Vegan. The sheer mention of the word often provokes controversy and confusion for the average person - and even vegans.

Someone who follows a vegan diet does not eat meat or animal products. Yes, that means no poultry, dairy, fish or honey can be eaten by a true vegan. But a vegan’s diet can waver when you take into account the individual’s reasons for choosing veganism and their practicing lifestyle.

Consider who would choose such extreme dietary limits. There are those dedicated to the lives and rights of animals, those against inhumane farming and slaughter practices and those who want to be healthy by eating more vegetables, hence eating less animal fat.

Don’t forget about the vegan-minded group who do it to save resources. After all, it takes less money, time and effort to grow and harvest a garden of fruits and veggies than to raise an animal and butcher it.

So depending on a vegan’s purpose, some vegans may have exceptions as to what they eat. For example, bees aren’t harmed when making honey, so some “vegans” may eat it. However, an animal rights activist vegan may not eat honey to protest the farming of bees.

Regardless of purpose, a true vegan by definition of the word refrains from eating any animal or animal byproduct.

Being a vegan can be a form of self-discipline that becomes very rewarding. Famous vegans like comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and various athletes have said they have more energy since going vegan.

“Digesting most produce is easier on the insides than processing many carbohydrates, tough meat and dairy,” DeGeneres has said on her show.

Many vegan dishes are light and steer you away from a sugar coma or feeling too full. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of junk food, breads and imitation meat and seafood to calm your cravings as you make the transition. Just one trade-off of enjoying a faux beef and fakin’ bacon burger is that you get great taste with fewer calories.

If you’re interested in being vegan and exploring the hot spots and new places that cater to vegan taste buds, check out these L.A. restaurants.

Flore Vegan

3818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (323) 953-0611;

This restaurant and delicatessen looks very inviting and puts a new twist on an old-fashioned candy shop. The brown and bright red counter out front combined with a matching awning overhead and glass canisters along the wall inside add intrigue to this place.

The extensive menu makes it difficult to decide what to try – wraps, salads, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast or soup? It’s comforting to know they can’t go wrong with their B.L.T.A. (A for avocado and B for tempeh bacon). They have traditional deli style food, some Angeleno-flaired Mexican items and quite a few raw shakes and smoothies for the healthy vegan.

Follow Your Heart

21825 Sherman Way, Canoga Park (818) 348-3240;

This long-standing market and restaurant has been a mecca for vegans and anyone seeking natural remedies, ingredients, care products and guidance. Follow Your Heart is also a homegrown brand featuring the famous natural flaxseed-infused Vegenaise which is distributed to health food stores nationwide. There are four versions of the egg-free mayonnaise substitute, and each has a unique oil base that accounts for the different flavors and health benefits.

Shopping here is educational and taking a moment to absorb the atmosphere in the restaurant is quite an experience. The original wooden architecture from the ’70s coupled with the casual atmosphere of people in organic cotton attire and hemp jewelry makes going green seem like the norm rather than a newly discovered last resort for saving the planet.

Follow Your Heart is one of the few places to offer vegan breakfast. Make your first meal of the day Mexican with their vegan version of chilaquiles: organic corn tortillas sautéed with scrambled, seasoned tofu and topped with Mexican salsa, vegan guacamole and their homemade dairyless sour cream that hints of onion. During lunch and dinner, soy, seitan, mushroom or tofu are offered as alternatives to meat.

Green Earth Vegan Cuisine

37 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena (626) 584-0268;

This place gives off a modern and serene vibe as it celebrates its grand opening in Old Town Pasadena, It proudly debuts Asian- and Thai-inspired plates that use protein-packed veggie and soy-based faux meats and little to no seitan.

Co-owner Thuong U says their most popular dishes include the Grilled Portabella Burger with avocado and pesto made with organic pine nuts, the Tom Yum spicy Thai soup with basil, lime, lemongrass and chilis and the Chick’un Parmigiana featuring soy imitation breaded “chick’un breast” served with brown rice.

To drink, choose from an assortment of tropical fruit smoothies, fresh squeezed mixed veggie juices or agave-sweetened lemonade. Green Earth is very affordable, even compared to a non-vegan menu, and offers agave sweetened desserts, such as a popular chocolate cake, two types of cheesecakes and even Thai Banana Rolls with ice cream.

Juicy Ladies

22423 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 716-0800;

This juice bar and lunch café proudly serves everything vegan, tasty and organic. It’s tucked away and almost hidden except for its hilariously cute sign that boldly showcases the three “juicy” ladies over a patio with bright orange chairs, green umbrellas and a beautiful garden. The inside is like a colorful clash of Jamba Juice and Starbucks, but their menu offers more than those two combined.

