The stigma against plant-based diets has officially become a thing of the past. And thanks to the endless options for great vegan, vegetarian, and plant-lover-friendly food in San Diego, there’s pretty much no reason not to jump on the bandwagon (even if it’s just one day per week).
Whether you’re a hardcore vegan vet, just cutting down your meat intake, or simply not in the mood for something that once moo’d, you’ll be just fine in SD.
It’s not uncommon to hear echoes of “I am Whole” or “I am Content” as you sit at a communal table in the bright, calm space that is Café Gratitude in Little Italy. These affirmations of positivity happen to be the name of the dishes on the menu, but the folks behind the food guarantee that you’ll feel that way upon leaving (just kidding — they don’t actually guarantee that… but you will). Also, keep on the lookout for the one and only Jason Mraz while you’re there. Little-known fact: he owns an avocado farm in San Diego County and is a partner in Café Gratitude!
Peace Pies in Ocean Beach and Encinitas is the perfect spot for new vegans craving their old favorites or for anybody looking for some good ol’ comfort food. They’ve veganized everything from cheesecake to quesadillas, and it’s all so good even your pickiest friends won’t be able to complain about the lack of cheese or meat. If you’re a first-timer, you can’t leave without a slice of the strawberry cheesecake — it’s a classic. But the Mystical Mushroom Quesadilla is one of the best vegan meals in town. Fitt Tip: you can also find them at area farmers markets, so check their website locations, times, and days.
Thanks to its unfinished wood walls, communal tables, succulents, and an extensive local beer list, Grains on Adams Ave. is a hipster vegan’s dream come true. And while they’ve got awesome entrée options like a jackfruit “pork” banh mi, the appetizers are the real stars of the menu here. The deep-fried mushroom calamari and buffalo cauliflower apps go perfectly with a round of beers and a few friends (vegan or not).
Nestled on Highway 101 in Encinitas, EVE has been serving tasty vegan cuisine and happy vibes since opening its doors. You’ll find superfood smoothies, cold-pressed juices, local kombucha, Instagram-worthy buddha bowls, and a relaxed space to grab a bite and hang with pals. Feeling epic? Order the popular Legendary Hero, a buddha bowl with braised kale, brussel sprouts, beets, hemp seed, brown rice, and more. And heck, add jackfruit for that extra pop of color.
Veganic Thai Cafe is a cozy spot in University Heights that’s serving killer vegan dishes with a Thai flare. Locals swear by Veganic’s mock “duck” in any of their dishes, but be sure to order it with the Drunken Noodles at least once. They’ve also got pumpkin curry (#fall) and fried bananas with vegan ice cream, because there’s always room for dessert, right?
Think all vegans are earthy hippie types who sit in drum circles and drink wheatgrass shots? Then, you’d be wrong. In South Park, you’ll find (possibly the only) heavy metal music playing, craft cocktail serving vegan food restaurant, KINDRED. As you enjoy your Fried and Pickled (fried pickles and buffalo cauliflower) or Wizard Bowl (kale salad with all the garnishes) under The Beast (the mythical wolf/snake/skull totem on the wall), you’ll wonder if this place is a dream. Trust us — you’ll be back more than a few times.
Imagine sitting on a roof deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean while fit yogis swing from aerial yoga hammocks nearby and happy shoppers peruse a boutique full of Fair Trade and Mother Earth-friendly clothes and gifts. Now, imagine enjoying this environment while eating buckwheat breakfast crepes or stacks of pancakes topped with strawberries, bananas, coconut cream, and chocolate. You’ve just transported yourself to Trilogy Sanctuary in La Jolla. Trilogy was created as a space to nurture balance and inspire people to lead a healthy life — and yoga + buckwheat crepes seems like the best way.
They’ll be the first to say it: Donna Jean on Fifth Ave. is not a “health food” restaurant. They are simply dedicated to serving craveable meals made with the best quality, plant-based ingredients. That dedication shows in dishes like the Harissa Strozzapreti with spicy beer cheese and the Salisbury Tempeh, both of which are completely meat-free and seriously decadent. Not to mention, the patio at this Bankers Hill hot spot is the perfect place to split a plate of Nashville Hot Shrooms with a sweetie.
The Clairemont Mesa/Kearny Mesa neighborhood is known as a hot spot for Asian cuisine. And Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion Café does the neighbors right with hearty portions of your favorite Chinese, Japanese, and Thai meals while holding strong to their veggie roots. Our favorites include Pad Thai (get it with the “chikn” option) and the Caterpillar sushi roll (think mushrooms, yams, and avocado). Fitt Tip: they don’t serve sushi rolls until after 5pm and their weekly happy hour (3-6pm daily) is on point! You can also find them in North Park and La Jolla (coming soon).
