The little dive bar is dark and crowded, a man at the front dressed in a suit offers you
free popcorn, and as you walk deeper into the place you notice the sign, “Vegan Drinks.” It is vegan drink night at Martuni’s bar in the SOMA. The back room is full of vegans, or friends of vegans, crowded around little tables holding pink cocktails. The room is filled with laughter and conversation, eyes darting from tables to look at the new faces. And after a few of those delicious pink martinis you find yourself immersed in conversation with your new vegan friends. This is San Francisco, one of the best places in the world to be a vegan.
“San Francisco is a pretty vegan-friendly city. Most restaurants that don’t make explicitly vegan dishes will answer questions about whether they use milk or meat stock, and if you call ahead and explain your, situation sometimes you can get special foods, which is lovely,” says Meave Gallagher, managing editor of Vegansaurus.com. “Plus basically everyone knows what vegan means, so you don’t have to explain your specific needs every time you go anywhere.”
Being a vegan SF State student is easier than you might think. Every campus vendor hassome vegetarian options, and most will accommodate vegans affordably. To be considered vegan, food must not be an animal, or an animal by-product, such as: meat, dairy, eggs or fish.
In the student center, the shop Natural Sensations has vegan cookies, smoothies and pita wraps. Their ginger chocolate cookie has a chewy texture with a citrus and chocolate flavor. Right next to Natural Sensations is Cafe 101, which has vegan donuts in maple, blueberry, apple and cherry. It’s so fluffy and creamy one would never know they are vegan, except for the lack of sticky lard residue that non-vegan donuts leave behind. The Gold Coast Grill has breakfast tofu scrambles and their veggie burger is filling. Unlike most vegan paddies that can be dry and grainy, this one is full of veggies and brown rice, leaving it moist and sweet. Outside, Jessie’s Hot House has vegan southern comfort food, like hot and spicy BBQ tofu and collard greens, garlic fries for and grits. Cafe Rosso has vegan Indian curry, hearty lentil soup, bagels with vegan toppings, and sweet penne marinara.
Stepping off the SF State campus will lead any vegan into the wonderland of the city’s delectable vegan cuisine and activities. There are countless places to eat off campus around the city.
For fine vegan dining try Millennium Restaurant
on 580 Geary Street. Located within the Hotel California, it is carnival themed, and under what appears to be a large gold and maroon tent. Once inside the loud and dirty streets of the Tenderloin are quickly forgotten under strange illuminated chandeliers covered in gold fabric. Millennium is considered the best fine dining vegan place in SF, but expect to shell out a hundred dollars for a decent meal for two. To dine on a budget order appetizers and drinks, their claim to fame. The crusted oyster mushrooms appetizer has the texture and spiciness of calamari but better because it is vegan. Their cocktails are delicious and artfully prepared. You will love the look of it as much as the taste. Attend one of their Aphrodisiac dinners on the Sunday closest to the full moon of each month. For forty five dollars per person one gets an appetizer to share, a salad, sorbet (to clean the palate), an entree, dessert and a love potion tea. And for under two hundred dollars you can have the meal and a room at the hotel.
Best overall and reasonably priced vegan spot is Herbivore
in the Mission. They serve breakfast before 2 p.m. and the basil pesto tofu scramble is the best scramble in the city. It comes with potatoes and pieces of whole wheat bread and jam. Try their cevich with oyster mushrooms, cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Served chilled, the texture and spiciness is just like real ceviche. Their homemade veggie burger is one of the best vegan burgers in the city. The burger is moist and has great texture made from veggies, grains and soy protein and served with salad and thick fries. Order a side of garlic aioli and one will be in vegan heaven. And to wash it all down order a carrot, apple, ginger and spirulina green shake is so sweet and delicious, one will hardly remember the healthy benefits.
A great brunch or lunch spot is at The Crepe House
. Order the grilled tofu sandwich, creamy with grilled tofu, roasted peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and spicy mustard. It comes with a side of greens topped with a spicy creamy tahini dressing and a side of spiced roasted potatoes. And do not forget to order a cup of their delicious soy mocha for $2.75, a French Illy brand.
