Five Rockin' Vegetarian Restaurants in Orange County

Don't lie to yourself. Thanksgiving is coming up (and the rest of the holidays through the end of the year) and you are going to be a glutton. Eat this, eat that. Family gatherings, friends' gatherings, social gatherings - they'll all be unintentionally hell-bent on increasing your waistline if you aren't careful. That being said, having something savory doesn't necessarily mean you have to forgo health. Here's a reminder that there are some fantastic vegetarian and vegan options out there to cut back on your meat intake and potentially the richness that follows. (This is not to say that all vegetarian/vegan food is "healthy" but we can err on the side of it being "healthiER.") Some may get a picture in their minds that vegetarian = boring, bland salads but you should really take a look at this list of restaurants we've been to and love for their creative, savory, and just dang good food that just so happens to be vegetarian! I mean, take a look at the pictures yourself - there aren't any boring salads in this bunch.

Thuyen Vien, Anaheim, CA
Love, love, LOVE this place, and we feel that for the most part, it doesn't quite get all the attention it deserves. I'd blame it on its small location tucked away unassumingly in a shared building with a variety of other mainstream entities. It's a mom-and-pop restaurant featuring amazing Vietnamese food, all vegetarian (and I might dare to say all vegan too?). The owners are so kind and gracious as well and extremely humble about their talents. They really do make well-seasoned, creative, and feel-good foods that cause us to crave it any time we are in the vicinity. Take, for example, their spin on the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup of pho. Instead of a beef-based broth, they infuse umami in their stock through mushrooms and concoct a bowl worthy of any other pho out there. In fact, I believe they won a "Best Pho" award a few years back and yes, the other competition were restaurants that make pho with beef. Also take a stab at their garlic chicken because that is too amazing. I happened to have a birthday meal there once, and their tofu "cheesecake" was positively divine.

Veggie Grill, Irvine, CA
Veggie Grill is definitely not a restaurant that is exclusive to Irvine nor is it a small mom-and-pop but it does do vegetarian well. Much larger as a company with several locations than our previous restaurant choice above, Veggie Grill has established itself as a fast casual spot that offers good design, a diverse menu, and great food. Instead of sitting down for a long meal, expect that you can grab to go and even do some catering with them. That doesn't take away from the quality of their food though and because they are that much bigger of restaurant, you have a large variety of choices between sandwiches, salads, sides, plates, burgers, etc. Their salads are giants, and I'm a big fan of the teas (free refills too, yes!). So far, I've generally liked about every menu item I've had there but really like the cauli-mashed potatoes and Thai Chickin' salad.

Healthy Junk, Anaheim, CA
I have a friend who enjoys finding vegetarian and vegan places so she suggested that we go to Healthy Junk one day for lunch. Intrigued and appreciative of their edgy branding, I went and discovered a dang good meal. They have a juice bar for those wanting to partake in fresh-squeezed juices too! Their menu items were well-priced and featured restaurant classics that just happen to be vegetarian. For example, my burger was a chopped mushroom patty instead of just a huge slippery Portobello between buns. We also found that they made kale chips very well and had tasty sides. It's located in the food court-ish area of downtown Anaheim where a lot of small businesses are popping up, adding more to the vibe of this budding food destination city!

Native Foods Cafe, Tustin & Costa Mesa, CA
Again, this is not a small establishment but a chain (with several locations in Los Angeles as well). However, it's one of my go-tos when I need to pop in somewhere for a quick snack. Unlike Veggie Grill which has a strong focus on burgers, sandwiches, sandwiches, and so forth, Native Foods Cafe is all about the savory entrees. Sure there are burgers too but the bowls are what get me. Native Foods Cafe adopts various international cuisines too so you'll easily see Moroccan, Mediterranean, etc all in one menu. They additionally have a focus on supporting their communities so if you get on their mailing list, you'll see when they have charity days (proceeds go to a designated non-profit) and special menu items. I'm a fan of their bowls and as Duc says, the bacon is pretty much bacon, not "vegetarian" bacon.

118 Degrees, Anaheim & Costa Mesa, CA
There is more than one location of the 118 Degrees restaurant but it is still a (talented) one-woman-chef show. This is definitely a restaurant for those a little more adventurous in their dining as the menu is both full of items that are vegetarian and raw. The name of the eatery is also the temperature over which none of the foods are prepared. I've tried them out during tastings and for lunch during OC Restaurant Week earlier this year. The passion behind Chef Jenny's food is apparent in each bite so give them a consideration when thinking about delving into raw foods.

Photography by Minerva Thai.