Our San Francisco Walking Vegan Food Tour
For our anniversary we usually go someplace quiet, remote, peaceful. But this year, on our 11th anniversary, we decided to change the pace and go into the city for a day of crowded streets, obnoxious noises and incredible vegan food. We don’t regret it one bit.
First, a little something about the love of my life, D. We became a couple in our senior year of high school after I wrote him a note (Yes, a note! Remember those?) that I was too timid to actually hand to him. And so my friend grabbed it from my hands, ran down the halls of the school, and handed it to D during the next class period that they had together. Two days later I got a phone call. The following week we went to a dance. Three months later we graduated high school and decided to do the long-distance thing during college. A beautiful wedding and three nutty kids later, we’re still going strong and I love him more than I did at age seventeen. I’m not the same as I was back then and neither is he. Yet the love grows and amends, not in a compromising manner but in a joyous way, to make room for the changes and encourage more. I have to thank him for being my #1 cheerleader when I felt the call to professional ministry and dropped everything to go to seminary and then become a pastor. I have to thank him for going along with me when I became a vegetarian and then a vegan and simply opening his heart and his tummy to new, adventurous ways of eating and interacting with the world around us. He is truly a phenomenal guy and I’m so blessed to be his wife.
Okay, put the tissues away. It’s time to get down to foodie business.
The night before our tour, I googled all the vegetarian/vegan restaurants in SF (we are blessed to have MANY!) and made my list based on geography, cuisine type and whether or not we’d been there before. Some of my favorite restaurants are ones we frequent regularly and so I didn’t include them on our tour: Golden Era, Herbivore and The Loving Hut. If you live in the Bay Area or are planning a visit, be sure to check out these places.
Our tour centered around the Mission District and Hayes Valley. We ate at four restaurants and walked about 5 miles. If we hadn’t walked, I would’ve never been able to eat as much food as I did. I even had trouble falling asleep that night because of how full I was. I know, such a martyr right?
1. ANANDA FUARA
We parked our car in the South of Market (SoMa) area and began our walking tour from there. First, we set our sights on Ananda Fuara since they serve brunch. It was morning and we were hungry and yet one of the perpetual problems with vegan eating is how few places offer vegan options for breakfast/brunch. It’s usually a whole lot of eggs and french toast which is fine for a vegetarian but leaves the vegan out for the count. So as you can imagine, Ananda Fuara was high on my list of places to try. It’s located at the corner of Market and Larkin, a 13 minute walk from our starting point (ignore the times on these maps since I took the screenshots later in the day).
Ananda Fuara was easy to find and had a friendly, quaint atmosphere. A guy at the register greeted us a with a smile right away and invited us to us to choose a table anywhere. We felt at home.
D ordered an Americano straightaway, as is his morning custom. Keep in mind that we had passed two amazing-looking coffee places on the way there, both with lines out the door. Blue Bottle Coffee — an SF favorite — was one of them. But I urged him to pass them by since my stomach was growling and I didn’t feel like waiting. He wasn’t so sure an Americano at a veggie restaurant would compare but was delightfully surprised when he tasted it. He even used the word “legit” to describe it. Okay then! We were off to a good start.
The menu looked fabulous and I had five vegan options to choose from, as well as a bunch of vegan sides. Take a look:
I settled on the Gingerbread Pancakes with a side of scrambled tofu and a side of spicy “chicken” chunks. I washed it all down with a fizzy virgin Mimosa. Feast your eyes on this.
Some other highlights of Ananda Fuara: D loved his breakfast potatoes. He said they were among the best he’d ever had. Our server told me the restaurant has been around for 18-19 years, having moved from its original location on Church Street. The service was great, the bathroom was clean and cutely-designed and we were out of there, STUFFED, at $36, including tip. D and I gave Ananda Fuara 4/5 stars on our completely arbitrarily-drawn rating system. The food and service were excellent but the place could use a bit of a facelift. It’s cute but it could be much more. We definitely recommend this place if you can make the trip!
2. GRACIAS MADRE
After working off our brunch with a stroll along Hayes Street followed by a brisk walk toward the Mission, we made our way to Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican joint founded by three women with extensive restaurant experience. We were barely hungry but knew this was a place to try and so decided to order drinks and a couple of small plates to share. Gracias Madre is located at 2211 Mission Street, right in the heart of the Mission. As we sat in their outdoor dining area, we soaked up the sun and the sounds of this vibrant, colorful neighborhood.
Gracias Madre is dialed in. They have a brand identity and they’re totally workin’ it. The restaurant itself is beautifully designed and relatively spacious. The tables are set to perfection and the drinking water comes out in a simple, colored glass bottle. The servers are attentive but just enough so. And the bathrooms (I always like to check the bathrooms) are clean and well-appointed.
