It’s been in the works for more than a year, and now, Long Beach’s first totally vegan drive-thru is open. Well, the drive-thru portion was still under some construction a few days after opening at the end of June, but the concept is there: plant-based fast food.
Plant Power, a company that operates vegan fast-food eateries in San Diego, Encinitas and Redlands, opened its first LA/OC location at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Clark, in the space that previously belonged to University Burger.
The new restaurant is the chain’s best-looking yet: There’s a large, circular dining room, with floor-to-ceiling windows and dark beams holding fans on full blast. A lime-green neon sign proclaims you’ve reached “The Future of Fast Food,” and there’s a little garden patio if you want to dine al fresco. Patrons order at the counter and wait (either at a table or a standup counter) for their number to be called. There are prepackaged salads by the registers and a self-serve soda fountain.
While it’s technically fast food, the wait is a little longer than you’d find at, say, your typical In-N-Out.
Plant Power’s menu reads like an elevated American diner’s, with milkshakes, sandwiches, burgers and fries, plus “chicken” wings, tenders and nuggets; raw tacos; and kombucha. It also offers a morning-only list of breakfast-foods-stuffed muffins and burritos. All with nary an animal product in sight.
Most of the menu is stippled with quotation marks for meat pretenders; see the “chicken” sandwich, “fish” filet sandwich, the classic “bacon cheeseburger” and more. And while vegan cuisine is still fairly new to most, this marketing tool may be necessary. Hopefully, there will come a day when vegan food can just be vegan and stop trying to taste like animals. Plant Power does offer a black-bean patty in place of its standard “beefy” patty for no additional charge.
Among its Signature Burgers is a Big Mac mimic dubbed the Big Zak. It’s much larger than the burger it imitates, as well as much softer, both in flavor and texture. Three large, pillowy buns encase two “beefy” patties, Zac sauce, American “cheese,” lettuce, onions and pickles. Though the sauce lacks tang and is definitely on the mild side, the patties were well-seasoned. And just for fun, it comes in a retro-looking orange-and-yellow burger box.
The Buffalo ’66 option—crispy “chicken” topped with lettuce, tomato and “ranch” dressing—can be ordered as a wrap or sandwich. I went with the wrap, which was decent and definitely filling. Plus, the Buffalo sauce had a nice zip. Though, for some reason, I kept tasting seaweed. I have to admit Veggie Grill down the street has got Plant Power beat in the vegan Buffalo chicken department.
The absolute smash though is Plant Power’s Iconic Fries, a no-shame rip-off of In-N-Out’s Animal Fries. These tasted near-identical, with the silkiest non-dairy cheese atop perfectly crispy fries, golden caramelized onions and a tangy relish-laden secret sauce.
If you go during peak hours, be warned: The parking lot is cramped, with cars squeezing in and out of stalls. And once the drive-thru is fully functional, expect long-ass lines curving around the restaurant. But the thrill of getting a completely vegan burger-and-fries meal, complete with a milkshake, without leaving your car? Worth it.
Plant Power, 5095 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 343-5045; www.plantpowerfastfood.com.