The Top 8 Plant-Based and Vegan Restaurants to Try in San Diego
San Diego has a lot going for it, between miles of sandy beaches, a thriving craft beer industry, and consistently sunny weather that inspires envy from the rest of the country. And as a bonus for plant-based eaters, America’s Finest City promises top-notch vegan experiences peppered throughout its many neighborhoods. From pop-ups and corner bistros to fast food joints and popular brunch spots, this seaside locale ensures you won’t go hungry while you’re exploring the town. Here are 8 of the best options for plant-based fare in San Diego.
1. Kindred, 1503 30th St, San Diego
Calling all: Metalheads. With metal tunes piped through the dining room and decor that nods to all things dark — including a horned demonic being adorning one wall — Kindred defies the typical benign aesthetic of vegan restaurants. Most patrons are of the younger, hipper variety, but you’ll see people from all walks of life squeezing into the booths and bar stools.
Don’t miss: Out-of-the-ordinary appetizers, many of which are finger foods, make it easy to bring friends, order up a load of cocktails and small bites, and share a tapas-style meal.
Order for the Table: You’re missing out big time if you don’t order the skewers, chunks of seitan meat smothered in chimichurri, harissa, and horse-radish aioli. The Cosmo Knots — puff pastries with Togarashi pub cheese and chives — are especially addictive. Nothing beats the creamy goodness of the side of mac, bolstered by jalapeño and mushroom bits. For a little more to sink your teeth into, try the Memphis BBQ Jackfruit sandwich or the Babylon Burger, made with an Impossible patty.
Plant yourself: With its chic patio, Kindred brings hungry people-watchers in droves. The restaurant is part of a lively commercial district in the idyllic neighborhood of South Park, just a stone’s throw from the famous Balboa Park. Get a seat under the SoCal sun and watch fashionable denizens fill the seats at every bar and restaurant in the vicinity.
2. Thanh Tinh Chay Restaurant, 4591 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
Calling all penny-pinchers: San Diego’s best vegan Vietnamese eatery also happens to be it's most affordable. Offering entrees for just $8.25, this City Heights spot on El Cajon Boulevard is where you go for an impressive variety of tasty noodles dishes and soups, all priced to allow you to indulge without restraint.
Order for the Table: If you’re new to Vietnamese cuisine, the appetizers are a good place to sample flavors and textures, unlike anything you've ever had. Get your snack on with the jicama rolls, the Vietnamese crepe, or the veggie egg rolls.
Don’t miss: The Banh Mi sandwich, packed with fresh vegetables and fried tofu on a fresh baguette. You should also try the rice vermicelli bowl, with tons of fresh vegetables and a lightly flavored sauce — it’s perfect if you’re avoiding filling up too fast. The beef stew noodle soup steals the show with its dark, savory broth, and the fried rice with lemongrass is familiar, but with an interesting kick.
Take note: All menu items are vegan with the exception of dishes made with egg noodles, though you can ask staff to substitute for rice noodles.
3. Donna Jean, 2949 Fifth Ave, San Diego
Calling all pizza fanatics: The accolades just keep piling up while this 100% vegan cafe in the Bankers Hill neighborhood continues to deliver vegan goodness to the hungry masses, including pizza, pasta, and brunch.
While ingredients are fresh and many made in-house (including their incredible cashew-based cheeses), this eatery insists it’s not aiming to be your typical health-food place. Snag a seat and get ready to chow down on simple but satisfying vegan fare.
Must-haves: While an array of intriguing options grace the menu, there’s nothing like the classic Margherita pizza. You’ll be impressed by the chewy crust and the flavor and texture of the cheese, which bears no resemblance to store-bought varieties that leave a funny aftertaste in your mouth. Gluten-free crusts are available too, for the wheat-free crowd.
If pizza is not your jam (is that possible?) you can order appetizers like pan-seared okra or handmade pasta like the agnolotti or the lasagna. For brunch, you have both sweet and savory choices, like the biscuits and gravy or the strawberry rhubarb French toast.
Plant yourself: On the breezy patio, a flower-filled oasis shaded by umbrellas and a verdant canopy. Order a beer or wine while you wait for your piping-hot food to show up, and soak in some of that endless sunshine San Diego is known for.
4. Spoiled Vegans Cafe, 440 16th St, San Diego
As early as 8 a.m. on a weekend, when most city residents are fast asleep, Spoiled Vegans Cafe is working at lightning speed to create delicious breakfast sandwiches. Stop by their downtown shop to place an order as early as you can; the crowd of hungry patrons grows longer as the morning wears on, and you only have until 2 p.m. to get your fix.
Spoil yourself rotten with 100% vegan breakfast sandwiches that come on buttery croissants, chewy English muffins, or fresh bagels. The menu varies, but you can always count on a hearty hand-held breakfast and drinks like oat milk lattes or Local Roots kombucha.
