San Diego is my hometown. When I first went vegan in 2007, there were few restaurants offering good vegan meals. I moved to Guatemala in 2011, and since then San Diego has become one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the U.S.
On recent visits, I tried to sample fare from some of the newer places and a few of my old favorites. Though I couldn’t get to them all, I have eaten at every place on this list except one. Some are completely plant-based, while others have excellent vegan options. Yes, there are other vegan-friendly places in San Diego, but I haven’t tried them so they’re not on my list. Do you have a favorite San Diego vegan eatery? Put a note in the comments and I’ll check it out the next time I get to town.
Here’s my list in alphabetical order.
A relative newcomer and the most upscale of the San Diego plant-based options. Cafe Gratitude has a great location in Little Italy and a menu that will have you wanting to come back over and over. They have a nice selection of raw dishes and some cocktails made with sparkling wine that give a twist to old favorites.
We started with the “Community”: an amazing spinach artichoke dip served with sourdough toast. I could have stopped there and been happy, but I continued with the “Transformed”: mole tempeh tacos served with a delicious rice and bean salad. My dining companions had the raw lasagna, which won our award for most beautiful presentation.
We finished with a delectable key lime pie and one of the best mocha cappuccino drinks I’ve ever had.
I used find myself in the Hillcrest area regularly, and my trips almost always ended with a stop at Evolution. This pioneering vegan fast food joint, complete with drive-up window, has delicious burgers, ice cream, smoothies, raw specialties, and an expanding list of fast food favorites.
While the Southwest burger was always my favorite, I stepped outside of my box and ordered the fish sandwich. Yummy.
The real test, however, was my daughter. She’s never understood my vegan ways and has always been skeptical of anything from a vegan eatery. She’s a die-hard chicken nuggets fan, and stepped out of her box to try the chicken tenders. The verdict? “These taste disturbingly like chicken.” High praise from my child. She also polished off every drop of her chocolate milkshake.
If you’re visiting San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park, Evolution is an easy stop. Better yet, get your order to go and enjoy lunch in the park.
This vegetarian restaurant run by the followers of Sri Chinmoy has plenty of well-marked vegan options and a mellow vibe. Jyoti-Bihanga was one of my favorite places when there were few vegan options in San Diego. Their “neatloaf” has been a favorite of everyone I’ve taken there over the years. They serve excellent curries, wraps and salads, and their lemon tahini salad dressing is one of the best I’ve ever had. Many of their desserts are vegan and oh-so-decadent… can you say vegan chocolate mousse cake?!
KINDRED’s description in Google says “Whimsical, eccentric space for contemporary vegan fare & drinks complemented by death-metal tunes.” Really, there’s nothing to add except how great the food, drinks, and atmosphere are here. My only regret is that we went just once during our 11-day stay in San Diego… so many great vegan places, so little time. They open at 4pm on weekdays and at 10am for brunch on weekends.
We shared the Wizard Bowl salad, which was one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time. The highlight of the Salt and Vinegar was the crispy onion rings. The Memphis BBQ Jackfruit sandwich was outstanding, though the homemade potato chips that come with it are really greasy. Somehow I couldn’t stop eating them.
KINDRED is a hip bar with great food. The specialty drinks are playful and delicious. Make sure you check out the bathrooms, where a whole different soundtrack is playing and the walls are graced by images of bad-ass cats.
This well-known chain had just opened their first location in San Diego when I left (they have a second location in Mira Mesa). I would drive 30 minutes across town just to have their jackfruit salad. Portions are generous and meals here are a great value.
Moncai arrived in San Diego after I left, and I finally got the chance to go with a mostly-vegan friend. Our only opportunity was Sunday brunch, and we both had the Brunch Plate Special.
This is a huge plate of food, including potatoes, biscuits and gravy, bacon or sausage, fruit, and pancakes. It normally comes with tofu scramble, but they’d just run out. Instead, we could choose an extra portion of any of the other items.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The pancakes and potatoes were excellent, the bacon was average, but the biscuits were a bit doughy and the mushroom gravy was too salty even for me. Service was extraordinarily slow, which they nicely told us was because so many people ordered French toast, which slowed down the kitchen.
I will be back, however, to give the rest of the menu a try.
Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
Muzita is one of only two places on my list that serves meat (Ranchos being the other one). It’s a great place to go when you have a group and want to satisfy everyone’s food preferences. The restaurant is tiny, however, and reservations are a must for groups. Inside can be quite noisy, so I prefer the outside tables.
All vegan options are clearly marked, and the servers are helpful. Every vegan dish (I’ve had them all) is delicious… especially when wrapped up in injera (the spongy sourdough flatbread). Of all the Ethiopian restaurants I’ve tried, Muzita is the best. Set the utensils aside and eat with your hands in the traditional way. I always leave Muzita stuffed and happy.
When I first went vegan, my dad was living in Palm Springs, California. I couldn’t visit him without also visiting the original Native Foods Cafe. I fell in love with the vegan Reuben sandwich, which I now start to crave even before my plane lands in San Diego.
