Two months ago I (Chad) had the great privilege of traveling to San Francisco for a continuing education event for my profession. I was learning to become a facilitator for those who wish to use labyrinths for spiritual direction. The event was outstanding and I learned a ton. But, like any trip that a vegan takes, food always plays a very interesting role in the journey. I absolutely could not wait to experience the vegan haven that would be San Francisco. I have always heard about the West Coast having such outstanding vegan restaurants and access to such fresh and organic foods. Before this trip, I had never traveled out West and this was my chance to check it all out.
My disclaimer about this trip is that I kind of thought that because of San Francisco’s reputation, I expected that I would likely walk into any restaurant in the city and there would be vegetarian and vegan options….that quinoa bowls and the like would be a part of the regular vernacular of the restaurant culture. Compared to where I grew up in the Midwest, the capacity of restaurants to work with vegan food is much higher, but I was actually quite surprised not to find more vegan friendly restaurants or even vegan restaurants than I did. Putting my disclaimer and assumptions of what I expected aside, I did discover some great places to eat and they were very tasty. Here was my journey.
When I arrived in San Francisco Airport I was so thrilled about the airport because I knew I would have a few hours to wait for my ride into the city and I had found out that they had a great vegan friendly restaurant there in the airport. I read reviews of the restaurant and was really looking forward to trying a few things. But, when I arrived, the particular terminal that had that restaurant was not my terminal and so unless I wanted to buy a plane ticket to get in that terminal I wasn’t going to eat there. I surely wasn’t going to pay $200+ to eat at a vegan restaurant in an airport…..so…….I was resigned to the Willow Creek Grill, where I had a veggie burger and fries. It was sub par.
Once my ride arrived at the airport, we traveled into the city and got me settled in the hotel. After dropping my bags off, we decided we would try this all vegan peruvian restaurant down the street from my hotel. Interestingly enough, it was closed for the night. So, we went around the corner to the Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe. I had my usual Pad Thai and veggie rolls. It was pretty good, but still not quite as good as Siam Square’s pad thai in Indianapolis. But, it was a nice place and I had the best of company.
The next day after a long day of being in sessions, I was expecting that my group would want to all bond together and go out to eat after the session. However, we had several people from other countries who had their husbands with them and so they weren’t interested in going out to eat. So, my thought was that I would go back to the peruvian place and catch dinner while they were open. When I got there, they were not open again! I still can’t believe it. How are they remaining open? Anyhow, so I was not far from Pier 39, which is the famous pier overlooking Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, so I decided to go walking down on the pier. It was so beautiful. But, down there were mostly hot dog vendors and, of course, fish places. Doing research for the trip, though, I knew that there was a Loving Hut Cafe in Chinatown on my way back to the hotel. So, I walked back through Chinatown and found my restaurant. My family and I have gone to the Loving Hut in Cincinnati (We have also done a review of this one on this blog) and we love it. So, I was excited about trying this particular Loving Hut because this one was mostly “chinese” dishes and geared towards the culture of the neighborhood. The atmosphere in the place was outstanding and the service excellent. I had a teryiaki tofu dish with vegetables and rice. I also had a kale smoothie and for dessert an absolutely stunning chocolate cheese cake. I will say that my main entree was just ok. It wasn’t terrible, but given the high quality of taste at the Loving Hut near us, I kind of expected it to be better. But, regardless, I am glad I went and it was so good. Shannon was jealous.
The following day would be my final in San Francisco so I really wanted to catch a place that the city was well known for in the vegan world. My good friends, Soni and Dea, were gracious enough to come and pick me up and we would travel over to Gracias Madre in the Mission District. In terms of food, this was the highlight of my trip. Such an excellent atmosphere and food. The only way to describe my meal was that it was incredibly rich and flavorful. I got some sort of enchilada dish and it was outstanding. One thing I didn’t care for was that the restaurant had you sit with other people at their tables and while I think on some level this is cool, when you are trying to catch up with old friends you kind of want to have the blessing of that experience without others at your table that you don’t know. Luckily, the only table they had available for the three of us could really only fit three, so we were able to catch up without the distraction. Where we actually sat was directly across from the famous picture of the Gracias Madre (pic below). It was so much fun and a great dining experience. I think if we lived anywhere near that place I would spend way too much of my money there. Good thing it was only just a visit!
All in all, I was impressed with the food I had on my trip and glad I was able to do it. I learned not to assume that just because it is California that this means it is always vegan friendly. However, the places I did go that were had a fantastic array of foods to eat and they were very delicious. I would do it again in a heartbeat and look forward to taking my family there with me next time. If you are ever in the bay area and are looking for excellent vegan food, check out Gracias Madre for sure. Next time I am in the area I plan to check other parts of the bay out so that I can eat at Cafe Gratitude and a few others that I didn’t get to this time. Until next time San Francisco, thanks for the good memories and the good eats.