This Memorial Day weekend I decided to take a long road trip up Highway 1 on the California coast. For those of you not familiar with this rugged, spectacular coastline, I highly recommend you check it out. For those of you that have this on your to-do list, my suggestion is to get busy planning it. It is nature in action. With it’s jagged coast, and island boulders off the shoreline, you can almost see how the continents divided through the evolution of the planet. There is nothing like it.
California is one of the most beautiful states in the Union. From its warm breezy days and cool comfortable nights, to its sandy beaches and redwood forests, Hollywood glam to 60’s psychedelic hippies dressed in tie-dye it is also a contrast of opposites. To underscore it’s divergent elements, you will habitually find exotic flowers such as birds of paradise growing wild, often next to fire hydrants. It is truly a magnificent place.
What you can also find in abundance in California is great, fresh, organic food as readily available on every block as pretzels are on a New York City street corner. Going out there with every intention of maintaining my raw food promise, I did a little research before heading out and planned my trip according to restaurants I wanted to visit. This is actually not unusual for me. I always plan my trips around restaurants. But this time rather than the promise of fire roasted organic chicken with herbed rice pilaf and wine, the all-encompassing allure was delicious, organic raw vegan food that wasn’t lettuce or a smoothie. I wanted to experience gourmet raw food. And my oh my, did I find it!
I had to go a bit out of my way to visit this small Costa Mesa restaurant nestled in the corner of a small strip mall, but it was worth the drive. I found there the very best raw Mexican style food I have ever eaten and that includes Pure Food and Wine in New York City, which has been the template by which I judge other raw restaurants. I started out with the Fried Avocado Mini-Tostada, made with a crispy buckwheat shell, spicy peppita sauce, chopped spinach, cilantro, corn and “fried” avocado. Completely amazing and delicious and alone worth the drive. Next up was the Mole Enchiladas, two Enchiladas in spicy tomato coconut wraps with mole chipotle cheese, marinated squash, carrots, and avocado. This was topped with red bell pepper sauce and salsa. It was also enormous and impossible to finish but what I had made me realize that following a raw food diet does not have to mean salads and smoothies. My only regret? That I didn’t buy their cookbook. If you find yourself in Orange County, I highly suggest you make your way over to 118 Degrees.
Overall Rating: 5 stars!
Location: 2981 Bristol Suite B5, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714-754-0718)
Smiling Dog Yoga Center
While the Yoga class I went to at Smiling Dog in San Luis Obispo was amazing and a relaxing departure from my usual Ashtanga practice at Jivamukti, the café left a lot to be desired. It really doesn’t cater to raw foodists (although it was listed as such in the raw restaurant guide) with the only real options for raw being a salad and a vegetable juice. I was pretty hungry after class so I ordered the juice and was disappointed to learn that it had been made hours before by a guy that came by with his juicer and then left….huh? Coming from New York City, where I can get a fresh veggie & fruit juice within a ten-block radius that is made fresh to order, I was also surprised to find myself feeling like a statue waiting to get noticed by the chatty attendants. The cooked food certainly looked like it might have been pretty good, but I didn’t try it.
Overall rating: Yoga ~ 5 stars. Raw Food ~ 1 star.
Location: 1227 Archer Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 (805-546-9100)
Spiritland Bistro/Organic Global
In Santa Barbara I was able to get in daily Yoga classes, visit farmer’s markets and even attend a street fair, but raw food was a little more challenging to come by. Organic Global Cuisine is a quaint, tiny restaurant a couple of blocks off the main street that offers a great variety of organic food, and while the wait staff was attentive and accommodating, the raw options were scarce. In fact the only raw options available were a salad, raw lasagna and one dessert. Since I often have raw lasagna in NYC at this amazing take out place near my office called Free Foods NYC, I was reluctant to have it again. So this was one place I made an exception. While I did go for the big raw salad made with a veritable harvest of greens, fruit and seeds, and the amazing raw lime mousse dessert garnished with coconut flakes, I also indulged in the Caribbean Curried Sweet Potato Soup that was the first warm thing I’ve had other than tea in two months. Did I feel guilty? Not really… it was too good!
Overall rating: 3 stars
Location: 230 East Victoria St. Santa Barbara, CA 93101 (805-966-7759)
CRU Silver Lake
Call off the dogs, the search is over! The best organic raw food restaurant has been found and it is almost hidden on a cross street in Los Angeles, nearly impossible to find without a GPS system. Better than Pure, heck, better than most cooked food I’ve had, CRU offers the freshest, tastiest variety of raw food I have ever eaten. While I will always prefer the fantastic raw food restaurant Pure Food in New York City for it’s upscale, fine dining qualities, CRU will forever after be my favorite raw food restaurant!
I started out with a delicious Bruschetta Rustica that I got simply because I LOVE bruschetta and because I have not found a decent recipe for raw bread that doesn’t fall apart at the slightest touch, The idea of bruschetta on real, raw bread was too much to pass up. Made with raw sunflower bread and layered with herbed cashew cheese, topped with chopped tomatoes and basil, CRU’s version of bruschetta rivals that of any Italian restaurant I have ever been to. My friend Allison got the Spring rolls that were wrapped in long, paper-thin cucumber slices with a delicious sesame dipping sauce. For Entrees, I got the Asian noodle bowl, which is basically the raw foodists version of sesame noodles found in most Asian restaurants. Instead of rice or soba noodles, CRU used kelp noodles that were both soft and crunchy, tossed with a delicious almond butter-sesame sauce and topped with assorted vegetables. Alison had the Shitake Mushroom Ravioli, made with thinly sliced jicama wrapped around marinated and pureed shitake mushrooms that was also Out of this World!
Portions were above average and the prices were more than reasonable. Now that I have practiced a raw food lifestyle for about two months, I have a whole new appreciation of the time and cost consideration of such a lifestyle, so to see top quality cuisine at such reasonable prices, made me appreciate CRU all the more. Of course, we couldn’t skip the dessert (it is raw after all, so how bad can it be, right?), so we sampled the raw brownie with coconut ice cream and the chocolate truffle cake. They were a little too rich to finish but they were certainly fun to try. An additional perk of dining out in LA? There are deals going down everywhere and celebrities, both minor and major roaming the streets. I saw one of the guys from Entourage having a quick meal with a friend at CRU and there was a major deal going down at the next table with two very successful TV producers, making the experience all the more fun.
Overall rating: 5 Plus Stars!!
Location: 1521 Griffith Park Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026 (323-667-1551)
If you live in California or plan to visit, I highly suggest you check out one or all of these restaurants. They are all worth seeking out. And to get a list of raw food restaurants around the country, check out the Raw Food Restaurant Guide.
Check out some of my delicious raw food recipes here on this blog – I’ll be adding many more over the coming months. If you are interested in raw foodism, you may want to check out my recent blog post ‘Vitamins B12 & D on a Vegan or Raw Diet’. As always, I welcome your questions and comments, and would love your recommendations for more healthy or raw restaurants to visit while I’m next on the road in California!