Eating vegan in the hippie haven of San Francisco

San Francisco has a reputation for liberal thought and progressive values. It’s therefore no surprise that it is also a leading light in vegan cuisine. From bowl-themed health and wellness inspired cafes to veganised Asian dishes and some serious junk, you could eat in a different place in San Francisco for a month before you ran out of options. Here are a few of my favourites:

For the health freaks:

Nourish Café is your best bet for giant bowls of wholesome goodness. They’re a little on the pricey side but they’re gargantuan enough that you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. The original nourish bowl is stuffed with quinoa, yams, avocado, sprouts, hummus, cucumber, mixed greens, tomatoes, beet sauerkraut, sunflower seeds, hemp dressing, and I added mock marinated tuna as a topping for extra protein.

Bibmbap bowl from Nourish Cafe

Another great choice was the bibimbap bowl with tofu, carrot, pepper, avo, cabbage, bean sprouts, mixed leases, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and jasmine rice. Tip: If you’re going with a friend and fancy a sweet treat in the form of a smoothie-bowl or one of their raw cakes afterwards, maybe split both to save enough room (unless you’re feeling extra hungry). They also sell health drinks including kombucha on tap.

If you’re venturing along the coast, Café del Soul in Santa Rosa also does an amazing array of vegan salads and this seriously green ‘hummus yummus’ wrap.

Hummus yummus indeed!

For brunch:

If you’re craving a brunch that will fuel you for a day of sight-seeing, Andana Fuara is your best spot for breakfast burritos, vegan huevos rancheros, French toast, and giant stacks of pancakes.

Epic breakfast burrito from Ananda Fuara

For when you’re on the go:

Ike’s sandwich shop can be found in multiple locations both in San Francisco and if you’re venturing out in the rest of California. It’s worth noting it as a stop-in on a road-trip since options on the road can be limited. They have a huge menu of vegan sandwich options with mock meats. My favourite were the ‘turkey’, mozzarella and avocado, and the ‘go sharks’, with  mock chicken, buffalo wing sauce, lettuce and tomato.

Serious vegan sandwich from Ike’s sandwich shop

For Mexican:

Gracias Madre has an authentic vibe, killer cocktails, and sources all of its organic ingredients locally. I got the Flautas de Camote with sweet potatoes, caramelized onion, guacamole, cashew nacho cheese and black beans, with a side of margariiittaaaa!

Flautas de Camote at Gracias Madre

For the best Asian food:

San Francisco has a huge Asian influence in its food and culture as it became home to migrants from China and Japan in the 1900s. The fusion of this and the hippie vibe means that you can get some of the most authentic and incredible eats in vegan versions all over the place!

Indochine’s pot-sticker dumplings were the perfect combination of crisp, doughy, and flavourful. Their signature clay-pot with mock prawn is also a must-try dish.

Pot-sticker dumplings at Indochine

Golden Era is one of the top-rated vegan Chinese places and for good reason. The ‘lemongrass deluxe’ is one of their specialities with mock chicken and broccoli in a spicy lemongrass sauce. I really enjoyed the fried bananas with soy chocolate ice cream for dessert. Better yet, they’re extremely affordable, so if your wallet needs a break from some of this city’s high prices it’s a good spot for a bargain dinner.

Mister Jiu’s is not a vegan spot but it has several vegan options and is simply put the best Chinese I have ever eaten in my life. This sort of place would normally be way out of my price range, but if you’re lucky enough to have a friend to treat you or if your wallet is bigger than mine it is well worth forking out a bit more for this kind of taste experience. There’s no greasy ‘vegetable chow mein’ here. We munched through fluffy mushroom bao buns, Szechuan tofu, carrot and peanut noodles, bok choi, and my surprise favourite dish, crispy scarlet turnip cakes. The cocktails also pack a punch.

Bao Buns at Mister Jieu’s

For sushi, you have to go to Shizen. At risk of sounding repetitive this was the best sushi I have had in my life! I never used to be into sushi since I stopped eating fish as a kid and previously vegan versions were pretty bland. The game has upped, particularly in London, over the last few years as the demand for both Japanese and vegan food has increased, but I’ve never had anything like these sushi rolls. Even my ardent carnivore friend was impressed! The rolls we tried were:, ‘secret smile’  with sweet potato tempura, avocado, spicy tofu, roasted pepper, sesame mustard and seaweed pearls. Then: ‘secret weapon’ with marinated eryngii mushroom, avo, spicy shredded tofu, pickled jalapeño, pickled pineapple, sweet shoyu and habanero sauce. Finally, the ‘colonel’s pipe’, with smoked beets, cashews, creamy tofu, asparagus, avo, sweet mustard, and orange zest. 

