As one of the most activist cities in the United States, it’s no surprise that the Bay Area has an abundance of excellent vegetarian dining options. Vegetarian diners have choices as diverse as affordable ethnic vegetarian restaurants and world-renowned vegetarian fine dining eateries. Even outside of explicitly meat-free restaurants there is a culture of vegetarian-friendly dining that permeates menus and waitstaff, allowing even the most hardened vegan to find something that meets their needs. A comprehensive list of restaurants would be outdated before it was finished, but below are some of my favorites in the Bay.
580 Geary Street (Civic Center/Tenderloin District)
$25–$50 Three-Course Meal
One of the nation’s foremost vegetarian fine dining restaurants, Millennium has been a cornerstone of San Francisco’s vegan scene since it opened in 1994. The menu is richly innovative, featuring a blend of cuisines from around the world, and is updated regularly. Millennium features local produce from around the greater Bay Area, and has a wine list consisting entirely of organic or sustainably produced wines. The restaurant has produced two cookbooks, and Chef Erik Tucker has won a number of awards for his recipes. The restaurant also includes a chic bar, where patrons can sit back and enjoy any of Millennium’s many innovative cocktails or non-alcoholic libations and watch the fascinating world of the Tenderloin District pass by outside. Reservations aren’t required, but they are recommended, especially on weekends or during prime seating hours.
Building A – Fort Mason Center (Marina District)
Lunch Tue-Sat 12:00-2:30pm
Brunch Sun 10:30am-2:00pm
Dinner 7 Days 5:30-9:00pm
$30-$50 Three-Course Meal
Greens is the other must-visit vegetarian restaurant in the Bay. Since 1979, when Greens opened as an extension of the San Francisco Zen Center, the restaurant has been promoting locally-grown, produce-centered dishes. Greens was in many ways the model for the modern vegetarian restaurant, turning vegetarian from a dirty word into a respected cuisine. For almost three decades Chef Annie Somerville has been transforming the face of vegetarian dining with her innovative creations. Unlike many other vegetarian restaurants, which focus on meat substitutes, Greens celebrates vegetation, harvesting the bulk of its produce from the Green Gulch Farm. Greens also showcases a number of local dairies, featuring cheeses from Belleweather Farms, Vella Cheese, and Cow Girl Creamery, making this one of the top destinations for sampling the local fare. For those looking to spend a bit less, Greens also has a take-out menu, which has a number of interesting offerings for a much more modest fee. Reservations at the restaurant are highly recommended, and are accepted up to a month in advance.
746 Valencia St. (Mission District)
Lunch Wed-Sun 12:00-2:30pm
Dinner Sun-Thu 5:30-9:30pm
Dinner Fri-Sat 5:30-10:00pm
$15-$20 for Full Meal
The Bay Area is well known for its Japanese cuisine, with such luminaries as Yoshi’s and Ebisu, and even the Michelin-star-winning Sushi Ran. But vegetarians are often left out in the cold with the cuisine’s traditional focus on fish and other seafood. Cha-Ya, however, fills that void nicely. An all-vegan sushi stop, Cha-Ya offers an extensive menu that features all of the dishes one would expect at a high-end Japanese restaurant: gyoza, udon and miso soups, spring rolls, yaki, and a number of hot and cold curries. The sushi list is extensive, and diners can choose from a la carte selections, or from a wide range of combination dinners. Cha-Ya doesn’t take reservations, and the wait times can be extremely long, but people keep coming back. In addition to the restaurant in the Mission District, Cha-Ya also has a location on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
2400 Harrison St. (Mission District)
$20-$40 for Full Meal
To say dining at Café Gratitude is a unique experience is to understate the case enormously. A nearly all-raw-food restaurant, Café Gratitude has one of the most innovative atmospheres in the country, and every aspect of the business reflects their overall commitment to changing the world through food, best expressed by a Hippocrates quote they feature prominently: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Dishes at Café Gratitude have such unlikely names as I Am Fulfilled, I Am Thankful, I Am Elated, and I Am Eternally Sweet. Ordering a meal becomes an exercise in affirming positive traits about yourself, or manifesting desires. The wait staff, in turn, acknowledges your statements, and reaffirms them as they deliver the food. One would be hard pressed to find a restaurant at which the staff seems more in love with their work. With cooks dancing and singing in the kitchen, waitresses and waiters wearing genuine smiles naturally, and hosts that never seem burdened by the long lines, this is a sort of joy found rarely in upscale eateries. Although the food here isn’t cheap, the quality ingredients and attention paid to preparation easily justify the prices. Café Gratitude now has five locations: aside from their Mission District restaurant, one can be found at 1336 9th St. in San Francisco, one at 1730 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, one at 2200 4th St. in San Rafael, and one in the Olive Leaf in downtown Healdsburg.
1634 Irvine St (Inner Sunset)
$4 a Dog
Underdog is one of those quintessentially San Franciscan eateries that can be hard to explain to out-of-towners. To begin with, it isn’t overall a vegetarian restaurant, as it features a number of organic meat sausages. But its healthy vegan alternatives to traditional sausages, and its fantastically low prices, make it a smash hit among the city’s vegetarian and vegan communities. With a vegan beer bratwurst, made with Oregon Full Sail Amber Ale, a vegan sun-dried tomato Italian dog, a vegan kielbasa, and a no-frills vegan sausage, Underdog meets a yearning many vegetarians and vegans have for the junk food of their youth. Tater-tots, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, and seasonal pies round out the menu, and with prices ranging from $1.99 to $3.89, Underdog offers a value that simply can’t be beat. Every aspect of Underdog’s business aims at being as ethical as possible, and they donate to local charities, clean everything with biodegradable supplies, recycle almost all of their waste, and refrain from using anything that isn’t organic or has artificial sweeteners, flavors, transfats, or genetically-modified ingredients. The atmosphere is, as might be expected, very laid back at Underdog, but everything is designed with the comfort of the customer in mind. Purely as an experience, Underdog ranks up there with the best of the Bay’s vegetarian offerings.
© Restaurant Agent Inc.