Food & Drink

The Best Vegetarian Restaurants in San Francisco

Published On 08/08/2016 Published On 08/08/2016
Gracias Madre

Gracias Madre

Mission

Gracias Madre’s slogan is “Our mission is love” -- which is awesome because love is cool and stuff, but our real mission is to eat tasty, filling food. Luckily, Gracias Madre also provides that in the form of 100% organic, plant-based Mexican dishes in a bustling environment that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The menu is totally vegan, so just know that the “nacho cheese” is made using nuts and is not, in fact, nacho cheese at all. It’s still really good, just as long as you weren’t expecting that heavenly yellow stuff that comes out of the jar.

Greens

Marina

Greens is probably the only vegetarian restaurant on this list where you could take your meat-loving uncle from Minnesota -- and he might not even notice that everything on the menu is meat-free. That's partly because of the stunning views of the harbor, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands, but also because Greens behaves like a normal restaurant that just so happens to serve some of the most inventive vegetarian dishes in town. The menu is constantly changing based on seasonality and availability, but we can promise that even the most die-hard meat enthusiasts will leave saying they just enjoyed one of the best meals they’ve eaten in a long time... and maybe feeling a tiny bit duped (in a good way, of course).

Nourish Cafe

Nourish Café

Inner Richmond

Nourish Café wants “To help you eat healthier and feel amazing through a natural, plant-based diet.” Now, we’ll be honest: a lot of times what makes us feel amazing is destroying an awesome hamburger with our mouth, but we can also appreciate balance -- even if that means eating acai bowls and “yam and cheese” sandwiches made with a creamy nut cheese that tastes almost as good as the real thing. It should come as no surprise that the restaurant only uses organic, whole foods and non-GMO ingredients, as well as natural sweeteners and minimal oils. There’s also avocado toast that you can order on gluten-free bread. Did you expect anything less?

Cha-Ya

Mission

Cha-Ya is a Japanese restaurant that serves fresh, flavorful vegan dishes without any of the vegan pretense. (That’s a compliment, by the way.) The curry udon noodle soup with seasonal vegetables is just as hearty and filling as any beef udon bowl out there, and the vegan sushi roll is so much better than the avocado or cucumber roll vegetarians are forced to order at your typical sushi spot. Whatever you order, start with the soba salad -- it’s vibrant, colorful, and will basically fill your veggie quota for the entire month.

Seed + Salt

Seed + Salt

Marina

“We always listen and stay open.”
“We take care of each other.”
“We never stop trying to do better.”
Those are just a few of Seed + Salt’s very earnest “promises” to its customers, and though we’re pretty sure we’re not supposed to feel like terrible human beings after reading them… we still do. And the promises don’t stop there! Seed + Salt also guarantees the food will put a smile on your face and a skip in your step. This vegan food is free of gluten, dairy, refined sugar, trans fats, and GMOs, but not at the expense of flavor. Dishes such as the beet burger, taco salad with walnut chorizo and cashew crema, and the coconut ceviche with baked yam chips are so good you’ll want to eat them all the time.

Herbivore

Mission

Herbivore’s menu is completely vegan and uses all organic tempeh and tofu, as well as locally sourced produce. While that’s pretty par for the course at a plant-based SF restaurant, we love Herbivore so much because it offers the vegan dishes you’d expect (think quinoa salad and a falafel wrap) and dishes you really want, like chili cheese fries, crispy tacos, cheese steak, and meatballs.

Golden Era Vegan Restaurant

Golden Era Vegan Restaurant

Civic Center

The people who love Golden Era reeeeallllly love Golden Era. And once you walk into the clean, bright space (grab a booth if you can) and start feasting on the vegan Asian fusion dishes, you’ll understand why. Yes, even if you’re a meat eater. The menu is extensive, but favorite dishes include the golden rolls (fried, but eggless), the papaya salad, the spicy sweet & sour soup, and the spicy Mongolian delight. Oh, and the smoothies are legit also; the avocado one could be a meal on its own.