The Secret Smile at Shizen

For something a bit different:

Ethiopian food has surged in popularity in the trendy corners of London in the last year. It also makes a splash in San Francisco. I’ve got really obsessed with it recently since it’s delicious, naturally vegan, affordable and so healthy. This veggie banatu combo from Tadu Ethiopian included a delicious stew (top left) I’d never had before. It was a huuuuge meal for a bargain price.

Veggie Banatu Combo at Tadu Ethiopian

For serious junk:

Another non-vegan place, but a good one to check out in non-vegan company, Tony’s is known as the best pizza in San Fran for good reason. Better yet, the chef has started to include vegan cheese as an option on the vegetarian pizzas to veganise them! Unfortunately when I went they had run out, but I still really enjoyed a cheese-less feast with crunchy fried onions and scallions. Tip: better than the pizza was the fried dough ball starter. Giant crispy but fluffy light dough balls you could crack open and stuff with a bruschetta veg mix. I think I died and went to carbed our heaven! 

If you’re in Haight Ashbury and you’ve got the munchies, Vegan Burg does some pretty satisfying burgers. My standards for vurgers are pretty high after spending a year sampling the best Shoreditch has to offer, and IMHO these weren’t quite up to the standard of Vurger or Mooshies. The BBQ burger was a bit bland, but I really enjoyed the fake fish with tartar sauce for something a bit different. It was crunchy, sour, and satisfying.

The BBQ burger (top) and Tartare (bottom) burgers from Vegan Burg

So all in all this is why I left San Francisco a few pounds heavier! Have I missed anything? Feel free to get in contact and let me know your favourite foodie finds there.

San Francisco: waxing lyrical on the city of liberal daydreams

San Francisco is one of those cities I’ve always dreamed about from reading about it in novels. Books about bookshops, revolutionaries, queer culture, free love, migrants, jazz, trams, highs, and hippies.  

I was nervous that the reality of San Francisco in 2018 wouldn’t live up to the picture I had in my head. Time has moved on since the classic 1960s image of the city. I was worried that it would have modernised and been taken over by shopping centres, capitalism and American corporation culture.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that- while there is an extent to which this is true in the financial centre- on the whole the alternative culture of San Francisco still thrives, a living beating heart of liberalism in a country which largely seems anything but.

I was bemused on arriving at our Airbnb in Haight Ashbury, the former epicentre of the ‘summer of love’ to see groups of people hanging around in tie-dye (non-ironically) smoking dope and strumming guitars. Socialist bookshops piled high with everything from books on Marxist analysis to the ‘cunt colouring book’. Gay leatherclad couples strolling around, and rainbow flags hanging from buildings. And, best of all, a vegan eatery on every street.

Haight Ashbury in particular retains most of what you imagine the ‘character’ of San Francisco to be, though there are parts of it that seem a bit forced, a reconstruction of an old image. However, the tie-dye shops are all family owned and you can buy any garment of clothing you can imagine in these whacky designs. There are record shops, bookshops, coffee shops and cocktail bars galore.

It’s also very close to the Golden Gate Park, which is a lovely place to go for a long morning run, particularly since the weather here tends to be cool, sunny, and clear at all times.  With botanical gardens, a huge greenhouse, and endless winding paths, it’s a spot that’s really worth checking out if you need some downtime. Just remember that in the US it is illegal to drink in public so if you’re gonna bring a bevy for a picnic you’d better keep it out of sight (mad, I know).

Powerful street art tells a political story of resistance everywhere you walk, and you can find out where the best bits online are to do a self-guided tour, which is probably the best bet since it’s constantly changing. The highlight for me was the MaestraPeace Mural, which covers the Women’s Building. This is a women-lead non-profit community and arts centre a with workshops to support people facing difficult issues like domestic violence and drug abuse, education programmes to help people get into work, exercise classes, a fresh free food programme, performances, cinema, and even legal support and tax advice to low-income and migrant women. The building is wrapped in a colourful mural that is a ‘testament to the courageous contributions through time and around the world’ and it is a sight to behold.

If you’re short on time, the other place to check out lots of great street art in a relatively short stretch is Clarion Alley, which is plastered in some of the most political graffiti you will see. There is a focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, with murals dedicated to the memory of murdered black people, as well as those focusing on economic injustice, Palestine, feminism, and much more. We even saw a bunch of people painting as we checked everything out.