The Un-Tuna Salad looks fresh with dark mixed greens, and its tuna disguise on top works. The perfectly rounded heap is concocted of raw nuts mixed with seaweed and other “sea vegetables,” carrots, tomato and raw tahini dressing. The Juicy Ladies get a plus for developing a creative kids’ menu with French fry cut apple sticks and vegan PB&J. They don’t stop there. They cater their food and drinks at a bargain price and hold events like their upcoming Detox Retreat.

LA Vegan

4507 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles (310) 574-9888;

LA Vegan is a trendy, green joint with all types of hot and spicy curry on tofu, seitan, soy fish and imitation chicken or steak. Each curry is served mixed with a sweet hint of either coconut milk or pineapple and sometimes is given an extra kick with chili paste.

The grilled mock salmon is a rare vegan treat if you’re missing your seafood fix. Be sure to try one of their generously decorated American pancakes or their Latin-motivated guacamole burritos, lentil burgers or tempeh alfalfa wrap.

Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss

Various health food stores;

This pint-sized “non-dairy frozen dessert” is code for coconut milk ice cream that lives up to its name of all-organic Coconut Bliss. The Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor is primarily coconut milk with agave syrup, peanut butter and fair trade cocoa with a hint of vanilla for balance.

All Coconut Bliss desserts use coconut milk from Thailand as a creamy base that makes it freeze exceptionally well, giving it a much smoother and more dense consistency when compared to a traditionally more sloppy and quickly melting ice cream. The coconut milk provides a burst of flavor at first lick and then becomes subtle behind the chocolate taste as you discover the thick swirls of natural peanut butter.

M Café

7119 Melrose Ave., Hollywood (323) 525-0588

9343 Culver Blvd., Culver City (310) 838-4300

9433 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills (310) 858-8459;

The M stands for macrobiotic. This “contemporary macrobiotic cuisine” created by chef Michio Kushi is another name for simple, wholesome food that pays tribute to Chaya-style cooking by using unrefined sugar and vegan ingredients.

M Café calls itself a “chic yet casual European style deli.” It proves itself to be modern and clean cut with exceptionally good-looking and equally appetizing creations that could pass for food at a wedding.

You can fill your plate cafeteria-style or pick a pre-filled bento box or salad from the cooler and dig in on their snazzy outdoor patio lined with plants.

You can tell a professionally trained chef with love and passion designed each meal meticulously. Through breakfast, lunch and dinner, food is never boring at this place.

Madeleine Bistro

18621 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana (818) 758-6971;

This truly vegan, classy bistro serves brunch, lunch and dinner from three long menus designed by the Oprah acclaimed Chef David Anderson. Each menu highlights a sweet section that suggests such goodies as Bananas Foster with Belgian waffles, caramel sauce and whipped cream or a yellow carrot cake Twinkie with raisin puree and cinnamon ice crème à la carte. Chef Anderson makes anything seem possible because he can make cappellini from raw cucumber and a tartare with red beets. Madeleine Bistro has had much success in its first five years, and you won’t be disappointed.

The Meet Market

3206 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake (323) 667-0116

The trendy and hip little diner and market is known for its all-you-can-eat vegan brunch buffet for only $10 per person. Feast on sweet cinnamon pancakes, French toast, thick tempeh bacon, sausage, scrambled tofu, chewy waffles and sautéed potatoes complete with fresh squeezed orange juice and ripened fruit.

The menu is quite affordable and has delicious vegan hot or cold sandwiches. For example, they serve a panini-like focaccia grilled cheese with Daiya brand mozzarella, grilled onions, fresh basil leaves and tempeh bacon.

Gorgeous, gourmet cupcakes line the glass cases inside where a few popular vegan and health food sauces, drinks and snacks are sold so diners can keep it vegan at home.

Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery

1999 Avenue of the Stars, Ste 132, Century City (310) 553-4100

2450 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica (310) 315-2777

3150 Ocean Park Blvd., Ste A, Santa Monica (310) 452-7770

This market advertises that it has the best salad bar in town, and it is definitely a contender.

The pay-by-weight salad bar is truly a genuine and unique offering – not just your typical salad bar that exists to half-heartedly satisfy the lone vegetarian at any given restaurant. They put forth non-vegan and vegan pickings such as yellow tomatoes, artichoke hearts, pepperoncinis, a variety of nuts and grains like cashews and quinoa, various marinated tofu, chipotle ranch dressing, soy chips, plantain chips, fresh-cut herbs, just torn bits of bready croutons, mandarin oranges and more organic goodness.

