San Francisco is one of the few cities in the United States where being a vegetarian isn’t much of a struggle. Not to say that you won’t have trouble finding several vegetarian options on some expensive restaurants in the city-you will-but you’ll also a few vegetarian-only paradises right within your grasp.
Listed and described below are a few vegetarian hot spots in San Francisco that you should be sure not to miss. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, these places are really worth a visit or two.
Rainbow Grocery is located on 1745 Folsom Street in San Francisco. Its open everyday from 9a-9pm and has a parking lot on site. Rainbow is an all vegetarian grocery store- yes, its true! That means no meat, at all. Sorry to all you vegans out there- it is not a vegan grocery store, that would be asking too much, but there are tons of vegan options. Let me take you on a tour through the store.
When you first walk in you will come upon the bulk food section- this contains bulk spices, coffee, grains (containers and containers of different rice and other grains such as quinoa, oatmeal, bulgur, etc.), flours of all varieties, pastas, nuts, dried beans, granola (about 20 different kinds of granola to suit every taste), oils, butters (peanut, almond, sesame, etc.). It is very possible that you will never have known this vast amount of variety existed, but here it is all available in front of your nose.
Then you will come upon the fresh food produce area of Rainbow Grocery- here you will find tons of fresh produce, fruits and vegetables alike. While this area is not nearly as impressive as the bulk food aisles, it gets the job done. There is an adequate amount of organic food, although not an abundant amount.
Next comes the cheese and tofu aisle- I always make a point to try the cheese of the day that is offered in small bites. Here you can find many varieties of tofu, tempeh, soyrizo (soy chorizo), fake lunch meets, gluten, textured vegetable protein, tofu hotdogs/sausages, etc. They have quite a variety of cheeses, both high end and not, available for purchase as well.
Rainbow has aisles of packaged foods and baked goods as well- including cereals, flours, snack items, breads, cookies, canned beans, pastas, etc. Here you will find an abundance of vegan options as well. For those of you who love organic bath, body, cleaning, and hair products, Rainbow is the place for you. You can purchase these items in bulk or in individual sizes.
The best part of Rainbow, let me tell you, is not having to walk through a grocery store and smell meat at different turns. It’s a great feeling. Its also great knowing that everything in the store is vegetarian, and you don’t have to sweat while looking through every ingredient in a food item (although I still sometimes do because of habit). As I said, if you are not vegetarian or vegan, you still have much to gain by shopping at Rainbow. You will find the most basic and the most obscure items that are required for cooking and baking. The down side is that yes, Rainbow is a bit on the expensive side. If its your first trip there and you’re awed by the vast variety of foods, don’t expect to leave paying under $100 (unless you are extremely disciplined, which I am not). I still pay around $100-$150 on each visit, but I get my money’s worth for sure.
Vegetarian Chinese Restaurants
San Francisco boasts a variety of Vegetarian Chinese restaurants, all of which I have tried. My favorite by FAR is Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant on Washington and Stockton in Chinatown. This place, which is a bit of a hole in the wall, is a gem. Here you will find a huge menu of all vegetarian food items. As such, you will have trouble choosing your meal, so let me point you to a few of my favorites (although know that almost anything you order will be good). In the Appetizer section, the potstickers are amazing (a tad greasy, yes, but amazing). The taro rolls and taro puffs are also great, if you like taro. For entrees, the Lucky Creation Chow Mein is great- Hong Kong Style, which means the noodles are crispy. The Eggplant, Tofu and Bell Peppers stuffed with Taro is also great, and I highly recommend it. One great option if you feel like cooking Chinese at home is to drop by Lucky and pick up the ready made gluten and add it to your own meal. Their gluten is so fantastic that it will add great flavor and substance to your meal. Lastly, I recommend getting the vegetarian pork buns in the dim sum section- they’re great. Lucky Creation, by the way, is dirt cheap. You’ll be hard pressed to spend $30 on a feast, but will probably spend in the $20s.
