Guest article by Sara Binde.
The Best Vegan Restaurants in San Francisco
Vegans used to have trouble finding food to eat when traveling. Limited vegan options meant being stuck with bland salads and hummus for most meals.
Luckily, in the San Francisco Bay Area you’ll have the opposite problem. There’s an overwhelming number of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants here. You need a local guide to help you pick out the best vegan restaurants in San Francisco to patronize.
As someone who has lived in the area, in this guide I’ll give you a brief tour of vegan San Francisco, vegan Oakland and vegan San Jose. And don’t worry, none of the places I recommend here will break the bank. San Francisco is so expensive, but you don’t need to spend a fortune to eat varied and amazing vegan food there.
Before we dive into why these are the best vegan restaurants in San Francisco, I’ll give you an overview of the restaurants I picked.
- Thai Idea Vegetarian
- Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen
- Gracias Madre
- Nourish Café
- Samovar Tea Lounge
- CORE Kitchen
- Souley Vegan
- Good Karma
Now, let's see what it is that makes these restaurants stand out!
Best Vegan Food in Civic Center, San Francisco: Thai Idea
Thai Idea was the first restaurant my husband and I went to when we lived in San Francisco. And even though we tried lots more veg-friendly and vegan San Francisco restaurants after that, we always kept coming back here.
That’s a sure sign that Thai Idea Vegetarian is one of the best vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the restaurant isn’t completely vegan. However, all items on the menu can be made vegan, and most already are.
Thai Idea Vegetarian is located a few blocks south of the trendy Polk Gulch. It’s a safe area, but not too flashy in the way Union Square is.
There’s no need to waste your money at one of the pricier places to eat on the northern end of Polk street. Thai Idea is a flavorful and economical choice for lunch or dinner that’s just south of there.
On our first visit, we ordered the vegan satay chicken, the pumpkin curry, and the Thai Idea duck. All three were delicious and very satisfying.
Subsequent times, I’ve ordered the flaky fish cakes, the red curry, the massaman curry and the cashew nut entrée. I was never disappointed in the food. The appetizers are all very reasonably priced at around $10 USD.
Entrees typically range from $12 to $16 USD and are quite filling. They don’t come with rice, but rice costs just $3 to $4 more.
I loved coming here because it’s affordable, filling, friendly, not too far from Union Square and isn’t crowded. And of course, let’s not forget the nourishing and satisfying plant based food!
Best Vegan Food in the Tenderloin, San Francisco: Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen
One reason I love Ethiopian food is because it’s always vegan-friendly and always super cheap. I appreciate cuisines that pack a ton of flavor without the extra cost of pricy ingredients like truffles or saffron.
Looking for lots of flavor without spending a lot? My favorite place for this is Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen. You can easily get a meal for two people for less than $20 here.
Tadu is a hole-in-the-wall type of restaurant. It’s not super fancy, but the quality is outstanding. Its 4.7 stars and 460+ reviews on GoogleMaps can attest to that.
As with any Ethiopian restaurant, my husband and I prefer to order a veggie platter to share. The vegetarian combo includes Ethiopian staples like kik alicha, misir wot, gomen and alicha tikil gomen. A single platter was more than enough for the two of us!
Choosing the platter gives you the chance to taste most of the meat free dishes the restaurant offers. Compared with other Ethiopian restaurants nearby, this one doesn’t go too heavy on the salt.
The stretchy, tangy injera -- a fermented bread that’s the staple of every Ethiopian meal -- was very fresh. Gluten-free injera is available upon request, as well as other grains if you wish.
I admit, the area where Tadu is located looks a bit sketchy. But in the three years I lived there, I was never physically threatened.
This place is a good option for well-seasoned travelers looking for cheap and delicious Ethiopian cuisine. If you’re not used to big city life and grungy areas, Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen might not be the place for you
Tadu also has a location in Mission Bay, which is a safer area of the city than the Tenderloin. Admittedly, I haven’t personally been to that one. Alternatively, Cafe Romanat in Oakland offers yummy Ethiopian food in less intimidating surroundings.
