Brilliant Bowls Fast and fresh Korean dishes at Eko Eats

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Grain bowls have become the trendiest meal format in town, but our newest favorite bowl dish is actually an update on something pretty old school: bibimbap.

At Eko Eats—a new Korean-inspired, fast-casual eatery in Downtown—chef Judy Han (who previously worked in fine dining and as Mendocino Farms’ executive chef) is putting a healthy stamp on this traditional Korean dish, which Han calls the world’s “original rice bowl.” Her tasty version of bibimbap features organic, steamed Koda farms rice (white or brown) topped with a vibrant, colorful array of ten vegetables, crispy seaweed and kochujang (Korean pepper paste, also spelled gochujang).

Eko Eats’ chicken jook, a comforting rice porridge, will fix what ails you.

It’s an extremely satisfying vegan dish (small, $7.95; large, $9.95) because of the umami flavors and mix of veggie textures, from meaty braised shiitake mushrooms to chewy seared kale and tender slices of lotus root. For a protein boost, you can add roasted, organic tofu (+$2), a pasture-raised egg (+$1.35) or gluten-free tamari chicken (+$2) sourced from local, sustainable poultry purveyor GoneStraw Farms.

The tight menu features other yummy stuff in bowls, too. House-made chicken bone broth serves as the basis for chicken jook (small, $6.95; large, $8.95), a comforting rice porridge topped with sautéed Asian greens. (You can also order a cup of Han’s vegan “bone” broth, thickened with sprouted cashews, $2.55.) The knockout kimchi fried rice bowl (small, $8.95; large, $10.95) incorporates burdock, kale and Han’s vegan kimchi, which gets its funk from kelp powder and fermented soybeans instead of the traditional fish sauce. A bountiful salad ($11.85) of romaine, Napa cabbage, baby spinach and more is accompanied by either fried tofu or crisp Korean fried chicken, a house specialty.

No matter which dish you choose, you’ll be bowled over.

Eko Eats
630 W. 6th St., Los Angeles
(213) 622-1616
ekoeats.com

Greek Out Cava Grill does healthy Greek fast-casual right

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There’s a new Greek spinoff in town that you’re going to love. And no, it’s not My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.

Cava Grill—which recently opened with locations in Woodland Hills and Westwood—is a fast-casual spot that spun off of a more upscale Greek restaurant in Washington, D.C. It delivers the kind of chef-driven ethos and clean, high-quality sourcing you’d expect at a sit-down venture.

Cava Grill’s build-a-meal concept ($7.75 to $8.85) starts with a pita or a choice of healthy bases including brown rice, black lentils, organic arugula or “SuperGreens”—a tasty salad mix of raw kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and chicory. (Produce is sourced locally, primarily from farms using organic practices.)

Warm woods and a wall of windows give this fast-casual outpost a classy feel.

The made-fresh-daily Mediterranean spreads and proteins—prepared with the Greek-American founders’ family recipes—really set Cava Grill apart. You have a choice of up to three spreads like citrusy organic hummus, creamy tzatziki, hot harissa and their addictive “crazy feta,” which is feta whipped with jalapeños (look for their spreads in local Whole Foods soon, too).

On top of that goes either roasted seasonal veggies or your choice of protein, including crisp vegan falafel, succulent grass-fed lamb braised with turmeric and coriander (+$2) and grilled lemon-oregano Jidori chicken (all meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free). Because they cook up the proteins continually throughout the day, you might have to wait a minute or two for a sizzling hot batch, but it’s totally worth it.

Once you get toward the end of the line, have your server add unlimited toppings like cauliflower-quinoa tabbouleh, cabbage slaw and pickled banana peppers; choose a dressing (we like the lemon-herb tahini) and you’re done!

Trust us, you’re going to want a sequel.

Cava Grill
cavagrill.com

1073 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles
(310) 860-6288

6256 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Ste. 1280, Woodland Hills
(818) 860-7670

Taco Utopia Tacos don't get much healthier than the ones at Trejo's Tacos

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As an actor, Danny Trejo has made a career of playing menacing roles in films like “Machete” and “From Dusk Till Dawn.” So, when arriving at his newly opened Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea, you might see the mural of him wielding two machetes and think, “I’m in for some seriously macho tacos.”

But don’t read the wrong thing into Trejo’s burly image. This isn’t thumb-your-nose-at-health “dude” food. On the contrary, health and sustainability are the muscles behind this operation.

Danny Trejo takes his tacos seriously.

