Fakin’ It, Asian-Style

Did you go vegetarian but miss meat? A bunch of Asian vegetarian restaurants can fill the void with dishes using “fake meat” (tempeh or some such) with fairly convincing taste and texture. This stuff was originally concocted for observant Buddhists, particularly monks, and is mostly a Taiwanese thing, says ladelfa, although it’s also found on the Chinese mainland. Here in LA, you can also find Thai, Philippine, and Vietnamese restaurants that serve fake meat dishes.

If you’re going to try just one, start with Fine Garden. With a new owner, new menu and, thinks ladelfa, the chef from the formerly great (now not so much) Veggie Wok, this place now offers the best dishes from three or four good-but-now-defunct Chinese vegetarian restaurants of San Gabriel Valley.

Probably the best-known Chinese vegetarian place is Happy Family. There’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the menu runs to hundreds of items, with some fancier dishes. The fake meat is very good in cold appetizers and the mini Hunan ham sandwiches. Curry chicken, hand rolls, and shrimp dishes are good. Despite the ersatz offerings, AquaW says, “I like it because it doesn’t try to hide the vegetarian quality of the vegetarian meat (which at Happy Family I believe is mostly derived from tofu, taro, or mushroom).” And the flat-out vegetable dishes are really well made, adds Jerome, especially the enokidake lily flower soup (jinzhen tang) and houtougu soup (a special soup with monkey-head mushrooms).

At the restaurant formerly known as Vege House (now called Wang’s Family Restaurant), you’ll find yourself chowing down on more hard-core Chinese dishes with lots of Buddhist monks. Some of the flavors here are an acquired taste for Westerners. Weekday lunch special gets you too much food for about $5.

Au Lac is well known for pretty good vegetarian renditions of Vietnamese dishes–the goi cuon (spring rolls) are delicious. Don’t be put off by the realistic-looking faux shrimp. Noodle soups are pretty excellent, and it’s all very fresh, says Tkn. But ladelfa says their food is generally oversugared and recommends Thuyen Vien as being much better. Try the pickled baby lotus root salad.

California Vegan is a Thai place using fake meat–bijoux recommends the mock chicken with spicy eggplant and the cheap lunch specials.

To make your own, Bodhi Vegetarian Supply has a jaw-dropping selection of frozen fake meats, most of it from Taiwan, says ladelfa. There are also dried soy chunks that you soak in water and use in place of chicken or beef in stews and the like. Prices are about as low as it gets for this kind of stuff.

The San Gabriel Supercenter also has a good selection in its frozen food section–three or four of their open-top freezer units are entirely vegetarian. Adjacent to those is a refrigerated-goods area with interesting soy meats, pressed tofu strips, and more.

The San Fernando Valley doesn’t rival SGV for Chinese restaurants, but Jerome points vegetarians in the area to Vegetable Delight. Turns out the fake shrimp get their realistic coloring from seaweed.

In Orange County, Veggie Bistro has mostly (but not all) Vietnamese fare–faux beef dishes are particularly good, says wendy8869, like vermicelli with beef. Eggplant curry soup and shrimp dishes are also chow-worthy–there are Chinese and Italian dishes too–good for when there are a lot of taste buds to accommodate.

Cerritos has Vegi Wokery (Chinese), and Irvine has Wheel of Life (Thai).

The Filipino restaurant Papillon draws a lot of responses, good and bad. The omnivorous ElissaInPlaya loves it, but after an initial rave, the vegetarian wowimadog went back with Filipino husband and relatives who weren’t impressed–7 out of 10. It’s certainly worth a try, and they have vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of most dishes. The vegetarian house special chicken is flavorful, and the texture just right, says Nicole.

Fine Garden Vegetarian Cuisine [San Gabriel Valley]
formerly Veg Table Restaurant
841 W. Las Tunas Dr., Mission, San Gabriel
626-282-2282
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
608 N. Atlantic Blvd., Hellman, Monterey Park
626-282-8986
Map

New Happy Family Of Rosemead [San Gabriel Valley]
8632 Valley Blvd., Walnut Grove, Rosemead
626-288-5786
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [East LA-ish]
869 N. Wilcox Ave., Via Campo, Montebello
323-722-8888
Map

Happy Family Restaurant [Inland of LA]
18425 Colima Rd., Batson, Rowland Heights
626-965-9923
Map

Vege House Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Wangs Family Restaurant
1400 E. Valley Blvd., New Alhambra
626-293-8189
Map

Au Lac Gourmet Vegetarian [South OC]
16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
714-418-0658
Map

Thuyen Vien [Little Saigon]
11080 Magnolia St., Katella, Garden Grove
714-638-8189
Map

Bodhi Vegetarian Supply [San Gabriel Valley]
8450 Valley Blvd. #106, Rosemead
626-282-0089
Map

San Gabriel Superstore [San Gabriel Valley]
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., Valley, San Gabriel
626-280-9998
Map

Vegetable Delight [West San Fernando Valley]
17823 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills
818-360-3997
Map

California Vegan [West LA]
12113 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
310-207-4798
Map

California Vegan Restaurant [West Hollywood]
7300 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
323-874-9079
Map

Veggie Bistro [East LA-ish]
6557 Comstock Ave., Whittier
562-907-7898
Map

Vegi Wokery [Artesia-ish]
11329 183rd St., Gridley, Cerritos
562-809-3928
Map

Wheel Of Life [South OC]
14370 Culver Dr. #2, Irvine
949-551-8222
Map

Papillon Vegetarian Cuisine [Beaches]
408 Main St., El Segundo
310-640-0408
Map

Board Links: Vegetarian “Fake Meat” Restaurants- Recs?
City Beat’s “Next Big Ethnic Craze”: Papillion