Being vegan is definitely becoming a norm in LA. While the lifestyle shift can be challenging, research has shown that there are great benefits to adopting the vegan life, like lower risks of cancer and better heart health. A great way to help make the transition easier would be finding a restaurant to ease you into how vegan food tastes.
A good restaurant to try would be the Jackfruit Cafe. Opened in September 2017 by actress, comedian and foodie Angela Means (most affectionately known as “Felicia” from the cult classic Friday and Vanessa from Cousin Skeeter), the Jackfruit Cafe is making a statement by providing healthy and surprisingly vegan soul food to the hood. I recently visited the cafe to see if soul food really could be vegan and if it would taste good.
The location and vibe
The location of the cafe is what makes it unique and is reflective of the cafe’s goals. You’ll find Jackfruit Cafe located on the corner of Crenshaw and 30th inside the King’s Donut. The area that the cafe is in, is clearly not the best area in LA, but speaks to Angela’s goal of bringing healthier and alternative options to the local community. The cafe is open Sunday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Although small once you step inside, you can instantly feel the warmth of the cafe from the simple decor to the welcoming smile of Angela, who is usually on-site. The cafe is obviously a starting point for the new restaurateur, but is filled with enough love and commitment that translates well into the food.
The most popular item the cafe is known for is their soul bowls. The bowls usually consist of shredded jackfruit (BBQ, curry, jerk, or vindaloo flavor) jasmine rice, collard greens, mac and cheese, choice of black beans or black eyed peas, plantains and yams. The bowls pack a lot of items that are flavorful, ranging from a little spicy with the added heat of the pepper with the collard greens to a little sweetness with the yams. The bowl is a great introduction to food that is vegan friendly. The item in the bowl that will stick out for sure if you’re new to vegan cuisine will be the mac and cheese. The mac and cheese is made with vegan cheese and also adds cashews to the mix for extra protein. While it does not come close to the taste of real cheese at all, I can easily see it being a treat for someone who has given up the cheesy goodness. The cashews in it also give it a little bump as it is very much unexpected.
The cafe has recently introduced two new items to their menu: the impossible burger and the impossible spaghetti. Both bizarrely look like the real thing, grabbing the attention of semi-meat eaters like me instantly. In collaboration with Impossible Foods, the burger and spaghetti meat are made up of potato, coconut, wheat and heme making these plant-based menu items magically healthy.
Unfortunately, the impossible burger is currently only served at lunch (from 12pm to 3pm) during the week so you’ll want to make sure you arrive early so you can snag a burger before they run out. The spaghetti is usually a special so you’ll definitely want to check out their Instagram to see when its available.
The cafe also serves burritos, tacos and chili cheese fries among the other special items. I look forward to seeing how their menu will expand as it gains popularity. I hope they start making some desserts (hint hint).
While people like me who have eaten meat their whole lives are skeptical of becoming vegan, but are at least interested in incorporating a more vegetarian diet, I think the Jackfruit Cafe is a great place to start. Of course with some of the menus items, like collard greens, I am used to having meat flavor; I found the soul bowl to be flavorful enough that I did not necessarily miss the taste of turkey neck in my greens. I am a die hard cheese person so having a cheese alternative was not the easiest thing for me to accept, but it was tasty enough that if I were to become vegan I could see it being my favorite item on the menu.
On a scale from 1 to 5, I would rate the cafe as a 4. Coming from a background that is not vegan, it is hard for me to be in love with all the items on the menu. I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavor the food had, but it just doesn’t obviously compare to the taste of meat.
What I loved the most about the cafe is that it is not trying to be something it is not. While you have the impossible burger and jackfruit to mirror the texture of meat, it is clearly not and does not try to imitate the taste of meat, which is refreshing to find at a vegan-style restaurant.
If you are accustomed to soul food and other types of food that are usually savory and are looking to adopt the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, I think Jackfruit Cafe is a great place to checkout.
If you can, arrive early to the cafe. Parking behind the cafe is limited and fills up quickly. You’ll also want to have cash when you go, or you’ll encounter a $2 fee for credit/debit cards.
Check out their website for hours and directions to the cafe.