Shizen

Mission

What if we told you that one of our favorite sushi restaurants in the city was a sushi restaurant where the sushi has no fish? Would you think we were a little crazy? Well, guess what: we are, because Shizen has become one of our go-tos since it opened in 2015. It doesn’t hurt that the actual space is gorgeous, with a minimalist vibe, lots and lots and lots of wood, and air plants hanging on the walls. But the real thing that keeps bringing us back is the nigiri, the sushi, and the ramen. As far as the former goes, the gobo with sweet shoyu and red chili and the inari with pickled carrot and smoked bean curd are both must-orders. And pretty much all of the specialty rolls are worth a try (and an Instagram post). The ramen broth and noodles are made from scratch (the latter is made in-house every day), and comes with so many yummy veggies, you might even forget about meat.

VeganBurg

VeganBurg

Upper Haight

If you’re a meat-eater and you’re in the mood for a burger, VeganBurg is probably not the first… or 15th place you’re going to go. However, if you’re a vegetarian (or just worry about the effect that eating so much meat has on our planet), VeganBurg is a great option for a healthier version of this American staple. Our favorite is the mustang relish, which has a crispy patty, lots of mustard, and is topped with pickles and red onions all on a wholemeal bun. It goes perfect with a side of seaweed fries. Yup, we just said that (and we totally meant it, too).

The Plant Café Organic

Marina

Ah, another restaurant with a mission. This one? “To promote the wellbeing of people and planet, and provide an avenue to support healthy choices and sustainable practices.” Sounds good to us. And it doesn’t hurt that this is also the only restaurant on the list that has an almost completely vegetarian menu, but doesn’t mind offering a few fish and chicken options as well. But this isn’t about meat; this is about delicious veggie options, of which there are plenty, including pretty much all of the salads, the shiitake spring rolls, and the Korean BBQ bowl. This is also a good spot to pop in for a healthy green juice.

Thai Idea Vegetarian

Thai Idea Vegetarian

Tenderloin

If you’re a vegetarian, then you’re well aware of how many Thai dishes that seem like they’d be vegetarian-friendly actually use fish or oyster sauce. And if you’re vegan, then you’re battling that and the fact that there’s often also egg. Alas, there’s no need to fret over that anymore, because Thai Idea Vegetarian’s got you covered. The space itself is serene and comfortable, with lots of dark wood and pillows. A ton of the gorgeous (get ready to snap and Instagram) dishes come with vegetarian “meats” (there’s even a veggie lamb), but if that’s not your thing, you can obviously get them with tofu or vegetables. All of the vegan or vegan-optional menus are clearly marked, so the only issue you’re going to have is choosing what to order. Just don’t skip the pumpkin curry.

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1. Gracias Madre 2211 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

To satisfy your Mexi-cravings, head to this Mission spot for vegan takes on tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and even ceviche. Gracias Madre is committed to health and sustainability, all without sacrificing flavor, so it's no wonder vegans and carnivores alike line up out the door to chow-down on guilt-free eats that come from the team behind Cafe Gratitude.

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2. Greens Restaurant 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123

An OG on the vegetarian front since 1979, Greens is the real deal: A legit, upscale restaurant in a beautiful space within Fort Mason that basically showed America that you can still eat really, really well without all the meat and cream and all the other things associated with fine dining back during the fall of disco. Though founding chef Deborah Madison has passed the reigns onto Annie Somerville, the food continues to pull in people from all across the world. You’re not to mess around here: get the price fixe, sit back, and be blown away when you realize all the next-level things she can do without the magic of bacon.

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3. Nourish Café 189 6th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118 (The Richmond)

Wedged in among a line of fragrant bakeries and greasy Thai spots is this plant-based restaurant, which succeeds in proving itself as appetizing as its less healthy neighbors. The brunch menu, for one, is a nice change of pace from your average food coma-inducing, ketchup-drowned meal, with options like quinoa waffles, acai bowls, avocado toast, and fresh-pressed juice. The rest of the plant-based menu is just as enticing to meat- and non-meat-lovers alike, with options like raw nutella toast, marinated tofu bahn mis, and falafel bowls with pickled onions.

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4. Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant 1686 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709 (Berkeley)

Vegans and vegetarians flock to this tiny Japanese spot in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. The extensive and affordable menu features vegetable and tofu-based sushi rolls, soups, and tempura that'll convert even the swankiest of sushi aficionados into veggie roll fans. The decor is basic and unfussy, but you'll be too focused on the creative meatless creations in front of you to notice. Cha-Ya is generally packed around lunch and dinner, and since there are no reservations, you'll want to avoid primetime to dodge the lines. Oh, and make sure to hit up the ATM beforehand -- it's cash-only.