Don’t miss: The ham, egg, and cheese on croissant pack a punch with its salty “ham”, fluffy imitation egg, and a savory, tangy sauce. For something out of the ordinary, try the Buffalo Chick’n Breakfast Sandwich, made with a buffalo chick’n patty, egg patty, smoked provolone, garlic-dill pickles, and house-made buffalo aioli.
Must-have: Order a hash brown on the side, which is every bit as crunchy and salty as you’d expect, but with extra spices that elevate the experience. For a super-indulgent morning treat, order the Let Go of My Diego, sausage wrapped in a waffle, and served on a stick.
5. Plant Power Fast Food, 2204 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego
Committing to a plant-based diet usually means eschewing most of the things served at fast-food restaurants. But you can get your junk food fill at Plant Power Fast Food, located in the bohemian Ocean Beach neighborhood. With vegan versions of everything you remember pigging out on in your childhood — hamburgers, chicken nuggets, fries, floats, and even milkshakes — this is the place to satisfy your strongest fast food craving. After you grab takeout, head on foot toward the beachfront, a long sandy slice of coastline popular with surfers, hippies, and sun-seeking out-of-towners.
Must-haves: Sink your teeth into the classic bacon cheeseburger, made with a thick, meaty patty and topped with “bacon” in addition to typical burger condiments. The Big Zac is the vegan answer to the Big Mac – it even has two patties and special “Zac” sauce. You can’t go wrong with the buffalo wings, drenched in spicy buffalo sauce and perfect for dipping in vegan ranch. Not a fan of plain French fries? Order yours the “iconic” way, dressed up with melted cheese, secret sauce, and caramelized onions.
Don’t miss: The milkshakes, which come in a wide array of flavors, including peanut butter, horchata coffee, and cookies and cream.
6. Harmless Eats, 3960 Normal St, San Diego
Not every vegan treat in San Diego comes from a brick-and-mortar location. Harmless Eats is a pop-up occupying a stall at the Hillcrest Farmers Market every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In just a few short hours, they delight plant-based foodies with crunchy, juicy mock fried chicken served up in creative ways.
Don’t miss: The phenomenal fried chick’n tenders, perfect with a side or ranch or BBQ sauce. Though an order is great as an appetizer, it could be a meal unto its own. Spice things up with the Buffalo Chick’n Sandwich on a pretzel bun, oozing with housemade ranch sauce and topped with lettuce and tomato.
Plant yourself: Join locals and sit on the lawn either in front of the post office or near the corner church to enjoy your food. When you’re done, head back to the market to stock up on goods like tempeh from SD Tempeh, gourmet mushrooms from Mindful Mushrooms, and microgreens from Lath House Gardens.
7. The Modern Vegan, 4332 30th St #3, San Diego
Calling all picky eaters: With a menu that includes just about any type of comfort food you can imagine, this minimalist North Park spot is a go-to for plant-based diners who want the experience of a good home-cooked meal. Its vast menu includes breakfast (including a separate waffle section), appetizers, salads, bowls, burgers, and classic plates, all spanning many different types of cuisine. No matter what you’re in the mood for, this place likely has it.
Must-haves: Fish tacos are all the rage in San Diego, and The Modern Vegan offers its own take on this local treat. You get three flour tortillas filled with fried “fish” and topped with coleslaw, Green Goddess sauce, and a special housemade sauce.
Order for the table: From the “All-Time Faves” menu to try dishes that are hard to find elsewhere: stuffed portobello steak, buffalo chick’n mac and cheese, and Louisiana fried chicken, for example. The chick’n fettuccine alfredo is one of the most popular choices — it’s a generous tangle of noodles drenched in a creamy garlic sauce, tossed with broccoli and chick’n. Bonus: it comes with garlic bread on the side.
8. Grains, 2201 Adams Ave, San Diego
They say variety is the spice of life, and the folks at Grain would likely agree. They’ve created a self-described “East-meets-West” approach to vegan dining, with a menu of salads, noodle dishes, and sandwiches that brings together Asian flavors and American classics. There’s a reason this low-key cafe is so popular with locals; the food is consistently tasty, fresh, and different from other vegan offerings found throughout the city. Rest assured, no matter what you order, you’ll be impressed.
Don’t miss: The popcorn “chicken,” surprisingly crispy and juicy. Since it’s made with cauliflower, it doesn’t have that dry quality you sometimes find with fake meats. The “chicken” is one of a handful of enticing fried finger foods on the appetizer menu worth springing for. Equally irresistible are the salt and pepper “calamari” mushrooms, served with a sweet and spicy sauce on the side.
Order for the table: Super-thin angel-hair pasta forms the base for the Drunken Angels dish, a slightly different take on the Thai dish pad kee mao. It comes with generous portions of fried tofu, cherry tomatoes, grilled peppers and onions, and just the right amount of basil (be warned – this dish is spicy!).
Plant yourself: Snag a table on the tiny patio, which gives you views of the neighborhood action along palm-tree-lined Adams Avenue.