Trejo tapped chef Daniel Mattern (who previously cooked fabulously healthy dishes at the former Cooks County) to help design the menu, which offers better-for-you tweaks on typical taco stand fare with impeccably sourced ingredients. The meats and produce are primarily organic, as is the tofu. The organic, non-GMO corn tortillas are made locally in Boyle Heights. The kitchen is sourcing organic brown rice from family-run Koda Farms and heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, and the hot sauces are fermented in-house.

That translates into a whole lot of deliciousness on the plate. The super-fresh, chunky guacamole dusted with crushed pistachios ($7) is a must-order starter. The tight taco menu currently includes four options ($4 each): tender slow-roasted pork shoulder, succulent pulled beef brisket, juicy fried Jidori chicken (served in a lettuce cup) and vegan black pepper tofu. On the side, we loved Danny’s super rice ($4), a mix of organic quinoa and brown rice with aromatic cinnamon and cumin.

As for drinks, there’s kombucha ($6) and housemade, date-sweetened horchata ($4) on tap; Trejo’s own Mexican-style lager, brewed in the Arts District, will be added soon.

In a couple of months, the menu will also expand to include a selection of salads, which will be an ideal addition as temperatures heat up on the restaurant’s large, umbrella-shaded patio (most of the seating is outside).

We think “restaurateur” is Trejo’s best role yet.

Trejo’s Tacos
1048 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles
(323) 938-TACOS
trejostacos.com

Game Changer NYC's healthy burger joint Bareburger has landed in Santa Monica

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When you’re trying to please the lunch or dinner cravings of everyone in your family or group of friends, a burger place might be the last choice on your list. Burger joint menus are often too limited to please a crowd or simply not healthy enough.

That’s why we’re excited about the arrival of New York-based Bareburger, which just opened its first West Coast location in Santa Monica. It’s upping L.A.’s healthy burger game with something for everyone—from vegans to Paleo adherents and picky to daring diners.

Get cozy in one of Bareburger’s booths.

The customizable burger menu includes organic grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken and vegan patties alongside more exotic, pasture-raised elk, bison, duck and wild boar ones. As tasty as the more traditional burgers are, it’s these unusual game meats that we’re wildest about. Like Bareburger’s grass-fed beef patties, they’re nutrient-dense with a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. But they’re also much leaner than the beef and make for more adventurous, earthier burgers.

Studying all the burger options can take awhile, so it’s good that this is a (casual) sit-down restaurant. Choose your patty and bun (for the wheat averse, gluten-free brioche and collard wraps are available) and then pile your burger with add-ons ranging from veggies to cheeses to bacon (definitely try the lean, smoky duck bacon), plus unique sauces and spreads (we loved the tomato-fig jam). You can also opt for one of the kitchen’s signature burger creations ($10 to $14).

And if someone in your party is not up for burgers at all, don’t worry: There’s a wide selection of salads and sandwiches as well. Just be aware that although the sourcing is impressive at Bareburger—with primarily organic vegetables and clean meats and dairy—it’s easy to overindulge here with treats like milkshakes, onion rings and fries. But there are plenty of healthy and delicious side options, too, like the crispy Brussels sprouts ($7) and collard Caesar salad with watermelon radishes, grape tomatoes and buckwheat groats (small, $4; large, $9).

To each his own!

Bareburger
2732 Main St., Santa Monica
(310) 392-2122
2732mainst.bareburger.com

Good Taste Scratch Bar shakes up the traditional prix fixe

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Tasting menus can be a tricky proposition for clean eaters and special dieters. Often, they’re no-substitutions affairs that leave you totally at the mercy of the chef’s whims. If you’re not down with, say, the gluten in the pasta course, or you’re ethically opposed to foie gras, too bad.

At the recently opened Scratch Bar in Encino, chef Phillip Frankland Lee (whom you might recognize from this season’s Top Chef) is turning the tasting menu concept on its head. The cuisine is seasonal, forward-thinking New American, but instead of serving you only what he wants to make, Lee and his cadre of cooks (who double as servers—there’s no waitstaff) ask you what you want to eat, what you don’t eat or are allergic to and then whip you up a custom tasting menu (6 courses, $40/person; 11 courses, $80/person; 18-20 courses, $120/person). Lee sources primarily organic, local produce and organic, pasture-raised meats, so no matter what you taste, it’ll be clean.

The cooks double as servers at chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s Scratch Bar.

This is the second iteration of Scratch Bar (the now-shuttered original was in Beverly Hills), and the founding concept of everything-from-scratch remains. The dishes are as enjoyable to eat as they are to watch being prepared (counter seats have a front-row ticket to the action). You might start with a sake-lime shooter over avocado mousse, move on to warm seasonal veggies with cashew curry and goat gouda and then savor warm turmeric-spiced salmon “salad” (chunks of salmon mixed with Greek yogurt and vegetables) over carrot puree, followed by hanger steak with baby kale, button mushrooms and potato “foam.”

