We’re not food critics; we’re vegetarians. That doesn’t mean vegetarians can’t be food critics; it just means that we aren’t. But we do frequent ethnic restaurants for their tendency toward being vegetarian friendly, we know what we like, and we have our favorites. We look for the same three things that we believe everyone is looking for: quality, service, ambiance. Good food is good food. In our case, the ambiance is almost always going to be casual, which translates to- this is not going to be about fine dining.
By the way, nothing against “chains,” but you won’t see them here. We like independent restaurants because of their unique stand-alone quality that makes them feel more like a part of the neighborhood.
And then, of course, there is the whole COVID thing. Be aware of who can provide dining at the premises and who can’t. As I write this, the only dining options in Ventura County are those able to provide outdoor seating. If that is what you are looking for, I will tell you what I know, but it may pay to double-check.
Chinese: The Chinese Dumpling House: Port Hueneme
This is the epitome of a neighborhood spot. And the Chinese Dumpling House is just that, having been a neighborhood icon for decades. When you walk through the door, you can feel the friendly casual atmosphere, evidenced by the hosts chatting it up with the customers at their booths, some of which may have duct tape holding the seat seams together. Rebecca has an ongoing friendly feud with the owner who pretends to come across as gruff. But she does not really fit the description. On one occasion we saw a little girl come in to sell candy bars for a school project. The next thing we see is the little girl leaving with an empty box and a smile on her face while the owner is passing out candy bars to her customers.
The food is authentic, and the staff makes you feel like you’ve been invited into their home. If you are looking for good Chinese food, a quiet, family-friendly atmosphere, and very reasonable pricing, check them out.
But it will have to be take-out until the COVID restrictions are lifted because they have no option for outdoor dining.
Thai: Lucky Thai: Ventura
Eighteen years after moving a 10-minute drive from Pierpont Beach in Ventura down to Channel Islands Harbor, the south (beach) end of Seaward Avenue still holds our hearts. Dominated by surfers, skateboarders, and pedestrians carrying beach blankets, this short stretch of road between Pierpont Boulevard and the beach is a microcosm of the Southern California lifestyle. It’s a different restaurant, and now we have to drive rather than walk the beach, but Lucky Thai is our new favorite destination in this little part of Ventura.
Like most of the rest of the eateries along this stretch, Lucky Thai is small, and you know where you are when you take a seat at one of the 5 booths along the front. That “beachy feeling’ coupled with the friendly service alone is enough to put a smile on your face. But the food is outstanding as well, and typical of Thai Restaurants, the menu is broad. Our favorite is the Praram with Tofu, but you can also get it with chicken or beef. Come for the atmosphere and stay for the great food and friendly service.
But for now, you’ll have to get it to go as there is no place here for outdoor dining. No worries though, grab your food and then take a seat on the wall at the end of the street. The beach and the Pacific against the backdrop of the hills of Ventura is an outstanding dining spot.
Mexican: Cabo Seafood Grill & Cantina: Oxnard
Cabo is an iconic landmark located in the historic area of Oxnard and a longtime favorite of the locals. If you want a truly authentic Mexican dining experience, this is your place. Table-side made guacamole, handmade tortillas, giant portions of seafood, drinks, and even the occasional mariachis who will roam the restaurant as they play, make this a Mexican experience north of the border. And don’t be fooled by the fact it is also a cantina, Cabo is family-friendly and even pet friendly with an outdoor patio for the pooch. The patio also provides the outdoor option during COVID restrictions, so be sure to call ahead to check for seating.
Italian: Café Fiore: Ventura
Hands down, our favorite restaurant in the area. We love the location, we love the atmosphere, love the service, and love the food. I should probably just stop here, but I will expand…a bit. As you enter, you have the option to take a seat by the fireplace in the bar. Check the schedule for those evenings when they have live entertainment. If that’s not your thing, head back to one of the comfortable loose pillow seating booths that contribute to the warm and inviting atmosphere. You can also reserve a private cabana and enjoy the fireplace on the outdoor patio.
But it’s the authentic southern Italian cooking and the friendly service that brings us back. And like many of the downtown Ventura restaurants, Californian Street is closed due to COVID allowing Café Fiore to spill its seating out into a comfortable outdoor venue. Look down California Street to the Pacific or up to the historic courthouse on the hillside.
Definitely on our can’t miss list of dining experiences if you’re coming to town.
Indian: TAJ Café: Ventura
This one may be a pipe dream. Sometime in February, we stopped to get dinner, and there was a sign on the door saying they were closed due to a flood and hoped to be open soon. It seemed to be taking a while, but then COVID hit and no updates since. The sign is still there, and the interior is still in place, but they have not reopened even with the option of expanding into the street due to their downtown Ventura Location. But if they come back, this is our Indian food place of choice. Easy, relaxed atmosphere, super friendly service, and excellent food. The Taj Café has been a part of the Ventura landscape for longer than we have, and we hope they make it back!
Let us know if we can help you find your place while you are here.