I was all excited to check out this tiny little Encinitas place I'd heard about. After a stressful morning of errands and whining (mostly my kids, a bit from me) I was relieved to roll into the joint for a late lunch. Now, I appreciate that small shops where everything is made from scratch have limited quantities, but we arrived an hour and a half before closing and they were out of almost everything on their menu, save a few pastries left in the case. Such is life, but it certainly didn't improve my mood. I hopped back in my car and dragged my grumbling self back up the 101 until I saw local favorite Lotus Café (765 S. Coast Hwy.). How has it been so long since I've been in its om-filled walls? I instantly felt more cheerful and enlightened.
Lotus Café made a go of expanding to Hillcrest a few years back but couldn't make it work. The original beach location remains, however, and it embodies the spiritual side of much of Encinitas, located a few blocks from the golden domes of the Self Realization Fellowship. It's open all day with an expansive breakfast-to-burgers menu, and although there are plenty of options for the omnivores among us, the restaurant is an excellent place for vegetarians and vegans. Much of the menu offers vegan options, or dishes that can be made vegan upon request.
They love a vegetable at Lotus Café and the Harvest Salad is an enormous bowl of righteous garden delights. Grilled yellow and green squash share space with charred hunks of bell pepper and scallions. Fresh carrots, tomatoes and jicama round out this meal that Mr. McGregor would love—a composed salad that is bountiful, simple, and delicious.
I like falafel, so I dug into the Pipes Pita. Whole-wheat pita is stuffed with flavorful rounds of spiced falafel. Cilantro chipotle hummus spread gives it a bit of a kick. I would have liked the tahini ginger dressing to be distributed on the sandwich a bit more—it mostly stuck to the metric ton of lettuce stuffed around the falafel. Falafel is one of those dishes that I always think I'm going to like more than I actually do. I loved the flavors in this dish, but texture wise, the falafel remained (as always), a little on the pasty side. Add a side of their chunky, fresh guacamole, however and things get creamier and yummier.
I've made no secret of my skepticism of vegan or gluten-free baked goods. Texturally, they are always just "good enough" if you either can't or won't eat the real thing. And I'm not switching over yet, but the gluten-free vegan chocolate cupcake with vanilla "Tofutti" frosting at Lotus Café shocked me. If you had sold it to me as a regular cupcake I would have accepted it.
Who knew a baked good without any butter could cheer me up? Not bad, my crunchy friends.
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