By Leo Babauta
San Francisco is my favorite city in the world, and living here has helped me become fully vegan (Eva too, as of last year!).
I thought I’d share a (non-comprehensive) list of places to try for fellow vegans visiting the city. It’s the result of my exploration of many places, good and great, which has been admittedly a lot of fun.
You won’t get to all of these, so I’ve marked my favorites. (Update: Here’s a map of these spots, created by reader Ivana.)
Restaurants with only vegan food:
- Millenium: An absolute favorite, and a must-try for any vegan new to San Francisco. It’s gourmet vegan food, imaginative combinations of flavors and textures. A bit dressier than most of the places on this list, it’s a date-night type joint. In addition to an amazing food menu, they have excellent wines and cocktails. [fave]
- Gracias Madre: My other favorite vegan place in the city (along with Millenium), it’s Eva’s top spot. It’s organic vegan Mexican, but different than any other Mexican food you’ve probably tried. Healthy, delicious, unique, everything is sustainably farmed (often on their own farm). Save some room for the dessert — I recommend the Mexican chocolate cake & toasted coconut ice cream (unless it’s the holiday season, in which case they’ll likely have the pumpkin spice cake — get that!). [fave]
- Herbivore: With three locations (Valencia, Divisadero, and Berkeley), this is a go-to spot for vegan families (there’s something on the menu for everyone), vegan brunch, and a quick and tasty bite. There are some good healthy options here (salads, green juice), and some tasty but less-healthy options (try the grilled seitan deluxe schwarma), and everything in between.
- Cha-Ya Japanese: If you’re craving some vegan Japanese, look no further. It’s inexpensive, cooked in the Zen tradition, and pretty tasty.
- Pepple’s Donuts: These guys are actually located in Oakland, but they have a stand at the Ferry Building (which is great for foodies and has a great farmer’s market on Tues, Thurs and Sat). Delicious with lots of great flavors. Also available in a bunch of grocery stores around the city.
- Loving Hut: With locations near Powell Station (in the Westfield food court), Chinatown and Sunset neighborhood, this is pretty yummy vegan fast food. You might know them already as they’re all over the world, and if you’ve been to a couple of them, you’ll know that they won’t knock your socks off, but they’re a great choice for a quick vegan lunch as you’re out sightseeing.
These restaurants serve no meat and are great places for vegans:
- Greens: Come here for dinner at sunset and enjoy the view of the water. Gourmet vegetarian — one of the first in the country, and owned by San Francisco Zen Center. Lots of vegan options, tell them you’re vegan and they’ll treat you right. So yummy. [fave]
- Rainbow Grocery: [fave]
- Source: An amazing variety of vegetarian food (almost all is vegan) — it’s like a new-Age diner, with Philly Cheese Moos (moos are their beef replacement, clucks are duck replacement, bow-wows are vegan hot dogs, etc.) and pizza and even vegan Twinkies. Go here ready to oink out.
- Thai Idea Vegetarian: Who doesn’t love Thai food? Now you can love it and not be worried about animal products. Pretty much everything on the menu is vegan, and it’s delicious. Nuff said.
- Udupi Palace: We went here and ordered way too much food, because it’s all so good. It’s South Indian food, all vegetarian (dairy in some dishes, so ask if you want vegan-only), spicy and yummy. Get the dosas.
- Ananda Fuara: This is a funky, cult-like place, but it’s downtown where there aren’t many vegan places, and actually the food is pretty decent. I really like the chocolate cake.
- Vegetarian Chinese: There are three places with vegetarian Chinese food if you’re in the mood for some General Tso veg chicken or crispy spring rolls — Golden Era Vegetarian Restaurant, Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant (with three locations), Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant. My kids love this stuff.
- Donna’s Tamales: Vegetarian and vegan tomales, found at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and various grocery stores (see their site for more info).
You’ll find a ton of places in San Francisco that are vegan friendly (almost every place but steakhouses), but here are some that I like:
- Samovar Tea Lounge: Highly recommended for the artisan tea, you’ll be very happy with the vegan food options. My favorite is the Tempeh Maki Bowl, but also try the TLT sandwich or the lentil curry. Three locations, downtown, Hayes Valley and Mission/Castro. [fave]
- Plant Cafe: Many veg options, I like the tempeh and the Wasabi Plant Burger. Mmmm. A great option if you’re in the Fisherman’s Wharf/Embarcadero area. [fave]
- Underdog: Hiking around Golden Gate Park and feel like a veggie dog with organic sauerkraut? Of course! Go to Underdog, a tiny spot where they have beef but also veggie dogs and some other tasty vegan options.
- Minako Organic Japanese: Small but good Japanese restaurant in the middle of the hip Mission District, with lots of vegan options. Just ask!
