Update: Unfortunately, Mary’s Secret Garden in Ventura, California has closed permanently.
Ventura, with its quaint main street of downtown, antique stores, and tsotchke shops is reminiscent of a simpler time. It’s on the edge of the Pacific coastline and is a bit like going back to another era.
With its small town feel, it may come as a surprise that it also houses a creative and charming organic vegan restaurant with many raw options. Mary’s Secret Garden is within easy walking distance of downtown, just past Plaza Park.
Located inside of a converted cottage, Mary’s Secret Garden effortlessly walks the line between a breezy granola lunch spot with positive affirmations decorating the ceiling to a candlelit restaurant with a rotating art collection, cloth tablecloths, and an organic wine list, perfect for a date night.
As my husband and I were passing through Ventura on our way both to and from Ojai, we decided to catch Mary’s for both lunch and dinner to gather a more complete idea of the menu and its offerings. The varied menu includes Thai appetizers and entrees, Mediterranean and Italian-inspired dishes, salads, burgers, wraps, and an extensive offering of smoothies.
We started our meal with the hummus plate, served with pita bread, cucumbers, and carrot slices. The hummus, made with fresh herbs, has an unusual tang and texture, not like most cumin-heavy dips you’d find elsewhere.
When we ran out of crudite, the server was quick to bring more for our continued dipping.
For lunch, I had the Cheeze Rawviolis, a fresh and vibrant raw dish, that was truly spectacular. Sheets of jicama are stuffed with herbed cashew and almond cheese and then topped with a sweet red bell pepper and carrot marinara. The rawviolis are then drizzled with basil pesto and garnished with kalamata olives, baby mixed greens, and pistachios.
The deep round flavors of the nut-based cheese, so savory, gave the meal a feeling of decadence.
My husband, who was only vaguely masking his food envy, had the Syrian falafel wrap. The generous whole wheat tortilla wrap is stuffed with falafel, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, avocado, and cilantro and arrives with a cup of creamy tahini mint sauce. This filling wrap was simple but good.
After our outing to Ojai, we made our way back for dinner. We were greeted by a new server who asked, “Is this your first time here?” To which my husband responded sheepishly, “No, we were here for lunch.”
We each started with a glass of organic red wine and a cup of the soup of the day. On this particular evening it was split pea barley.
This homey soup is topped with loads of cilantro and served with a lemon wedge. The soup was a bit brighter in tone than one would typically expect in a split pea soup.
In the hopes of saving room for dessert, we split the spicy Thai Yellow Curry Stew. This warm curried coconut stew included large chunks of Kabocha squash, carrots, potatoes, red onions, ginger, tofu, and basil leaves. It’s served over brown rice and topped with cilantro. It nicely married the sweat-inducing and tongue-igniting spice of the dish with the soft and creamy notes of coconut milk.
Despite our best intentions, this satisfying dish left us unable to squeeze in dessert. Luckily, it will be our pleasure to come back another day.
Some of the dishes on Mary’s menu are on the pricey side, but for an organic menu with time-intensive raw entrees, I’d say the prices are worth it. If you find yourself longing for an ocean-side escape, a day of thrifting, or hitting the nearby outlet mall in Camarillo, be sure to stop in and visit Mary for a filling and flavorful meal.