Best Vegan Food in the Mission District, San Francisco: Gracias Madre
You can’t go to San Francisco and not experience a taste of Mexican food. The flavors of Mexico and of various countries in Central and South America are integral to California’s food culture.
Out of all the many options available, my favorite vegan Mexican food in San Francisco is from Gracias Madre. They also have two locations in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Compared with other places on this list and in the Mission District, Gracias Madre is a bit more expensive. Even so, it’s definitely one of my favorite restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
My husband and I have enjoyed a variety of Mexican offerings from their fully vegan menu, including tamales, tacos and more.
One reason I recommend Gracias Madre over cheaper places is its healthier approach to food and its extensive gluten-free options. Another reason is its reliability as a completely vegan restaurant serving Mexican food in San Francisco.
At other Mexican restaurants, even food that seems vegetarian (like beans or tortillas) isn’t guaranteed to be. Many Mexican dishes contain lard, which is quite a common cooking fat used in the cuisine.
Gracias Madre is also a prime spot to enjoy vegan brunch in the San Francisco Bay Area. They offer brunch on the weekends from 10am to 3pm. You can order items like mimosas, chilaquiles, smoothies and plantain French toast.
Out of all the vegan restaurants San Francisco has to offer, this one tops my list because I LOVE Mexican food and hanging out in the Mission District.
Best Vegan Food in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco: Veganburg
Some of the best vegan fast food in San Francisco is located in the Haight-Ashbury district. The area is worth visiting for its unique shops, street art and proximity to the expansive Golden Gate Park.
Once you’re done window shopping, stay in the neighborhood to enjoy a meal at the San Francisco location of Veganburg. By the way, they also have a restaurant in Singapore, in case you’re heading there soon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the avocado beetroot burger, and my husband has tried the creamy ‘shrooms and Hawaiian teriyaki burgers. You can order French fries with your burger, or lighten up your meal with roasted broccoli instead.
They also offer dessert options like soft serve ice cream and cheesecake. The vegan soft serve is the perfect way to complete your vegan fast food experience.
Their buns contain whole grains, and the toppings are generally wholesome. The food here definitely feels cleaner and lighter than at other fast food places.
Even so, Veganburg’s burgers, fries and ice cream tick all the boxes for vegan comfort food. Their burgers are perfectly messy but don’t squish out the sides like many veggie burgers do.
Inexpensive vegan food doesn’t get much better than this, thanks to Veganburg’s atmosphere, location and offerings. Try Veganburg, and I think you’ll agree it serves up some of the best vegan food San Francisco has to offer.
Best Vegan Food in Nob Hill, San Francisco: Nourish Café
San Francisco is known for its many entrepreneurs working in Starbucks cafés. You can’t leave the city without checking out the Internet café culture. Nourish Café is my favorite vegan café in San Francisco because of its stereotypical “granola” vibe.
Nourish vegan café shows its California roots by offering avocado toast, fresh juices and smoothie bowls. After your meal, indulge in a sweet such as a vegan muffin or a soft chocolate chip cookie.
While I haven’t tried that many of their offerings, I love the vibe, customer service and menu selections. Nourish focuses on wholesome plant-based food that’s minimally-processed and locally-sourced.
If you want to taste California-grown produce, I recommend the calming Nourish Café to enjoy the fresh food the Bay Area has to offer. In addition to their Nob Hill location, they also have a café in the Richmond District.
Best Vegan Food in SOMA, San Francisco: Samovar Tea Lounge
You’re in SOMA looking for a place to eat. My favorite place for vegan food in SOMA San Francisco is Samovar Tea Lounge. The restaurant is not completely vegan, but it has numerous vegan options and a wide selection of quality teas.
My favorites used to be the globally-inspired food and tea pairings from around the world. These included Russian, Japanese, Chinese and English-themed pairings.
However, my current recommendations are the vegan tempeh roll, the warm greens & tempeh salad and the harvest sandwich. It’s rare to find a restaurant that emphasizes tempeh so much on their menu, which is one of the reasons why I like it so much.
