The San Fernando Valley is no longer the dreaded no-mans land that it used to be, and while those of us who live here in the SFV are used to the derision, snide remarks and upturned noses of those who live over the hill, the tables have begun turning as the Valley fills up with delicious restaurants that have both the east and westsiders hopping over the Cahuenga Pass or Laurel Canyon and pouring into our humble basin… the same folks who previously would have never dared venture into the realm of the (818) area code are now streaming in at record numbers in order to have some of what we’ve got. What’s bringing them here isn’t the oppressive heat or the medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner… no, it’s the excellent vegan food.
One such Valley treasure we’ve recently gained out here is SunPower Natural Cafe. SunPower serves up healthy organic vegan and mostly raw dishes, though a few of their items are cooked. They’re located on Cahuenga Blvd, right where Ventura Blvd. and Cahuenga do their little dance and turn into one. This makes it a prime location for serving not only most of the Valley but also anyone right up the street over in Hollywood and beyond. It’s also conveniently located right off the Lankershim Blvd. exit from the 101 freeway.
What I really like about SunPower is that they aren’t like most of the other raw places in town. Those restaurants either tend to be on the fancier side (Cru for example), too expensive and far away for my blood (the various places in Santa Monica), or to put it bluntly, not good (I’m talking to you Leaf Cuisine). SunPower is nothing like any of those- not only is the staff genuinely friendly (and vegan themselves) but the food is also bona fide delicious without being pretentious. I’ve had the pleasure of trying a number of items off of their menu and so far I’ve enjoyed everything.
Because I love all things barbecue, the BBQ Burger naturally seemed like the first thing for me to try. “Sunflower seed patty smothered in raw BBQ sauce. Topped with marinated onions, mushrooms, chopped lettuce and ranch dressing. Served on choice of bun”. For your bun options you can pick from a sprouted sesame bun, fluffy wheat bun or a raw green bun. I’m a bread loving kinda gal, so I went with wheat. Even though you can’t see it in the photo I also got some extra avocado added on. You also get a side so I went with the kale salad (you can see it with the salad pictured up at the top of this post).
This was really good. The sauce tasted sweet & savory at the same time while the patty was meaty and full of flavor. I didn’t taste like a bunch of mushed up sunflower seeds, it tasted like a hearty, healthy and action packed burger. And when I say healthy I don’t mean bland… both the patty and the sauce were very well seasoned and quite tasty. I could totally feed this to my meat-loving dad and I don’t think he’d complain that he was eating bird food.
On another occasion I had the Curry Sandwich which consists of: “tofu, curried garbanzo beans, jicama, spinach, pineapple and curry sauce on whole grain toast”. Wow, what a flavor combo! I wasn’t sure it would work but I’m glad I had faith and went ahead and ordered it… it was awesome.
The tofu was thick & chewy, and based on that I’m going to guess it was marinated and baked. The curry flavor was excellent and I absolutely loved the addition of pineapple which gave it both an exotic and a sweet kick. The crunch from the jicama adds a nice balance to the soft beans. Truly yummy… I’m drooling as I write this and feeling sad because they are closed at the moment so I can’t go eat this again right now!
In the mood for a salad? SunPower has you covered with some exciting options like their Mexican Fiesta Salad and a bunch of other options. I was most intrigued by the Asian Salad because Chinese chicken salad was always something I enjoyed back in the day.
The Asian Salad: “Seitan, cashews, tangerines, raisins, sesame seeds, water chestnuts, greens and orange-ginger dressing”. Mmmmmm, I loved it! I don’t know how they prepared their seitan but it was surprisingly creamy tasting and almost reminded me of blue cheese. They got all the flavors right for an imitation chicken salad, right down to the sesame seeds & tangerines. This salad was packed with crunch and yumminess in every bite. While I’m gonna make my dad eat the burger, this salad is what I’m going to feed my mom, another lover of the ubiquitous Chinese chicken salad. This one will not only be better for her, but I think she’ll even like it better too.
On yet another visit I finally tried one of SunPower’s most popular offerings, the Lettuce Tacos. They come with: “Savory SunPower “chorizo”, tomato sauce, green onions, tomatoes, pine nuts, cashew cheese, ranch dressing and avocado wrapped in Romaine lettuce leaves”.
I wasn’t sure I’d be impressed, but let me tell you, I was. When they first brought it out I thought, “that’s sure a whole lot of lettuce and not much else”… but I was wrong. The lettuce is just big so that’s all you see at first, but it’s got to be big in order to form a nice wrap around what’s inside… and they really do pile it on. There’s actually four individual “tacos” in there, so I think this close-up of one on it’s own might be the more helpful visual.
Their delicious faux-chorizo is made mostly from raw nuts and seasonings, and is, well.. I already said it… delicious. It’s not very spicy and to be honest I didn’t pick up much of a Mexican flavor from it, but that said, it was so so so very good, I’d actually like to eat a bowl full of just that. Add in all the other fresh veggies and toppings and you’ve got yourself one unconventional yet highly satisfying lettuce taco. I realize it sounds weird if you’re not used to how raw folks borrow the names of “real” foods when they reinvent them as raw, but don’t get caught up in the semantics of it all and just trust me when I tell you that you’ll want to shove this entire thing down your face- it’s excellent.
Now you might have noticed that all the entrees I’ve shown you so far have been in carry-out containers. That’s because SunPower was still relatively new and had not yet gotten their permits to serve food on plates like a traditional sit-down restaurant, so in the beginning they were using these compostable eco-friendly to-go containers. Not the ideal situation for us diners or for the owners, but thankfully that’s all now been squared away, they’ve got all their necessary permits and are now serving up their tasty food on real plates, and with an artistic flair to boot.
