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Jul 13, 2010 09:25 AM

2 Veg Heads Hitting SFO

My daughter and I are visiting SFO last week of July. I have spent waaaay too much time looking at menus for all the veg/vegan restaurant options (man, you guys are lucky to have so many choices!), but what I wanna know is:

What's the best? What are the musts? What's skippable?

Looking for everything from the dumps to the divine.

All price points, all ethnicities.

Also going to do a day trip to Napa, so recs there would be appreciated.

We're staying at the Kimpton Monacco on Geary, but will be renting a car as well as using public trans.

My son is in Mountain View, so anything up that way (or in the general Silicon area) also good to know about.

(Please, no fish.)


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  1. FYI, SFO is the airport, so people reading the title will assume that you're looking for recommendations at the airport. Since it seems that you want recommendations for the whole Bay Area, you might want to change the title of your post (or ask the mods to do it for you).

    If you're going to Napa, you should definitely go to Ubuntu, considered by many to be the best vegetarian restaurant in the area. There is lots of great Indian in the Mountain View area, so that might be a good bet for you down that way (Amber India in particular is an upscale Indian place with great vegetarian options). Chez Panisse Cafe, while not a strictly vegetarian restaurant, always has excellent vegetarian options.

    What else have you looked into that looks good to you? Where are you coming from?

    Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
    1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

    Chez Panisse
    1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

    1. Hi --

      I'm surprised you think there's good vegitarian here. Where are you from?

      First, there are very few good vegetarian-only options, other than Ubuntu, which is a *must* for you. Many of the higher-end places will have few - ie, only one - non-meat option. I've recently railed about Boulevard and Zuni and Range - common recommendations in general - being very poor for veggies. I'm not a veggie myself, but I have friends, and I like eating somewhere that everyone has a choice. You'll really have to look at a menu and make sure there are *two* decent entrees. I've found that places where there aren't two options, the single veggie option is an afterthought. My sister's joke is "pasta and mushrooms and out". Foreign Cinema, just looked at their menu, and it's the usual "risoto with mushrooms". And then you've got Constantino focusing on the Whole Pig - not your thing at all!

      Burmese has recently become hot here, and the burmese restaurants are good for veggies. I'd suggest some of the restaurants other than burma superstar, but BSS is good too. Search.

      In general, you'll have to skip lots of the regional chinese that's talked about a lot here. Although there are always a few veggie options on the menu, they are never the focus, and you're best off going elsewhere. South-east asian does better (like burmese).

      I'm not really down with Greens and Millenium, but there's a bit of controversy. Greens is nice because even if the food doesn't wow you, it's got a great view. The sun sets directly over the golden gate and the light floods the room - go to catch the show.

      You might check out the artesianal pizza places. Small great pizzas have been a focus in SF over the last few years, if you're down with cheese.

      Second, in the south bay there is a fine dining option, Manresa. They are a michelin two star, and focus on veggies (signature dish: into the garden). You may have seen the chef, Kinch, win on Iron Chef. Unusually, Kinch has opened no other restaurants, and Manresa's overal quality has stayed the same. Manresa has been the starting point for a lot of great chefs in the area too, so there's a sense of history. You can get a veggie tasting menu there, but their tasting menus are really really long and sane people would prefer the standard 3 or 4 course. They're a hop-skip from mountain view (10 minute drive or so, more in traffic).
      Slightly down scale is Flea Street in Menlo Park, which is fairly fancy but not in the league of Manresa. the meal always starts with a small bite picked that morning from the owner's garden, and they have good veggie options. Meals there always have small flaws, but the overall experience is quite good and the veggie options are quite strong.

      Further, the indian options are excellent as noted. There are a *lot* of south indians and south indian places, and most are vegetarian (both the people and the joints). Not the standard north indian that's typical in most of the US, and even the "pan indian" places now have a strong south indian and veggie section of the menu. Go dosas! My standard order now is an Onion Ravi Masala Dosa, and there are some good threads on CH about south bay indian. I like Mayuri, which has a wide menu but very kicking dosas, and Amber has been mentioned, which is a bit less south indian focused and a bit more upscale.

