Best Vegan places in San Francisco?
March 15, 2005 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Help us celebrate a joyous reunion! What are some of the best restaurants for vegetarians and vegans in San Francisco?

One of our best friends just moved out there to be with his beloved girlfriend, and we want to get a gift certificate for them to go out to dinner somewhere nice. They're both vegan, so anywhere with mainly vegan options (or easily veganized vegetarian options) would be most welcome. I'd like to spend $30-$50, so places that aren't too expensive but aren't too cheap would be best.

This has been a long-awaited dream for two of the most special people we know, and we really want to help them celebrate in style!
posted by shirobara to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Greens (in Fort Mason) is one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country. Beautiful views of the bay as well. Not so cheap, though.
posted by obloquy at 9:50 AM on March 15, 2005

I love Millennium, but I think that might be a bit pricey for your purposes. For something a little less expensive, check out Herbivore. Super yum, good wine.
posted by Specklet at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2005

Millennium is another amazing place, and they offer gift certificates from their web page. Also, there are two Herbivore vegan restaurants in the city (one on Valencia & one on Divisadero), which would be a much cheaper option that either of the above.
posted by obloquy at 10:04 AM on March 15, 2005

oh, or exactly what Specklet just said!
posted by obloquy at 10:04 AM on March 15, 2005

Other than Greens mentioned above, many of the good vege places in san francisco are mid-range. I really like Herbivore on Valencia st. mainly because it doesnt *feel* like a vegan place (last time I had dinner there I had Gnocchi along with red wine)

But if you want to try something interesting and different, I'd recommend Cafe Gratitude: It's a raw foods place but also the owner has designed the place around some new-age themes and a "game" that he created which involves finding your path to self-fulfillment (of course) Definitely a treat.

For a downscale lunch (I know you didnt ask this) I have always been a huge fan of Ananda Fuara on Market St. Its basically run by a cult (the mostly-white women are all dressed in saris; they have a small bookshelf of spiritual literature) but they also happen to make great vegan food and so the place is packed.
posted by vacapinta at 10:12 AM on March 15, 2005

Millenium seemed like you pay a lot of money for not a whole lot of food.
posted by cmonkey at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2005

i was vegan, and was a resident of the bay area, and these two circumstances happened to coexist for some time.

my opinion on "vegan-only" restaurants is that they mostly suck. I'd much rather get a vegan meal that just happens to be vegan at a place that has a lot of variety on the menu. The reason for this is when you go to an vegan restaurant is that they usually decide "HEY, CHECK IT OUT, YOU'RE EATING MEAT -- BUT IT'S NOT MEAT WHOA CRAZY"; which usually ends up being a dish that'd be better if they didn't bother trying to make it approximate a meat dish in the first place.

i can't think of fancy restaurants offhand, because i was mostly either a poor student or a cheap bastard or both during the time i lived there. i'd suggest reviewing some of the review archives of the sf bay guardian or the sf weekly or the chron.

as far as it goes, i can't really recommend any of the "vegan-only" places in the city, because I either haven't been there, or I have, and the food was unforgiveably bland (some "vegan" places are also macrobiotic or whatever you'd want to call those folks that hate salt and any sort of spice, really) or otherwise unremarkable.

maybe someone else who goes out to nice restaurants in the bay area regularly can recommend you something that'll be workable.

(my favorite places with vegan food were: Tu Lan and Jay's Cheesesteaks -- the latter has a kickass seitan cheese-steak, which i'd get absent the cheese, that i *still* buy when I go there, even though i eat meat now.)
posted by fishfucker at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2005

I used to love Golden Era when I lived in San Francisco. Almost everything is vegan. Having said that, if it is not absolutely essential to you that the gift certificate cover the entire cost of the meal I would go for Millennium, 50 bucks would go a long way towards giving your friends a really special evening.
posted by teleskiving at 10:47 AM on March 15, 2005

As a confirmed omnivore who has never met a member of the family Animalia down upon which I wouldn't chow, I can heartily endorse Greens. Great food, lovely view. And I like Herbivore, too.
posted by padraigin at 11:17 AM on March 15, 2005

Minako has both vegan and non-vegan sushi options, if they're comfortable in a not-entirely-vegan place. They've got amazing vegetarian/vegan sushi, though, not just your basic cucumber-avocado roll. I don't think they do gift certificates, but it may be a nice recommendation for them/anyone else reading this thread.
posted by judith at 11:31 AM on March 15, 2005

You could consider asking mutual friends if they want to contribute, that way you could cover the entire cost at one of the upscale places. Sorry for being obvious, but you mentioned helping them to celebrate in style and I think that's a wonderful idea!
posted by teleskiving at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2005

