Elf Cafe – Vegetarian Eats in Echo Park

My friend Austin has been a vegetarian since high school. After he watched some eye-opening videos on PETA’s website he never looked back. Me? Well back in those days the thought of eating vegan repulsed me. In fact I was forced to go vegetarian for a week when I went on a retreat with my school to Ojai (yes I went to Crossroads and yes we are all hippies), and on the way back home I made the bus stop at In N Out so I could get a double double. No lie. It took me a little longer to desire the consciousness and obtain the willingness to watch a video like Meet Your Meat or a movie like Earthlings. But when I finally did I had an immediate shift and have tried to uphold a higher moral standard to the best of my abilities. My mom calls me a late bloomer.

At Animal Acres with a cow rescued from a factory farm

So when my longtime vegetarian friend told me he has been reading my blog and wanted to show me his favorite veggie restaurant in his hood, I was ecstatic. He lives on the East side, which I rarely venture out to, and that equals a ton of uncharted vegan territory begging for my foodie exploration. Austin wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but mentioned they only served dinner, and being the horribly impatient control freak I am, I googled my way to a conclusion. We were going to Elf. And it was going to rock my face off.

Elf Cafe

2135 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Wednesday – Sunday, 6:30 – 11:00 pm

Austin called ahead for a reservation, which I highly suggest you do as well cause this place be small. The preferred way to make a rezzie is actually by email – elfcafe@gmail.com. Elf is located in a pretty random spot on Sunset in Echo Park (although everything seems random cause I live in Santa Monica and it’s, well, Echo Park) but it’s charm and ambiance are immediate. Elf is run by former punk rockers, but don’t expect any guitars on the walls. No, Elf is pretty true to its name, whimsical and cute, with waiters just as crunchy as it’s locale. We were seated outside at  a small table next to a potted plant. A rather large one…

The plant/tree attacking Austin (sorry I had to)

With a little fidgeting, we rearranged our chairs and were ready to get down to biznass. Now let me repeat that this is a vegetarian restaurant NOT vegan so there are a lot of cheese centric dishes on the menu. Sad face. However, the menu is set up with notations next to dishes that are vegan and gluten free, or can be made so. We started with the rosewater lemonade which came garnished with sprigs of mint.

Rosewater lemonade

Oh boy was this good. Not too sweet and not too perfumey. What a treat! We were then served their version of bread and butter which was lavash with spicy seasoning and a veggie dip I believe is made of red peppers and chickpeas.

Birds eye view of the chips and dip

The lavash was freshly baked, crunchy, and well seasoned, and the dip was lip smackin good, not spicy, just the perfect complement to the chips. Win.

We started our meal with the Citrus Kale salad which I was a little hesitant to order because I eat a homemade kale salad for lunch pretty much every day without fail. I LOVE my kale salad, and perfect it more every day, so when our waiter firmly recommended the kale to us, I was a little less than eager to do kale part deux for my starter. But I caved, cause hey, I love kale and kale loves me.

Fresh Citrus Kale Salad - a mountain of raw massage kale with avocado, hemp seeds, and triple citrus tamari dressing

This salad featured green curly kale which seemed to be drenched in the lemon dressing it came with. It was definitely really good. I think I am just becoming a kale salad snob since I make my version daily. Sheeeeet. I did enjoy it though and it was a great start to the meal. Only complaint is that it was a little too acidic but I guess that is to be expected in a “triple citrus” salad.

In the blogger world there is a lot of excitement about the Cornmeal and Herb Dusted Spicy Oyster Mushroom appetizer. In fact, quarry girl puts it on her vegan bucket list, so of course I knew what we were eating next. We ordered the vegan version of these of course, and when they came to the table I practically stabbed Austin trying to get the first bite. My b.

Cornmeal and Herb Dusted Spicy Oyster Mushrooms (made vegan): Crispy oyster mushrooms served spicy with house harrisa and marinated celery salad (Vegan and Gluten Free) - sorry the pic is fuzzy I was excited

Okay. So now I fear I might lose a few bloggie friends with this confession: I was seriously unimpressed. I mean it was fine, but nothing to order again let alone put on a vegan bucket list. Maybe 5 out of 10 stars, maybe. Austin agreed. We were both confused. How could the reviews be so glowing for this dish when we were both left saying, “Really???” Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler style. Clearly I was shocked and a little afraid for the rest of our meal to arrive. Especially since we ordered the Shawarma which featured those same mushies and very similar flavors. Duohn DuohN DUOOOHNNNN. I felt like I had made an impulse buy but we rode it out and, hesitantly dug into our entrée.

Roasted Flatbread Shawarma - Open faced vegan shawarma sandwich topped with spicy humus, crispy oyster mushrooms and Lebanese coleslaw (Vegan but not gluten free)

This dish really turned it all around because it was AMAMAMMAZING. The combo of flavors was so powerful, the textures of the humus against the coleslaw and the flat bread was perfection, and the humus, ohhh the humus. YUM YUM YUM. I highly recommend this dish. Def worth a re-order.

Inside Elf - which by sun down I was sad we were not in. What's with this June cold night weather!?!

We were both too stuffed for desert so no news on that front (although there is a Kind Kreme in Echo Park about two blocks away which took a lot of willpower not to stuff myself silly at. Thank god I had some semblance of self-respect that night).

Overall it seems the real standout dishes here are vegetarian and not vegan. Austin raves about their portobello mushroom entrée that is stuffed with cheesy risotto and topped with smokey mozzarella. Sounds amazing if you eat cheese. Sadly I do not (not only for the sake of the cows but for my health). I actually asked the waiter if there was any way possible to veganize this dish, but he assured me there was not. Bummer.

Important to note this place is cash only so make sure you have enough when you go so you are not left running to the ATM. It is also BYOB which they charge a five dollar corkage fee for. I don’t drink so this wasn’t an issue but if you do it’s a great perk!

I would be happy to give Elf another whirl but I was not overjoyed about this restaurant like I am about some of my other favorites. It is a good veg option in the Echo Park area and I love the vibe and dedication to using fresh organic produce in their meals. I think the menu is inventive and gives a great twist on Mediterranean cuisine, just not best of the best. If you are in the area, worth a go fo sho.

Hope everyone had a great weekend! Expect a lot of recipe posts this week, I’ve been cooking up a storm lately and can’t wait to share some of my creations.


Your Vegan Girlfriend


7 thoughts on “Elf Cafe – Vegetarian Eats in Echo Park

  1. oh noes! the mushrooms didn’t rock your world?! great review. I love elf, but I agree that some of the best sounding things on the menu are full of dairy. I really need to go back there and try out some more dishes…

  2. I agree 100% with everything you’ve ever said in your life. Especially this review of elf. lemonade. yummy. carrot dip appetizer. yummy. kale salad. yum yummy. oyster mushroom pile thingy. yumish. schhhwwarrma oooweee-yumss. Next time we go back we’ll make them make us the portabello mushroom vegan style and tell them to massage the kale more. Also, we’ll sit inside. And ill bring enough cash.

  3. Pingback: Shojin – vegan sushi gone wild « Your Vegan Girlfriend

  4. I tend not to write many comments, however I read a few of
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    • YES! I am in the process of revamping the site and will soon have facebook, twitter, linked, instagram and more as well as a whole notha level of awesome in posts, reviews and interviews. Please stay tuned …. 🙂 !!!!!!!

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