Vegan sandwiches continue to shine brightly in Los Angeles. Long gone are the days when diners had to settle for bland veggie hot dogs and tepid portobello burgers. Death to slightly wet hummus wraps, limp zucchini on cold bread, and chicken spelled “chickin.” Our whole lives we’ve been led to believe that without animal products, a good sandwich simply cannot exist. Hell, the name “Impossible Burger” implies that the very notion of plant-based flavor is inconceivable. But it seems a simple lack of imagination may have been the culprit. Nowadays, chefs are applying real innovation to vegan cuisine and a new world has been ripped wide open. Flavorful, inspired, deeply satisfying sandwiches can be had all across Los Angeles and, no, I’m not talking about Wendy’s Plantiful Burger.
The name of the game here is creativity, and this town is bursting with it. Chefs at vegan and non-vegan restaurants alike are offering tasty iterations of classic and highly original sandos. The explosion has been partly due to the pandemic, as every restaurant in town became forced to dream up sandwiches to fill the take-out void on their menu. Chefs have started to bring not just imagination, but their deep understanding of technique and ingredients to fill a giant gap in the market. Snide jokes about “sad vegan food” have quickly become outdated. Get with it. There’s a world of flavor out there that doesn’t involve bacon.
Here are some of the best vegan sandwiches L.A. has to offer.
Mushroom French Dip at Eszett
Get a load of this: confit mushrooms, caramelized onion and cabbage, and garlic spread on a crusty Bub and Grandma’s baguette served with burnt leek au jus. This sandwich is an inspired, hard-hitting flurry of flavor and decadence. The brown beech mushrooms slow cooked in oil are deeply satisfying; it doesn’t replace meat, it upstages it. The au jus is complex and technique-driven. The cabbage is sweet and deep with flavor. The garlic spread is so textured it feels like cheese. This sandwich is in a class of its own.
Chef Spencer Bezaire didn’t necessarily set out to make a great vegan sandwich either: “I wanted to make a great sandwich, and if it happens to be vegan, great.” Eszett opened up a few months before the pandemic hit, and so pretty quickly he and his wife Sabrina (co-owners of the restaurant) had to get the wheels turning on approachable take-out items. Spencer makes the au jus by first creating a vegan demi-glace with tomato paste, red wine, thyme, and mushroom powder. Then he adds the burnt leek stock. The result is a flavorful, self-indulgent juice that would be a crime to waste.
Eszett, 3510 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake.
Crispy Milanese at Crossroads Kitchen
It’s wild to think that as recently as 2013 a vegan restaurant with a bar program didn’t exist in Los Angeles. Enter Crossroads. It’s not even glaringly obvious that food here is actually vegan. The language on the menu doesn’t bash you over the head with “vegan” preceding every protein nor does it put “meatball” in quotes to imply faux ingredients. Crossroads intersects vegans and non-vegans by having a refined setting and a full cocktail program, yes, but also by engaging diners with simple, delicious food that feels like it’s incidentally vegan rather than trying too hard.
The crispy Milanese sandwich is the perfect example of this. It’s a breaded cutlet with tomato, romaine, pickles, and veganaise. The cutlet is crispy, the bread textured and chewy, and the vegetables fresh. Moreover, it’s proof that a good vegan sandwich can still be indulgent. Veganaise still contains lots of delicious, fatty oil that’s needed to satisfy customers. The crispy cutlet is deliciously simple, and a great iteration of an Italian classic.
Crossroads Kitchen, 8284 Melrose Ave., Beverly Grove.
Nashville Sando at Lettuce Feast
Lettuce Feast serves fat, spicy, vegan chicken sandwiches out of a food truck. Everything is fried in peanut oil, so it’s got a clean, never oily flavor. Plus, the high smoke point of peanut oil allows them to get a crispy, crunchy crust that you rarely see on a good vegan cutlet. Lettuce Feast is all about what the people want: ranch, pickles, tangy slaw, and a toasted bun. The Nashville Sando has a moderate spice level, nothing that will obliterate your mouth, but the flavor is on point and Lettuce Feast does all the little things right.
Lettuce Feast, 5301 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood.
Roast Cauli Masala at Jeff’s Table
Full disclosure: the roast cauli masala has to be modified vegan (you’ll only miss the goat cheese raita) but it’s worth it to experience the rest of this delicious sandwich. Spice-roasted cauliflower, charred green onion, coriander cucumbers, crispy shallots, and a preserved ginger-lemon-garlic spread make for a dynamic and aromatic sandwich experience.
In the fall, you can expect a roast pumpkin masala sandwich to be on the menu again, which can also be modified to be vegan. Moreover, when you visit Jeff’s Table, you can be sure that he and his staff won’t miss. Literally everything on the menu is a home run.
Jeff’s Table, 5900 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park.
Lakshmi Singh at Wax Paper Co.
This sandwich starts with Bub and Grandma’s baguette, a staple among Eastside restaurants for a reason: it’s soft, crusty, and hearty. The sandwich is filled with shaved seasonal vegetables that are thinly sliced on a mandolin to mimic a cold cut, then filled with tangy pickled & balsamic onions and spread with a pecan pesto. The pecans add a nice buttery flavor to the sandwich. Wax Paper has locations in both Frogtown and Chinatown, with Bub and Grandma’s providing the stellar bread for both. Fresh vegetables on fresh baked bread is a winning combo.
Wax Paper Co., multiple locations.
Beet + Cannellini Sandwich at Happy Mediums Deli
This one isn’t even available yet (hot scoop; you heard it here first), but this take-out-only deli that’s been applauded for its killer muffalettas and chocolate banana ice cream sandwiches will soon have a vegan offering. It’ll include their signature beet and cannellini dip, plus a curried chickpea and sunflower salad on house-made focaccia.
Happy Mediums Deli, Echo Park.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.