      Amber has a branch in SF and the somewhat-recently opened Dosa in SF has a lot of south indian options.

      Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
      1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

      Zuni Cafe
      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Manresa Restaurant
      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

      Flea Street Cafe
      3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park, CA 94025

      2230 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050

      1. Here is a listing of SF Bay Area vegetarian restaurants from the SF Chronicle database:

        9 Replies
        1. re: DavidT

          By my count, this list is showing 8 veg restaurants in SF, as the list covers the entire area. The list makers include jonts (like Weird Fish) which fish in the definition of vegetable.

          Weird Fish
          2193 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            1. re: wolfe

              @JasimeG - yeah, I realized after I posted that I gave the airport initials. Thanks. I'll deal with that. I know about Ubuntu. How is it? Chez Panisse is a possibility, but I'm really trying to focus on veg only.
              @DavidT - thanks, I have that list. Looking for personal recs. But appreciate the help.
              @bbulkow - I saw that, too! Since when do fish grow on trees!
              @wolfe - hahah, we must be contemporaries. Reagan lives.

              To all so far, thanks. I'm from NYC (well, actually burbs, but very near the BA). I travel quite a bit, but never to SF. I love veg Chinese places, but they are usually quite greasy. Indian is an easy option, but that's true all over. Just trying to suss out what's really good/under the radar.
              Again, thanks to all, and if there's any other ideas, pls bring 'em!

              Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
              1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

              Chez Panisse
              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

              1. re: mrsdebdav

                If you like Mediteranean, I love both Amba in Montclair (Oakland) for its hummus, falafel and salads, and Chick o Pea (Berkeley) for its falafel, amazing pita and a variety of condiments. They are both "fast casual" and quite inexpensive.

                Green Papaya is a newish Thai vegetarian restaurant in downtown Berkeley. I haven't tried it yet but I've heard good things.

                A lot of people love Cha Ya for vegan Japanese. I like it, but I eat fish, so I'm usually happy to go to regular Japanese restaurants as well.

                Green Papaya
                2016 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                1. re: mrsdebdav

                  So you note that we have very, very few veg-only restaurants. 24 out of the 10's of thousands of restaurants that list spans means nearly none. That's clear and present advice: go places with meat on the menu that are known to have good veg focus.

                  Ubuntu is worth it. Greens and Millennium aren't. Cha Ya (if it's the place I think it is) is probably worth it. There's a good veg maki place near chez panisse, too. Enquentro in oakland (on DavidT's list) is quite, quite good but hard to argue as worth the trip to oakland from SF (not very close to the Bart station). My sister tried Gather a month ago and thought it only OK - I'd try Enquentro, but gather's an easy bart ride from SF thus possibly preferred.

                  We don't have much veg chinese. There's only one on that list, in Oakland, and I think that list is highly accurate, as I've looked at it closer.

                  South indian here is not just an easy option, it's one of our strongest immigrant populations and far above what you're likely to get elsewhere. It's best in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, so if you don't go to manresa, you should do south indian or catch Dosa in SF. More recs in that area can be provided - although like everything else, only a handful (and not the best) are veg only.

                  Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                  1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    There are several restaurants near Chez Panisse, Veggie Food on Vine. Cha Ya, Cafe Gratitude on Shattuck and also on Shattuck right across the street is Cheeseboard always veggie pizza.

                    Chez Panisse
                    1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      There are a handful of veg Chinese restaurants in SF, although none of them are destinations IMO. That being said, Shangri-La in the Sunset is a decent bet. The only other one worth bothering is Lucky Creation in Chinatown, which is a total hole-in-the-wall but cheap and pretty tasty although a bit too much MSG (but what do you expect). They do have a few creative dishes though, like the taro fish and the mock goose, which is nothing like goose, but a delicate flaky pastry shell stuffed with vegetables in a sauce.

                      Oh BTW - don't mind the SFO thing. While it's true that technically SFO is the airport code, by this time, airport codes have become synonomous for cities and just about everyone will know what you mean, save for a few people who want to be picky.