For those that enjoy a smoke, weed is legal in San Francisco and can be bought from any of a number of regulated dispensaries. They seem to vary in character from a clinical and almost pharmaceutical setting to an old school smoking lounge. It’s no surprise really that the locals, and Californians in general, are such a chilled out bunch.

If you’re feeling open-mined and happen to be there at the end of September, you might want to check out the Folsom Street Fair. Primarily a gay and leather event, it’s now opened out to be almost more of a kink expo in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street. If you see people wandering around naked or in fetish gear around this time, you can bet that’s where they’re headed. Even if you don’t fancy participating, you can go as an observer as long as you make a contribution to an HIV charity. The atmosphere is very friendly, and you don’t have to be gay.  I will warn you, you will probably see people doing things to each other than you can’t unsee, but if you go with a liberal attitude you’ll have a fun afternoon.

On a slightly chiller note, I was really happy to get to check out some jazz while we were in San Francisco. There are several great bars that pump out live music every night of the week. The cocktails are expensive (but strong), the dancing is lively, and given its history, you really can’t go to San Fran and miss out on this.

You might have read about City Lights bookshop in poems and books. That’s the kind of place it is. I love a good bookshop anyway, but a bookshop so iconic there are literally books about it is something I couldn’t resist. It did not disappoint, and I wished I had more spending money and a bigger suitcase. There were shelves upon shelves on books on all the subjects I care about most, with a focus on social justice spanning literally everything you can think of. More than that- novels by international authors I’d never heard of, poetry, travel books, and maps. I ended up settling for a collection of poetry called Women of Resistance, a collection of international feminist poetry, the proceeds from which are donated to Planned Parenthood and the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

Another legend of San Fran is of course the trams, which chug up and down the unbelievably steep slopes of the city. It’s something you have to do once (and after hiking up some of these hills you’ll really want to), and for us it was fun to hop onto the ledge on the outside of the tram and hang on. I did feel that for the people in the middle, who would have had their view blocked by us, it probably was less of a good deal, so if you can try to go at a less busy time of day so you can actually enjoy it.

Pier 39 has a reputation for sea lions, which sadly we didn’t see. It’s a bit cheesy (your typical seaside pier) but it’s a nice place to stop and have a drink by the water, and you can even see Alcatraz over the sea, though we didn’t have time to go. They’re also famed for their sourdough bread here.

The ‘Painted Ladies’ are a row of houses that have been the feature of many films, and have now become a bit of a landmark. Lombard Street is another great place to get a snap. A whacky winding street bursting with flowers, it looks like the stuff of Alice in Wonderland and it’s hard to believe people actually live there.

If you have more time, I’d definitely recommend hiring a car to go out of the city for a few days. The Pacific Coast highway has some lovely views, such as Half Moon Bay. Another thing I really enjoyed was renting a cabin in the woods. California is home to some really beautiful redwoods, and out here, you really feel that you’re far from everything.

So did it live up to my expectations? Well, I ended up leaving San Francisco googling jobs and the feasibility of getting a visa. So yes, I loved it and would seriously consider actually living there if there was a chance of getting work in my field, in spite of the mad tango monster President. It seems a world apart from the rest of what you think of as ‘MURICA’ and Californians are amongst the friendliest, most cheerful, and easy going folk I’ve encountered on my travels.

My one bugbear is the poverty. Given that it’s one of the wealthiest places in the world, I was seriously disturbed by the number of homeless people we saw. Sure, London and the UK in general has the same issues, but I would say not nearly to the same extent. There seem to be several times more homeless people than you see on the streets of London, and not just that, but they seem much, much more desperate. I saw people eating out of bins outside restaurants that would cost $60 a head for a meal, trying to drink the remains of rancid yoghurt drinks. Putting down half a pizza on the way home for a second while looking where to go, and someone ran up and begged for it.  And more than that, a much higher proportion were clearly struggling with serious drug dependencies and mental health issues. Again, I know these are problems in the UK too but I was really shocked by how much worse it was. For all that San Francisco on the whole has a progressive outlook and a drive for social justice, in many ways there still doesn’t seem to be much of it about. There are centres and programmes to help, and it’s suggested that’s why there are quite so many people who gravitate there. If I was able to live and work there, I think that’s the area I’d have to look for work in. Like a lot of liberal places, there ironically remains a high concentration of wealth in the left, and a bit more distribution of it might make it a city living closer to the values you see spray painted on the walls. With so many great social initiatives, I sincerely hope they get more funding to help more people live a better quality of life in a city that, in all other ways, is bloody fantastic.