Hip Vegan Cafe
201 N Montgomery St.
Ojai, the epitome of cool, tucked smack-dab in the center of valley ranges and beaming with the glow of national travel writers’ attention, has been showered with accolades focusing on its array of boutiques, holistic hotspots and, of course, its restaurants of late. A name that regularly appears as highly recommended is that of Hip Vegan Cafe, the exclusively-vegan joint.
As spring wanes and summer approaches, Ojai is mighty tempting for coastal residents looking to escape “May Gray” or “June Gloom.” On a sunny Sunday, with popsicle from Freezer Monkey’s Ojai farmers market stand in hand, we made our way up Ojai Avenue and, with Hip Vegan on the mind, chose to lunch at the ever-popular spot.
Hip Vegan sits a few blocks up from Libbey Park downtown in an area that reminds you that Ojai, as bustling as it can be on the weekends, is very much the through-the-looking-glass ranch-style town it’s made out to be in the magazines, with oak trees and a desert, almost dude-ranch atmosphere that is very much unique to the county.
Picnic tables greet you upon entrance onto the patio and, down a little farther, small tables on a covered patio. Inside is a bit more spartan with several tables packed into a small dining area. Orders are taken inside but it’s best to find a spot outdoors to enjoy the serenity brought upon by being up close to nature with fork in hand.
On this particular visit, the chef’s specials included a burrito bowl featuring the supertrendy (and yet superdelicious if prepared properly) jackfruit. Meaty as a fruit can be, jackfruit has been utilized as a vegan substitute for everything from pulled pork to crab cakes. The other special was a barbecue-bacon burger, the “bacon” made of coconut, the cheese made of cashew and the burger itself made of tempeh.
We chose the latter ($12.95), as well as the 3 Scoop salad ($10.95 small, $14.95 large), a spring mix of greens with beets and carrots topped with a scoop each of a seed pâté, a spicy almond pâté and hummus, with seed crackers to boot.
The burger came with a side salad for which I chose the cilantro-lime dressing. We also chose to have a small “cheez” quesadilla on the side. While the cafe offers smoothies and fresh-pressed juices, we chose water as the walk under the Ojai sun had somewhat dehydrated us.
Upon arrival, both entrees popped with vibrant colors and basked in a delectable glow. In other words, both were Instagram-ready. The burger’s tempeh patty could be mistaken for its beef counterpart, but the flavors are out-of-this-world unique, a tart burst of savory and teriyakilike sweetness mingles with a slight hint of smokiness from the spice-infused coconut sprinkled atop.
The “cheez,” though lacking the texture of its dairy counterpart, offered a similar creaminess, bridging the flavor powerhouses in what could otherwise have been a symphony playing “the Rites of Spring” aboard an out-of-control trolley. Instead, the burger was a ballet of sorts, with each component in sync with the other.
The pâté and hummus on the salad were refreshing and lively. The seed crackers were crisp without being tooth-shatteringly so. With the tahini-poppyseed dressing, the order (we chose the small, which was more than enough) proved to be a wise one, as the day was warm, as has been referenced, and the salad put a little spring in our step without adding weight.
Of course, on the side came the lowly “cheez” quesadilla — and with a dash of hot sauce it proved a worthy facsimile. Not a single cow had to be milked for the production of this quesadilla that was spotted being downed by a 4-year-old boy who, at the counter, had pointed to a landline telephone and asked his father, “What is that?”
We couldn’t leave without trying the cafe’s signature desserts. Today in the cold box: choco-coco cherry cheezcake, a raw cake as pink as cherry blossoms with a nut-based crust. The sweet, cool cake had all the flavor of cherry but only a hint of chocolate. Regardless, it proved a worthy end to the meal.
Hip Vegan is a little out of the way, but worth the visit, if only for a taste of the real, ethereal Ojai that the world seems to have its eye on.