Food & Drink

San Diego's Legitimately Great Vegetarian- and Vegan-Friendly Restaurants

Published On 08/10/2016 Published On 08/10/2016
Sipz Vegetarian Fusion Cafe
Arroz con Leche de Coco | Sipz Vegetarian Fusion Cafe

Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion Cafe

Kearney Mesa & North Park

For casual vegan and vegetarian dining, Sipz simply can’t be beat. The extensive menu is a comprehensive collection of various Asian cuisines, all 100% vegetarian and mostly vegan. Grab yourself one of the Noodle Bowlz to go, or sit down and enjoy an order of sushi rolls before digging into a spicy Thai curry. And with plenty of faux-meat substitute dishes available, Sipz is the perfect place to bring that friend or family member who is dubious about trying a meal without a protein that bleeds.

Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant

Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant

University Heights

Upscale in decor but modest in price, Plumeria sits just at the very north end of Park Blvd. Featuring a menu based around South Asian cuisine, with an emphasis on Thai food, it’s the perfect place for a savory, spicy meal with menu items that eschew fish sauce and other animal products, save for an optional egg in a few instances. As with most South Asian food, Plumeria leans heavily on the spices, though these are adjustable to your taste. The pumpkin curry is especially exquisite. Plus, as a bonus to the environmentally minded, it offers a dollar discount for to-go customers who bring their own containers.

Station Tavern

South Park

While the menu of this South Park burger & beer joint boasts both a very good house veggie burger and a spicy black bean burger, neither sandwich is what makes this place worthy of must-visit status. Rather, it’s the spicy sweet potato fries, which are simply the best in town. Tossed in a closely guarded blend of spices and fried until just crisp, these fries are great either as a side item or as an order by themselves, especially when paired with Station’s smoky paprika sauce.

Flickr/Tamara Evans

Evolution

Park West

Evolution is the vegetarian’s answer to the ubiquitous fast food burger joint, right down to the drive-thru window. Catering mostly to take-out, though with some modest patio seating, Evolution breaks from the standard black bean burger patty by crafting one from house-made tempeh. Either patty is available as a gluten-free Evo Burger, a heaping belly-filler topped with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, grilled onions, pickles, and Thousand Island dressing. If you have the stomach space left, pair it with a side of chili cheese fries or wash it down with an organic shake or smoothie.

Flavors of East Africa

University Heights

If you’re feeling tired of veggie burgers and Asian food options, take a seat at the Kenyan cuisine-inspired Flavors of East Africa. Though the menu does feature heavily meat-based dishes -- including ox! -- there are a number of exotic salads and vegetable dishes available for vegetarians. Try the Biriganya (chopped eggplant) with a side of Wali (spicy rice and vegetable stew). The restaurant’s food stall is also a mainstay of local farmers markets and street fairs, where you can pick up a bag of six vegetarian-friendly lentil, potato, spinach, and coconut cream cheese sambusas for only $5.

Matt Baldwin/Thrillist

Pokéz

Downtown

It wouldn’t be Southern California without at least one taco shop, and while there are plenty in town with vegetarian-friendly menus, PokĂ©z can’t be beat for both variety and quality. The menu lists over 28 (!) different vegetarian and vegan selections, down to the Green Taco, which substitutes a large lettuce leaf in place of a tortilla. If that's too far on the healthy food spectrum, don’t worry -- there's plenty of standard Mexican fare to order, from the chile relleno to heaping tacos, burritos, and tortas filled with options like potatoes, mushrooms, and tofu. Fair warning: PokĂ©z does have a bit of a reputation for slow service, so if time is a concern, consider phoning ahead for pickup.  

Kindred

South Park

You’ll never see a more heavy-metal, exclusively vegan restaurant, and that’s not just because of the Black Sabbath and Misfits playing over the sound system. The decor blends the aesthetic of a 1920s Parisian cocktail bar with that of European comic magazines like Heavy Metal and 2000 AD right down to a custom cocktail menu where the drinks sport names derived from mythology, horror, and science fiction. It also has some of the most unique and delicious food you’ll ever eat. The tempeh on rye is a particular favorite: strips of cornmeal-crusted tempeh laid in a rye pita with smoked beets, kale fennel kraut, and Sriracha Thousand Island sauce, served with a side of crispy house-made potato chips. Order one and wash it down with a La Fin Du Monde-based Doom Gazer beertail.

