Fifth Street

November 11, 2021

In this issue: These plant-based patties will turn you into a burgertarian | Keystone Thrust Trail: A poem by DeAnna Beachley | Finding history and mystery in colorful downtown Los Angeles

FINDING A GOOD veggie burger used to be difficult — and if you did find one, it was often uninspired, flat, weird, or just kinda gross. Now just about every eatery offers plant-based patties. And we don’t just have choices these days — we have quality choices. You can thank the evolution of food technology and culinary technique for that, but it also has to do with a big philosophical shift: Many brands, chefs, and restaurants have wisely abandoned the ill-advised quest to make veggie burgers taste like meat in favor of just making them taste excellent. With that in mind, here are my fave five scrumptious veggie burgers in Las Vegas.

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Black bean sando at Vesta Coffee Roasters
“You're gonna be satisfied with it,” Vesta Coffee owner Jerad Jay says of the black bean sando ($7). That’s an understatement. This sandwich’s protein-packed patty is made in-house daily with a combination of black beans, breadcrumbs, and corn, topped with greens from Desert Bloom, along with tomato and pickled onion. Avocado adds creaminess, and the aquafaba mayo (made from the black-bean cooking water) takes things from creamy to simply luscious. Better yet, the black bean sando skips the bun in favor of something better: two slices of crusty sourdough that only make this dish more satisfying.
1114 S. Casino Center Blvd. #1, 702-685-1777; 9031 W. Sahara Ave., 702-476-6626, vestacoffee.com

Grilled veggie sandwich at Unique Eats
Unique Eats is less than a year old, but it came out of the gate strong with an extensive menu that boasts three versions of a veggie burger. The portobello veggie burger ($14.95) — made with chopped mushroom, broccoli, and black beans — is a rich and chunky patty, seasoned with Parmesan and smeared with creamy hummus. It’s pretty incredible, but I prefer Unique Eats’ more traditional grilled veggie sandwich ($14.95, headline photo) which starts with a grilled whole portobello mushroom, which is then topped with sautéed onions, spinach, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. It’s served on a brioche bun slathered with a rich pesto aioli, making for a hefty sandwich that brings back the classic portobello burger in a big way.
3100 S. Durango Drive #100, 702-992-3038, uniqueeatslv.com

Veggie burger at Truth & Tonic
Believe it or not, the best kept secret for plant-based dining in Las Vegas is located at the Canyon Ranch Spa at The Venetian. Chef Pete Ghionne is a health-conscious vegan focused on cooking that’s both flavorful and nutritious — and technically brilliant. Consider the craft that goes into his housemade veggie burger ($18, right): He creates his full-protein base patty from black beans, soybeans, mushrooms, and red lentils, binds it with flattened oats, and then bakes and sears it. Even the toppings — a medley of greens that includes pea shoots and watercress, along with avocado and cucumber — reflect his decidedly luxe approach to the veggie burger. Black bean hummus and chipotle aioli complete the dish, smeared on a house-baked bun.
Inside the Venetian Resort, venetianlasvegas.com

Underground Burger
A joint project of Tacotarian in the Arts District and Good Morning in the southwest, this plant-based comfort food can only be ordered for pickup off the website eatundergroundburger.com, via Instagram at @eatundergroundburgers, or via the LoCo food delivery app. Like many current food trends, Underground Burger was born out of the pandemic. “We were trying to figure out ways to get a little more income Downtown since it was hit harder by COVID,” says Tacotarian co-founder Dan Simmons. In this case, necessity was the mother of ambition; unlike others on this list, this burger is all about recreating the taste and mouthfeel of a traditional hamburger — one in particular. “Our goal was to veganize the In-N-Out Burger,” Simmons says. The Underground Burger is tantalizingly close to a perfect veganization: The juicy patty is a mix of ground Impossible Burger, chopped mushrooms, and spice mix, fried on a flat-top grill. For the full experience, get The Double Underground, with two patties, two slices of mock cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles and secret sauce on a sesame seed bun. For an extra $1.50, you can also get a vegan take on “animal style” fries or tots.
eatundergroundburger.com

’Shroom Burger at Shake Shack
If you don’t think meatless meals can be decadent, please taste Exhibit A. Shake Shack’s’ Shroom Burger is akin to a vegetarian Juicy Lucy, with all that ooey-gooey cheese stuffed in the middle of the crispy portobello patty just waiting to ooze its way out with every bite. The combination of melted Muenster and cheddar cheese brings a sharpness that holds its own against the formidable ’shroom that’s coated with panko, deep-fried, and bedded in a soft potato bun. Leave the ketchup or mustard at home, as the “Shack sauce” brings a flavor that ties everything else together.
Multiple locations, shakeshack.com

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she emerges

sloughing bark and leaves
as snakes shed their skin
abandon the old
for the new

     ancient goddess
     serpents wrapped around
     her arms

erosion strips away all that is unnecessary
nature’s spare language

fault line force of thrust
exposes layers of rock
cooked far beneath

     cobra pose
     spine elongates
     tension releases
     breathe

this is just what is

a new being
stripped of outward burdens
engaged but detached

no desert varnish
no slick veneer

what shall take root?

