Food Review: Rawtopia
2148 S. Highland Drive
Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Omar Abou-Ismail is thrilled to examine people’s expressions as they taste raw vegan food for the first time. As a skeptic by nature (and junk food vegan!), I was surprised at the palatable flavors and textures—I’ve never had anything like the food from Rawtopia. I’m sure Omar could detect the suspicion fade and turn to bliss as I stuffed my face.
Omar’s raw food journey began as a search for optimal health. He transitioned to veganism, but noticed he wasn’t feeling as energetic as he wished. It wasn’t until he discovered raw foods that his energy was at an optimum. His enthusiasm for raw, living food quickly became a passion. Abandoning his lucrative career as an engineer, he opened his unique restaurant, Rawtopia. Like the name suggests, the restaurant is a universe of uncooked, unprocessed food. Nine years later, his restaurant is a destination to those in search of tantalizing, healthy food. As a madly talented chef, Omar crafts delectable dishes, treating food as sacred. He uses mostly local ingredients, and everything in his kitchen is vegan (with the exception of local honey), organic and gluten free. “Healthy food should taste good!” he exclaims.
A simple dish that exemplifies his philosophy is the Hummus/Tabouli Bite ($7). Two boats of fresh lettuce leaves occupy the plate, one filled with hummus and the other, tabouli. Creamy hummus is made from sprouted sunflower seeds and almonds with tasty onions, tomatoes, parsley and briny olives, finished with a drizzle of good olive oil. Vibrant flavors abound in the tabouli, a tasty mix of parsley, tomatoes, red onions, scallions, hemp seeds and mint marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and Celtic sea salt.
One of the most popular dishes on his menu is the Hummus Pizza ($18.50). The price may sound steep for a personal pizza, but consider the extensive preparation and quality ingredients. He also lists “love” as an ingredient, and who knows how much that goes for these days? It takes 48 hours to prepare the crust in a dehydrator. It’s made from flax, buckwheat and apple, his mother’s recipe. A generous layer of live hummus (Can you tell I’m utterly in love with this hummus?) is topped with a medley of vegetables, avocado and olives. And here’s the best part (aside from the hummus)—a healthy dose of seed cheese. It adds a remarkable note to the pizza.
Another dish I’m partial to is the Spicy Curried Seaweed Roll ($15). This roll will knock your socks off. Instead of rice, ground macadamia nuts are used. I was surprised at how rice-like the ground macadamias were. The roll is stuffed with avocado, red bell peppers, tomato, zucchini, cucumber and sprouts. But wait, there’s more. You can opt to add dried plantains to the rolls, adding a chewy, sweet texture. Dipped into the luscious almond curry sauce, this roll is so much better than any fishy roll I’ve ever had. I could eat this forever and ever—the combination of sweet and savory just gets me.
A lot of men get dragged into the restaurant by their wives or girlfriends, and Omar’s favorite dish to serve them is the Nut Burger ($15), a dehydrated veggie and brazil nut patty topped with avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and Alfredo sauce (made from soaked macadamia nuts and cashews) between two cabbage leaves. I was really surprised by this one—the cabbage leaves held everything in like a proper bun, and the patty was flavorful and savory.
For dessert, try the Berry Cheesecake ($8)—it’s a life changer. If you’re suspicious of raw food, start with dessert. This cheesecake is un-fucking-believable. The crust is made from almonds and coconuts, while the filling is made with coconut cream and cashews. Completing the raw dessert, a berry sauce is drizzled atop. Each forkful made me happy. The texture was reminiscent of actual cheesecake, but didn’t leave me with that yucky dairy feeling. Try pairing the cheesecake with one of the many teas offered, or maybe the Hemp Milk Chai ($4/8). Spicy, with a creamy texture, this drink hits the spot—just spicy and sweet enough.
Making wonderful food runs in the family. Omar’s mom, Jinan Abu-Ismail is Head Chef at the popular Middle Eastern restaurant Mazza. She even developed the pizza crust and seed cheese for Omar’s pizzas. A tight-knit duo, Omar loves feeding his mom. She’s transitioned to eating a lot of raw foods and feels much healthier and energetic, just like her son. Omar’s Rawtopia is a comfortable place to dine. There are books about raw food and local products to browse in the small restaurant. Omar treats his staff like family, and in return, they are committed to his vision. “This feeds me,” he says, gesturing at the restaurant. Happy diners and employees create a real sense of community. You’ll walk away from your meal feeling nourished and full with a happy buzz.