Being vegetarian or vegan shouldn’t mean suffering the constant hassle of unloading a laundry list of specifications onto beleaguered servers. Nor should it mean poking sheepishly at a sad salad while your dining companions enjoy far more enticing meals. Luckily, this is SoCal, and we know how to take care of people who are taking care of their bodies and/or the planet.
When you’re going meatless in San Diego, here’s where you should be going.
What you’re getting: Lettuce cup tacos
Petco Park isn’t exactly known for its veggie-friendly fare, so if you’re looking to pre-game somewhere healthy then this is the place. Walking distance from the stadium is Sol Cal Café, a vegan restaurant and juice bar that's owned by former NFL player Jacob Bell. From the cold-pressed organic juices to the vegan burgers, everything is made fresh in-house. Taking it one step further, everything is also organic, local, GMO-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and unrefined to ensure you’re getting the best ingredients possible in each dish. That’s definitely more than you can say for a ballpark hot dog.
What you’re getting: A donut you'll feel slightly better about eating
Most places don’t cater to vegans with a sweet tooth, but if you’ve stopped by Nomad Donuts then you know it’s not your typical donut shop. It keeps a couple of traditional varieties available, but the menu is designed for the more adventurous donut lover. Unique flavor options like blackberry peach jelly or hibiscus sugar donut holes change daily but pastry chef Kristianna Zabala always has several vegan donuts available. Using an egg- and dairy-free version of yeast dough she creates choices like chocolate banana peanut butter and peach habanero guava.
What you’re getting: Vegan ravioli
All of the delicious breads, pastas, and cheeses make it pretty much impossible for vegans to enjoy traditional Italian fare in most restaurants, but not any more. Brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo opened Civico 1845 in Little Italy earlier this year and along with the standard offerings it has a special vegan menu that includes everything from ravioli to tiramisu. Pietro’s dedication to veganism and healthy living inspired him to adapt everyone’s favorite Italian classics to be 100% vegan or gluten-free.
La Jolla and Downtown
What you’re getting: Coliflor asada tacos
Puesto offers several vegetarian-friendly items like potato soy chorizo and veg tacos or the verduras bowl, but this August it's added a vegan taco to the lineup as well. Puesto’s chef Luisteen Gonzalez collaborated with local singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman to create a coliflor asada taco full of charred cauliflower, pickled carrots, chile almond crema, and jalapeño pico on a blue corn tortilla.
What you’re getting: A bean burrito
San Diegans love their Mexican food, but lots of Mexican restaurants cook with lard making even their bean burritos off limits to vegetarians; not at Pokez. The food is made with vegetable oil, not lard, so everything served can be made 100% vegetarian and even vegan. The entire menu is conveniently labeled to let you know which dishes are totally animal-free. Plus it's open Downtown until 3am to satisfy those post-bar late-night burrito cravings.
What you’re getting: Tempura-fried squash blossoms
Every Thursday vegetarians can get down at Urban Solace. One day a week Chef Matt Gordon serves a three-course vegetarian dinner featuring meat-free dishes that change every month. You can choose from hearty options like heirloom tomato tartlets with sweet corn puree and warm asparagus salad or tempura-fried squash blossoms with house ricotta, avocado, and pepper coulis.
Escondido and Liberty Station
What you’re getting: Whatever looks good on Meatless Mondays
Stone is known for its commitment to using local and organic everything in the foods served at its restaurants, so it’s no surprise to anyone that it would have a Meatless Monday menu. While the entire Meatless Monday menu is vegetarian, many of the items are vegan or can be made vegan upon request. If you can’t make it to one of the locations on a Monday, there are also vegan dishes that you can order any day of the week like the house-made hummus appetizer.
What you’re getting: A peach ginger pop
Both vegetarians and vegans can beat the heat with Viva Pops. The fruit-based vegan popsicles are all natural and sweetened with either sugar or agave. The flavors change all the time, and even if you’re a carnivore you can’t pass on treats like lavender lemonade, peach ginger, and strawberry with coconut milk.
What you’re getting: Vegetarian pho
Even though pho is traditionally prepared with beef broth, OB Noodle house offers a vegetarian alternative. This version is made with vegetarian broth, lightly fried tofu, and fresh veggies. You can even request the vegetarian broth in any of the pho on the menu. If it’s too hot out for a steaming bowl of noodles, try some of the other veg dishes like spring rolls or tofu lettuce wraps.
What you’re getting: Ratatouille pizza
Not many places in town will make you a vegan pizza, but Blind Lady has got you covered. In addition to the many vegetarian choices like polenta with ratatouille or quattro formaggi pizza, the place can also use Daiya cheese upon request to make many of the vegetarian pizzas vegan.
What you’re getting: Mushroom and veggie Wellington
The word chocolate might be in the name, but this place offers so much more than just sweets. Eclipse serves a daily brunch and dinner menu full of meatless and vegan choices. For brunch try the crispy quinoa fritters or dine on mushroom and veggie Wellington for dinner followed by a piece of vegan olive oil almond cake for dessert. If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth there are even vegan truffles with flavors like coffee caramel and Champagne cherry.
What you’re getting: The I Am Awesome (which is a healthy eggplant Parm!)