There’s an à la carte menu too for those feeling pressed for time or just wanting a specific dish, but the chefs (and we) strongly suggest you go for the tasting. It’s a one-of-a-kind, choose-your-own adventure.

Scratch Bar
16101 Ventura Blvd., Suite 255, Encino
(818) 646-6085
scratchbarla.com

Much Kneaded Rediscover pasta at Knead & Co. Pasta Bar

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There are few foods as beloved, yet as demonized, as pasta. It’s the ultimate comfort fare, but—owing to concerns over gluten sensitivity, empty carbs and the potential nutritional deficits of modern wheat—it’s also dietary enemy number one.

So we’re ecstatic that chef Bruce Kalman (the Chopped champion known for his seasonal Cal-Italian fare at Pasadena’s Union) is giving pasta a healthier makeover at the new Knead & Co. Pasta Bar in Grand Central Market. He’s doing so by hand-making fresh pastas from locally sourced, organic grains from Grist & Toll. While most industrial flour is made with a steel milling process that separates the grain’s germ from its bran, Grist & Toll grinds heritage grains in a stone mill—incorporating both the germ and bran and thereby preserving essential nutrients.

Grab a stool at Knead & Co. in Grand Central Market or bring the pasta home.

At Knead & Co., you’ll find pastas, such as charcoal wheat fusilli and rye rigate, made from these small-batch flours. Pick up some fresh pasta to cook at home ($12 to $18 per pound), or grab a seat at one of the stall’s stools to enjoy Kalman’s delectable creations like spelt cavatelli with spicy fennel sausage, chickpeas and rapini ($16). You can also try Grist & Toll’s whole grains in our favorite dish, the Tuscan grain bowl ($11)—a mix of purple barley, farro and rye topped with roasted carrots, carrot-top pesto, walnuts and fresh mozzarella.

All of the meats at Knead & Co. were raised with organic and humane practices, so feel free to indulge in the juicy porchetta panini ($14) or the Nonna’s meatballs with smoked guanciale ($11).

You’re going to want to pig out, but we trust you’ll use your noodle.

Knead & Co. Pasta Bar
Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
grandcentralmarket.com/vendors/541/knead-and-co-pasta-bar-market

Baja Bliss Sample fresh, coastal Mexican fare at SOL Cocina

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If your idea of Baja-style Mexican cuisine is limited to greasy fried-fish tacos, then get ready to get fresh.

SOL Cocina, an upscale-casual Mexican spot that recently opened in Playa Vista, is offering L.A. an overdue introduction to the healthful pleasures of Baja California cuisine. It’s the brainchild of chef Deborah Schneider, whose extensive surf-trip travels through the region have inspired her to replicate the spirit of Baja’s roadside stands selling wood-grilled tacos, just-caught seafood ceviches and healthy salsas.

SOL Cocina is slick enough for a date but relaxed enough for a family dinner.

Accordingly, seafood figures prominently on the menu, and sustainability is a priority. All of the restaurant’s fish—primarily wild-caught—has been “green” certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program; selections change daily. On our visit, we enjoyed moist, wild ono served over flavorful (non-GMO) sweet corn esquites with tomato, basil, lime and epazote-avocado butter ($38).

The meat sourcing is also conscientious. Beef lovers will savor the grass-fed carne asada tacos ($14.75) and the organic, grass-fed grilled kobe skirt steak served with cilantro sauce, raw tomatillo salsa and cebollitas ($31). Chicken and pork selections, like the mixed-meat taco bufalada ($8.50), are antibiotic- and hormone-free.

But the vegetable dishes, made with primarily organic produce, are just as tempting. Be sure to try the “guacamole SOL” studded with mango and goat cheese ($10.75) as well as the vibrant kale, spinach and quinoa salad with citrus dressing ($13). Vegans (and gluten-free folks) will find abundant choices; the sweet potato-black bean taco ($5.75) is especially delicious.

Ready to blow your fried-fish taco stand?

SOL Cocina
12775 W. Millenium Dr., #160, Playa Vista
(424) 289-0066
solcocina.com/playa-vista

Red Hot Chomp on coal-cooked fare at Charcoal Venice

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It’s hard to imagine cooking more elemental than this: A head of cabbage buried in hot embers. Wild-caught fish and all-natural meat sizzling over glowing charcoal.

This might sound like a camp cookout, but it’s actually the latest culinary maneuver from lauded fine-dining chef Josiah Citrin, who’s been showcasing his French techniques at Santa Monica’s Mélisse for upwards of 15 years. His recently opened Charcoal Venice is quite a departure, featuring all live-fire cooking and an upscale-casual vibe.

