Are you ready for the longest post ever?
Last week our family took a quick vacation to SoCal to celebrate my sister’s graduation from Pepperdine, visit my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law, and to take every single opportunity we could to soak up the sunshine at the beach. The week was a total success! Irving travels a lot, and when he’s home he spends so much time working hard for our family, so to have 8 days just for the 3 of us was a huge treat. David was on cloud nine all week, so happy to be spending so much time with his Daddy!
In addition to spending awesome family time together, we also ate a lot of amazing food. A LOT! People often tell me that following a vegan diet seems so restrictive. Not true! It’s a little tricky at first, but once you know a few tricks it becomes really simple. I’ll share a couple of guidelines and then I’ll share a whole bunch of yummy food pictures. You will be very hungry by the end of this post.
But first—some tricks!
1. Seek out ethnic restaurants. Ethnic restaurants tend to have less of a focus on meat as the main component of the meal than traditional American restaurants. Think Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, etc.
2. Do your research. Check out the menus ahead of time when you have the chance. Take a peek at their offerings—even if they aren’t screaming vegan, you can probably have the dish altered (skip the cheese, etc.) to make it vegan.
3. Do your best. I try to do my best to order things that are as vegan as possible. However, if it’s not a restaurant I know I’ll be going to on a regular basis (like I might in my hometown), I won’t make the waiter go to the back and bring me the package that the bread came in to confirm that there’s no whey in it. I know that some people would disagree with this, but I feel like making the kindest possible choices, without making vegans seem like really difficult people is a better way to go. It doesn’t help anyone to perpetuate the stereotype that vegans are difficult, holier than thou, high and mighties.
4. Don’t panic if you end up having a less than awesome meal. So, what if you have to have a side salad for dinner one night? Will you love it? Probably not. Will it be the end of your world? Should it ruin the whole night? Nope! It’s just one meal, there will be another one within 6 hours!
5. Don’t let your food knowledge ruin your fun. At home I am almost militant about reading labels, avoiding GMOs at all costs, skipping the food dyes, and eating clean, whole foods. So when I travel I allow myself to lighten up a little bit, knowing that the exposure to less than healthy ingredients is minimal. Are the tortilla chips made from GMO corn? Probably. Will I eat an entire basket of them every day? Nope! If you are too hyper focused on the ingredients you will ruin your fun, and the fun of those around you. Sometimes you just have to cover your ears and say “la la la la la!” and know that you are doing the best you can under the circumstances. Again, do your best to make the healthiest choices!
6. Bring some snacks from home. Vegan lunches and dinners are relatively easy to find. Breakfasts are another story. Most restaurants will have a fruit cup and maybe a bagel (Starbucks’ are vegan!), but it will cost you an arm and a leg. Skip the pricey foods and opt for some snack bars and dried fruit, or even stop at a grocery store for some fresh fruit. We had a great breakfast in our hotel room one morning of Lara bars, dried bananas, and dried mangoes. Was it fancy? Nope. Was it fast, easy, and vegan? Yes siree!
Ok, now for the food!
To celebrate my sister’s graduation we went to La Sandia (the Watermelon) in Santa Monica. It is a beautiful, upscale Mexican restaurant with a big menu! Better yet, they had a special sheet calling out the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free items. The vegan selection wasn’t huge, but it was good! I could choose between fajitas, tacos, and enchiladas. I chose the fajitas and made the right choice—I had fajita chayote squash and onions, served with rice and black beans, and a salsa verde. I ordered a kids’ rice and black bean taco for David with a side of butter-free sweet plantains (instead of the ice cream it was supposed to come with.).
The next day Irving, David and I had lunch on our own. We went to a little taqueria we had seen the day before in Malibu (where we were staying for the first part of our trip) called Howdy’s. The food was fast, healthy (organic!), and the tables were outside! David had a tofu taco (above) with chips—in fact, he even learned how to call the waitress to our table and ask for chips. We are in so much trouble!
I ordered a side of this balsamic grilled cauliflower—will definitely be trying this at home. It was delicious, and felt very healthy—not laden in oil!
I had 1 tofu taco and 1 veggie taco. Both were really good—I think I liked the tofu best. It came with a side of rice and black beans.
On Monday we ventured to Lego Land—David’s first trip to an amusement park. He loved it! The rides are geared towards younger kids so David was able to ride almost everything. He is a total daredevil and loved the roller coaster and the free fall rides—oh boy! We found a sandwich shop that have some veggie sandwiches so we had lunch there. It wasn’t the most gourmet, but it was decent, and more than I expected in the middle of the park. I had a panini with grilled balsamic eggplant, tomato, and onion, and David had a PB&J.
After our whirlwind day at Lego Land we checked out the menu options at the resort (brand new, just opened in April!). While the restaurants looked fun—decked out from head to toe in Lego decor—the options for vegans were very limited. Could we have made it work? Yes. But for the price ($25 for adults), I wanted something more than just what worked. So we ventured into nearby Carlsbad and stumbled upon The Armenian, a Middle Eastern restaurant right on the ocean. I took a quick peek at the menu and saw hummus and falafel, so I waved Irving and David in. It was a great dinner—a little pricier than what we would have spend on the Lego Land buffet—but I felt like it was better quality food. And, after we ordered we realized we had a ton of food—we could have ordered much more carefully and spent a lot less! We ordered a hummus and muhamarra platter with pita for our appetizer (above) (sorry, it looked so good I dug in before remembering to take a picture!).