This vegan cafe has blossomed into a chain with three San Diego locations. They have a nice selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, wraps, and bowls. On our most recent trip we tried the Korean BBQ Sub–it may have topped the Reuben as my new favorite.
I’ve spent a bit of time trying to re-create the delicious seitan pastrami they use at Native Foods. I’ve tried a lot of vegan Reubens, and this one captures the essence of the sandwich unlike any other. Part of the secret is the thinly sliced seitan. I haven’t been able to come close.
Native Foods also has bottomless drinks, including green iced tea and lavender lemonade; mix them for the best Arnold Palmer ever!
OB People’s Food Deli
Ocean Beach is the funkadelic capital of San Diego, and it’s where I grew up. My family has been shopping at People’s as long as I can remember. What was once a tiny, funky co-op has grown up (as we all have). They have a great selection of bulk items and many vegan staples. Their vegetarian deli was the first place I had vegan Mac and Cheese all those years ago.
Anyone can join the co-op. If you’re not a member, shopping there will cost a bit more.
Raw vegan places have come and gone in San Diego over the years, but Peace Pies has stood the test of time. It was founded in 2007, the year I went vegan. I first tried their raw vegan pizza at a fair in Balboa Park, but had never been to the restaurant until our recent trip back to San Diego.
I had the Luna Tuna wrap, while my dining companions had the lasagna and the pizza. The pizza was my favorite of the three, but all were excellent. My husband is not a big raw food fan and was afraid he would leave hungry. Not so: the meals at Peace Pies are surprisingly filling.
Of all the places we ate, only Cafe Gratitude was more expensive than Peace Pies. Preparing high end raw foods is both expensive and time-consuming, which is reflected in their prices.
Plant Power Fast Food
Plant Power was co-founded by the founder of Evolution, and many of the menu items are similar. Everything is GMO-free, and the menu is mostly organic.
We were in a hurry and stopped in for vegan burgers to go. I had The Rambler with the black bean patty, and it was fabulous. We got my dad The Rambler with the beefy patty, and if we hadn’t told him it was vegan, I don’t think he ever would have guessed. My husband got the fish sandwich accompanied by sweet potato medallions, and he enjoyed every bite. We didn’t make it back for breakfast, but they have a full breakfast menu.
Plant Power is in OB, kitty-corner from People’s Food. There are plans to expand to another location in Encinitas later this year. Eventually, they hope to turn the restaurant into a national chain.
Though Plumeria has been around for several years, I somehow never went there until May. This vegetarian Thai restaurant is located in University Heights (next door to Muzita), one of my favorite San Diego neighborhoods. Friends who live nearby suggested our group of six go there based on recommendations, and they were sooo right!(
It’s hard to express what a great experience we had at Plumeria. My dad and I shared the Tom Kha soup and Lek Yum noodles with vegan duck. Every dish was fabulous, the service was outstanding, and the restaurant gained six new fans.
Even more amazing was the price. Even with appetizers, drinks, and dessert, the average price per person was about $25.
(The OB location is closed, but they still have their North Park location)
The second of only two restaurants on my list that serve meat. They have one of the most extensive vegan menus you’ll find, especially for Mexican food.
My stepfather lives within walking distance of the original Ranchos location on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. in OB (their other location is in North Park). One of the joys of staying at his house is walking to Ranchos for their vegan Carne Asada burrito. I’ve been known to pick up one of these enormous burritos on my way to the airport, just to have it one more time.
Ranchos is another place (besides Muzita) that is great for groups that include veg and non-veg diners, but the space here is better suited for larger groups. Oh, and their wine margaritas are quite tasty and a great deal.
When I first went vegan, Sipz was one of the few places I ate out. I’d stop and pick up their orange chick’n or Thai curry on the way home from work on Friday nights. The restaurant is family-owned, and most of their dishes and all of their desserts are vegan. I try to get here every time I’m in San Diego because, well, it’s Sipz. Their food is still a great value after all these years.
Sipz has a second location in North Park, right next to Ranchos Cocina.
The Purple Mint
We were looking for my brother’s favorite guitar store: Blue Guitar on Mission Gorge Road. We went past Blue Guitar and found ourselves in front of The Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro. Guitars and a new veg place to try? How can a day get better than that? Later I saw an article naming The Purple Mint as one of the best new places for vegan food in San Diego.
Honestly, the dishes were hit and miss. The avocado roll was a waste–absolutely flavorless. The jackfruit salad was spectacular, as was the black rice pasta in coconut milk. The yam and sweet potato curry was good, but not the best I’ve had.
The atmosphere is friendly and inviting, and the service was very good.
Veganic Thai Cafe
Veganic, in Hillcrest, is the only place on my list that I haven’t been to. So many people have told me how much they like it, and it’s on every list of the top new vegan restaurants in San Diego, so I had to include it. The menu includes all of your Thai favorites done vegan.
This vegan chain has several locations in California. I haven’t been to the San Diego location, but to one of the LA locations. The food was good, though I never found the one dish that kept bringing me back like Native Food’s Reuben or Ranchos’ vegan carne asada burrito. It’s just great to have a vegan option in the UTC area.
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