And take a look at this delectable menu:
We ordered Quesadillas de Camote (sweet potato and caramelized onions folded into tortillas with spicy cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa) and Elote (grilled corn on the cob topped with chipotle cashew cheese, cilantro and lemon). We washed it down with freshly squeezed Carrot-Ginger-Lime Juice (D) and a Virgin Strawberry Margarita (me). The flavor combination in the Quesadillas was perfection. I would’ve never thought to put sweet potatoes and caramelized onions in a tortilla but it worked, and worked well. It was thick and creamy but the flavors were so distinct and bold that it wasn’t like a big mush of stuff in your mouth. It was absolutely delightful and we scraped the plate clean. The Elote was fabulous as well. We love grilled corn on the cob so that’s a start right there. But the cashew cheese was a nice touch and didn’t make it as messy to eat as we thought it would. Besides, who wouldn’t want to lick some chipotle cashew cheese off their fingers?
Gracias Madre is a fairly new restaurant, only having been around for two years. But as I said before, it knows what it’s doing and it’s doing a spectacular job. Now for the (slightly) bad news. D wished the food had a bit more heat. He and I both love spicy things and he was missing built-in heat versus having to add hot sauce which can change the flavor. I told him that perhaps we should’ve ordered different dishes based on that preference. The other thing was that I had to send my first margarita back since it tasted like salt had been mixed into the drink itself. Our server was kind, however, and promptly brought me another that was spot on. So with those issues in mind, we gave Gracias Madre 4/5 stars. We came out of there having spent $33, including tip. We will definitely eat there again.
3. OM SHAN TEA
We did some more window shopping around the Mission which mostly consisted of D dragging me from one bike shop to the next in search of his next ride. We also passed by the lovely Cha Ya on Valencia, an all-vegan Japanese restaurant. We couldn’t have fit in another morsel if we’d changed into togas and so I settled for a photo of the outside. Their menu looks amazing and they’ve received pretty good reviews on Yelp so definitely give it a try if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
We soon made our way to our next destination: Om Shan Tea House, located at 233 14th Street. Their tea house is open from 11 am to midnight every single day which is awesome. They also offer tea services, an online store and a bunch of special events. It was quite a find and not the kind of place you’d easily stumble upon. I was glad I looked it up ahead of time and deliberately added it to our tour.
Om Shan Tea is on a quiet, peaceful street that mirrors what you find inside their tea house. The sign is quite lovely, isn’t it?
Once inside, we were invited to find a table anywhere. The place was pretty hoppin’ which was a good sign. The seating at this tea house is all low, as are the tables. There’s a note on their menu that chairs are available upon request but I can’t imagine that would make having tea much easier. You might be higher off the ground but you’d still be reaching for a low table. Perhaps they’d also bring you a higher side table? The seating was fine for me but D took a little longer to get comfortable. He’s over 6 feet tall and just trying to get his legs situated so they weren’t jamming into our table took some strategizing. ; )
The menu at Om Shan Tea is really quite fascinating. D and I had an entire conversation about why more places can’t offer simple, whole, un-messed with food like this place. Granted, it may feel wrong forking over 3 bucks for some apple slices but we discussed how adding things to your food doesn’t necessarily confer value upon those foods… either monetarily or nutritionally. I mean, think about how hard it would be to find a restaurant that would give you whole nuts or freshly sliced fruit or raw veggies if you asked for it. Most places would look at you like you were crazy. But sometimes that’s all you want — and certainly all you need — to feel happy and satisfied. And so in some ways, it felt great spending money on whole, wholesome foods that we knew were good for us. And they were the perfect complement to tea.
D and I settled on Pink Lady Apple Slices with Raw Almond Butter and two raw chocolate truffles (one cayenne pepper and the other hazelnut). He ordered a Coconut Rose Chai (cocoa milk, black tea, chai spices, rose water and rose buds). I ordered Golden Monkey black tea. It was all super tasty.
We loved our food and tea but were disappointed with the service at Om Shan. When we first arrived, a server never came to our table. We waited so long (10 minutes, perhaps?) that we even began to wonder if it was a self-serve joint of some kind. D eventually got up to ask the harried-looking young lady and she told him she’d be with us shortly but these words were not spoken in the most loving way. She was obviously overwhelmed but sitting there for 10+ minutes is simply unacceptable in our book. About halfway through our time there, however, that young lady was replaced by another who was much, much better. She was attentive and kind, even sitting down with us to give us steeping directions for my tea. She’s the one I grilled for more info. Apparently Om Shan has been around for 3 years and is owned by a man named Oshan, hence the clever “Om Shan” name. Get it? Anyway, this second girl was much sweeter and I’m glad we ended our experience with her at the helm. We ended up with a bill of $36, including tip. And we’ve rated Om Shan at 3/5 stars, mostly because of the initially slow service and the fact that D never got the coconut sugar that was supposed to accompany his Coconut Rose Chai (we didn’t realize this until later). However, the place had a nice ambience and the menu offerings were clean, fresh and simple. While they were also a bit pricy, we know that this kind of place has to make a living somehow to stay alive and so we get it. All in all, a fun and certainly different experience!