If you would like to try some of the other vegetarian Chinese restaurants in the city, try Bok Choy Garden in the Richmond, Golden Era Vegetarian in the Tenderloin, or Shangri-La Vegetarian Chinese in the Outer Sunset. These restaurants are okay…nothing to rave about except for the fact that they are all vegetarian.
Vegetarian Contemporary Restaurants
Vegetarian San Franciscans are also lucky to have two great vegetarian, upscale, delicious restaurants nearby. Although you most likely have heard much about them, these famous restaurants are Greens, at Fort Mason Center, and Millennium, in Civic Center area. While you might have bought their cookbooks and tried the recipes yourself, nothing will compare to going there for a meal.
Greens is my favorite- so delicious-and right at the water’s edge. You won’t leave without spending at least $50 for two, but it is worth it. They offer fresh, often organic, and of course vegetarian meals. If you don’t enjoy wine, like me, try the pinot noir grape juice at $6 a glass- it is to die for. I won’t say more because you have probably already heard of Greens, if not been there already.
Millennium isn’t quite as famous as Greens, and I would say its not quite as good either. Millennium boasts that it can convert omnivores to vegetarians in one meal- and while I haven’t seen it happen, I wouldn’t be too surprised. Millennium is extremely creative and can easily show meat eaters how it is possible to have interesting, filling, and delicious vegetarian and vegan meals (although this shouldn’t be a surprise). The meals are all very beautifully laid out, but the portions are small. Again, don’t expect to leave without dropping at least $50 for two. Try going here before a night at the Opera or a Broadway Musical, as it is close-by.
Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant
Haven’t heard of Vegetarian Japanese, or didn’t think it existed? Well, it does, and its right in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco at 18th and Valencia. If you have always wished you could try Japanese cuisine, but haven’t been able to get anything but California rolls, here is your chance. Cha-Ya has a huge menu (too huge, in my opinion) of tons of Japanese veggie food. You will be amazed. I have tried much of the sushi here and always been impressed- creative and delicious. While I can’t say much for tempura, they have interesting tempura as well. Lastly, don’t leave without trying the vegan chocolate cake- it is to die for…made with tofu, but you would never guess.
Papalote Mexican Grill
While Papalote isn’t a vegetarian only restaurant, I can’t help but mention it here. If you love Mexican, you will love Papalote- they have a very creative menu with more vegetarian options than you will find at most Mexican restaurants. Located at 24th and Valencia, with a very vegetarian-friendly menu and philosophy, you will find grilled tofu burritos, chorizo burritos, veggie fajitas, vegan mole, etc. Expensive for a Mexican grill, but not when you look at the quality of the ingredients and the care involved.
Vegetarian Dinners to Order
Jane Peal Cousiniere
Too tired to cook, and don’t want to leave your house? Pizza and greasy chinese is no longer your only option! Jean Peal offers gourmet gegetarian dinners delivered to your home. Three course dinners for two available for delivery to you. You can choose what meal you would like the day prior its desired delivery date. Menus are available online at http://www.pealcuisine.com/aboutfood.html or you can call them to order at 415.826.2133. All meals for two cost $30 and include free delivery.
While the above are my favorite Vegetarian and Vegan hot spots in San Francisco, if you have tried them and are looking for more, here are a few others that didn’t quite make the top list but are still worth trying:
1) Herbivore Restaurant- 21st and Valencia. Vegan and Vegetarian food from different cuisines. Moderately priced.
2) Alive! 1972 Lombard Street. Raw food Vegetarian and Vegan restaurant. Expensive.
3) Udupi Palace- 21st and Valencia. Vegan and Vegetarian Indian food. Moderately priced.
4) Ananda Fuara – 9th and Market. Vegan and Vegetarian food from different cuisines. Low priced.
5) Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant- Kirkham and 11th. Vegetarian Chinese food. Moderately priced.