They've recently revamped the menu to be even more plant based, so I look forward to trying out their new offerings!
As for the teas, I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a wide variety of the ones on offer here. Everything from turmeric spice to blood orange pu-er to iced masala chai is perfection. If you don’t come here for lunch, at least enjoy the view of the Yerba Buena Gardens while sipping on a cup of tea or alcoholic drink.
Local Pro Tip
After a drink or meal at Samovar Tea Lounge, visit one of San Francisco’s privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) at 23 Geary/1 Kearny. The rooftop offers unique views of the San Francisco Bay Area landscape.
Best Vegan Food in Downtown Oakland: CORE Kitchen
The East Bay (Oakland, California) is just as vegan-friendly as San Francisco. You’re still spoiled for choice here, with a long list of great places to eat. If you’re in downtown Oakland (12 Street/Oakland City Center station), I recommend eating at CORE Kitchen.
Like Nourish Café in San Francisco, CORE Kitchen only serves meals between the hours of 8:30 am and 3 pm. They’re proud to be a “produce-only eatery” that focuses on whole foods.
But don’t be fooled by the “produce-only” part. Their delicious options also include quinoa, beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds to satisfy your hunger. It’s hard to recommend specific dishes here, as the menu changes with the seasons.
Best Vegan Food in Jack London Square, Oakland: Souley Vegan
Get your fill of vegan fried chicken, gumbo, grits, po’ boys, biscuits and more at Souley Vegan. This place is vegan comfort food heaven in Oakland.
I’ve only been to Souley Vegan once, but that was enough to get me hooked on this vegan soul food restaurant. I was fortunate to go with a group of gal pals, so I was able to try a variety of dishes from the sample platter.
The Southern fried tofu minis and cornbread were my favorites. However, everything else included was finger-lickin’ good too. The $28 combo platter includes a wide variety of dishes and is more than enough to feed two people.
Souley Vegan is also a popular place to come for vegan brunch or vegan breakfast in San Francisco. Sunday brunches include vegan brunch staples like tofu scramble, sweet potato waffles, gravy with biscuits and chick’n & waffles.
The restaurant is conveniently located near Jack London Square, a hub for events in Oakland. It’s open for brunch on Sundays and from lunch onwards Tuesday through Saturday (closed on Mondays).
Best Vegan Food in Downtown San Jose: Good Karma
Living as I did in San Francisco, where there are so many vegan options, I didn’t have much reason to go down to San Jose very often. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of great vegan food in San Jose, though.
My favorite restaurant (I visited twice in two days) was Good Karma. It’s my top pick for vegan food in downtown San Jose.
The restaurant’s full name is Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café. Their concept is a mix between a typical menu-based restaurant and a buffet.
You can choose whether you want one, two or three dishes, and they will serve it to you with your choice of gluten free grain (either rice or quinoa). They also offer à la carte dining like a traditional restaurant.
All the dishes I tasted were seriously delicious and packed a punch (or two!) of flavor. My favorites were the chile verde and the Jamaican jerk.
They also have a vegan late-night menu featuring mostly appetizers and desserts. Examples include various types of chips and dips, pie, and cookie sandwiches. The chocolate Mayan pie at Good Karma was definitely worth the $3.14.
As the name suggests, you can wash down your meal with a wide variety of beers, ciders, ales and other alcoholic drinks. While I haven’t tried them myself, the crowds that flock here in the evening would suggest that the drinks are as high quality as the food.
Vegan Restaurants San Francisco Map
Here's a map of all the restaurants reviewed in this article.
Other Vegan San Francisco Restaurants to Try
In addition to all my favorite San Francisco vegan restaurants described above, here are a few others that I've heard great things about and can't wait to try on my next visit:
About the Author
Sara Binde is a nutritionist, model, traveler, chef and weight loss warrior. At the age of 25, she has lived in 5 countries and visited 18. She dreams of traveling to all 7 continents and 195 countries one day. Sara shares weight management advice and globally inspired recipes on her website, Carob Cherub. Keep up to date with her on Pinterest and Facebook.
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