April 23, 2003

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Superlist no. 784

Meat-free zones
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants in San Francisco.

By Camper English

IT'S GREAT TO be a vegetarian in San Francisco. Almost every restaurant has several veggie options on the menu, so you don't have to feel like a freak bringing your own food or ordering just a side salad when you go out to eat with friends. Even at takeout places you can often grab a substitution and indulge in a soy hot dog, a tofu burrito, or a seitan cheese steak. Still, sometimes you want to be able to order anything on the menu without itemizing the possible meaty ingredients first. That's when dining at a vegetarian restaurant tastes like freedom.

Blame it on the recession or the Atkins diet, but over the past three years almost as many vegetarian restaurants have closed as remain on this list. Visit these before they too go the way of the brontosaurus burger.

Civic Center restaurant Ananda Fuara features cheap, mostly American-style veggie food, such as its specialty Neatloaf. It's most crowded at lunch, but it's open for breakfast and dinner as well. The sky blue decor and sarong-wearing staff should provide you with a Zen-like eating experience. Mon.-Tues. and Thurs.-Sun., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wed., 8 a.m.-3 p.m., 1298 Market, S.F. (415) 621-1994, anandafuara.citysearch.com.

Bok Choy Garden, a Richmond-District Chinese vegan restaurant, offers several unusual entrées you won't see in other veggie places of a similar style. Recommendations: the fried walnuts with sweet-and-sour sauce and the stuffed shiitake mushroom with broccoli. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-9:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 1820 Clement, S.F. (415) 387-8111, www.222.to/bokchoygarden.

A little vegetarian Indian restaurant in the Inner Sunset, New Ganges Vegetarian Restaurant has changed hands several times over the past few years, often disappointing those who remember it from its heyday. The current owners have had the place open since the New Year. Daily, 5-10 p.m., 775 Frederick, S.F. (415) 681-4355.

Golden Era Vegetarian Restaurant is a gem in the Tenderloin, serving a huge and reasonably priced pan-Asian menu of mostly faux-meat dishes that come pretty close to the real thing. There's plenty of seating but often a short wait on weekends because of the restaurant's ever growing popularity. Mon. and Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 572 O'Farrell, S.F. (415) 673-3136, www.goldeneravegetarian.com.

The famous Greens Restaurant, owned (and partially supplied with vegetables) by the San Francisco Zen Center, has been around for 23 years. It's located on the water at Fort Mason Center and offers views of the bay. The food is as posh as the venue, with matching prices. The lunch and dinner menus change daily. Tues.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m.; Sat., noon-2:30 p.m. and prix fixe dinner 5:30-9 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Fort Mason Center, Bldg. A, Marina at Laguna, S.F. (415) 771-6222, greensrest.citysearch.com.

Haveli Hindu Restaurant, a fairly new south Indian restaurant, serves food assembly line-style. Portions are small and cheap, so you can pick and choose plenty of vittles to fill your plate. Located on the Sixth Street corridor, it's definitely downscale, and it's only open for lunch. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 35 Sixth St., S.F. (415) 348-1381.

A popular vegan restaurant that now has two locations, Herbivore serves up the same menu of low-cost meals all day – the Divisadero location also serves brunch on the weekends (9 a.m.-2 p.m.). There's no one theme; the selection includes burritos, lasagna, pad thai, and chocolate cupcakes. It's the place that makes vegans feel like normal humans again. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m., 983 Valencia, S.F. (415) 826-5657; Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-10 p.m., 531 Divisadero, S.F. (415) 885-7133.

Hulu House is a small restaurant in the Inner Sunset that serves good portions of pan-Asian food at low prices on both lunch and dinner menus. Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 756 Kirkham, S.F. (415) 682-0826.

Juicey Lucy serves all-organic food and juices – at least 42 of the latter. The menu accommodates vegans, rawists, and macrobiotics with soups, salads, and sandwiches. Seasonal hours, 703 Columbus, S.F. (415) 786-1285.

Located in Chinatown, Lucky Creation Vegetarian features (surprise!) Chinese vegetarian food. The place is definitely downscale, and you should expect to split a table with other diners. Count on a line at lunch and heaps of good, cheap food all day long. Mon.-Tues. and Thurs.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., 854 Washington, S.F. (415) 989-0818.

Millennium competes with Greens in the categories of upscale, expensive, and delicious. In March 2003 it relocated to the Savoy Hotel, where there's a bigger kitchen from which to serve an expanded, all-vegan menu. In addition, there's a full bar serving 130 wines and spirits that are organic and/or locally distilled. Mon.-Thurs. and Sun., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m., 580 Geary, S.F. (415) 487-9800, www.millenniumrestaurant.com.

Reggae Runnins Village Store and Restaurant is a small African Caribbean restaurant with a store attached. It serves island treats like Jamaican rice and beans, vegan jerk chicken, and "rasta pasta." With the exception of some vegetarian pastries, everything is vegan. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m., 505 Divisadero, S.F. (415) 922-2442.

Out in the Sunset, Shangri-La serves up Chinese Buddhist foods, the standard vegetables and tofu, and fake meat plates, including abalone and shark fin. It's also kosher and inexpensive. Daily, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., 2026 Irving, S.F. (415) 731-2548, www.222.to/shangrila.

Three days a week, 2202 Oxygen Bar serves raw vegetarian food as well as the usual oxygen and elixir. The set meal, prepared by rotating chefs, usually involves three courses plus dessert and costs $12 to $15. Tues., Thurs., and Sat., 7-11 p.m., 795 Valencia, S.F. (415) 255-2102, www.2202bar.com.

Urban Forage is a tiny café with counter seating that's expanding to include some tables. It serves raw food, cooked and raw soups, salads, wraps, lots of desserts, and organic juices. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m., 254 Fillmore, S.F. (415) 255-6701, www.urbanforage.com.

Vege House is a tiny takeout storefront (with seating for three people) specializing in flavored tofu and soy "meat." Hardly any of the menu is in English, but the prices are low, so if you can't read it, try just pointing to a bunch of items and see what you get. Daily, 7 a.m.-8 p.m., 309 Sixth Ave., S.F. (415) 668-0608.