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5. Seed & Salt 2240 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123 (The Marina)

Insofar as Seed & Salt is concerned, there’s an entire world bursting with flavor, even when you eliminate all wheat and animal-based products (not to mention GMOs, refined sugar, and trans fats). With an entirely gluten-free and vegan menu, this minimalist Marina counter-service spot has a steady stream of regulars who rave about standouts like the beet burger, the coconut ceviche, and the kale Caesar.

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6. Herbivore 983 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Mission Bay)

Tempeh, tofu, and everything local: these are the culinary pillars upon which Herbivore is built. The all-vegan restaurant in Mission has been a neighborhood go-to since 1997, serving nondenominational fare in the way of standout dishes like Vietnamese spring rolls (perfectly crisped and accompanied by peppery peanut dipping sauce) and the heavy-hitting lentil loaf with mushroom gravy and sautéed kale. Combined with a fresh juice bar and bare-bones, cafeteria-like environs, it’s the ideal spot for a detoxifying feast.

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7. Golden Era Vegan 395 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Civic Center)

Golden Era has been a go-to locale for vegan food in the Civic Center area since 1999. The space has a naturalistic feel to it (think wood-paneled environs, with a forest photograph covering an entire accent wall in the back; tasteful floral arrangements and tropical fauna placed throughout), with the open kitchen serving sizzling clay-pot stews, raw cabbage mushu rolls, and other animal-free fare that keeps a loyal stream of regulars coming back for more.

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8. Shizen 370 14th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Vegan sushi. Let it sink in first and then hear us out: it may seem like a ludicrous idea, but Shizen pulls it off flawlessly. Imagine egg-free noodles in savory ramen broth; green mango nigiri, piquant with sweet ume vinegar and avocado crema; and specialty rolls like the Open Invitation (pumpkin tempura, spiced burdock, shredded tofu, tapioca, and renkon chip for crunch) to create a veritable umami inception. In a minimalist, sleek wooden environs, this Mission hotspot is a vegan’s paradise.

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9. VeganBurg 1466 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (Upper Haight)

With a name like VeganBurg, you guessed it: this hip counter-service spot in Upper Haight is all about animal-free eats. The menu goes above and beyond what you’d typically expect of a vegan restaurant -- predictable sweet potato fries are replaced with seaweed fries, and each patty (GMO-free soy, sweet barbecued mushroom, or beetroot) satisfyingly captures the perfect balance of crunchiness and moist juiciness that you crave in a burger. With kid-friendly options and enthusiastic labels next to each item -- “rich source of Chromium!” and “loaded with Vitamin C and Potassium!” -- it’s a popular lunch joint, whether you’re in it to save the planet or trying to eat clean on a budget.

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10. Plant Café Organic 3352 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123 (The Marina)

Clean eats reign supreme at this Marina spot. While the menu definitely caters to vegetarian and vegan appetites (pro tip: regulars rave about the herbaceous Shiitake spring rolls and the roasted beet salad, decorated with shingles of fennel and a generous sprinkle of feta), Plant Café Organic happily serves meat options like miso chicken and fish tacos, deviating from the trend set by its more militant counterparts in the area. With a full juice bar and a modern, woodsy interior, it’s a great option for a low key, healthy lunch.

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11. Thai Idea Vegetarian 710 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (The Tenderloin)

At first glance, Thai food generally seems vegetarian friendly -- but dedicated herbivores are well aware that most traditional sauces are usually oyster- and fish-based. Which is why Thai Idea is a downright blessing: it captures all the lush flavor and spice of Thai cuisine while remaining devoutly vegetarian and vegan in practice. Those in Tenderloin with curry cravings won’t be disappointed by the piquant pumpkin broth, accompanied by your choice of vegan protein, crisp vegetables or tofu; likewise, the firecracker balls satisfy to such an extent that you won’t pine for actual ahi tuna. With warm mahogany-paneled walls and chic brass accents, it’s a great mellow dinner option for the dietarily restricted.