Plumeria in University Heights is proof that vegetarian food can be upscale. If you need a date idea, this Thai restaurant has the perfect plates. From the mint-infused water to the perfectly-blended jasmine and brown rice with every order, no attention to detail is left behind. Plus, Plumeria is green in more ways than one. You can place a to-go order and they’ll take $1 off if you bring your own containers!
Head north to Encinitas for some casual and comfortable vegetarian fare at Lotus Cafe. Their doors and juice bar has been open since 2009, so you could say they have a good thing going. Grab a green juice, huevos rancheros, or an acai bowl for breakfast then head out to catch some world-class surfing just a block away. We know you’ll be hungry after your board meeting, so head back for a sandwich or salad to refuel. And they’re open until 9pm, so technically you could have your dinner there as well. We won’t tell anyone.
Jyoti-Bihanga is a tiny restaurant in Normal Heights that is decidedly un-cool. With old-school furniture and house plants that’ll remind you of your grandmother’s, this place is as charming as it gets. And their food is even better. Most people go for the “Neatloaf” that made this place famous with locals, but they stay for the vegan Chocolate Moussecake. They also offer an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Sundays that includes vegan whole wheat blueberry pancakes, French toast, and tofu scramble.
Civico 1845 is new Italian cooking in the heart of Little Italy. In addition to the traditional house-made pasta and classic meat sauces, they also have an entire section of their menu that is dedicated to vegan meals. Instead of trying to fool you with any assortment of the fake meat options (thanks for that), they opt for ravioli full of wild mushrooms and eggplant parmesan. Buon appetito!
Specialty donut shops are all the rage. And Nomad Donuts is at the top of the list. In fact, their donuts are so in demand that they just opened a new spot in North Park to serve all your donut needs. You’ll find the classics, like vanilla, chocolate, and maple donuts. But there’s also vegan options like strawberry jam mango guava, key lime prickly pear, and blueberry lavender available on a rotating menu. You know what they say, a donut a day keeps the doctor away! (Don’t quote us on that.)
Ranchos Cocina serves a full menu of traditional Mexican dishes, but they’re famous for their vegan and vegetarian options that go way beyond bean and cheese burritos. We’re talking vegan “carne asada” burritos, sweet potato quesadillas, and the best dang mole sauce you’ve ever had. You can’t really go wrong with anything at Ranchos, which makes this North Park spot the perfect place to take a crew of vegans and non-vegans alike.
The mix n’ match menu at Flower Child in Del Mar gives you ultimate control over your meal, so you can go full-fledged vegan one day and opt for a meatier option the next. The combinations are endless, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always choose one of their pre-made entrée items, like the Vegan Poke or the super popular Mother Earth bowl — a hearty creation featuring ancient grains, veggies, microgreens, and a house-made vinaigrette. Whatever you decide to get, just be sure to order a side of the Red Chili Glazed Sweet Potatoes (you won’t regret it).
If you prefer your food cruelty-free and sans dairy, artificial ingredients, and GMOs, then Plant Power Fast Food is about to be your new go-to. Swing by for a selection of plant-based salads, burgers, handhelds, and grab-n-go items that are second to none (hello walnut and sunflower burger patties, cashew hummus, and kaleslaw). And their commitment to the planet doesn’t stop there — all of their menu items are served in 100% biodegradable materials. So you have more than one reason to feel good about this healthy eats haven in Encinitas and Ocean Beach.
The meals at Veggilish is simple, straightforward, and seriously delicious. The fully-customizable menu allows you to build the bowl of your dreams from whole grains, seasonal veggies, organic protein sources, and house-made dressings and sauces. And their downtown location is the perfect spot for a quick lunch between meetings or a healthy stop on your way to a Padres game. Be sure to chase it down with a Solti juice or house-brewed hibiscus iced tea.
At this Mission Beach hot spot, they’ve got a little bit of everything. Order up some tapas to snack on and share with your friends. Or, try out one of their drool-worthy salads or bowls for lunch. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on their signature Soulshine Tacos, they feature tumeric and black pepper tortillas, Indian spiced lentils, kale, diablo sauce, avocado, and cashew crema.
Like many things, Tocaya Organica on 5th Ave. and in La Jolla (coming soon) started in LA and quickly moved down the coast before making a new home for itself right here in San Diego. The SoCal chain is all about great ingredients, big flavors, and killer aesthetics. While their focus is primarily vegan Mexican food, you’ll also find an entire menu of cheese and meat options that you can add to any dish. But we suggest ordering one of their massive burritos with a side of the guacamole and plantain chips — the pomegranate seeds in the guac are sorta bizarre, sorta awesome, and totally delicious.
**Updated by Emily Burke, October 2018