                      1. re: Radical347

                        What about Loving Hut in Chinatown? I haven't had a chance to go, just throwing it out there.

                        1. re: Radical347

                          @Rad - thanks! Appreciate your advice and perspective v. much.
                          So looking forward to this trip!!
                          Arriving Monday and cannot wait to escape the oppressive East Coast weather.

              2. As a bay area vegetarian and a food nut, I concur that the Bay is going through a BIG meat love affair right now. I have been having a much harder time eating out and even some of my old reliable places (like Flora who used to have some amazingly creative veg dishes on the menu) have become far more meat-centric. That said there are still some wonderful places to try. Ubuntu is amazing. We can all agree on that. Encuentro in Oakland's Jack London Square should not be missed. It is a lovely, convivial place with very good all veg food. You should also hit up the pizza places (Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe, Delfina, Beretta). They always have tons of veggie options and are cooking seasonally and organically. I truly love Cha-Ya for Japanese. It is wonderful carefully prepared food. And for the mock-meat experience you must go to Golden Lotus above the rest. They are a cut above the rest.

                Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                Delfina Restaurant
                3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                Jack London Square
                70 Washington St # 207, Oakland, CA

                1 Reply
                1. re: happenstance

                  I went to bocanova with one of my veggie friends, and they had taken a lot of her favorite veggie items. Went from very good for veggie to moderate.

                2. I'm a flextarian.

                  Though I haven't been to these two, I would recommend Coi in North Beach and reserve the veg option. I would also swing by the Red Vic in the Haight on Wednesdays at 6 pm for their weekly SF Vegetarian Society weekly dinner. You would be able to walk around either before or after dinner so that you get to see the neighborhood as well.

                  I really like Gracias Madres in the Mission - organic, vegan Mexican. The tortillas are worth the trip.

                  Ethiopian food is a good choice too. And Moya just opened South of Market for lunch. I personally would say it's walking distance from the Kimpton (but I walk a lot).

                  I had a great lunch buffet today at Pagan on Clement in the Richmond. It's Burmese. Take a peek before you sit down just in case they're low on veg options that day. Usually, they will have veggie fritters, tea leaf salad, and 2 curries. I lucked out today and the noodle dish was also veg. But if you don't like that, there's Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant one block down. I can't remember the name though.

                  And finally, there's the Loving Hut chain. Each location seems to serve a slightly different menu. I really like there vegetarian pho at the Chinatown location. There's also Enjoy Restaurant in Chinatown too for Chinese vegetarian. Lunch plates are reasonably priced.

                  I believe you can have a good meal at R&G Lounge too. Order one item with tofu, veggie abalone, fresh sauteed greens like yam leaves or water spinach. My caveat would be to triple check that they don't use some sauce that might contain trace animal products like oyster sauce. And maybe, though I haven't tried this myself, call and ask if they can make a double boil vegetarian soup for you. It might cost a lot, but you're on vacation.

                  Have a great trip!

                  Gracias Madre
                  2211 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: whatsforlunch

                    I can chime in on Coi and Boca Nova. Both are excellent options and have lots of veggie options. One is high-end (Coi) and one is casual. The veg tasting menu I had at Coi is in the top 3 meals of my life. Camino is another great option I forgot to mention as well.

                    1. re: whatsforlunch

                      Wonderful, thanks! I look forward in particular to trying Loving Hut. Sounds perfect.

                      1. re: mrsdebdav

                        You need to read the loving hut website before you go. Not to scare you off, just to understand the strange multinational "cult" vibe the place gives off (screens tuned to '' ). The south bay version is pretty danged tasty, though (very different menu) - you should go.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          The mention of an odd religious vibe reminds me that Ananda Fuara is another vegan destination worth mentioning. The food is casual and I only ever go for the neatloaf (vegetarian meatloaf that even carnivores love because of the delicious bbq sauce), but it's been popular for years.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Thanks bbulkow. I def want to check out LH, but they exist in many cities including NY, so will prob wait on that/go to the NY option.