Warm lighting softens the edges at Charcoal Venice.

But his sourcing principles remain the same. He sources produce grown with organic practices from the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Protein-wise, he selects antibiotic- and hormone-free beef, pastured Jidori chicken and sustainable seafood.

Then, he lets the fire work its magic. That cabbage ($9.50) emerges from the embers charred outside and soft inside. It’s served in quarters with lemon-sumac yogurt, an incredibly tasty and healthful alternative to bread and butter. Rainbow carrots are also roasted in the coals and are deliciously paired with sheep’s milk ricotta ($12.50).

A selection of grilled steaks—from bone-in ribeye ($48) to a dry-aged Porterhouse that serves three to four people ($145)—dominates the family-style main course options. Pair them with house-made sauces like mustard chimichurri and Basque vinegar. Seafood-wise, there’s grilled lobster ($65) and butterflied loup de mer ($34).

While the charcoal-cooked dishes are the main draw, there’s also an assortment of meat tartares and salads (we especially dug the fresh collard greens salad with sweet potato and raisin vinaigrette, $14.50).

Whether raw or cooked, the dishes at Charcoal are hot stuff.

Charcoal Venice
425 Washington Blvd., Venice
(310) 751-6794
charcoalvenice.com

Smooth Move Get in the gourmet smoothie mix with Green Blender

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Smoothie lovers, start your engines.

East Coast organic smoothie delivery service Green Blender has arrived in Los Angeles and is upping the city’s smoothie game considerably. The weekly service ($49 per week) ships to your doorstep all of the raw ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes that you need to whip up five fresh, distinctive and incredibly tasty smoothies each week.

Pepper Passion—one of the gourmet smoothies from Green Blender.

If (like us) your I-have-no-extra-time-to-create-fancy-new-smoothie-recipes routine currently consists of dumping the same old mixture of frozen fruit, greens and nut milk into the blender, then you’re in for a happy surprise. Guided by local, seasonal produce, flavor-dense superfoods and whole herbs and spices, Green Blender’s team of nutritionists dreams up inventive vegan recipes that are inspired by everything from gourmet salads to fancy cocktails.

The recipes are new each week, but recent selections have included a morir sonando smoothie, a riff on the Dominican Republic milk-orange juice drink of the same name; Green Blender’s version contains blood orange, coconut milk, spinach and cashews. Another creation is a chocolate-covered pomegranate smoothie that pairs cacao and pomegranate seeds with swiss chard and avocado. Four of the week’s five smoothies are vegetable-based (as opposed to fruit-based); natural sweeteners such as dates and maple syrup are used sparingly.

Everything comes pre-portioned, so the most work you’ll have to do is chop an apple or grab a handful of ice. Each recipe yields two 12-ounce servings, perfect for sharing with someone you love. It’s a simple way to add more veggies to your diet and start the day healthfully and deliciously.

Get ready to rumble.

Green Blender
greenblender.com

Go Nuts Get your healthy chocolate fix with ChoCoco Nut Power

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How early in the day can you start eating chocolate?

If it’s part of the all-natural nut butter blend ChoCoco Nut Power, then you have the green light to start at breakfast.

ChoCoco Nut Power ($18) is the newest flavor in a line of exceptionally delicious nut butters called MeeNut Butter. The artisanal spreads are made in Ventura by company founder Mee Lee, a CrossFit trainer with a passion for healthy eating.

MeeNut Butter spreads are packed with nuts and other healthy ingredients like flax seeds and coconut.

Mee uses primarily organic, all non-GMO ingredients and absolutely no sweeteners. The chunky ChoCoco flavor ($18) combines California almonds and raw cacao powder with the natural sweetness of chestnuts, coconut, vanilla beans and coconut oil. The tasty blend is a chocolaty treat spooned right out of the jar, spread on toast or added to yogurt and fruit for an energizing breakfast or midday snack. ChoCoco is also great for baking and making treats like these freezer chocolate–nut butter cups. It’ll be available only until chestnut season ends in a few months, so we advise scooping it up now.

Mee’s lineup also includes Quadruple Nut Power ($15)—an addictive mixture of almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and pecans with coconut, sunflower seeds and flax seeds—and Pure Almond Power ($13), made only with roasted almonds. In the fall, she offers Pumpkin Spice Power almond butter with real pumpkin puree.

A self-professed former junk food addict, Mee suffered from chronic inflammation and joint pain before adopting the Paleo diet. She’s so driven to share the goodness of whole foods that she personally hand-makes and packages all of the nut butters.

It’s a labor of love—but she’s nuts about it. And so are we.

Mee Eat Paleo
meeeatpaleo.com