I was initially surprised by how disproportionately vegan restaurants were concentrated in the Bay Area. While I expected the city to be densely-packed with plant-based eateries, I found most of the well-known vegan restaurants were in East Bay (#Berkley&Oaklandftw). When I moved here permanently from an increasingly vegan-friendly New York City, I was disappointed, to say the least. In the two years since, I’ve gladly eaten my way through most of the best vegan spots in town (and happily eating my way through the rest). TBH, San Francisco is still surprisingly less vegan than you’d imagine, but there are some real gems that I solemnly swear by. If you’ve got 48 hours to dine your little heart out, I’ve got your vegan guide to San Francisco. Here’s how to spend your first 24 hours eating the best vegan food in SF.
Breakfast/Brunch: Gracias Madre
Oh. My. God. Becky. Look at that plantain French toast! One of my biggest gripes about SF has been the lack of dedicated brunch menus that feature some real, decadent, I-feel-like-I-gained-five-pounds food. Salads are nice and all, but really—gimme something I have to feel guilty about later, ya know? Vegans like to enjoy the occasional gluttony, too. Lucky for me because this Mexican, all-organic, vegan restaurant serves up the best French Toast you’ve been dying for. Topped with coconut whipped cream, tons of maple syrup, and a side of fruit, it’s literally what I dream about indulging in on lazy Saturday mornings. Other breakfast faves include: the chilaquiles and chimichangas (but don’t be afraid to peep the regular menu and try the totopos with vegan chorizo—their house-made chips are everything—and/or the gorditas). GMF Tip: Book a res here before you head in by calling in or using Open Table.
After that big girl brunch, you’ll want to mozy around town for a bit and let your intestines do their thing. If you want to stay in the hood, there’s plenty to see and do in the Mission. Otherwise, you can slowly make your way through the city towards Hayes Valley, where you’ll find plenty of shopping and nearby parks to float in and out of. And when the snack attack hits, head over to Jannah, formerly Yaya Cuisine. This Iraqi eatery is the perfect spot to unwind and recharge. The service is always warm, and you may meet the lovely patron of the restaurant, who has never failed to make me feel perfectly at home. I particularly love to settle into the back booths, which are made uber comfy with pillows and Iraqi hangings adorning the walls. For noms, my go-to is the mezze platter, which includes unlimited heapfuls of fresh pita and three dips, plus tabouleh and house pickles. (The mama ghanoush, zuzu ghanoush, and muhammara are highly recommended!) I recently found out that their baklava is vegan (!!!), and it’s a must-have with a side of mint tea. With San Francisco’s gloomy weather, it’s pretty much the best way to spend an afternoon. GMF Tip: You probably won’t need it, but make a res by calling in or on Open Table.
Once you’ve refueled, you can either head over to SF’s famed Golden Gate Park, which is nearby. You can also hop on the bus (Number 43, on Masonic Street) and go to the Presidio, a former military military base and now one of San Francisco’s most visited parks. It’s the perfect spot to take your IG-worthy shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach and visit the outdoor art gallery. Make your way to Haight-Ashbury, also known as the birthplace of the ‘60s hippie movement for dinner at VeganBurg, the second outlet for the Singapore-based chain. Because who doesn’t love a freakin’ delicious burger, amirite? My faves here are the Mustang Relish (add cheese + bacon). But definitely take a look at their seasonal burger, which, in my experience has always been drool-worthy. Don’t be tempted too much by their desserts and milkshakes (unless you’re a two-dessert kinda gal, which is totally supported by us) because your bomb vegan dessert is a hop, skip, and a jump away. GMF: If you’re a local, sign up for their rewards program. And beware of the $5 burger/free chick’n tenders deals coming your way…
Vegan Dessert: The Ice Cream Bar
If you’re a sucker for old-school charm like me, you’ll love this retro-styled soda fountain in Cole Valley, just a few blocks away from the Haight. The Ice Cream Bar is also perfect for drinkers and non-drinkers, alike, because you can opt for a boozy dessert here if that suits your fancy. Admittedly, their vegan options aren’t extensive the last I checked, but they do have some solid vegan ice cream you can have on its own or in an old-fashioned float. GMF Tip: Your best bet is to ask what’s vegan here. I had a serious hankering for an ice cream sandwich last time, but, alas, they didn’t have any vegan cookies. They may have added some options since I was there last, as well as new flavors for ice cream.
Feature photo courtesy of Gracias Madre.
Foram is a writer and editor who can’t believe she spent most of her life as a picky eater. She’s been with GMF since 2014, as the former NYC editor and now as a regular contributor. A Texas expat and former New Yorker currently living in San Francisco, Foram went vegan in 2015, while simultaneously uncovering the best veg-friendly spots in the city and around the world. She aims to eat at sustainable restaurants that use ethically-sourced ingredients and believes giving back to the community is paramount to a more harmonious world. Also, hot sauce and dessert.