Another savory vegan burger in SF belongs to The Hotel Utah
. Their homemade vegan burger for $9, or add avocado for $1, is grilled in garlic served with thick, crispy, mouth-watering fries. Eat and enjoy open-mic nights.
Missing the texture and rich quality of real meat? Try the Loving Hut
. Part of a local chain, this all-vegan location just opened shop and is a great place to get healthy vegan fast food. They offer a variety from curries, sweet-and-sour soup, spicy Thai salads and desserts. Try the Vietnamese fresh spring roll served cold wrapped with mint and served with peanut sauce, so cool and refreshing. Their hot’n sour soup is spicy, warm and filling with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, celery, carrot and tofu, great substitute for chicken soup on a cold day. For those who miss the texture of meat, try the orange sesame bites. The orange flavored textured soy protein with sesame seeds is spicy and crunchy. “The mix of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines is sophisticated without being fancy, and if you are into fake meat they have lots of good options,” says Meave.
When craving a late night sausage Rosamunde
is the place. Their smoked apple and sage vegan sausage comes with options of sweet onion, sauerkraut and wasabi mustard. Wash it down with a cold beer, they are known for their beer selection. Visit the other location at. The location on Haight is a literal hole in the wall where an eccentric German woman makes the sausage. You can take food into Tornado, the popular hipster bar next door.
For pizza, look no further than The Pizza Place
. Oorder the Timmy’s Pie, a vegan pizza with pesto, roasted potatoes, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, mini tomatoes and caramelized onions. Served hot, the crust is soft yet crunchy, creamy pesto, slightly salty potatoes and sweet mini tomatoes is a mouth full of Italian perfection. On the side, order the mixed greens salad with creamy balsamic dressing served with organic greens, onions, carrots, mini tomatoes and radish, it is a refreshing and flavorful starter.
Have a sweet tooth? Maggie Mudd
in Bernal Heights is the place for vegan ice cream and cakes. This little ice cream shop is always buzzing with customers, and they have a frequent buyer card which gets you a free cone. They serve cones, shakes, sundaes and cakes all lactose free, dairy-free, cholesterol free and made from creamy soy milk or coconut milk. They offer more than twenty seven flavors, from exotic to vanilla. Try their banana split in a warm freshly baked waffle, two or three ice cream flavors, banana, whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles, and any choice of sauce. Get an ice cream cone in popular flavors like creamy lychee coconut, tangy lemon poppyseed, dark chocolate tar mack, spicy pumpkin or orange cremesicle. Order a vegan cake for a special occasion.
is a large and diverse store for vegan shopping. Rainbow is a vegan cook’s dream, they have an impressive selection of warm pastries, bulk foods, olive oils, beautifully diverse veggie selection and more vegan desserts, proteins, and substitutions than any other grocery store in the city. It is a co-op which means it is owned by the people who work there, not a corporation. They promote sustainability and biodiversity by mostly selling seasonal local produce. One of the best aspects of Rainbow is they do not sell meat (aside from pet food). According to rainbowcoop.com, “We don’t want to profit from the sale of animals at this point.”
San Francisco is home to VegNews
, a completely vegan publication. VegNews started in 2000, focuses on a vegan lifestyle, read by more than 210,000 people and has up-to-date information on living a compassionate and healthy lifestyle. Also, being environmentally friendly, they print on 75% post-consumer, recycled paper from New Leaf Paper. They offer vegan news, food reviews and recipes, articles on environmentalism and sustainability, travel, and pop culture.
The blog site Vegansaurus is the best city guide to a vegan lifestyle. They target college age readers and their articles are hilarious, clever and brutally honest. On their site find recipes, restaurant reviews, events, links to every vegan blog and business in the city, and personal rants worth a read. The writers are hardcore vegans not afraid to express it. “When people are not bleeding-heart animal-rights-activist types, like all our vegan writers on Vegansaurus, I approach the subject from a ‘what you’re eating could kill you, and not just because of the cholesterol’ aspect. The animals, and animal products people eat now are not what their grandparents and great-grandparents ate, and we don’t even know the long term effects of consuming all those antibiotics and hormones. Ugh,” says Gallagher.