It might be a new addition to San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, but Café Gratitude already has a following of conscientious eaters in the Bay Area and other places like LA and Kansas City. The foods served at the restaurants are 100% organic and plant based with much of the produce coming from local sources as well as the founder’s Be Love Farm in Vacaville.
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1. Sol Cal910 J Street, San Diego
2. Nomad Donuts4504 30th St, San Diego
3. Civico 18451845 India St, San Diego
4. Puesto789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego
5. Pokez Mexican Restaurant947 E St, San Diego
6. Urban Solace3823 30th St, San Diego
7. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido
8. Viva Pops3330 Adams Ave, San Diego
9. OB Noodle House2218 Cable St, San Diego
10. Blind Lady Ale House3416 Adams Ave, Normal Heights
11. Eclipse Chocolate2145 Fern St, San Diego
12. Café Gratitude1980 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
This vegan restaurant and juicery draws a health-conscious, yoga-pant-clad crowd, but even if your favorite meal is burgers with a side of burgers, you have to try the acai parfait. The fluffy, mousse-like mounds of house-made coconut yogurt with acai purée, fresh berries, and granola make this bright bowl of healthy goodness a great choice for breakfast or lunch, whether you’re a strict vegan or um, not.
Everyone and their mom has a recipe for vegan baked goods these days, but nothing comes close to the deliciousness that is Nomad Donuts. The non-vegan fare is equally amazing, but it’s the vegan standouts that have diners in North Park coming back for more, addicted to inventive flavors such as Ube taro coconut, cranberry rosewater, and blueberry lavender. The goodies here sell out fast, so we suggest arriving early to this snug counter service spot in order to get your sugar fix (don’t fret, sleepyheads: the coffee here is great too).
This place serves up Italian favorites but adds a modern edge with its vegan and gluten-free menu. Don't skimp on the vino as the wine list is extensive.
Located inside retail hub, the Headquarters, Puesto's bi-level, graffiti-covered venue delivers all your favorite tacos (chicken al pastor! filet mignon!), plus a special dessert menu featuring collaborations with Donut Bar. And though its tequila program isn't as generous as others in the area, each pick from its list of 30 and 40 agave-based spirits, from tequila, to mezcal, to bacanora, raicilla, and sotol, is expertly curated and delicious even to the amateur liquor drinker.
Hipsters flock to this Downtown joint for its organic Mexican fare and trendy ambience (think all-wooden interiors, fliers for local shows posted upon every surface, and skateboards mounted upon the walls). Succulent carne asada tacos and chicken rancheros remain staples, but the biggest influx of Pokez’s regulars come for its robust vegetarian options -- grilled tofu à la fajitas and mushroom burritos, and lettuce wrap tacos. Whatever your diet dictates, just make sure to try Pokez’s house-made sangria.
Blunch: it's what's for... wait, what the hell is "blunch"? The farm-fresh-food-slingers down at North Park eatery Urban Solace sure know, and they've created a whole menu for it on Saturdays between 1030a to 4p. They've also got a "Bluegrass Brunch" on Sundays, featuring uber-creative benedicts like mustard-crusted free-raised sweetbreads and braised pork belly, both with poached Eben-Haezer eggs.
At Stone Brewing's Escondido location, you can enjoy a one-acre beer garden and serene koi ponds with a cold brew in hand (we suggest the Stone Smoked Porter). The 10th largest craft brewer in the United States, Stone Brew makes bold, flavorful and super hoppy brews. If you're feeling hungry be sure to check out their brewpub menu (pro tip: try the slow-braised duck tinga tacos) which features ingredients sourced from Stone Brew's very own nearby farm, which you can also tour, seasons permitting.
What was once a little ice cream cart is now a one-stop popsicle shop offering up gourmet, organic, all-natural treats. And don't be confused, these are not your childhood popsicles and flavors range from spicy mango chili and lavender lemonade, to mojito, and goat cheese cherry cheesecake.
With 19 kinds of pho, a ton of appetizers, vermicelli bowls, and crispy egg noodles, OB Noodle House has everything you could possibly ask of one noodle house. But they've gone above and beyond with the Pho 20 Challenge ($24.20, we see what you did there) -- if you can finish the one and a half pounds of noodles, one pound of meat, and a pint of a Stone beer (in under 42 minutes), you get yourself a T-shirt, a place on the Pho king champion (we see what you did there again!) hall of fame, and the meal is free.
Normal Heights' Blind Lady Ale House scores with its thin crust pies and great beer selection from local and nationally renowed craft brewers. Stop in for a beer flight or an insanely cheap and insanely good $10 Margherita pie. For something a little bit fancier, cheese-heaped quattro formaggi and meat lovers' pies topped with house-made sausage and chorizo hit the spot.
Whether you're in the mood for a dozen (or three) bacon maple caramels or guilty comfort foods—blackberry and cream French toast and garlic parmesan biscuits—this place has all the bases covered.
This completely plant-based chain offers healthy alternatives to not-so-heathy favorites, like their black bean double cheeseburger, Mexican torta, eggplant parm, and pizza (einkorn and kamut flatbread). Café Gratitude also offers vitamin-enriching "shots," meal plans, and detox programs.