- Papalote Mexican Grill: One of many taquerias in the Mission, this one probably has the most vegan options — soyrizo or tofu or grilled veggie burritos, for example.
- Little Chihuahua: Get the fried plantain & black bean burrito. With three locations.
- Paxti’s: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, with some good vegan options. With a bunch of locations in the Bay Area.
- Berretta: Go here if you like artisan cocktails — some of the best in the city. And if you’re hungry, there’s Neapolitan pizza with vegan cheese.
- Mission Pie: Wonderful pies, down-to-earth cafe in the middle of the Mission. One vegan pie option every day.
- Ike’s Place: Insanely popular sandwich spot, with some great vegetarian and vegan options (and omnivore). Takeout only, order ahead for pickup so you can skip some of the crazy lines.
- Roam Artisan Burger: Super high-quality burger spot, including great house-made veggie burgers. Also get the sweet potato fries, milkshakes, and beer.
East Bay Vegan Spots
Some great places in Berkeley and Oakland (not a complete list):
- Cinnaholic: Insane vegan cinnamon rolls with great toppings! Must-try if you have a sweet tooth and are near Berkeley. My kids adore this place. [fave]
- Encuentro Cafe & Wine Bar: Great vegetarian/vegan food, and wine — need I say more? Great for a date night near the Jack London Square area of Oakland. [fave]
- Cafe Gratitude: I was sad when the SF location of Gratitude closed, but you can still hit them up in Berkeley. Hippy feel, half raw and half cooked vegan menu. Try the Gratitude Bowl, among others. [fave]
- Flacos: Tiny little vegan taco shop in Berkeley, my mouth waters thinking about their food.
- Timeless Coffee: Hip coffee shop in Oakland, all their coffee & great pastries are vegan!
A Vegan Sightseeing Tour of SF
OK, let’s put my faves together with my favorite spots in San Francisco into a 2-day highlights tour. Warning: It’s not necessarily the healthiest of tours, but you’ll burn it off exploring the city! Map out this stuff before you come to SF.
- Breakfast: Go to the East Bay and have vegan cinnamon rolls at Cinnaholic in Berkeley.
- Twin Peaks: Then drive into SF up to Twin Peaks. Enjoy the amazing view. Don’t just go to the lookout, but actually go on top of at least one of the peaks (2 of the highest peaks in SF).
- Walk the Mission & Castro: Drive down & park somewhere near 18th Street & Valencia, and start walking around. Valencia Street and Mission Street are great places to soak in the feel of the best neighborhood in SF. The colorful Castro neighborhood is nearby, which you can check out after lunch.
- Lunch: Gracias Madre at 18th & Mission. Take your time, enjoy the menu. Get dessert to go for your next stop.
- Hang out in Dolores Park: Walk down 18th Street to Dolores Park (18th & Dolores). If it’s a sunny day, enjoy some relaxation time in Dolores Park, one of the coolest parks in the city. On a sunny afternoon, the scene here is pretty interesting. The view from the corner near 20th & Church is awesome (right near my old house).
- Dinner: Millenium, my favorite vegan spot in the city, not in the nicest of neighborhoods but you’ll get a feel for the Tenderloin here. Make sure to make reservations, preferably a week in advance (not always necessary but it’s better to be safe). Bring an empty stomach. Be sure to order dessert.
- Nighttime strolling: If you still have energy, walk around the Embarcadero and enjoy the lights on the Bay Bridge.
- Breakfast: Go to the Ferry Building at Embarcadero, get a couple tasty donuts from Pepple’s, and enjoy with soy Gibraltar at Blue Bottle (it’s off the menu). Also explore the other interesting foodie places in the Ferry Building, and if you plan well, you can catch the farmer’s market outside (Tues, Thurs, and Sat).
- Fun with science: Check out the Exploratorium for an hour.
- Hike & views: If you’re adventurous, hike to the top of Telegraph Hill via the Greenwich Street stairs or the Filbert Street stairs (or go up one and down the other!). Otherwise, drive up and enjoy the view.
- Lunch: Samovar Tea Lounge. Have the Nishi Sencha and the Tumeric Spice teas, and the Tempeh Maki Bowl. Slow down, be present, enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.
- Golden Gate Park: Drive to somewhere near 9th & Irving, and walk into the lovely Golden Gate Park. Check out the Japanese Tea Garden (feel the serenity), and then stroll around Stow Lake. If you have kids, the California Academy of Sciences is a must.
- Dinner: Greens Restaurant on the waterfront. Make reservations ahead of time. Alternatives: the Plant Cafe or Source.
If You Have More Time
Other good ideas: Encuentro in Oakland, Rainbow Grocery if you want to buy some food to cook yourself, the Golden Gate Bridge and trails along the coast in Presidio, Land’s End trails, a house-made veggie burger and sweet potato fries at Roam Artisan Burger, Flacos or Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley.