Eat & Drink This Now! The Five Best Things I Had at the 2019 Healthy Junk Vegan Faire

No animals were harmed in the making of this article. Photo by John Holzer

I suppose every plant-based article written from a carnivore’s perspective needs a preface. Simply put, I eat all the things. I’m a fan of food and food events in general, which is why I thought it necessary to check out what’s good in the vegan hood. As I ate my way through the 2019 Healthy Junk Vegan Faire in Anaheim, I discovered quite a bit has evolved. It’s never been a better time to be veg-curious.

The event was packed with entertainment and culture. Photo by Greg Nagel

Before chomping into the updated Impossible 2.0 Burger at Umami Burger, some words crossed my mind: science, labs, testing, focus groups and squishy heme blood. “But DAMN, this thing looks good,” noted my podcast buddy John Holzer, who is vegetarian. Although I wasn’t sure what exactly I was eating—and I didn’t like that fact—there were some great qualities to the patty itself. The texture is “beefier” than most fast-food burgers, with a satisfying salty-fatty bite. I could definitely pick it out of a blind lineup as vegan, but the aroma was akin to that of a meat burger, yet the taste had a bit of that “this ain’t meat” vibe, which I’m okay with—9/10 would heme again.

Hawaiian barbecue from Pour Vida Latin Flavor. Photo by Greg Nagel

One FRAN (Free Rides Around the Neighborhood) later to Center Street, and I was fist-bumping DJ Lexakhan and grabbing a bite at Pour Vida Latin Flavor. “I’ve got this Hawaiian-barbecue thing we’re doing today,” chef Jimmy Martinez said as he swung through his saloon doors while carrying a halved pineapple served with plump chunks of smoked jackfruit that looked and tasted like Kalua pork. Jackfruit is basically the pulled pork of the plant world.

Pikmin G&T from LAG Bar. Photo by Greg Nagel

As I walked into the LAG Bar, I quoted the 1985 movie Real Genius: “It was hot, and I was hungry, okay?” I needed a drink—and maybe more food. The place is blessed with bartending phenom Amber Doll, who is sort of a hidden gem. Sitting at the bar, I got my ass handed to me while playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch and sipping the ultra-pink and refreshing Pikmin G&T, which is citrusy, floral and oh-so-pretty with flowers on top.

Just outside, the street was filled with more than 50 vendors, but  Ma La La Noodles caught my eye with a few dishes from its Hollywood Night Market repertoire. We went with the solo egg: Via a technique called spherification, veggies mimic an unbroken egg yolk. The dish is served on a flatbread coated with chile oil; crunchy, savory carrots; and chives. Once broken and mixed, the flavors explode into a mixed-media artwork of color and spicy-umami flavors.

The Vegan Tamale Co.’s red chile jackfruit tamal. Photo by John Holzer

Though I was gut-bustingly full and slightly buzzed, the Vegan Tamale Co.  caught my eye with its interesting flavor combos. The first thing you’ll notice with the tamal here is that it’s a bit darker than a regular one thanks to the organic, non-GMO, unbleached, blue-corn masa. The texture and flavors encase the filling so snugly, yet it all flakes apart into satisfying bites. I don’t care if this is vegan or not—it’s just great food.

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