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February 10, 2015

The Best Spots in San Francisco for Vegetarian Dining

Dining out with a vegetarian can be a challenge—for everyone at the table. It’s hard for the bona fide meat lover to be happy at a place that specializes in bean curd, but vegetarians are tired of the same old portobello mushroom burger that feels like it’s been tossed on the menu as an afterthought. So where can you go with carnivores and vegetarians, where no one will feel like they’ve missed out on the main event? Fortunately, this is San Francisco, a city full of places that celebrate vegetables as much as meat on the plate. Here are some of our favorites.

Cotogna (490 Pacific Ave.)
Tucked into an old, tree-lined street between North Beach and the Financial District is Cotogna, the more casual little sister to high-end (and adjoining) Quince. It’s been one of the hottest restaurants in town for years now and no wonder. Chef Michael Tusk is preparing excellent pasta in house, along with pizza, salads and seasonal takes on rustic Italian cuisine. Their sformato is always vegetarian and the raviolo di ricotta with an egg inside is another winner. Don’t miss their vegetable side dishes (like the famed carrots), which are substantial enough to impress everyone at your table. Reservations are advisable, but the bar and communal table are great for walk-ins. If you have to wait, the neighborhood is perfect for some strolling and perhaps a cocktail in North Beach. Website

Udupi Palace (3242 Scott St. and 1007 Valencia St.)
Fans of Indian food should try Udupi Palace, with two locations in San Francisco, one in the Marina and another in the Mission. The food is entirely meat-free, so vegetarians can order with abandon, and vegans will also find plenty to love. As for meat-lovers, when one of Udapi Palace's eye-catching dosas makes its way across the dining room, accompanied by several chutneys, they’ll be too impressed to say a word. The rich spices keep everything beyond flavorful and the thalis are an excellent value, too. Website

Flytrap (606 Folsom St.)
Hoss Zaré’s Flytrap offers a little something for everyone. His modern, fresh takes on Persian dishes are layered in flavor, with extravagant use of spices and herbs. Many a vegetarian swears by his varied menu and his “Hoss-pitality” is legendary. The warm and stylish dining room and well-considered wine list don’t hurt, either. The menu features both vegetarian and meat-oriented dishes, but all are crafted with care. Website

Gracias Madre (2211 Mission St.)
Mexican food can be challenging for a vegetarian, not to mention a vegan, but Gracias Madre is here to help. The Mission restaurant offers all vegan dishes, using regional Mexican recipes and local, seasonal produce. The crunchy granola environment might be a little much for the most red-blooded carnivores, but they’re likely to be won over by the excellent enchiladas con mole. Creative use of cashew, coconut and legumes yields delicious results (we promise), and they even manage desserts that don’t disappoint (try the flan). Website

Burma Superstar (309 Clement St.) and Burma Love (211 Valencia St.)
Burmese food can be hard to find, but San Francisco has an abundance of the cuisine, infused with flavors of India, China and Thailand. Burma Superstar has been famous locally for long lines and intimate quarters (pro tip: spend your wait perusing the shelves at nearby Green Apple Books). Now they’ve added a new member to the family in the Mission: Burma Love. The newest outpost also has a full bar and a bit more space, which has significantly reduced the wait times, and made them more pleasant. Both are great places for a vegetarian, vegan and omnivore to enjoy a good meal in harmony. The tea leaf salad is rightly famous and the vegetarian curries pack a delicious punch. Burma Superstar Website,Burma Love Website

Greens (Building A Fort Mason Center)
For a true San Francisco institution dedicated to vegetarian cuisine, look no further than the legendary Greens, overlooking the Bay in historic Fort Mason. It was opened in 1979 by the San Francisco Zen Center and has been making vegetarians (and the diners who love them) happy ever since. Their chefs have produced some of the most respected vegetarian cookbooks in publication, the views are spectacular and the service is refined. Plus, in a classically Northern California twist, they were one of the first places in San Francisco to partner with their own farm, located on the Zen Center’s retreat at Green Gulch in nearby Marin County. The menu changes with the season, but the dishes are almost always on point. Website

Kin Khao (55 Cyril Magnin St.)
Thai is often a safe bet for vegetarians and vegans, and Kin Khao is a more stylish and truly authentic place to try than your usual Thai joint. Owner Pim Techamuanvivit is well know for her food blog, Chez Pim, and her new restaurant features many dishes rarely found outside Thailand, in a fun atmosphere with cocktails and a wine list well-designed to pair with the bright flavors on the menu. Come prepared for an adventure, have fun and order the black rice pudding for dessert. Website

Enjoy Vegetarian (839 Kearny St, 754 Kirkham St., 5344 Geary Blvd.)
It can be hard for a vegetarian to survive in a Chinese restaurant, but local mini-chain Enjoy Vegetarian is a popular destination among vegetarians and vegans. If it’s meat substitutes you seek, this is the spot for you. Three locations around town make it a convenient stop, too. They also deliver. Website

Marcia Gagliardi is the creator of www.tablehopper.com, a popular insider weekly e-column about the SF dining scene, subscribe for more news and updates. Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper. Dana Eastland is the associate editor for tablehopper.com

Photo via Greens Facebook Page

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