“Plant-based” is a term loosely thrown around these days and there appears to be no unanimously agreed-upon definition.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines it as “a diet consisting of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices and excluding all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.” This conflicts with other medical organizations and institutions that describe a plant-based diet simply as one consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants.

Regardless of which definition you recognize, Bakersfield’s plant-based dining options have increased dramatically over the past few years. Numerous local eateries are now incorporating more fresh, natural ingredients into their menus, offering more vegan and vegetarian items, and a few are embracing the plant-based concept in the purest sense. Here are a few examples.

The purists (all plants, no animals)

Better Bowls: Choose one of their signature bowls or create your own, all made from freshly prepared, perfectly seasoned ingredients. Their most popular bowl is the American – brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted red onions, fresh spinach, chili chickpeas and avocado with a roasted red bell pepper hummus sauce. Everything they offer is completely plant-based and gluten-free, down to the sugarcane serving bowls and wooden eating utensils.

The Hen’s Roost: If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were in a first-rate burger joint. The menu includes burgers, fries, shakes, onion rings, hot dogs and street tacos – all vegan and most of the ingredients locally sourced. The Beyond Burger comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, house sauce and a soy- and gluten-free patty that could pass for lean ground beef.

Nature’s Food Market: This 100 percent vegan establishment across from the Fox Theater features grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, wraps, desserts and a large selection of grocery items, but the juice bar is what sets it apart – smoothies, shakes, juices and shots, all juiced fresh to order. The kale date shake is made from almond milk, bananas, dates, kale, spinach and blueberries.

Vida Vegan: This newly opened spot in the southwest offers an eclectic menu that includes Mexican fry bread tacos, Thai curry and pad see ew, Peruvian lomo saltado and a couple of different paninis, as well as tapas, desserts and a solid selection of beers on tap. Everything is fresh, made to order and 100 percent vegan.

The latitudinarians (tolerant of variations)

Locale Farm to Table: Though this is by no means a vegan restaurant, the menu is interesting and diverse, including several vegetarian options and emphasizing seasonal, organic, locally sourced ingredients. From Candace’s sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts to the bacon arugula burger, there is something here for everybody.

Cafe Smitten: The anchor of the flourishing Eastchester area of downtown Bakersfield features a menu that is primarily vegetarian and boasts an extensive array of creative, healthy and delicious plant-based breakfast items, small plates, sandwiches, salads and bowls. The vegan portobello sandwich combines a roasted portobello mushroom, avocado, sprouts, tomato, oregano, pesto and chili flakes.

Dot + Ott: The recently opened eatery and market merges the refinement of a Parisian bistro with the authenticity and hardiness of Kern County farming. The produce and beef are supplied by Pickalittle Farms and Redhouse Ranch, two local operations dedicated to sustainable farming practices. From beet hummus and pita bread to braised pork belly and vegetables, the upscale menu is a fitting mix of vegan and meat-eater-friendly items.

Indian restaurants

Another option for plant-based dining are Indian restaurants, of which Bakersfield has at least a dozen. Because meat is very expensive in India, growing grains and vegetables is a more efficient way to feed the country’s huge population and the fact that Hinduism and Buddhism (which combined, make up more than 80 percent of the country’s population) teach the virtues of vegetarianism, plant-based offerings at Indian restaurants are plentiful.

No matter if you are a strict vegan or someone looking to add more fresh vegetables and whole grains to your diet, the plant-based options for local diners continue to improve. 

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