The New Green

There's no mock meat at this vegetarian spot run by former rockers, but there's lots of eastern Mediterranean flavor.

Ariana Lindquist

Sandwiched between a boarded-up movie theater and an American Apparel store in the east side neighborhood of Echo Park, Elf is a cozy, candlelit nook of a vegetarian restaurant with just seven tables. It's run by former members of the indie rock band Viva K out of a kitchen composed of a few steam warmers, an electric oven, and a sink. There's no tofu here, or any of the mock chicken or fake bacon you find at some vegetarian places. Instead, there are sweet-spiced tagines studded with olives and chickpeas; kale and avocado salads dressed with citrus (see Kale and Avocado Salad); and slow-cooked organic lentils and mushrooms served in thrift store ceramic crocks. Over the past century, various modes of meatless eating have caught on with health-conscious Angelenos—from the fruitarians of the 1940s to the counterculturists of the '60s to the raw foodists of today—many of them inspired by the fear of what food does to you rather than the pleasure of what it does for you. Elf's hearty dishes are rooted firmly in the latter philosophy and also in the culinary traditions of the eastern Mediterranean. "What I personally like to eat is vegetarian food that doesn't remotely try to emulate meat," says owner Scott Zwiezen, a prop stylist turned musician turned chef. On a recent evening, customers started gathering outside the restaurant at around 5:45, as Zwiezen added a garnish of roasted garlic to the tahini avocado hummus and Juvenal Rodriguez—a classically trained Venezuelan chef who wandered in one day and has never left—adjusted the seasoning in the couscous. Astara Calas served. At the end of the evening, they split the pot of cash equally over a family meal of chilaquiles improvised from leftover crepes. "It sounds corny," Zwiezen says, "but it feels a little like making music." —Lesley -Bargar Suter, dining editor for Los Angeles_ magazine_