After tea, we meandered back to the Union Square area along Market Street. It was getting chillier and most storefronts were closing. We debated back and forth over whether we could fit in a final destination. We were certainly not hungry but I couldn’t shake the feeling that four restaurants a Restaurant Walking Tour doth make… NOT three. Three was far too predictable. We just had to go for four. So we unbuttoned those top buttons, stood tall and charged on toward O’Farrell and Geary where two of my favorite vegan restaurants sit. Golden Era (an Asian fusion place) and Millennium, a fit-for-foodies, high-end vegan oasis that I basically beg to go to any chance I get.
But here was the deal. Millennium, being the swanky vegan hot spot it is, had no seatings available (except for 9:30 pm which was far later than we told my parents we’d be home to relieve them from watching our kids!) for three entire days prior. I kept checking and checking but no one would cancel their reservation for me. I can’t imagine why. And so even though in my heart I had prepared to go to Golden Era (which is AWESOME as well but just not as *special*, especially for an 11th anniversary dinner), I still strode toward Millennium with my top button hangin’ loose, praying for a miracle. A few blocks away, I called them and asked about a table. No such luck, but there was space at the bar and it’s a full-service bar. Hmmm. We decided to sit at the bar and at least have a drink. If it was comfortable enough (I could barely stand after eating all we’d eaten, much less imagine myself perched on a tall bar stool), we’d stay and order dinner there. If not, we’d pay our tab and head to Golden Era. So we arrived at Millennium and spunky me, I ask one more time for a table. The hostess looks at the other and says, “Well, we did just have that no-show,” to which the other answered, “Yes, we did. Let’s give it to them. Right this way, please.” WOOT!!! Someone DID have the heart to forfeit their reservation for little ‘ole me. What kindness! And I was so relieved to not have to resort to D’s plan which would’ve been to say to the hostess, completely straight-faced, “I am the blogger genius behind One Happy Table. You do know One Happy Table, don’t you? You don’t? Well I guarantee everyone sitting here in your restaurant does. Now give us a seat or you will have One Very UNhappy Table to contend with.”
Right… thanks D. Glad I didn’t have to go there.
Millennium is located at 580 Geary Street, inside the Hotel California (but with its own entrance off the street), and right in the heart of the Theater District/Union Square area.
While we normally do a full four-course meal at Millennium (each!), our tummies just couldn’t handle it. So we settled on drinks, two appetizers, a shared entree and a shared dessert. Still, it was plenty of food!
We started off with drinks, D ordering a High Note (San Juan Del Rio Mexcal, fresh muddled blackberry and Serrano chile, lime juice, maple syrup, cumin and salt sugar rim, rocks) and me, a Creamsicle (fresh squeezed OJ, vanilla agave, silk creamer, soda).
We then ordered appetizers. The Roasted Beets came with hazelnut oil, balsamic and thyme. Our photo doesn’t do this dish justice. The plating was gorgeous. We also had the Soup du Jour: a South Indian Spice Soup with corn, carrot and coconut puree, garnished with red corn, carrot, curry leaf and mustard seed. It was out of this world.
For our entree, we chose one of my favorites: Maple-Black Pepper Glazed Smoked Tempeh served with olive oil mashed potatoes with horseradish, sauteed sweet onion, Romano beans and baby carrots, stone fruit-Dijon-sage barbecue sauce, and parsley and radish salad. This is down home vegan cooking at its best!
And for the grand finale, we couldn’t resist what was in our opinion, the most inventive dessert on the menu: Grilled Lemon Cornbread served with roasted peaches, cherry-pomegranate reduction and (get this) buttered corn ice cream. Yes!!! The ice cream tasted like buttered corn and even had real corn kernels inside. It was delicious and the perfect pairing for the cornbread. A delightful treat for the palate!
You just can’t go wrong with this place. D and I shared a relaxed conversation about our eleven years of marriage and the 6 years we were dating before marriage as well! We felt like royalty with the phenomenal food, impeccable service (our server even remembered me from the last time I was there and welcomed me back), and gorgeous atmosphere. We give Millennium 5/5 stars not just because they’re a high-end restaurant but because they know the meaning of good food and good service and they’re serious about both. I don’t need to tell you that this was the priciest of all our ventures, leaving us with a bill of about $85 after tip. It would’ve been more had we ordered separate entrees and desserts but really, this was plenty of food for two. And when we offered the disclaimer to our server that we wouldn’t be ordering a lot because of our “food tour” he simply smiled and said, “Feel free to order as little or as much as you’d like” without the slightest hint of annoyance. So if you can swing it, we highly recommend Millennium for your next special night out.
And that brings us to the close of our glorious SF Walking Vegan Food Tour! At least for now. Maybe we’ll do it again next year? While the dramatic coast of Point Reyes and the endless vineyards of Napa Valley always call my name at anniversary time, it is hard to ignore the fact that we also live fifteen minutes away from one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world. And the food in SF is just getting better and more diverse each year. What delicious fun!
Thanks for “coming along” on our food tour.
Happy eating to all of you!