There is an equally satisfying sandwich, burger, juice and smoothie bar, each with naturally vegan and imitation vegan offerings. This market and lunch hot spot has three locations with two in Santa Monica and another in Century City.

Pizza Cookery

6209 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 887-4770;

This Pizza Cookery is proud to provide enough vegan options to have a three-course meal, including oversized salads tossed at the table.

The Vegan Philly actually features vegan chicken rather than steak with traditional Philly-style green bell peppers, thinly sliced onions, mushrooms and casein-free, soy cheese on your choice of whole wheat or a French roll with sesame seeds.

The same cheese tops the vegan pizza crusts with either creature-free pepperoni or smoked “chicken-free chicken.” Also available are a mix of vegan cookies from the Sunflour Bakery and natural drinks by Zevia and Honest Kids. Be sure you go to the Pizza Cookery on Topanga because others with the same name are actually operated by a different company and don’t offer vegan selections.

Pizza Fusion

7950 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite 104, West Hollywood (323) 375-3390

2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Suite 123, Santa Monica (310) 581-2901;

This organic and eco-friendly restaurant is green from the ground up and tries to be as natural and accommodating as possible with gluten-free and vegan options from drink to dessert. You can style your own vegan pizza with soy, casein-free cheese and venture from traditional tomato sauce with barbecue sauce, pesto or olive oil.

Their original Very Vegan pizza boasts a fresh, thin crust pizza layered thick with organic crimini mushrooms and roasted garlic slices on top of soy cheese and organic tomato sauce. This isn’t the first time Campus Circle has tasted their trademark oval pizza. It’s that good. Be sure to finish with their vegan and gluten-free brownie. It’s warm from the oven and is the best vegan brownie I’ve tasted.

Pure Luck Restaurant

707 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles (323) 660-5993;

A smiling, lucky pig is the logo for this restaurant and pub that’s hidden in a neon green hippie-style house. It doesn’t bring much luck though as the front sign is left to only illuminate “uck”.

Vegans adore the signature jackfruit used in the carnitas tacos and barbecue sandwich filling – ingeniously utilizing fruit in place of meat. Their unusual Tacos de Platanos are stuffed with fried plantains, onions and sweet cream leaving you with a sweet yet hearty crepe-like taco. A funky side of sweet potato fries or not-so-sour fried pickle chips are a nice change from raw veggies.

Pure Luck is a microbrewery that shows off several local beers and ciders. It caters to the sweeter taste buds with Iced Oolong Tea, cane sugar-sweetened Coke from Mexico and organic fair trade coffee for when you stay until midnight.

Purgatory Pizza

1326 East 1st St., Los Angeles (323) 262-5310;

This vegan-friendly pizza place has some memorable specialty pizzas named to personify themselves, like the Sloppy Pig with ripped pepperoni and splashed sauce. Pay extra for vegan ingredients like Daiya cheese and faux-Italian sausage, sundried tomato loaf and Gardein Chicken.

They have a traditional and simplistic house salad, but be sure to try their hot, vegan Grilled Cheddar Cheese and tomato sandwich on sourdough and the vegan Pesto Gardein Chicken Sandwich with cheese, tomato, spinach and basil leaves and creamy Vegennaise. You can avoid Purgatory by having them deliver to your place for free with orders over $10.

Real Food Daily

514 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 451-7544

414 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood (310) 289-9910;

RFD is the premiere place for first-time vegans to get a tasty first impression of “organic vegan cuisine.” This beautifully decorated, chic and sustainable sit-down restaurant was started by the personal chef Ann Gentry, who now is internationally recognized and has written a cookbook named after the place.

The cleverly named menu is always changing. The creative specials change weekly from Mexico City Tacos with tempeh, red chili beans, smoky chipotle cheese and jicama slaw to their Naples-inspired Caponata Estiva bean and roasted eggplant dish with fresh basil, greens, toasted pine nuts and olive vinaigrette. The food is as real as it gets with almost all of it being locally grown, unprocessed, natural and preservative free.

The Sensitive Baker

10836 1/2 Washington Blvd., Culver City (310) 815-1800;

New ownership from the Follow Your Heart family has revamped this kosher and gluten-free bakery to offer more of a selection, and soon it will offer a quaint sit-down café. All of their bready goods are casein and peanut free, and some are purely vegan.

