Long Beach Vegan Eatery is all about taking vegan food mainstream with flavors that you didn't know could exist without animal byproducts --how many times have you heard that one before? But here's the real, tasteful deal.
Want macaroni and cheese minus the dairy? Done. Want a meatball sub without the greasy meat? Double done. How about some BBQ "ribs" smothered in a sweet and tangy sauce with a side of Southern-style baked beans? Yup.
Even LBVE's location--in a former burger joint just off the Traffic Circle--seems hellbent on changing people's vision of what vegan food can be. And judging by its surprisingly diverse lunchtime crowd (think Home Depot day laborers, local book store employees and motorcycle-loving suburban Long Beach dads alongside the usual vegan acolytes), the year-old restaurant is off to a good start.
The place itself is pretty low-key. You order at the counter off of pamphlet menus, the food shows up within a few minutes and you bus your own tables when you're done. Paper towels suffice as napkins and silverware is available cafeteria-style by the front window. There's no ego, no condescension and nothing but helpful advice to get meat-eaters started down the path of vegan comfort food.
With a recommendation from co-owner Jeff Terranova--who was behind the register when I showed up--I ordered the house specialty, LBV Beefless and Cheese Sub (aka "The Beefless"). The Beefless is basically a foot-long Philly Cheesesteak sandwich on ciabatta bread and comes loaded with mushrooms, green and orange bell peppers, onions as well as a generous portion of soy-based Gardein "beef strips" that melt in your mouth like a well-prepared pork belly and never once tasted rubbery like too many many awkwardly re-tooled protein products.
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Even the vegan cheese--which as unmelting fluorescent orange shreds, is arguably one of the creepiest vegan equivalency items ever invented--was somehow softened into the perfect gooey sauce that filled in the cracks between the vegetables and the beef strips. After washing the whole thing down with one of the Death Valley natural sodas from the fridge (also try the cucumber lemonade or Brett Michaels' Snapple flavor), it was clear that this vegan Beefless meal was far better than the last real Philly cheesesteak I ate. And I didn't feel my arteries clogging afterwards, or nice cows dying.
LBVE proves that eating vegan isn't all about ruffage and boring gardenburgers. You can stuff your face with a "chicken" parmesean sub or a burrito the size of Albert Pujols' forearm and still be kind to the animals. Portions are huge, the subs are great for sharing and if you are a meat eater, just ignore the children-targeted Peta paraphernalia by the front door and you'll do fine.
Long Beach Vegan Eatery, 2246 N. Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 986-5283; www.LBVeganEatery.com.