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National Vegetarian Awareness Week: Q & A With Darby Aldaco of The Brite Spot

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(Photo by Krista Simmons/LAist)
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In honor of National Vegetarian Awareness Week, LAist is running a series of features and Q & As with our city's most prominent meat-free personalities. Stay tuned throughout the week for more.

Darby Aldaco is the executive chef and general manager of Echo Park's the Brite Spot. The retro-style diner has recently revamped their menu to cater to the neighborhood's vegetarian and vegan crowd with the guidance of Aldaco, and will soon be revealing the neighborhood's first dining patio. Though Aldaco isn't a vegetarian himself, as an athlete he finds it important to live a more plant-based lifestyle. He took some time to talk with LAist about the importance of homemade veggie burger patties and the joys of jackfruit.


The Brite Spot's menu has just been revamped, and the exterior is getting its patio soon. Tell me about how you developed a vegetarian friendly menu to reflect a more modern diner.

We basically decided to stop focussing on the old diner veggie ways (offering processed veggie bacon, vegan cream cheese, soy patties) as a veggie substitute for vegetarian customers. Instead we're now focussed on using fresh produce to create vegetarian options, such as roasted caulifower, eggplant spreads, summer roasted veggies for sandwiches and lots of grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and cheeses in our salads. We are also producing our own veggie burgers in house...basically choosing fresh over processed, but still keeping it within the diner theme.

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We also offer vegan desserts which are big hits. We bake an amazing vegan carrot cake that I would put up against anyone elses's regular ol' carrot cake. It's pretty bomb!

You are an athlete and a marathoner. Do you implement meat-free living into your training at all?

I'm an omnivore, and I love carbs. Sadly the first couple of years of marathon training I actually would gain weight, probably due to all the carb loading of pastas, suasages, cheese and bread. But now I tend to focus more on eating grains, like quinoa and farro, beans, lots of kale, sweet potatoes, and wild salmon to get my protein fill. I definetly feel less sluggish on my runs when eating this way. Oh, and chocolate milk. Lots of chocolate milk. It's a great recovery drink!

What makes Echo Park such a solid vegetarian community? Do you find that a good deal of your diners are vego?

I'd guess about 40% of our custormers our either vegetarian or vegan. Hipsters like their veggies. I'm not sure exactly why so many in Echo Park are vegetarian or vegan. I would say the younger generation is into eating healthier, but that's not so true; many of our veggie/vegan customers complained when we stopped offering the frozen processed veggie/vegan meat patties on our menu. That stuff is not healthy.

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How does Los Angeles compare to your native Portland in terms of vegetarian-friendliness?

I lived in Portland in the 90's, and I was totally focussed on baking breads, micro brews and coffee. It's a completely new city today. I'm amazed at what a culinary desitnation it has become! As far as vegetarian friendliness, Los Angeles still doesn't compare. When I think of LA, I think of burgers and Mexican food, but I have noticed the vegetarian offerings have greatly increased since first moving here, especially in Silverlake and Echo Park.

Any advice for folks looking to adopt a more meat-free life here in LA? Any good substitutes that you could recommend for some of our city's favorite foods, like tacos or burgers?

Jack fruit is a great meat substitute for taco fillings, so you can still get your L.A. taco fix in a meat-free way.