Critter-Free Cuisine: Vegan Fare Reaching New Heights at Area Restaurants
Say the word vegan now in San Diego and you won’t get a quizzical sideways glance any more. While still on the fringe of vegetarianism, it’s steadily become a normal request from diners and not an entirely oddball notation to see on menus. As someone clocking in more than 17 years as a vegetarian, it thrills me to see a swell of health-focused activity in San Diego dining culture.
Here are three hot spots in the county turning out delicious vegan dishes and drinks.
Undoubtedly the renegade of the vegan movement in San Diego, Kindred is the antithesis of the Namaste meditate-on-your-food purist vision of “clean” living. With punk rock on the airwaves and skull and beast iconography adorning the walls, it’s intentionally not the “AUM” environment typically seen.
For owner Kory Stetina, a 14-year vegan, Kindred grew from pop-up vegan dinners around San Diego, culminating in its popular South Park location.
Rather than open a restaurant exclusively for vegans, he creates a “great guest experience that just happens to be vegan, almost crafted more for a non-vegetarian palate than for vegetarians. Our goal was try to elevate traditional fare, rather than imitate.”
Must-tries from Chef Jeremy Scullin:
The Deli Battle, with red chili and orange-fennel seitan (shaved like charcuterie), smoked golden beets, miso cashew balls, kale pepperoncini pesto and spicy lemon tomato spread.
Memphis BBQ Jackfruit, with pulled soy curls and green chili aioli on sourdough with housemade potato chips. As Kory puts it, “It’s great flavor with something that is naturally vegan. We’re not creating analog versions.”
The moment you step into EVE, Encinitas Vegan Experience, you feel its innate intimacy and warmth from the reclaimed wood and greenery to the large picture windows. Locals are naturally drawn into the space. For owner Scott Steel, that’s precisely the goal.
“It’s about supporting the community and friends, and redefining ourselves every day. Everything is done with the intention to nurture.” Scott, a chef for 20 years, creates the focused menu in tandem with chefs Addy Shreffler and Lauren Wong.
The Legendary Hero Bowl, made with kale, Brussels sprouts, avocado, carrots, beets, walnuts, cranberries and their addictive “tahini glory sauce.” Don’t miss their blend of yerba mate and organic vegan kefir soda.
EVE has a range of meal-replacement smoothies, 10 taps with six different local kombuchas, cold brewed yerba mate and cold brew superfood organic coffee on nitro.
You can also find EVE’s bowls in Jimbo’s, juices at the Chopra Center at Omni La Costa, and through DoorDash.
Now considered a SoCal classic, Cafe Gratitude successfully brought healthier eating options to a city understandably ruled by carne asada burritos, Hawaiian pork and calorie-bomb brunches. What it’s managed to do is awe-inspiring. Packed every day to the hilt, Gratitude draws in scores of visitors with its high-end, clean-lined modern space and its expansive menu, leaving any style of diner with options.
While the flourishing chain has been embroiled in social media controversy over the owners’ decision to return to eating meat and raising animals for meat on their farm, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down their pace in San Diego or altered their mission of elevating San Diegans’ level of awareness of veganism, health and, yes, living with gratitude.
I am Gracious: Summer Salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, cashew mozzarella, avocado, basil hempseed pesto, wild arugula and Brazil nut parmesan.
I am Comforted: Roasted yams with cashew nacho cheese.
I am Worthy: Pressed juice with apple, carrot, beet, chard, lemon and ginger.