Sure, you might think of Los Angeles as a mess of freeways, traffic and smog… an urban sprawl nightmare. And you’d be right. But along with our near-year round perfect weather (present incoming storm not withstanding), we Angelenos have a few other gems to boast of which help give us the fortitude necessary to stay here. One of those is Griffith Park, the largest urban park in North America. People who do not live here don’t realize that along with all the car chases and crazy city hustle & bustle, our humble metropolis is also home to this wonderful natural wilderness area right in our own backyard (well for some it’s actually their front yard).

Just off Los Feliz Blvd., turning north onto Fern Dell Drive sets you on your way to exploring the various trails the park has to offer, including the hike up the mountain that will take you straight up to the Griffith Park Observatory and it’s accompanying spectacular views of Hollywood and all the way out to the sea. But what’s a hike without some nourishment in your belly first?

That’s where The Trails Cafe comes in. The Trails is located in a converted old snack shack along the left side of the main road leading up the Observatory, almost directly across from the shady fern forest. The setting is really beautiful, situated in clearing among the trees. They’ve taken the concept of a snack shack and kicked it up a quite a few notches… instead of serving crappy junk food they serve freshly made baked goods such as fruit & savory pies, muffins and scones along with other stuff like avocado sandwiches, salads and chili. There’s also all the coffee drinks you might expect from a cafe such as lattes and espressos (though I didn’t check to see if soy milk was available, sure seems like it would be).

The big news as far as we’re all concerned here today is that they’ve got a few vegan specialty items on the menu which are great, and much higher quality than you’d ever expect to get from a shack in the woods.

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

What we’ve got here is the Vegan Pie, the vegan version of their savory meat pie, which if I remember correctly was made with mushrooms, tempeh and cashews, yummy spices and baked in a flakey vegan crust. This seemd to be slightly different from the vegan pie described on their menu, but it was really good all the same… I think they often come up with new stuff that’s not going to be listed on their permanent menu. It came with a dipping sauce which I think was also mushroom based. It was fantastic. One bite and I could tell that the person who made these really knows how to cook, this tasted like something created by a real pastry chef.

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

The flavors were unexpected and complex, the texture was meaty and hearty, and it was heavy on the rosemary, which I love. The crust was indeed flakey and just perfect, it’s tasted just as buttery and decadent as I’m sure it’s non-vegan counterparts do. It was just like the sort of delicious food I’d expect to be served in a cute little sidewalk cafe in Paris… only it’s out here in the middle of L.A. and more unexpectedly, in the middle of the woods. The words ‘rustic’ and ‘quaint’ don’t even come close, and do not do justice. My pie (which is really more of what comes to mind when I think of a turnover) was a particularly good one because I could tell it had only recently come out of the oven… what lucky timing!

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

This is one of the other main vegan entrees they offer, the Vegan Chili: a traditional chili with kidney and pinto beans, tomato, onion, tempeh and spices. It came served with a hefty slice of vegan blueberry cornbread.

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

The chili ingredients were big & chunky, and there were peppers in there which are not listed on the menu. The consistency was a bit watery, almost more like a thick soup or stew. The flavor was excellent, not too spicy yet not too mild.

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

The cornbread was great too… I liked that it was thoroughly purple from the blueberries and I could tell from the yummy and authentic taste that it had been made with real berries, not frozen or artificially flavored. The only thing that could have made this that much better would have been a nice pat of Earth Balance vegan butter. Yup, that would have hit the spot.

The Trails Cafe in Los Feliz, Griffith Park

The Trails is such a fun place to visit, whether you’re heading up (or back down) the mountain to refresh before or after an invigorating hike or bike ride, or even if you just drive up and park in their lot for lunch and then leave, you’re bound to be taken in by the charm of the place. They’re often playing classic rock out by their picnic tables, where you can stay and linger with your treats and enjoy the view of the park for as long as you like, or, you can even bring your work with you and enjoy perhaps one of the coolest free WiFi spots in the entire city.

With all of this, keep in mind that they make all their baked goods right there, from scratch, and it’s not an exaggeration to call the place a shack either… it’s quite tiny, so they sometimes (often) run out of things (and it can get pretty busy, especially on weekends). I’d actually attempted to eat their three times previous before I finally got to, as each time I’d gone before they were out of the vegan baked stuff. I highly suggest calling ahead to ask what vegan items they still have before you go, that way you won’t be disappointed if you go all the way out there and all they can offer you is a salad. But I also highly recommend that you persist until you do get to try this stuff, because it’s damn good. Remember, it’s not a restaurant, it’s the equivalent of a whole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere… don’t go expecting much and you just might get more than you expected.