Panama 66

Panama 66

Balboa Park

While the seasonal menu of this open-air beer bar is not expressly vegetarian, Panama 66 deserves inclusion on this list solely for its panko-crusted mushroom lentil patty sandwich. The house-made patty has a delicious crumbly texture unlike any other vegetarian sandwich in town, and is topped with a selection of vegetables and chipotle tahini sauce on a focaccia roll. This alone is worth making the trip into Balboa Park, but Panama 66 also maintains an impressive selection of beers on tap, and regularly hosts live music. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a good meal and a cold drink after a day exploring arts and culture or the zoo.

Nomad Donuts

North Park

Need a bit of dessert? In the mood for a sweet breakfast treat? Head on over to Nomad Donuts on 30th St, where the pastry chefs create confections such as Ube Taro Coconut or Passionfruit Jalapeño. While the eclectic menu of this small craft bakery changes daily, it always has a specialty selection of vegan-friendly donuts available. Be sure to get there early, though, as Nomad frequently sells out before closing time. Don’t worry, early risers -- it keeps plenty of coffee freshly brewed.

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1. Sipz Fusion Cafe 3930 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

The North Park outpost of Sipz is just as good as its Kearny Mesa sibling. The Asian fusion spot is a go-to for any vegetarian or vegan in the area, serving up meatless favorites like Wok Fried Drunken Noodles and the signature Caterpillar Roll (Teriyaki-marinated shitake, yam, and cucumber, expertly rolled in avocado, sesame, and drizzled with teriyaki). It’s a popular lunch spot, what with people bringing all their carnivorous friends to convert them to the surprisingly tasty faux-meat dishes here, but doubles as an equally solid take-out option too.

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2. Plumeria 4661 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116 (University Heights)

Located in the center of University Heights, Plumeria offers vegan and vegetarian Thai food made with only organic and MSG free products. Be sure to try the fresh spring rolls, wrapped in pleasantly chewy rice paper and stuffed with a generous portion of fresh veggies, tofu, and rice noodles.

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3. Station Tavern 2204 Fern St, San Diego, CA 92104 (South Park)

A South Park staple, Station Tavern helps foster friendships between carnivores and herbivores. The all-meat burgers here are just as good as the solid vegetarian options, including the house veggie burger (a chickpea patty topped with the regular burger accoutrements, with cucumbers and smoked paprika sauce to boot) and the spicy black bean burger (lime-cilantro aioli, anyone?). Combined with the cozy patio (heat lamps for cooler evenings, strings of light criss-crossing overhead, communal picnic tables and a train-themed play area for the little ones), it’s a veritable crowd pleaser for local dining options. Besides, we’re pretty sure anyone can get behind the addictive sweet potato fries and craft beer offerings at this joint.

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4. Evolution Fast Food 2965 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

It may have fast food in the name, but you can rule out all of the questionable meat-harvesting practices that fill any visit to your standard burger shop. All the food here is plant-based and raw, and surprisingly incarnate in a wide variety of food types, including burgers, sandwiches, baked goods, soups, and smoothies. Vegans commend the seed-based patties for their hearty texture, while the rest are happy for the sunny outdoor patio alone.

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5. Flavors of East Africa 2322 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

Tiled in black and white, and outfitted with plush, red booths, it'd be hard to pindown the cuisine on offer at this North Park restaurant upon first look. But maybe that otherworldly feeling is exactly what the proprietors are trying to evoke here, where east African food is introduced to new and repeat diners in the former of Jungle fries (thick-cut fries topped with seasoned ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, and African salsa), short beef ribs in gravy, and oxtail slow cooked in African spices. You may not have known what it was at first, but the combination of salty, spicy, and herb-rubbed flavors will ensure you get familiar with them now.

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6. 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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7. Kindred 1503 30th St, San Diego, CA (South Park)

Plant-based comfort fare and tasty craft cocktails are served amid gothic Victorian decor at this South Park brick-and-mortar from chef Kory Stetina, who previously organized the pop-up dinner series Love.Like.Beer. Generous portions and affordable prices make Kindred a worthy gamble, even if you're not entirely convinced of the vegan lifestyle. Seared cauliflower steak, Memphis BBQ jackfruit sandwich, and green garbanzo chili all prove worthy alternatives to meat entrées, while brunch items like smoked carrot (in lieu of smoked salmon) and banana bread French toast topped with whipped coconut cream and dark chocolate are reminders that dairy and eggs aren't a requisite for your weekend mornings.

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8. Panama 66 1460 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

​Located in the San Diego Museum of Art Sculpture Garden at Balboa Park, this outdoor spot opened by four beer veterans offers a selection of rotating local craft beers on tap, cocktails and hot and cold lunch foods. The 150-seat space hosts people on communal tables, and if you want to take advantage of the sculpture garden scenery, the bar provides free blankets to sit on.

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9. 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.