Scott Zwiezen, chef and owner of ELF Cafe, has a simple philosophy about food: he’ll only serve what he eats himself. This means he's extremely particular when it comes to ingredients. He partners with local farmers that grow their produce conscientiously. He ships in his favorite sheep’s feta from Bulgaria and his favorite olive oil from Spain. Zwiezen even cooks with reverse osmosis water. All of this results in a fully vegetarian, often vegan-friendly menu that guests can feel good about. And according to the Huffington Post, it tastes pretty good, too. In a February 2010 interview, Chef Speak columnist Heather Taylor noted that "humble ingredients are transformed into something rich, surprising and completely delicious." This metamorphosis is evident in an exotic risotto that springs from wild mushrooms and Acquerello carnaroli rice. Another example is the Moroccan tagine, a marriage of market-fresh vegetables and organic quinoa. Taylor also pointed out the uniting factor in Zwiezen’s style: "Above all else, he’s cooking with love and it’s impossible not to notice."
Papaya salad. Spicy mint. Pad see ewe. These colorful dishes, tossed with fresh vegetables and contained within noodle bowls and wraps, decorate plates at Vegan House. The Thai-influenced menu satisfies appetites of all stripes with inventive offerings that include pancakes heaped with tropical fruits. Patrons can stop in for dinner, order up a lunch combination, or start their days by chowing down on a flavorful breakfast instead of by airing a list of grievances against their alarm clock.
With organic vegan food and an outdoor patio bursting with greenery, Sprouted Garden Cafe helps its patrons feel connected to the earth. Diners twirl kelp noodles smeared with cilantro pesto, tear into portobello mushroom burgers topped with beet roots and greens, and sip pots of chai brewed with nut milk surrounded by trees and a canopy of twinkling garden lights. Nearby, a giant chocolate-colored Buddha head in a calm pool of water gazes at chefs slinging vegan pizzas into an outdoor oven. During cooler months, patrons can grab a seat under one of the outdoor heaters or bury their fingers into a neighboring diner's hair.
Baba Ji, the proprietor of Silverlake Juice and Tea, explores a new frontier in fusion with the food at Cowboys and Turbans—the tantalizing blend of South Asian, American, and Mexican cuisine. The menu unites antipodal parts of the globe with hearty samosas wrapped in flour tortillas instead of samosa dough, tacos filled with tandoori meats and chutneys, and pizzas made with a chewy tandoori naan crust. Towering doors of wood and iron lined with intricately carved columns reveal an open-air patio, which surrounds visitors with flickering torchlight and a canopy of multicolored cloth. Statues of animals and deities ring the courtyard, patiently waiting to ask if diners are going to finish their masala burgers, tandoori cornish hens, and aromatic vegetarian and seafood curries.
Café Tropical enlivens palates with the made-from-scratch treats and espresso-based drinks of its tropically infused menu. Demolish daily to-do lists with the caffeinated kick of a rich, creamy espresso drink such as the café expresso ($1.75 for a single, $2.75 for a double) or the spicy zip of a mexican hot chocolate ($2.75 for a medium), both concocted using freshly grated chocolate. Bodies can get their fresh fruit fix in the sweet sips of a tropical fruit shake ($3.50 for a large), or fresh-squeezed orange, carrot, or grapefruit juice ($3.50 for a medium, $4 for a large), or in decadent bites of tres leches ($3.25 for a slice), strawberry short cake ($3.25 for a slice), or guava-cream-cheese pie, with its flaky pastry crust and guava jelly made from fruit cultivated in Philadelphia's subtropical suburbs ($2.75 for a slice).
At Tarascos, owner Antonio Garcia and his chefs blend the comfortable and familiar with the slightly out of the ordinary. A chalkboard-scrawled menu lists Mexican classics such as enchiladas alongside lesser-known dishes such as huaraches, large, oblong tortillas stacked with charbroiled meats. Plates of barbacoa feature the seasoned beef wrapped in maguey leaves and slow-steamed until tender. Likewise, the tap menu mixes Mexican imports such as Pacifico and Modelo Especial with Tarascos's own home-brewed organic beers.
Patrons can dine inside or outdoors on a beer garden–style patio shaded from weather and warmed with gas heaters. On the patio, Tarascos also regularly holds cooking classes, such as a tamale class that was featured on ABC 7.