Curry lovers have likely already tasted their way to their favorite Thai and Indian dishes around town. But what about another known culinary gem on the map? VegiLicious Chef Akira Nakao takes diners on a trip to his homeland of Japan with his signature 50-ingredient vegan curry.
Served in a generous white bowl, Nakao's crowned curry bursts with color, flavor and nutrients. Using about a dozen organic vegetables, including tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, celery, onions and cabbage, Nakao pours in a small amount of coconut milk then sprinkles various spices into the cauldron, like turmeric, paprika and salt, along with his secret ingredients. The mixture cooks for about seven hours, then cools for a couple more, allowing the flavors to soften. This lengthy process happens daily, all thanks to Nakao's culinary and arm powers.
After moving from his native Osaka to Huntington Beach with his wife, Atsuko, in 2006, Nakao kicked off his American career as the manager of a Costa Mesa barbecue joint. He messed with Texas for six years, despite his dislike of meat. At the time, Nakao ate meat, but his guilt paired with his knack for cooking convinced him to open up his own restaurant. After practicing much patience, the self-taught vegan chef finally did in February 2012 at the up-and-coming Huntington Harbour Mall.
"I want to make people really happy," says Nakao, who could talk for hours about the harmful effects of consuming animal products. When the couple decided to open VegiLicious, they adopted a vegan diet, which they've been happily following for the past two years. Nakao's mission "to contribute to people's health and happiness" sings from his natural, organic and plant-based menu; the calming zen-like decor of the space and the superior service.
Holding its titles as the eatery's signature dish, one of two most popular menu items and Nakao's choice meal, the Signature Curry comes with the choice of a vegan protein and rice. We highly recommend the grilled vegan hamburger steak and the vitamin- and minteral-packed five grain rice. Here's how to eat it: Pile rice and protein on your spoon, then gently dunk the two in the awaiting curry. It's delicious. No, it's VegiLicious. And if your tastebuds require extra heat, opt for a spoonful of the Magic Sauce.
Aside from the curry, other popular organic zen gourmet fare include the Grilled Teriyaki Hamburger and the must-try Sweet Corn Cream Chowder. Nakao encourages any chef to challenge his teriyaki sauce. "I'm from Japan," he says, laughing. "I know a lot about teriyaki sauce." Plus, he cooks equipped with his secret ingredients. Other hot treats include the Rich Brewed Miso Soup and Dipping Cheese Sauce. With half the calories of typical American cheese sauce, Nakao's housemade goodness can and should be added to any VegiLicious sammie. It's the perfect treat for little ones, too. Save room for some vegan coconut or strawberry ice cream or a slice of the vegan chocolate cheesecake, and wash it all down with a glass of the Very Berry Lemonade. We did, and we left feeling elated, just as Nakao masterfully planned.
Already inviting, VegiLicious' outdoor front patio will soon transform into a communal dining space with neighbors AoSA Project and Bowl of Heaven. The exterior makeover is all part of AoSA's plan to create a more social experience for the Huntington Harbour community via a new Stumptown Coffee Roasters-slinging coffee shop and revamped retail shop. You can read more about the new cafe here.
Nakao and Atsuko are prime examples of the adage, "You are what you eat." Taking only one day per week to rest, the two do not take supplements, never get sick and still have energy after 13 hours on their feet every workday. Atsuko has even dropped five pounds since VegiLicious opened its doors last year. "Me and my wife actually eat as much as we want, but we never gain weight," says Nakao. "Please sign us up for the VegiLicious diet," says everyone.
So why work six 13-hour days a week? "It's fun to help people and make people happy, and that's what we want to do," says Nakao.
We'll raise our spoons, brimming with curry, to that.
VegiLicious is located at 16821 Algonquin Street, #103, in Huntington Beach, 714-377-3928. Hours are as follows: Wednesday through Monday, 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner. Closed Tuesdays.