Everyday there are new and exciting ways to improve ones vegan lifestyle. Vegan apps are popping up for smart phones and include some really cool features.
Going out to a bar or buying some alcohol and want to know if it is vegan? Check out barnivore.com or download the mobile app, Vegan.FM, to make sure your alcohol is vegan friendly, one would be surprised by the strange stuff that gets thrown into alcohol production. According to barnivore.com, “Brewmasters, winemakers, and distillers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the processing and filtration.” Everything from fish bladder to an entire chicken can be ingredients in some alcoholic beverages.
Download VegOut to help you find local vegan restaurants. The app includes a GPS feature that helps find the locations and look up menus.
When going to popular restaurants vegans can use the veganXpress app to find vegan options on a mostly meat menu. The app includes over a hundred popular restaurants. It also has a list of vegan snack food, vegan beers, and vegan wine.
Shopping for vegan clothes and personal products is easy with SmarterVeg.com’s app. You can search for over five thousand foods, drugs, personal care items, leather alternatives and cleaning supplies. It specifies if a product is GMO (genetically modified organism), chances of cross contamination and if a product is certified organic. This app is worth every penny since it makes it easy for those who wish not to do all the detective work on questionable vegan products.
Environmental Working Group has a free app called Dirty Produce. Most vegans worry about pesticides on their food and this app takes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. With over fifty veggies listed it tells you about the twelve most sprayed foods and least sprayed.
Veggie Web has an app that acts like a pocket cookbook. It has a collection of more than thriteen thousand user submitted recipes. It makes breakfast, lunch, and dinner easy while including grocery lists.
Locavore’s app makes shopping for seasonal produce easy. It has over two hundred fruits and vegetables with links to Wikipedia pages and recipes. It has data from all over the United States and is updates from Twitter, keeping up to date on local food news.
Since it can be difficult to meet other vegans, come to Vegan Drinks. The last Thursday of the month Vegansaurus and VegNews hosts an event called Vegan Drinks at Martuni’s from 6 to 8 p.m.. Organized so vegans can meet up and socialize. “The vegan community is decent-sized. Definitely come to Vegan Drinks on the last Thursday of every month at Martuni’s, if you’re of age. It’s co-sponsored by Vegansaurus, I would recommend, if you’re feeling like you need new vegan friends,” says Gallagher.
Start cooking vegan at home by experimenting with seasonal veggies, oils, sauces and soy proteins. The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Guodreau, is a great cookbook for beginner and experienced cooks. Called the “Vegan Martha Stewart,” by VegNews, Patrick-Guodreau makes vegan cooking fun and delicious. Almost every simple recipe has a photo and takes less than an hour to make. The recipes range from breakfast to dessert and cocktails and include varieties of cultural cuisines. There sections on dinner parties and seasonal meals as well as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Passover. Try the recipe for savory polenta hearts, warm roasted asparagus and thyme soup, panini with lemon-basil pesto or pumpkin curry.
Being vegan is beneficial to ones health, mind and spirit. “If you ever need a reminder as to why you’re vegan, read the USDA/FDA recalls page Every week there are products recalled due to contamination with bacteria that only comes from animals. That’s kind of insane, but sometimes you need a slap in the face,” Meave says.
Learn more about the politics behind vegan lifestyles by watching Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, about leather, fur and meat production. Read Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, which investigates the fast food industry and how consumers are affected.
There is no obligation to be a vegan when sampling the cuisine or enjoying the culture, and it will not hurt to expand your horizons and try something new and different. You may even find you really like it. New vegan restaurants are popping up all over the city and the variety of vegan cultures are endless. San Francisco is great city to explore and discover new experiences, especially for vegans. Next time you walk into a vegan restaurant and delve into that savory and flavorful bite of pizza, soup, burger or ice cream, remember how good it is for your body and how by eating vegan you are not contributing to animal cruelty, pollution, the spread of toxic chemicals and a corrupt food industry. It is a lifestyle choice that has a big impact.