Orange County, for all its Republican, meat-and-potatoes reputation, has a fantastic array of vegetarian restaurants; not just vegetarian, but vegan, and from a wide variety of ethnic traditions. We have little patience with hippy-dippy vegetarian places that skimp on flavor in order to emphasize the health benefits (seriously, whose idea was that?), but fortunately we can have great vegetarian and vegan food without the preachiness.
There are at least ten more entries that could be added to this list; we could have done two dozen without really breaking a sweat... so fear not, Buddhists, animal-rights activists, and people who have learned that not every meal needs to feature five hundred grams of dead animal, and let us know your favorites!
10. Tana Ethiopian Restaurant
The only not-purely-vegetarian restaurant on this list, Tana earned its spot here because Ethiopians are second perhaps only to Indians in their ability to cook pulses and vegetables. A vegetable special here comes with fifteen different vegetarian stews spread around an edible plate of sour, spongy bread.2622 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; 714-229-1719; tanaethio.com.
9. Au Lac
There are a half-dozen Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants in Little Saigon; Au Lac was the choice for this list because its menu of "Humanese cuisine" provides common ground for Asian Buddhists and earth mother-type people to eat. There's a juice bar and a menu of raw foods, but the best thing to eat is canh chả cá thì là
, "fish" (actually tofu) soup with dill and tomato.16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley; 714-418-0658; aulac.com.
8. Loving Hut
Loving Hut is a large chain of vegan restaurants that spread like wildfire after people noticed their first OC location, in faraway Ladera Ranch. It's the vegan equivalent of the burger-Mexican-Asian shacks that dot Orange County, with veggie burgers, Asian fare, and burritos. It's definitely the best option in the Brea Mall food court.Overall website: lovinghut.us.
1065 Brea Mall, Brea; 714-990-2261.
19891 Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach; 714-962-6449.
27522 Antonio Pkwy., Ladera Ranch; 949-365-1077
237 S. Tustin St., Orange; 714-464-0544.