Vegan Mac and Cheese 101: Let’s Get Cheesy.

This is more of a quick guide for all lovers of Mac and Cheese out there, and a bit of a national foodie tour as well.

I grew up an avid lover of mac and cheese; whether out of the blue box, mama-made, or as a young adult eating at popular BBQ joints, mac and cheese has been my gooey jam since  was a wee lad. This love has not changed since becoming vegan; if anything, it’s been amplified. I became a man on a mission; to find the best vegan mac and cheese in Los Angeles.

My vegan mac experiences began way, way, WAY before actually becoming vegan. In 2010, I was introduced to a fine chain that at the moment I found absolute novelty: Veggie Grill. Oh the Veggie Grill…I was then introduced to their mac and cheese (my first vegan mac and cheese experience) and fell in love; creamy, thick and with an interesting bread crumble on top: it was tasty. I kept ordering this item throughout the years and was continuously satisfied.

Then came 2014 when a friend of mine texted me, “Oh my god, I just had the best BBQ Pulled Pork. You have to try it!!! And it’s vegan!!!” I wasn’t then vegan, but as I’ve previously mentioned in posts, I have always been a sucker for vegan grub. So, I planned an immediate trip down to “Doomie’s Homs Cooking” to see if my friend’s bar-setting was all she set it to be.

This mac and cheese is a “out of the blue” box as vegan mac gets, and here’s my gripe with it as with a lot the other food at Doomie’s; it’s good…sometimes. First time I tried it paired with the Pulled Pork Sandwich, and I liked it a lot. Then I ordered it again, and it was just ok. The third time it was decent. The time after that, it was watery. The next time I can’t remember, then another time after that it was great. Then it was meh again. This is a recurring trend with their mac and cheese: recurring inconsistency. It will never be my togo mac and cheese.

Onto other establishments: Sage. Sage, with its moments of inconsistency, tends to offer an above-average mac and cheese. Yes, it’s Daiya, and so what. Taste is what matters and this one tends to deliver. Does it have its occasional flops? Sure, like a lot of the other items from this chain. But more than half the time its creamy, cheesy goodness with generous pieces of avocado and broccoli to give it a well-rounded presentation and taste. That on top of a bed of kale make you feel a little less guilty in your indulgence. But I don’t really care about it being healthy; I actually enjoy foods served on top of kale, broccoli in just about most pastas, and AVOCADOS (the staple, holy grail food of all vegans).

Getting a little bit ritzier than Sage, there’s Moby’s hidden yet highly acclaimed dining spot, Little Pine. The mac and cheese here is tasty, but not any better than the one at Veggie Grill, except you literally pay three times the price. Not one of my staple foods at Little Pine and I wouldn’t order it again.

Most recently (more like yesterday which is what prompted this blog post) I tried the mac and cheese at “Vegetable”. Vegetable, while technically ‘vegetarian’, offers a menu that is predominantly vegan and its mac and cheese falls into this category. Their mac and cheese also happens to be their most acclaimed item (countless pictures of it claim so on Instagram, Yelp, the list continues). Yea, this one defines ‘overhyped’. While the mac and cheese at Doomie’s is inconsistent and the one at Little Pine simply misses the mark in surpassing other existing varieties, the one at Vegetable is just bland. Not good at all. Flavorless; from the spicy cashew cheese to the consistency of the pasta, it’s a disappointment from start to finish. I don’t know what it’s missing, but it’s missing something because this show stealer results in a no-show. This is sad because all the other dishes here hit the mark just fine on flavor, but its signature dish results as a major flop? How does this happen? Come on now, Chef, competition for “Mac and Cheese Supremeness” is harsh in Los Angeles, if you can deliver marvelous through your pasta-less Lasagna, risotto, veggie sides and even something as simple as tomato soup, you have no excuse with your signature dish.

In the realm of raw and all-organic, there’s the reputable “Sun Cafe” in Studio City. There’s a reason why this place is so popular–because it’s EXCELLENT. I mean, nothing, absolutely NOTHING on the menu is bad or even average. This is saying a lot from someone who eats out every night and has dined at hundreds of restaurants throughout his life. From the raw lasagna, the stir-fries, the lettuce leaf tacos, the burgers, the mashed potatoes (some of the best vegan mash ever), the shakes, the raw cheesecakes; the food here is always on point. Needless to say that the same applies to their mac and cheese; it’s the best I have tried in all of California. Prepared with a creamy cashew cheese, this dish is served on a hot skillet and it’s cheesy bite after cheesy bite until the very end. You can taste the flavor radiating from the cashew cheese and it’s as indulgent as nut cheese gets. Add some Sun Chorizo to it and you’ll be in carb-loving, mac and cheese-dreaming, vegan heaven! I could and would eat this every night if my work schedule allowed for it.

While still in California, I’ll make a brief reference to “Souley Vegan” in The Bay Area. This place is ‘vegan southern decadence’ done right; from the southern fried tofu, to the potato salad, to their ranch, I would go again in a heart beat when up north. As mac and cheese and southern comfort food go hand-in-hand, Souley Vegan dishes up their own take on vegan mac. Unfortunately, this is the one item on the menu that did not wow me away. It wasn’t bad, but it fell WAY short next to every other delicious, greasy, crispy thing on the menu. It was underwhelming.

Onto other regions of the country, let’s take a tour down South to Nola. I went to one vegan spot, “Seed”, and one ‘vegan-friendly’ spot, “Sneaky Pickle,” while visiting and tried mac and cheese at both and as to how the latter served the best mac and cheese of my entire life is beyond me. I couldn’t believe it upon trying it. Oh-My-Holy-Tastebuds! It was everything I imagined dying and going to heaven would be like; spoonful after spoonful of creamy, gooey mac and cheese in a cashew cheese sauce the was excellently complimented with Tempeh chorizo. Then you have the peas, onions and mushrooms swimming through the pasta, slathering themselves in the sauce to give into spoonfuls after spoonfuls of heaven. Thank you Sneaky Pickle for creating the best vegan mac—screw it, best mac and cheese–on planet earth! I promised myself I would eat it again and if that means planning another NOLA trip for this sole purpose, I will!

On a final note on the southern vegan mac and cheese scene, there’s “Market on South” in Orlando. Their vegan mac is also nothing innovative. Not bad, just made the mark with nothing new to offer.

So there you have it my mac and cheese loving veganaires and mac and cheese aficionados, that’s my guide for you and I hope it comes in handy during your date night planning and. intercontinental travels. And remember, when in NOLA, nom nom nom on some divine mac and cheese at Sneaky Pickle. My God, the dreams I have of that place!

 

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