Fishless sushi. Meatless Mex. Those are unlikely culinary word pairings, indeed, and the kind that usually make up just a few items on a menu – not the entire thing. But we’re lucky to reside where such alternative cooking feats thrive a BART ride away. Whether you’re strictly a plant eater or not, eschewing meat is easy when you find the right place. Fortunately, San Francisco is blessed with plenty of esteemed vegetarian and vegan restaurants that will make even the most dedicated carnivore a convert, at least for the occasional meal out. In the mood for fine dining or casual fare? The eateries listed below know how to woo without stocking up on things that go moo.
Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
370 14th St., San Francisco, 6-minute walk from 16th St. Mission Station.
Seaweed-laden creativity is the key at Shizen, where despite long waits, patrons return for more sushi sans the guilt. In a striking rustic-chic dining room with high ceilings and surrounding woodwork, the menu offers so much more than a lonely rolled up cucumber or avo slice. Colorful presentations packing a full array of veggie roll combos, fried tofu, fish-looking nigiri alternatives and ramen come out in bold presentations and big quantities. Your taste buds will thank you. And so will Nemo.
2211 Mission St., San Francisco, 5-minute walk from 16th St. Mission Station.
The Bay Area knows how to do Mexican and taquerias well, but this is the spot that’s been getting vegans to say muchos gracias in the Mission since 2009. Organic, “plant-based” Mexican fare and a full bar with cocktails lures those avoiding carne asada or pollo but seeking a Mex fix just as filling. There’s the enchiladas con mole with mushrooms and cashew cheese or the tamale filled with butternut squash. With handmade tortillas and seasonal ingredients from the owners’ organic farm, chips and guac abound.
1298 Market St., San Francisco, 2-minute walk from Civic Center/UN Plaza Station.
And then there was the not-so-traditional but famous tofu “neatloaf dinner” served with mashed potatoes and gravy. Inspired by the spiritual teachings of Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, Ananda Fuara means “Fountain of Delight” and showers its patrons with the delights of tofu and spices in various forms at its casual and light-filled downtown location. Wraps, sandwiches and samosas make up the bulk of the vegetarian menu, but don’t forget the brunch with its array of eggs and sweets (try the vegan gingerbread pancakes).
762 Valencia St., San Francisco, 8-minute walk from 16th St. Mission Station.
1686 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 10-minute walk from Downtown Berkeley Station.
Vegan Japanese food finds a home on Valencia in the Mission and on Shattuck in Berkeley. At the cozy restaurant in the heart of the Mission, light and fresh meals make their way out to you in the hands of sweet and un-hipster elders keeping it simple. Veggie rolls, bowls of tofu curry and soba are carefully dotted with sauces, edamame and plenty of pea shoots. Expect a parade of colors that’s ultimately flavorful and filling without that dreaded food-coma feel.
Golden Era Vegan
395 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, 5-minute walk from Civic Center/UN Plaza Station.
Vietnamese cuisine is already beloved for its typically fresh and healthy nature. Taking it all to a whole other level, Golden Era does it vegan: fried egg-less rolls and vegan pho are go-tos. Then there are the Asian claypot stews, vermicelli bowls and Asian wraps. A surprise last bite? Golden Era prides itself on its vegan desserts and cakes, like the traditional mango sticky rice or the stacked Oreo cake.