Food & Drink

The Best San Diego Restaurants for Vegetarians

Published On 09/16/2015 Published On 09/16/2015
Sara Norris/Thrillist

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.

Sol Cal Cafe

East Village
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.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Nomad Donuts

Normal Heights
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.

Courtesy of Civico 1845

Civico 1845

Little Italy
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.

Courtesy of Puesto


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.

Pokez Mexican Restaurant

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.

Courtesy of Urban Solace

Urban Solace

North Park
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. 

Stone Brewing Co.

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.

Viva Pops

Viva Pops

Normal Heights
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.

OB Noodle House

Ocean Beach
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.

Blind Lady Ale House

Blind Lady Ale House

Normal Heights
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.

Eclipse Chocolate

South Park
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.

Courtesy of Café Gratitude

Café Gratitude

Little Italy
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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Sara Norris is an adventure-loving, travel-obsessed freelance writer and photographer currently based in San Diego, CA. Follow along with her latest adventures on Instagram: @saraknorris

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1. Sol Cal 910 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101 (East Village)

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.

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2. Nomad Donuts 4504 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116 (North Park)

This is probably about as healthy as donuts get (although you’d never think it) -- Nomad has an entire menu section dedicated to vegan options alongside its list of specialty donuts that changes daily. We recommend the Ube Taro Coconut donut (vegan and otherwise) which has a purplish tint from taro, a root vegetable with a nutty flavor. Combined with coconut, this donut is unexpected and original.

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3. Civico 1845 1845 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

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.

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4. Puesto 789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

The vibrantly decorated Puesto pays homage to all kinds of Mexican street food, with a heavy emphasis on tacos. You'll find a mix of familiar fillings (chicken al pastor and filet mignon) alongside refreshing combinations like lobster with black beans and crispy onions, and zucchini with sweet corn and cactus. The house-made corn tortillas here prove to be so much more than a vessel for the meat and cheese fillings, and you'll find yourself savoring their earthy taste -- or spreading them with guacamole when the chips run low. Speaking of guac, you can stick with cilantro and onion classic or have yours loaded with Brussels sprouts and crispy bacon.

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5. Pokez Mexican Restaurant 947 E St, San Diego, CA 92101

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.

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6. Urban Solace 3823 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

You can always rely on filling, farm-fresh food at this North Park eatery. Instead of brunch, Urban Solace serves "blunch" (on weekdays and Saturdays) where egg-centric breakfast dishes, hot & cold sandwiches, and soups & salads will leave anyone with functioning tastebuds happy. The Sunday Bluegrass Brunch draws crowds for standouts like the cinnamon roll with butter pecan sauce, braised pork belly Benedicts, and the grilled four-cheese sandwich served with fries and creamy tomato-fennel soup.

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7. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens 1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029 (Escondido)

A one-acre beer garden and serene koi ponds make the cold beers all the more enjoyable at Stone Brewing's Escondido location. Stone Brewing's brews are known for their bold and hoppy flavor, while its food stand outs for its local and organic ingredients. Items like tiger shrimp ceviche, rice noodles with spicy lamb and chile oil, and slow-braised duck tinga tacos exemplify the global tone of the bistro.

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8. Viva Pops 3330 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116 (Normal Heights)

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.

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9. OB Noodle House 2218 Cable St, San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

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.

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10. Blind Lady Ale House 3416 Adams Ave, Normal Heights, CA 92116 (Normal Heights)

Sometimes known as BLAH, this Normal Heights beer bar and pizza-centric restaurant is anything but. It’s a fine go-to for vegetarians, neighborhood locals with kids, and anyone who appreciates a great thin-crust pie. Pizza varieties run the gamut from margherita and four-cheese to the heavy-loaded egg & bacon, decked out with Swiss chard, caramelized onion, and truffle oil. Pizza and beer, works every time.

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11. Eclipse Chocolate 2145 Fern St, San Diego, CA 92104

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.

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12. Café Gratitude 1980 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101

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.



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