaustively customizing your dishes. The Vietnamese Crunch salad ($9.95) at Flower Child is already perfect and will make you feel virtuous. The cashews, bits of pineapple, and fresh herbs add a tropical lightness. As with all the salads and bowls here, you can choose to add your own protein—chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, or tofu. Newport Beach, 949-200-8141 

Warm Cauliflower Salad
The vegan menu at Seabirds morphs with the seasons to incorporate fresh produce. Highlights include this salad featuring shaved Brussels sprouts, arugula, grilled tofu, toasted hazelnuts, and fried dates. Creamy tahini ties it all together ($15.50). Two Costa Mesa locations: South Coast Plaza, 714-708-2166 and The Lab, 714-549-2584 


Photograph Courtesy of Jan’s Health Bar

Vegan Avocado Sandwich
Not only does Jan’s Health Bar, left, have a vegan section on the menu, which includes a great avocado sandwich ($10) and tsunami salad ($11), but you can also request toasted, gluten-free bread for any sandwich. Multiple locations 

Vegan Chicken Sandwich
At all-vegan newcomer The Brave Bean, the “chicken” sandwich features a crispy, house-made fillet stacked tall with vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato, and signature ranch dressing ($10). Add gluten-free buns ($1), “cheese” ($1.50), and shareable sides, including “animal lover” fries, vegan chicken nuggets, or nachos. Fountain Valley, 657-339-2223 

Veggie Sandwich
Blackmarket Bakery hits a vegan option out of the park with the flavorful Fresh Air sandwich. Avocado, Roma tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and arugula are served on house-made toasted lemon-rosemary bread and brightened up with zesty lemon vinaigrette or sundried tomato spread. Costa Mesa, 714-662-3095; Santa Ana, 714-571-0801 

Smoked “Ham” Sandwich
At the decade-old Freesoulcaffé, plant-based paninis, soups, salads, pastas, pizzas, and desserts are made with carefully curated ingredients, many of which are made in-house. But the dish we keep coming back to is the smoked “ham” sandwich with faux meat, avocado, cucumber, black pepper, and dairy-free butter on toasted sourdough bread ($12.50). Tustin, 714-371-0976

Smokehouse Tempeh Sandwich
All sandwiches at Mendocino Farms can be made with gluten-free bread on request. The Smokehouse Tempeh Sandwich is not gluten-free, but it is vegan, made with barbecued tempeh, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, pickled red onions, and dairy-free aioli ($10.45). Multiple locations


Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Fried Tofu Hand Roll
You can choose from more than a dozen signature hand rolls at Temakira or build your own with proteins, sauces, rice, and veggies ($4.15 to $5.15). It’s easy to cater to any diet here, and we love that protein options include raw and fried tofu—the latter is particularly delectable wrapped in nori (seaweed) with eel sauce, avocado, and rice. Two Costa Mesa locations: 17th Street, 949-650-0305; Soco, 949-229-8632

Green Hummus Bowl
A verdant green tomatillo sauce does wonders in sprucing up the signature item at Hummus Bowl. The tangy sauce sits in a pool above a big bowl of hummus, ready to be swirled in or portioned with each spoonful. Warm pita bread comes on the side, or choose the gluten-free option of fresh, lightly salted cucumber spears ($8.95). Mission Viejo, 949-625-6282 

Crispy Chickpeas
Green Tomato Grill transforms humble garbanzos into a binge-worthy snack by dusting them with a gluten-free coating and then crisping them in a flash fryer. The result is a protein-packed version of chickpeas with an addictive crunch ($3.75). Locations in Orange, Brea, and Huntington Beach 

Sunflower Hemp Hummus
This pretty yellow dip with pita chips gets extra points for novelty and shareability ($9). The za’atar-spiced snack is often the first empty bowl on the table, so consider ordering two. Look for Cultivation Kitchen’s striking greenhouse venue in Farmers Park adjacent to the Packing House. Anaheim, 714-603-7076

Avocado Bombs
Tasting more like fried carnival-food indulgence than health-nut fare, the avocado bombs at Butterleaf are in fact a no-guilt delight. The vegan shop at Trade Food Hall takes bite-size avocado pieces, dusts them in a whisper of a crust, and serves them still warm, crunchy on the outside and buttery within. A sprinkle of seeds and a drizzle of tangy sauce—with extra on the side for dipping—round out this fun snack ($5). Irvine, 949-536-5501

Sexy Fries
Curry Up Now, a new-to-O.C. Indian street food canteen, offers this poutine-meets-Punjab mashup. Easily customized, your pile of waffle-cut sweet potato fries can come with chicken, paneer, or plant-based protein ($10.50). Irvine, 949-932-0153  

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