What’s with the popularity of vegan dining in this country? What kicked off this obsession with non-animal-based eating (aside from the important fact that it’s a cruelty-free approach to nourishing ourselves without harming animals)? According to celebrity chef Cat Cora, “Vegetable dishes are, culturally, becoming the new normal…veggies are moving to the middle of the plate.” Indeed, that’s good news for the animals, the Earth and our health…and therein lies the original magnetic draw of a vegan diet. Those who pursue veganism are usually motivated by ethics, the environment or health reasons.

Eating in a restaurant, however, has presented challenges for vegans, what with the previous lack of options on most menus. But over the past few years, that situation has changed dramatically, especially in large trendy metropolises like New York and Los Angeles, where vegan can be all the rage depending on neighborhood and specific dining spot. We have assembled some of our favorite vegan restaurants in Woodland Hills so you don’t have to drive yourself crazy trying to locate one if that’s what your palate calls for.

The Vegan Joint, located at 20855 Ventura Boulevard Unit 3, has evolved from a long line of Thai-oriented restaurants and is lorded over by an owner who has always been vegan by nature. Continuing that tradition, The Vegan Joint serves breakfast all day as well as vegan food with Thai flavor – something unique within the burgeoning and sometimes overwhelming restaurant circuit of L.A. From Lentil Burgers, sandwich wraps and soups for lunch to vegan dinners accompanied by delicious rice, noodles and curries – finished off with Thai-flavored spices and care – The Vegan Joint has been a Woodland Hills favorite since 2006.

Veggie Grill, located at 6316 Topanga Canyon Boulevard Suite 1180, boasts tasteful décor, friendly service and a level of quality that’s difficult to beat anywhere in Southern California. A plethora of freshly-brewed iced teas and lemonades complement the delicious vegan selections that include the Santa Fe “Chicken” Sandwich, mashed cauliflower, Mushroom Burger, Steak Seoul Bowl and chicken with gravy and veggies. A charming, inviting décor beckons loyal patrons like a proverbial call to vegan enthusiasts, though it’s safe to say that once you get hooked on Veggie Grill, you won’t need to be called in.

Follow Your Heart Natural Foods Market & Cafe, located at 21825 Sherman Way in Canoga Park, is one of Southern California’s oldest and best-loved natural food and vegetarian eateries. Situated in Canoga Park since 1970, the atmosphere here is both comfortable and casual, but the restaurant’s true magic lies in the way it distinguishes itself from other natural food venues in the area. The menu alone – boasting entrée names that harken back to the ‘70s such as The Love Plate and The Om Lette – is a testament to the café’s enduring popularity…a popularity that has contributed to Follow Your Heart expanding to occupy a 7,200 square-foot space and offering 22 dine-in seats.

Health Nut, located at 23373 Mulholland Drive, allows vegans to get their fix with a plethora of offerings like the Chef Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, Mango Iced Greentini, Noodlerama, Deluxe Salad with Tuna, Tuna Avocado Melt, Chicken Salad Panini and Super Green Smoothie. With unique foods and a vast array of healthy options for vegans, Health Nut has become a great pit stop for gym rats after a run or workout, to say nothing of the armies of loyal customers who continue to flock to the restaurant for its welcoming décor and spacious dining area. This is one Woodland Hills area vegan eatery not to be missed.

The Gourmet Soup Kitchen, located at 23229 Saticoy Street in West Hills, specializes in natural vegetarian soups handcrafted with loving care. With founder Amy Caplan dedicated to making healthy eating easy and delicious for everyone, The Gourmet Soup Kitchen offers over 30 soups with artfully-created flavor combinations to please every palette and to fulfill every craving. A far-reaching choice of base cuisines – including Italian, Indian, Asian and American – are used to craft healthy and hearty nourishment for both the body and soul.

One of the most difficult challenges about eating out has always been the vegan issue. To this day, many vegans find restaurant experiences a very hit-or-miss proposition, depending on the restaurant and/or chef. The good news is that more and more eateries are becoming sensitive to dietary restrictions and allergies, opening up new options on menus for those who require them. But worry not: Any of the aforementioned dining spots we’ve recommended in this roundup will allow you a taste of the best vegan restaurants in Woodland Hills.