In Los Angeles, keto has been cool for years—and it shows no signs of slowing down.

By Brad Japhe
October 08, 2019
Cal Mare LA
Credit: The Social Kat

It’s a typically busy workday afternoon at the Tocaya Organica on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In the queue, business professionals in ironed shirts and slacks stand between cross-fitters in tank tops and sweats. A craving for quick lunch unites them at this popular chain known for its "Modern Mexican" cuisine. But many of the customers aren’t walking away from the counter with tacos or burritos. Instead, they carry trays stacked with Keto Bowls — a colorful assortment of red and yellow peppers, avocado slices, and olives on top of a bed of cauliflower rice.

The ketogenic diet — ‘keto’, for short — is sweeping the nation, with diet-friendly products hitting the aisles and celebs like Kourtney Kardashain and Vanessa Hudgens paying it lip service.

Menus around the country are beginning to cater to the craze, offering dishes that are low in carbs and high in healthy fats, with plenty of cauliflower, one of the diet's MVP's, to go around. But in Los Angeles, there’s nothing new or even noteworthy about these kinds of strict dietary regimens. (This is the city that birthed Hollywood, after all.)

The science behind the keto diet is fairly straightforward: in the absence of carbohydrates, the body eventually starts breaking down stored fat as a source of energy. To reach this heightened metabolic state known as ketosis, dieters have to eat fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day, loading up on plenty of meats, eggs, nuts, and fibrous veggies instead.

Because of the diet’s restrictions, eating out while keto-ing isn’t always easy. Luckily, in Los Angeles, many of the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs are evangelists themselves—including the CEO of Tocaya Organica, Tosh Berman.

“I’ve been on the keto diet for two years and have noticed dramatic changes in my metabolism and ability to recover from workouts,” says Berman. “At Tocaya, we wanted to create a menu that serviced people’s dietary needs like my own without sacrificing taste.”

For chef Michael Bryant, the man behind New American restaurant Fellow, adapting his menu was less a reaction to the fad diet than it was an acknowledgment of changing times.

“I’m getting older and more health-conscious,” he told T+L. “When creating the new dinner menu, I felt it was time to release the old way of eating and embrace the challenge of creating fun, interesting, and delicious vegetarian and vegan low-carb dishes.” Such creations include charred cauliflower drizzled with a caper-shallot dressing and a plant-based “Impossible” burger topped with arugula and onions simmered in red wine.

At the Michael Mina restaurant Cal Mare in the Beverly Center, executive chef Adam Sobel puts a distinctively California spin on keto. A sample dish: cauliflower with Sicilian chilis, Santa Barbara sea urchin, and fatty guanciale. “It’s salty, sweet, spicy, and sour at the same time while also being keto,” he says of the plate.

And unlike at restaurants in New York City, where it's not uncommon to get scoffed at for requesting menu substitutions, in Los Angeles, kitchens are used to handling dietary requests, no matter how elaborate.

“Accommodating restrictions is never an issue for us,” says Sobel. “We understand how to coax flavor out of anything and everything.”