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LIKE A GOOD mystery novel or a cinematic thriller, a walk through the streets of downtown Los Angeles is filled with interesting characters, plot twists, and just the right amount of backstory. Indelibly imprinted on our subconscious brains through literature, film, and television shows inspired by the southland, the city is strangely familiar and yet still foreign. Hustle is everywhere, from jovial parking-lot barkers in the Fashion District to the strictly business couriers carrying uniformly sized packages of who knows what, to who knows where in the Jewelry District.

In spite of its size, downtown is safe and walkable, and when you’ve gone too far, there’s a robust bus and subway system to get around. So, put yourself in a Raymond Chandler novel, travel through ambiguous transitions between neighborhoods, and discover some of the histories and mysteries of downtown Los Angeles. Here are a just a few ways to spend a perfect day in DTLA.

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Start at the beginning
Considered the city’s birthplace, the area around El Pueblo de Los Angeles (elpueblo.lacity.org) was settled in 1781 when Spanish explorers arrived — and "recruited" the local Tonga people to build a small farming community. Today, visitors stroll the quaint Olvera Street (right) and poke around Mexican market stalls and souvenir shops, or join the locals at one of the many bustling open-air cafés. Eleven of the 27 original historic structures in the area are in daily use today, including Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, the oldest church in the city.

The last great train station
Across the street from El Pueblo is the bustling Union Station (800 North Alameda Street) — in the process of being meticulously restored. Built in the 1930s Mission Moderne architectural style, the lavish station stands as a grand reminder of the golden age of train travel when it served as a hub for Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe railroads. Today, it is still a major transportation hub for rail and bus travel.

Art for days
At the heart of downtown’s robust art community are major contemporary art museums. The Museum of Contemporary Art with its flagship, MOCA Grand (250 South Grand Avenue) and its 40,000-square-foot counterpart, The Geffen Contemporary (152 North Central Avenue), focus on art created after 1940 and boasts a permanent collection of some 7,000 pieces of art. Across the street from MOCA Grand is The Broad (221 South Grand Avenue). The Broad Collection focuses on postwar and contemporary art from the 1950s to present in its 120,000 square foot exhibition, and storage space of 2,000 works of art in its permanent collection. Each museum maintains a continuously evolving schedule of exhibitions from its respective permanent collections and traveling exhibits.

Everything is iconic here
Completed in 1928, the neoclassical Los Angeles City Hall (200 North Spring Street) is a featured backdrop for countless cop shows from Dragnet to Bosch. The five-story Bradbury Building (304 South Broadway, right), built in the 1890s, has been the backdrop for Blade Runner and a host of midcentury noir films. And the disorienting, 1970s-era Westin Bonaventure (404 South Figueroa Street) with its concrete and glass towers and exterior elevators, has been seen in more than 50 films and television shows.

Eat like a local
Satisfy the hunger pangs or relax with an ice-cold beer at Grand Central Market (317 South Broadway, right) where Angelinos have procured pantry staples since 1917. Today, downtown denizens rub elbows with the tourists and nearby office workers for elevated street food fare and market staples. With 40 market vendors, there are plenty of options from breakfast to the late evening nosh. (Or pack a snack for later from Clark Street Bread and DTLA Cheese and Kitchen with desert from Fat & Flour.)

Ride the rails
Directly across from Grand Central Market, hop one of the bright orange cars of Angels Flight Railway (350 South Grand Avenue or 351 South Hill Street, right). Like many downtown locations, this LA landmark has been seen in dozens of film and television shows. In its glory days, the short funicular line ferried well-heeled citizens from Bunker Hill to and from Grand Central Market and the “movie palaces” of old downtown. Today, channel your own starring role in LaLa Land and hitch a short ride on these historic rails.

Buy the book
If you're feeling bookish, duck into The Last Bookstore (453 South Spring Street) and explore the vaults, nooks, crannies and hidden rooms of this former bank. Today, it's a 22,000-square-foot cabinet of curiosities where books become architectural details. New and used books share the same shelves, and they have a healthy collection of graphic novels and thousands of vinyl records. (Don’t miss the rare books annex or the labyrinth of books on the mezzanine level.)

While it would take several lifetimes to peel back all the mysterious layers and complexities of downtown Los Angeles, a well-planned weekend will reveal a vibrant, walkable city exploding with eccentric energy in a kaleidoscopic wonderland of history, culture, and curiosities.

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Photos and art: Unique Eats veggie sandwich by Christopher Smith; Truth & Tonic veggie burger courtesy Venetian; Keystone Thrust: Ken Lund/Wikimedia commons; Walt Disney Concert Hall (headline photo): Elliott Cowand Jr/Shutterstock; Olvera Street: Javen/Shutterstock; Angels Flight: Kapi Ng/Shutterstock; Bradbury building courtesy LA Vistor Bureau

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