There’s usually at least one or more sweet & fruity vegan pies available as well, sometimes they’re in the form of really cute mini-pies. They’ve also got a darn tasty looking pastry-wrapped veggie dog, but vegans should note that it is a Morningstar weiner, and therefore not vegan… which sucks because I really want one!
(click on the bottommost picture on that page to get to their menu)
(Yelp, since their own website doesn’t tell you much)

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18 Responses to “Happy trails to you! A forest of vegan goodies…”
  1. quarrygirl says:

    that food sounds so freaking good! i have been wanting to try trails forever, but as you said, i have heard they run out of vegan options constantly. this post has convinced me to keep persisting.

    the pie especially looks right up my alley.

    i will pretend i didn’t see bell peppers in that chili. >:(

  2. quarrygirl says:

    whuh oh. just went to the menu. THE VEGAN PIE IS LACED WITH BELL PEPPERS AS WELL??!?!!??!!?!

    sigh. i am jealous, cause it all looks so good. i’m afraid there’s not much i could eat though.:(

  3. FoodEater says:

    quarrygirl: Yeah, that’s why I mentioned that some of the stuff is different from what’s actually on the menu. The menu description of the vegan pie mentions all that bell pepper action, but my mushroom/cashew pie did not taste of peppers, nor did I actually see any in there (though everything was minced up pretty small). So, it seems that it’s not always just the bell pepper option available, I’d say it’s worth calling them to find out. You definitely won’t like the chili as it’s bell pepper city in there.

  4. Lex says:

    Yes, the temptation for us when we go is to reward ourselves after hiking up to the observatory and back, BUT by the time you get back down all the vegan options are gone!!! My last visit the lady in front of me in the line grabbed the last vegan sweet, so now we buy it, stick it in the car and then do the hike!

  5. H.C. says:

    Nice find and thanks for sharing — another motivator for me to go hiking in Griffith Park :) can’t wait to taste that blueberry pancake.

  6. KatieJo says:

    I sooo appreciate all your reviews. I became vegan, around Xmas, having been vegetarian for about 3 years and I’m so happy to have made the switch. Such a great online community to turn to for tips and advice has made it all the more delightful :) The Trails looks fantastic and I’m hoping to check it out this weekend!

  7. Damn that vegan pie looks good. I go hiking in griffith park every weekend but I must have missed this place because I always use the other entrance. Looks like I’ll be changing up the ole hiking routine now tho!

  8. Val says:

    You say Good Pie, and I say Hello. Hello, hello!

  9. Vegyogini says:

    Thank goodness you said there was a parking lot cuz I’m so not an outdoors-y person and hiking/biking there is out of the question! I’d love to eat there and I’ll heed your advice to call first.

  10. Adriana says:

    Griffith Park is beautiful with their lovely trails and hikes to be explored. I’ve been wanting to take my pups out there. You’ve just outlined a perfect day for us.

  11. chow vegan says:

    Alright, that does it. I’m going to have to move to LA, not only do you get awesome vegan food in town but out in nature too! If I want something vegan on the trail, I have to pack it in myself. Great review, it all looks delicious! :-)

  12. VeganKorean says:

    Oh man, great post. Blueberry cornbread. I want Vegan Pie.

  13. Allison says:

    What!! I had no idea they had anything vegan at all!! I am so excited now! I hike there almost every day when I’m in LA!

  14. FoodEater says:

    Whoosh… I’ve been behind on replying to comments so pardon me for not addressing you all individually, but I’m glad I could help you discover The Trails… go eat, hike and enjoy!

  15. disappointed says:

    So very disappointed. I went to the Trails website, clicked on the bottom picture as instructed by one of the many stellar reviews for this place where I did find the menu: first two items on the menu are meat pie $4.50, vegan pie $4.50. Imagine my dismay when my total for a mushroom and cashew vegan pie and a small coffee cost all but $9. So with tip, this snack (it could never be called a meal, the pie was flat and almost missing any filling) cost $10. The coffee was not filled up and had been sitting on the burner for some time; tasted like crap. Worst of all, when I asked to get a breakdown of the charges, the girls there seemed absolutely perplexed: “Meat pies?” “Maybe you were looking at the mini pies” “Vegan pies are different.” Two dollars different than their own website’s menu, perhaps they charge extra for grease-saturation. I could not fault the music and nature took care of the rest of the vibe, thankfully. I should perhaps have made the connection earlier, but I am becoming convinced that a hipster is just a self-consciously raggedy yuppie (“it’s good-I mean, it’s great-I mean, perfection!-because I paid more for it). What a letdown!

  16. FoodEater says:

    disappointed: So I’m a yuppie and/or hipster because you had a bad experience at a place I happened to like? I can assure you that I am neither but it doesn’t seem worth it to try and convince you otherwise. No place gets it right 100% of the time and it’s unfortunate that you went there on an off day… but are insults towards the reviewer really necessary? I don’t work there and I don’t set their price list.

  17. FoodEater says:

    disappointed: So I’m a yuppie and/or hipster because you had a bad experience at a place I happened to like? I can assure you that I am neither but it doesn’t seem worth it to try and convince you otherwise. No place gets it right 100% of the time and it’s unfortunate that you went there on an off day… but are insults towards the reviewer really necessary?