Kye’s fast casual cuisine is a revelation in flavor. With main dishes packed inside kyeritos— superfood burritos in a nori, collard greens or romaine lettuce wrapper—owner Jeanne Cheng offers great tasting dishes packed with proteins, grains and vegetables.
Named after Cheng’s son, this Santa Monica restaurant was designed to be inclusive and accessible to all types of diners, and while the menu offers many vegan and vegetarian options, other dishes include fish and animal protein, all carefully sourced as both organic and local whenever possible. The entire menu is gluten free, and rice dishes feature organic koshihkari rice, which some consider to be “the ultimate sushi rice.”
“I wanted to bring more consciousness and awareness to what food does to your body,” Cheng notes, in regard to starting the restaurant last November. “I wanted to be real about food. It has to be nutritious and give your body what it needs to function optimally, it has to taste good and make you feel excited about what you are eating, and you have to feel good after you eat—energized—not tired like you need a nap, or you’re too full.”
Cheng’s goal is well-being of both mind and body. “Health is a multi-dimensional equation,” she says. “It’s not just about what you body does with the food you consume, but about your relationship to others and yourself. If you give your body clean and nutritious food that’s good for you, it will make a difference in all aspects of your life.”
Kye’s offers five different types of wraps: classic comfort, Asian-inspired, deli style, breakfast and vegan, with some overlap among the categories. Cheng also serves salads, shakes and smoothies, herbal teas and coffee, and dessert treats.
We began our meal with two astonishingly delicious beverages: a fresh mint shake and an Ayurvedic One-a-Day. The shake is made with coconut milk, fresh mint leaves, spinach, coconut milk ice cream, Chinese yam and raw agave. Sweet but not cloying, the mint refreshes and the mix is light rather than thick, a perfect beverage rather than a heavy sweet drink. The Ayurvedic One-a-Day is a warm broth. Made from a great-tasting veggie mix that includes blanched kale, chard, collar greens, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, cilantro, Italian parsley, soaked cashews, coconut oil and sea salt, this beverage was originally created as a recipe for cancer patients and it served them well—purifying, nourishing, and helping to heal. The same characteristics make this a tasty and healthy beverage for general consumption, and we found it did have an energy-enhancing effect for us.
We also sampled the Tonification Herbal Water, made from jujube, longen, goji berry, licorice root and ginseng. Delicately tea-like yet fruity, this is a beverage worth the trip.
For our salad we chose Sweet Kale, which combines three kinds of kale with almonds, goji berries, currants and a light dusting of Pecorino cheese in a maple-Dijon vinaigrette. The nutty sweetness was compelling; the dressing light but memorable.
The main attraction here is, of course, the wraps, and we had three different versions, each portably wrapped in cellophane. My favorite was the vegan marinated bulgogi, featuring portabella mushroom, kimchi, Asian pear, carrot, cabbage, herbs, sweet and spicy red pepper paste, sesame seeds and a red and black rice blend all tightly wrapped in romaine lettuce. The portabella mushrooms were especially tender and delicious.
The vegan bean taco is equally stellar, for those who like a little spice in their wraps. Held together with collard greens, this flavorful mix of vegan chipotle cream, corn, jicama, brown rice and pinto beans adds a house-made fresh pico de gallo that has kick.
We also had a Macro, which contains a succulent seared wild salmon and comes wrapped in nori. There’s a delicious Vegan Macro alternative, replacing the salmon with avocado, hemp seeds and sliced almonds. Another great vegan choice is the Vegan Nahm Jim with its six vegetable mix and macadamia nuts.
And don’t forget dessert. Cheng made sure we tried her signature black bean brownie, surprisingly light and also nutritious, made with ground flax seeds and coconut oil as well as yummy Fair Trade chocolate chips.
Kye’s is a great spot for a quick and healthy lunch to go, or a pleasant dinner in a modern, open, cheerful if minimalist setting. Or grab a bite before seeing a double feature at the retro Aero theatre just down the street.
—1518 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, 310.395.KYES (5937)
This article is a part of the Annual Food Issue 2015 issue of Whole Life Times.