This pretty little number is the Italian Sandwich: “Savory Sunpower “sausage”, sundried marinara, cashew cheese and marinated peppers & mushrooms”. Same choice of breads so this time I got the sesame. You also can choose from any of their sides, so I went with something different and tried the Chopped Seitan Salad.
This sandwich was really good. Hard to say if I like this one better than the BBQ, they were both excellent. I could really taste the sundried tomatoes in the sauce and quite liked the Italian seasonings. While this “sausage” isn’t going to fool anyone into thinking it’s real, I don’t think it’s trying to and is perfectly tasty without attempting to really be an imitation of actual meat. I dig avocado on just about anything, and in this particular sandwich it went really well with the overall scheme of things.
The Chopped Seitan Salad is really good too, lots of celery and dill make it reminiscent of tuna salad but minus the stinky fish funk, while the seitan itself is more like chicken but without the dead bird karma and Salmonella. I’m pretty sure this is the same stuff that goes into making the Chopped Seitan Sandwich should you be so inclined.
They’ve got many other scrumptious sounding items on the menu I have yet to try. Their raw pizzas look especially awesome and they also have a daily quiche up on their specials menu.
Another specialty at SunPower are their amazing cashew shakes. These are totally dairy free and super healthy for you (though quite high in fat & calories in case you’re counting either). You can get the Cacao Superfoods version, the Sweet Kale or the Strawberry. On my first visit I had the cacao and it was great, I drank it up so fast I got brain freeze. Very sweet, nutty and chocolaty. On a subsequent visit I tried the kale shake which I had reservations about, but they were quickly cast aside after my first sip. Damn that’s good! One of the super cool owners, Rebecca, told me that she’d been experimenting with the shake recipe to give it maximum flavor while trying to reduce some of the high fat content from all the cashews. In my kale shake she used about half the amount of cashews as they normally would, and I thought it was just right. I appreciated knowing that I wasn’t going to drink my entire days worth of fat & calories in one glass (though I was still under no illusions that this was diet food). Don’t be scared of the kale shake… while it may be green it doesn’t taste at all bitter or like a vegetable, it was everything you’d want from a shake… thick, creamy, sweet… and vegan!
As you can tell I’m really diggin’ on having SunPower Cafe right here in my own hood. The food has always been fresh and exciting, and the staff has always been extra friendly and you can really tell they care about the food they’re serving you and what you think of it. They were very eager to hear my opinions on everything I tried, and this was before they knew I was a food blogger. From the way they treat their customers to the pride with which they serve their food, you just know these people are walking the walk, not just talking about it.
Not only are the owners great but they’re also backed up by an expert team in the kitchen. Chef Rawsheed “is one of the pioneers of using raw foods to create gourmet vegan cuisine”…. “and has developed a unique style incorporating multiple ethnic influences that tantalize the taste buds.” Also recently added to their staff is Chef Tigre who you may remember from Sante LaBrea. His specialty vegan recipes include vegan sushi and vegan parfaits… though I’ve had a few of this cooked dishes and I enjoyed them all as well. I’m eager to see what he brings to the mix.
There’s one more thing I MUST tell you about. SunPower also sells a couple of their own pre-packaged goodies that you can take home with you such as Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fruit Burst Cookies, Cinnamon Cookies and more. What I want to make sure you know about are the Kale Munchies. It’s basically dehydrated raw kale that’s been seasoned with garlic, onion, tamari & spices, and then a hint of sweetness from agave nectar. You might be thinking to yourself: “hmmmmm, dried kale? I don’t know about that Foodeater”, again, I’m gonna have to ask you to trust me. In fact, I’m going to ask you to go out right now and buy yourself a box and then tell me if you didn’t nearly devour the whole thing in one sitting (ok, wait til the place is actually open). You know the old slogan about how you can’t eat just one? Well that totally applies here, as in, you can’t eat just one box! Seriously, I’ve become totally addicted to these Kale Munchies since I discovered them (I like the “spicy” variety) and I literally can’t get enough. Twice in the past week I’ve gone through an entire box for dinner- no joke. These are basically one of the healthiest snakes you could possibly imagine, and I love that I can just keep on mindlessly snacking on them without getting fatter, sick or stuffed. These have all the elements to satisfy the munchies: sweet, salty, crunchy and awesome. And yes, awesome IS an actual ingredient… and it happens to be vegan.
You can buy the Kale Munchies along with the cookies in the restaurant, or, I’ve also found that the local Whole Foods (I got mine at the one on Coldwater) stocks them as well. The price was actually less at Whole Foods if you can believe it. On that note, this stuff ain’t cheap, in fact, it’s downright expensive ($8+ at WF). But I tell you, now that I’ve tried them I can never go back to being without them, they’re worth every penny. Yeah, yeah… I know I can easily make kale chips at home for a fraction of the price (and I will indeed experiment with this soon), but there’s something to be said for being able to simply buy a box of delicious & healthy vegan snack food from a local company instead of having to rinse, chop and turn on the oven (this is the Valley after all, remember? It’s HOT here).
So if you live in the Valley… things are not so bad! Consider yourself lucky to have SunPower within arms reach. That other raw place further up Ventura Blvd. ain’t got nothing on these guys, SunPower is a cut above in service, quality and taste. If you don’t live in the Valley, get over the attitude and get over here! Stop complaining that it’s 500 degrees hotter on this side… there’s a deliciously chilly cashew shake waiting just over that hill to cool you right off and make it worth your while.