I had the falafel platter for dinner with rice, a salad, and tahini. The dressing they normally use is a yogurt tahini blend, so they brought me the plain tahini. I asked for a lemon wedge and mixed the two together to make a great dressing.
On the kids’ menu there was a cheese pizza. I asked if I could get one without cheese for David, and add mushrooms and olives. They did (for an extra $1), and were so impressed that he would eat his veggies. Of course he will 🙂 He also scarfed down all of our pickled turnips (the pink veggies in the pictures above.).
On Tuesday we headed down the coast to San Diego, specifically Coronado. We have gone there each time we have gone to CA together—it is a DLC tradition. And we always eat in the same restaurant—Miguelitos. It is a cute little Mexican restaurant and they have a lot of yummy offerings! I ordered the veggie enchiladas—grilled zucchini and mushrooms, smothered in a tomatillo salsa. The salsa was so good—lots of lime in it!
David had the kids’ rice and bean burrito with the fruit cup.
I also ordered the Carmen Miranda—a pina colada like drink, but without alcohol, and I asked them to skip the cream too. I can’t imagine why you would need cream in it—the coconut made it so creamy!
After our day at the beach in Coronado we began driving up to see my in-laws’ in Loma Linda. On our way we saw this billboard:
Such a great message! And very fitting as my sister in law (vegan!!!) was making a Mediterranean feast for us for dinner that night. She made hummus, baba ganouj, falafel balls from scratch!, and a tabouleh salad. It was so tasty and it was nice to have a little break from restaurant food.
The next morning we had breakfast at her house and it was so nice to have bowls of chia and hemp seeds on the table, and almond milk to pour on our oatmeal. I felt right at home, and David scored points asking for “chia bugs” on his oatmeal 🙂
Then we headed out to Palm Springs for the day—hot hot hot! I had hoped to go to Native Foods Cafe when we were in the Malibu/Santa Monica area but we never got a chance to go. So when I remembered that there was one in Palm Springs I was so excited and we put it on our list. It did not disappoint! I had the HUGE Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger (recommended to me by Cadry from Cadry’s Kitchen—aren’t blog friends the best?)—this thing was out of control! It was more of a sandwich, in the sense that it had deli sliced seitan meat on it, not a burger patty. It also had lettuce, tomato, shredded carrot, and…..fried pickles! Oh, these were so good! I also got an order of sweet potato fries with barbeque sauce—my weakness.
David had the kids’ “chicken” nuggets with a mango slice. It also came with brown rice and some raw veggies that I thought looked awesome, although I’m not sure he ate any of them. He loved playing with the ranch dressing 🙂
That evening we went out to dinner with some of Irving’s childhood friends who live in the area. We ate at Rose Apple Thai restaurant near Loma Linda. Most Thai restaurants are really vegan friendly, although you should check with them about the sauces—some sauces are premixed with fish sauce, others are not. So ask if it’s possible to make something without fish sauce.
I ordered Swimming Rama for myself—steamed spinach and fried tofu smothered in a peanut sauce and topped with fried shallot. It was AMAZING! My plate got passed around the table for everyone to sample. I ordered Pad Thai for David, no eggs, no fish sauce. He loves his noodles!
On Thursday we had an adventure, riding the train from Riverside to the beach in Oceanside. It was a LONG trip, and when we got to Oceanside we had just a few hours before we had to catch the return train, so we needed a quick lunch. We stopped in Colima’s Mexican Food. I ordered a veggie burrito—beans, rice, and guacamole for David and I to share. It was the size of my head! I appreciated that they had a sign saying “No MSG, No Lard” on the menu.
After some fun at the beach we got back on the train to head home. When we arrived, my mother in law had made one of Irving’s very favorites—mangu. Mangu is boiled smashed plantains, mixed with garlic, and topped with onions sautéed in lime juice. It’s common for breakfast, but being a semi-typical American, I prefer it for dinner. It’s delicious!
On our very last day we headed in to Anaheim to go to Downtown Disney before catching our evening flight back to Seattle. I spent some time the night before looking at the different restaurants and picking one that seemed to be the most vegan friendly. We went to Tortilla Jo’s—surprise, more Mexican—when in SoCal….
I had the veggie burrito with vegetarian black beans (I was glad they specified—sometimes the beans can be made with pork or chicken stock). It came with a side of sautéed veggies.
We also shared the made-at-the-table guacamole which was delicious!
David had the kids’ bean and rice burrito with a fruit cup—one of the reasons I picked this restaurant was because it had kids’ offerings other than hamburgers, nuggets, and mac and cheese. He loved the black beans and ate them all using them as a dip for his chips! I’m sure that balances out, right?
We had a great week away, and as you can see, we didn’t starve! In fact, I was up 3 pounds when we got home—whoops, time for some home cooking! Hope this encourages you if you are planning any trips away. It can be done—don’t let your food options dictate the amount of fun you can have on your trip!