Everyone has mentioned the major Vegetarian/Vegan restaurants already, but here's a review of all of them in one post :)

-Herbivore (2 locations: Valencia/21st and Divisadero/Fell): medium price, slow service, excellent brunch. Recommended 4 out of 5.
-Golden Era (O'Farrell/Leavenworth): medium price, crappy service, bad neighborhood, good food. Recommended 3 out of 5.
-Millennium (Geary/Jones): expensive, good service, excellent food, moderate neighborhood. Recommended 5 out of 5.
-Greens (Fort Mason): Never been, but I hear it's excellent.
-Ananda Fuara (Market/Larkin): medium to low price, stoned wait staff, pretty good food, excellent dessert and soups. Recommended 3 out of 5 OR 5 out of 5 if you're just having dessert and soup :)
-Geranium (Cortland/Moultrie): never been, but I hear it's fancy and good. The one time I tried to go they were closed on a random weeknight.
-Maggie Mudd (Cortland/Gates): HALLELUJIA! Vegan Ice Cream! (Their rocky road uses vegan marshmallows!)
-Cafe Gratitude (Harrison/20th): medium to low price, good service, medium food. I'm not crazy about raw foods, so I'm the wrong one to ask. I don't think raw and vegan are synonymous.

Other resources:
This is a great list of many of the places serving veggie food.

Some of my favorite non-veggie places that do good veg are:
-Ichiraku sushi has excellent veggie rolls
-Hanabi sushi has tons of veggie rolls and pieces
-Love 'n Haight (Lower Haight) has a huge variety of fake (veggie) meats. Try the "veggie duck".
-Rosamunde sausages has the BEST vegan sausages, but they cook them on a meat grill
-Zeitgeist has very yummy veggie burgers. You can ask that they cook them on the inside (veggie) grill.
-Jay's Cheesesteak has seitan "steak". You can get a Cheeseless Seitan Cheesesteak with no mayo. They cook on the same grill as meat.
-Ali Baba's in the Lower Haight has great falafel, hummus, etc. Remember that even though Tahini is white, there's no dairy in it!
-Atlas Cafe in the Misson has an extensive veggie menu, but it's more of a cafe and less of a restaurant.
-All Indian places have vegan options. Palak Aloo is the spinach dish without cheese, Masala vegetable dishes are vegan, ask for your nan without butter or ghee.

Can you guess I'm hungry?
posted by bikergirl at 12:07 PM on March 15, 2005

More specific piggyback question if I may - are there any Buddhist vegetarian places in San Francisco? Seems like a no-brainer for Chinatown but I couldn't find one last time I was there.
posted by Gortuk at 2:54 PM on March 15, 2005

Greens is run by Buddhists, Gortuk. It's pretty Cali cuisine, however. Speaking again of Greens, It's far more affordable (and equally scenic and delicious) for Sunday Brunch, but make your reservations extra early.
posted by obloquy at 5:15 PM on March 15, 2005

I'm of the eat everything type, but I have gone to Greens a few times with my vegetarian mom and I'll admit it's okay even for an omnivore like myself (at least every once in a long while). And every vegetarian or vegan I've been with has loved it. The view is indeed awesome, and it'd be a great special occasion place.

Generally, though, I have to agree with ff above. The cases in which vegan and vegetarian foods irk me the most are when they try to imitate or replicate meat dishes. I've tried a LOT and I'm convinced it's just not possible to make vegan/vegetarian dishes that will even get close to what meat tastes like. I'm not saying vegetables can't be as good as meat - they certainly can be, but only if you allow the veggies themselves to shine. I wish vegetarian and vegan places would spend more time making great vegetable dishes that don't try to be something else! Note that Greens is excepted from this complaint; I don't recall any meat imitation there at all.

Gortuk - there is a Tibetan restaurant on Lombard called Lhasa Moon. I don't know anything about the owners or whatnot, but it's probably as Buddhist as a place can get. :) They do serve meat, but they also have a very extensive vegetarian selection that tastes great. I actually went there with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who is a high-ranking Buddhist monk and my mom's teacher, and he approved. Then again, he's an extremely accomodating guy - for what it's worth, I too thought the place was good. Try the momos!
posted by swank6 at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2005

Oh, and let me add one more note about Greens. It is indeed a vegetarian (not vegan) place, and many of the menu items have cheese and/or dairy. I think they are pretty good about leaving it out upon request though.
posted by swank6 at 8:39 PM on March 15, 2005

Ah, San Francisco! I'm going to side with those who steer you toward great, inexpensive omnivore places that happen to have great vegan food on their menu. Q comes to mind, as does Squat & Gobble, CrepeVine, Truly Mediterranean, Chow.
posted by squirrel at 10:04 PM on March 15, 2005

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