When I was told lunch was at a macrobiotic vegan café, even I, a lifelong vegetarian, considered making post-meal plans to get some ‘real food’. From the moment I entered M Café’s Melrose branch, however, I already knew I would be taking up at least part of this space admitting how terribly wrong I was. M Café might be a healthy hot spot for Hollywood A-listers, but the food is the real star at this Los Angeles eatery.
The menu at M Café varies from salads, wraps and sandwiches to larger Asian-influenced dishes like rice bowls, noodles, and delectable desserts from their patisserie. We started with a few small samplings of various salads. The Curry Tempeh Salad was by far the most toothsome, though the peanut dressing on the kale salad made me eat a large portion of a green leafy vegetable I normally shy away from. I slurped this all down with kelp lemonade which tasted just like regular lemonade, but felt healthier to drink.
For the main meal, I chowed on a combination which was certainly unexpected – the M Burger and fries. The M Burger is a signature item at M Café, and is a full-sized, well-cooked vegan paddy of goodness, as well as a favorite of celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, who stops in to the Beverly Hills branch at least weekly to pick up on of her own. As for the fries – You might think this is stretching it a bit, and I might agree, but they were organic thinly-sliced potatoes with sea salt, shiso and nori (two Japanese herbs and spices) and served as a showcase for the house-made fixings, including the Macro Ketchup, tofu-peppercorn ranch dressing and the new spicy yuzu mayo.
My lunch companion devoured her Bim Bom Bip, a rice bowl with brown rice and Korean-style vegetables. The homemade kimchi and spicy miso sauce really pulled the whole meal together and gave it a clean, spicy flavor.
We both nibbled on a piece of Inari each, and this small bite of food had the biggest influence on my respect for this fantastic eatery. Inari is a small sweet soybean (tofu) parcel filled with brown rice and grilled vegetables or tuna on top. Not only does M Cafe make mouths water with even the most typical health-food items like wraps and salads, not to mention burgers, fries (and I haven’t even gotten to the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake for dessert), but they also master larger Asian dishes and sushi with ease.
Asian cooking skills are to be expected of course from M Café, as it is owned by Japanese restaurant group Chaya Restaurants, and its Corporate Executive Chef is Shigefumi Tachibe, a Japanese chef who has been studying contemporary macrobiotics for the past 15 years both in Japan and the U.S. and is a certified Kushi Macrobiotic Chef Premier at the Kushi Institute International. Both he and the original Chef de Cuisine Lee Gross are recognized for introducing the contemporary macrobiotic cuisine concept to Los Angeles, albeit it in a more familiar European-style deli and café setting.
The basics of macrobiotics are much simpler than it sounds. Contemporary macrobiotics is about eating a balanced diet of natural, in-season foods, and the vegan café leaves out dairy products from the menu. They were definitely not missed, even in that chocolate cake I mentioned earlier. This nearly guilt-free triple layer chocolate cake came as an indulgent surprise, and I particularly enjoyed the smooth chocolate icing.
The M Café’s flagship location on Melrose is celebrating its 5th anniversary in June and on June 5th, all three branches will offer everything on their menu for $5 or less, including signature items include the Big Macro Burger ($9.75) and the M Chopped Salad ($11.45), among others.
The food here is simple, creative and relatively cheap all the time. Sure, it is more expensive than the average fast food joint, but the price is right for what you get. Plus, you can overindulge without the guilt.
7119 Melrose Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90046
9343 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
9433 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210