Make a meal out of their soft Sliced Vegan Oat Loaf made from amaranth, millet and hearty brown rice or take home their personal-size vegan pizza crusts. For a snack, try their vegan Morning Glory or pumpkin muffins or their glazed Vegan Snickerdoodles with cinnamon sugar topping that’s reminiscent of a fresh churro.

Take advantage of the economical “Take & Bake” products like the vegan sugar cookie dough by the pound or the oat loaf mix. The Sensitive Baker is a refuge for those with multiple dietary restrictions, but check the hours before you go.

Starbucks Coffee

Believe it or not, Starbucks offers vegan frappuccinos and snack packs of pre-made vegan friendly cookies! Simply request your frap to be made with soy milk and refuse the whipped cream. Avoid the “light” low calorie frap or any caramel drizzle topping and java chips. Double check for an “S” on the side of your cup before gulping down that sweet and infamous caramel, mocha, strawberry or vanilla blended iced coffee.

You may want to dunk a few vegan cookies in there just because you can. Lucy’s cute little packets each contain four mini crunchy chocolate chip, sugar or cinnamon thin cookies for only $1.50. Lucy’s products have also taken up the shelves at Whole Foods and other alternative grocery stores.

Stuff I Eat

114 N. Market St., Inglewood (310) 671-0115;

Stuff I Eat doesn’t list much on their menu, but it’s all they need to keep diners coming back for more.

The breakfast on the weekends serves up rustic, organic yellow corn polenta and sweet raisin toast in addition to more commonly known breakfast options like scrambled tofu and tofu sausage.

This Inglewood gem is known for its hefty portions of Soul food and Mexican fusion style kale quesadilla, soul food platter, nacho salad and UnTuna & Chips. Try the gourmet sweet corn or sundried tomato pâté and black eye pea soup with a cornbread muffin for an eclectic experience.

Sugar Beets Bakery

(909) 731-5562;

You can find goodies from this new faraway vegan, gluten-free and organic bakery being sold in health food stores and cafes like Juicy Ladies and Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery.

Their very moist Chocolate Chip Brownie is topped with a thin layer of chocolate fudge-like frosting and tastes great with any type of milk. It creatively masks the often-strong flavor of fava bean and arrowroot flour by using potato starch as a base and organic agave to sweeten. The applesauce, coconut and sunflower oil make it fluffy, soft and fresh tasting.

As if their sugary snacks don’t make you feel good enough, the “certified vegan” bakery donates to the Best Friends Society & Endangered Species Preservation. Follow them on Twitter (@russog22) for the latest retailer updates in Los Angeles.

A Taste of Life

Hollywood Farmers’ Market (at Ivar Ave. and Selma Ave.) Sundays 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (424) 209-0017;

This beloved vegan hot spot closed their dining room doors and switched to distribution, catering and weekly farmers’ market sales for now and they still have quite a following.

Their well-known Breakfast Biscuit sells out quickly every Sunday morning along with their warm chocolate cookies that are only a dollar each. The biscuit has been compared to a McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffin, except it’s made from grilled imitation sausage that even looks greasy, a grilled tofu patty in place of egg and a thick yellow slice of creamy, melted soy cheese sandwiched between a fluffy, homemade vegan biscuit.

Ever heard of vegan soul food? They have that, too. Try a plate of black-eyed peas, kale cooked collard green style and sweet potato pie with thick nutmeat chili or moist chunks of barbecue tofu. A Taste of Life can provide a hearty full feeling with their heavy, meaty and American-style food. Their Web site lists about 20 places (including Whole Foods) where you can buy their creations.

Vinh Loi Tofu

18625 Sherman Way #101, Reseda (818) 996-9779;

This busy place is almost always open and is known for their authentic vegan take on gourmet Vietnamese that pinpoints unbelievable meatless meat flavor. Their mock meat specialties imitate prawns, abalone, shrimp, beef pork, barbecue duck, grilled ham and chicken nuggets from scratch by using soy, gluten or tofu. There are a ton of different vegan and gluten free noodles to choose from, too: rice, flat rice, spinach wheat, clear mung bean, yellow wheat, dry and udon. You must try the homemade green-tinted soymilk. How rare is that?

For more information about living a kind of vegan lifestyle beyond your diet, consider these Web sites for guidance. Learn about seitan, tofu, gluten, soy and rice imitations and vegan nutritional yeast. They can steer you toward a greater purpose and really make you think.

For example, if you don’t eat beef in order to keep cows alive and happy, then you must try to avoid buying leather or milk from caged cattle or contribute to any company who supports such an industry.

Remember to be safe and make your health a top priority. Be good to your body, and it will be good to you.


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