Sid Fanarof, inspired by the artists around him, sought to do something creative in the kitchen. ZPizza, which started in Laguna Beach and now has locations across the globe, fills with bustling chefs experimenting with ingredients traditionally associated with Indian, Californian, and Mexican cuisine. A parade of organic vegetables and skim-milk mozzarella from Wisconsin leads into the eateries, and organic wheat flour bakes over open flame to a crisp finish. “If you don’t hear the crunch, it’s not a ZPizza,” Fanarof says of the crusts on his website.
Chefs first slather the crusts with sweet basil pesto, roasted-garlic sauce, or organic tomato sauce. Their hands flutter across, sprinkling on fistfuls of toppings such as MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, three types of mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and pine nuts. Vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts allow everyone to enjoy the pizzas except for those trying to hide the fact that they superglued their mouths closed.
Souley Vegan's proprietor Tamearra Dyson uses techniques she learned from her family in Louisiana to subvert that idea that healthy, vegan eating lacks flavor. She dredges tofu in a southern-style batter that mimics fried catfish and fashions a menu that appeals to meat-eaters and vegans alike. Tofu also gets dressed in BBQ sauce in burgers and tossed in sweet and sour and green peppers. Tamearra and her kitchen staff put a vegan spin on a roster of Southern classics, such as potato salad with black olives following a family recipe three generations old, as well as mashed potatoes drenched in vegan gravy made like her mom did. The eatery's mac and cheese made with yeast-based, non-dairy cheese earned it accolades from the East Bay Express, which said that it "is so perfect a substitute to its dairy-based kin that it leaves the eater convinced it’s the real thing," while also bestowing Souley Vegan with "Best of East Bay" awards for the past five years. USA Today has also recognized the eatery as among ten great places for soul food in the country.
Brightly painted walls and block-style prints of blues musicians lend a cozy Southern atmosphere to the restaurant, where diners gather around color-splashed tables or cluster on picnic style benches as they share family-style meals or play License Plate Bingo for the last piece of fried okra.
Amba's menu is chock-full of delectable vegetarian and kosher Middle Eastern-style eats made daily from fresh ingredients. Start off with a savory bowl of lentil soup ($6), or put hand shovels to work using a warm pita to scoop up freshly made hummus topped with chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil ($8). Try out a filling falafel pita sandwich ($8), or opt for the hearty sabich pita sandwich, stuffed to the brim with fried eggplant, Israeli and cabbage salad, a hard-boiled egg, and tahini ($8). A variety of crisp green salads are available in full ($7–$9) or side ($4) sizes, and any three options—such as tabouleh, Israeli couscous, and baba gannouj—may be combined into one Transformers-style megadish ($9). Quench palates with a glass of house-made iced tea or fresh mint lemonade ($3 each), or balance your main mouth events with seasonal sides such as Judean flatbread, Greek spinach rice, and Babka cake.
The chefs at Siam Bay Authentic Thai craft an extensive menu of Thai specialties, from fried tofu to garlic pork with steamed broccoli. Generous portions, served in classic blue-and-white china bowls can be shared with tablemates or kept to oneself by building a protective fence of chopsticks.
At Chaat Bhavan, a full menu of Indian fare avoids meat as fastidiously as if it were a banana peel on a video-game highway. Snacks include masala chaat, a spicy fruit chutney served with crispy wafers, and missal pav, a mixture of black lentils and crispy noodles. Pan-cooked spinach paratha bread sops up soupy entrees such as the chana sag, which pairs garbanzo beans with fresh spinach, and the aloo gobi mattar, a union of potatoes, peas, and spices. Everything on Chaat Bhavan’s bill of fare is meat-free, and many eats also accommodate Jain customs and veganism.
While most students spent their time playing outside after the final school bell rang each day, Ramzi was inside his father’s falafel shop in Nazareth, Israel, helping to prep chickpea patties between working on homework questions. Those late afternoons instilled in Ramzi a passion for the restaurant business, one that outlived his first career in the tech industry. Now at the helm of his own Middle Eastern eatery, Falafel, etc., Ramzi and his wife Zuhad season their handmade falafels each morning before kettle-frying them in front of patrons. They also fill plates with skewered lamb, chicken shawarma, hummus, and pitas. On the outdoor patio, tables flank a multi-tiered water fountain filled with wished-upon pennies and strands of mermaid hair.