I can now cross San Francisco off my list of places to visit. But I am going to go ahead and put it back on because I want to go back! It may not top Newport, RI as my favorite city, but it is a close second.
I wish I had more (and better) pictures to show you of this wonderful city and the amazing food I found there. I did my research ahead of time, scouting out blogs, reviews and recommendations for where to find the best vegan food. Time was limited so I had to be choosy and there was no way I could eat at every place that I wanted to try.
You know you are serious about access to good food when you plan which hotel you stay at around the location of the local Whole Foods Market. This is not the first time we have used this maneuver when traveling. It was no lucky coincidence that the California St. WFM was literally across the street from our Holiday Inn on Van Ness. This proved extremely handy for everything from buying water and fruit for the hotel room to dashing out in the rain for a take-out dinner of sushi and vegan chocolate cake.
Gorgeous isn’t it?
If you are looking for incredible vegan food in San Francisco, below are my suggestions. I am aware that there are many more excellent restaurants (check out Happy Cow when you travel) but I can only talk about the places where I ate:
Herbivoire: This was the first restaurant we ate at and we HAD to get the vegan nachos. Before I quit dairy, nachos were one of our favorite and most fun foods to go out for. In RI we do enjoy them occasionally at the Garden Grill or make them at home. Herbivoire’s were the best! The cheese was melty like velveeta. There was an abundance of pinto beans, salsa and guacamole. Absolutely delicious. I ordered the Green Papaya Salad which was built around a ton of veggies, tofu and a ginger-tamarind dressing. Chris got the Lemongrass Noodles that came with charbroiled vegetables and tofu. There is something on this menu for everybody. You want healthy food, you’ve got it. You want junk food, it’s there too. Everything was awesome but the best part was the German Chocolate Cake. Too full from dinner, we got it to go and ate this cake after walking back to the hotel. This cake was the best cake I have ever had. I definitely wanted to come back to this restaurant but we never made it happen.
Millennium: Otherwise known as the mecca for all vegans. I was skeptical after reading the fancy-schmancy food descriptions on their menu. But I had heard too much about how this was a must for unbelievable upscale, gourmet vegan food. We started with the House-Made Pickled Vegetables that included carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and onions. Excellent, tangy and tasty, however I regretted not getting the Pistachio Stuffed Dates that I noticed the couple at the next table enjoy. Next time for sure. We were brought fresh bread with a chickpea onion spread. For my entrée I got the Creole Smoked Tempeh that came with a “maple, caraway, mustard and coriander seed glaze, horseradish-Dijon cashew cream, winter root vegetable, collard greens, and brown rice jambalaya, pickled carrot, fennel and watercress salad.” The flavors were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. In a good way, of course. Their menu is always changing, so I could see myself being a regular here if I didn’t live on the opposite coast. In fact, looking at their menu now, I already see new options. Chris ordered a tempura tofu that came with risotto, mushrooms and kumquat, among other things that I can’t recall and which I do not see anymore on the menu. Choosing one dessert to share was tricky but we settled on the Chocolate Almond Midnight. This was described as an “almond cashew crust, chocolate filling, espresso ganache, white chocolate mousse, raspberry sauce, almond bark.” WOW. I have no words to describe it; all I can say is don’t question me and just go eat there. They also had a German chocolate cake, from which I restrained myself from ordering as an accompaniment to the Chocolate Almond Midnight since I was quite full. Another reason to go back I told myself.
Cafe Del Soul: We ended up here for lunch the day we rented a car to visit Muir Woods to see the redwood trees, north of San Francisco. I love these little “health food” cafes that you can always find just about any place you travel with a little preliminary googling. See the size of that salad? Now that is my kind of salad. Order it with your choice of chicken or tofu. Cheese or not. Lots of delicious toppings like avocado, beans, hummus, fresh chopped veggies. Yummy dressings too! They also had smoothies, fresh organic juices, wraps and rice or quinoa dishes. Pure, clean, real, feel-good food. They also have wonderful homemade candied walnuts. It is in these types of cafes where I always wind up daydreaming… we NEED more of these places in Rhode Island. Why is it so difficult to get good wholesome healthy food at most restaurants? There must be others who feel the same way I do. What a joy it would be to own and run a place like this…and then the wheels start spinning in my head… hmmmm.
Plant: On the one glorious day of sunshine we were blessed with, we ate lunch outside at Plant. Lots of options, not all vegan. I ordered the Plant Burger on sourdough on the recommendation of Zen Habits. I don’t typically go for veggie burgers, but it did not disappoint. Neither did the raw chocolate brownie I got for dessert. Chris had a seafood salad sandwich on sourdough and a vegan chocolate peanut butter cupcake. Delicious food enjoyed under the gentle warming rays of the midday sun. What more could anybody want? Pure heaven.
Tcho: A local chocolate factory with free tours and chocolate tastings. This was so much fun! (even though you had to wear a hair covering). I truly appreciate these small companies who source their chocolate ethically and go beyond fair trade to partner directly with their cacao bean farmers. You’ll learn how chocolate starts as a bitter cacao bean and is fermented and roasted into the magical treasure we all know and love. At the end of the tour you’ll sample various chocolates and notice and discuss how they vary in their undertones: fruity, nutty, earthy, floral, bright and chocolatey. Did you know that chocolate flavors differ based on which region of the world they come from?
Whole Foods Market: We were in and out of here constantly. They have all sorts of options on their salad bar, packaged prepared foods to grab and go, bulk trail mixes, fresh cut-up fruit, pretty much anything you could want. Except for oatmeal for breakfast (their breakfast bar was sadly weak). My eyes caught the vegan donuts, scones and muffins but I didn’t try any. I’m an oatmeal, nut and fruit person in the morning. What we did for breakfast was go to Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee shops where I got oatmeal, fruit and a soy cappuccino or a green tea matcha latte.
They say you have to ride the cable cars. In my opinion they were way overrated. Maybe that’s because ours broke down after 2 minutes and we had to get out and walk. I love walking and did not mind this. Call me crazy but I get energized with walking up steep hills. You really feel the burn in your legs and butt in ways that don’t happen with walking on level ground; I would be awfully fit if I lived here.
Be sure to take the Alcatraz tour and visit the sea lions at Pier 39.
From my observations, San Francisco lived up to its reputation as being one of the most health-conscious cities in America. I could see myself fitting in there with like-minded people. Lots of chocolate cake and some nachos aside, I think I ate pretty well overall, keeping the fruit and veggie intake heavy and eating mindfully. Most importantly I was thrilled to have the experience of exploring a beautiful, unfamiliar environment and eating fun, delicious foods at new restaurants. If you’ve been to San Francisco, I would love to hear where you’ve eaten and your opinions…. because I know I’ll be going back.