Dining Out 3 minutes 18 December 2019

The 7 Best Vegan Restaurants in California

Chefs across the Golden State enjoy the treasures of local produce.

United Cuisines of California vegan

California’s farms and local markets provide inspiration for inventive dishes featuring fruits and vegetables that are always served at their peak as they are grown in such close proximity.

So it comes as no surprise that the Golden State is teeming with top-notch vegan fare. Here, seven restaurants serving up the very best vegan food in the state.

Gracias Madre

San Francisco

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Less mamacita and more Mother Earth, Gracias Madre is definitely not just another laid-back Mexican cantina. This is largely thanks to its strict sourcing standards (tortillas are made from scratch with heirloom corn) and wholesome plant-based food. Large portions showcase plenty of local produce, but that nacho cheese drizzled all over your butternut squash- and caramelized onion-filled tortilla is crafted from—nuts, of course. These colorful, vegan items explode with flavor, as seen in the enchiladas con mole packed with potato, zucchini and peas, then topped with tomatillo salsa, crema and avocado. The surprises keep coming throughout the meal. Take note of the flan, which created sans eggs still manages to have that trademark wobble.”

Millennium

San Francisco

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: “After more than 20 years in San Francisco, this vegan paradise relocated to Oakland, where it’s continuing to put out some of the most unique, delicious plant-based cuisine in the country. This rustic-chic space is laid-back and unfussy, with lots of dark wood, a patio for alfresco dining and a crowd of young families and professionals attended by welcoming servers. While dedicated vegans are sure to swoon, even hardcore carnivores might reconsider the lifestyle after a dose of chef/owner Eric Tucker's culinary creativity, showcased best on a five-course ‘Taste of Millennium’ menu. Roasted pumpkin tamales with pumpkin seed pastor and cashew nut crema are knockouts, as are the crunchy king trumpet fritters with chili-persimmon jam.”

Gracias Madre

Los Angeles

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “This plant-based darling set along Melrose Avenue may seem like a pretty place for young'uns, but it should not be underestimated. The space is an open, airy and beguiling combination of serape fabric banquettes, whitewashed walls and lofty ceilings. The patio is an even lovelier destination, surrounded by old shade trees, while a lengthy bar pours an aficionado’s array of some 60 tequilas and 70 mezcals. On the menu, explore Mexican cuisine through vegan items, like young coconut ceviche with house-made chips, pozole and grain bowls. The addictive tacos naturally feature top-quality tortillas, heaped with astoundingly delicious shredded jackfruit, lightly pickled cabbage and a drizzle of cashew crema. The prix-fixe lunch is of prodigious value.”

(Photo courtesy of Shizen/Facebook.)
(Photo courtesy of Shizen/Facebook.)

Shizen

San Francisco

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “At first glance, this stylish izakaya and sushi bar could be another in a line of similar places that dot the San Francisco landscape were it not for a major twist: everything on the menu is vegan. Purists and die-hard carnivores may scoff, but the food is exceptional, skillfully manipulating vegetables and starches to recreate seafood-centric Japanese favorites. Spicy tuna gets a run for its money from the impressive tofuna rolls, with chili-inflected minced tofu and cucumber, crowned with creamy avocado and dusted in chili ‘tobiko.’ A yuba salad with miso dressing and tempura-battered shiitake mushrooms stuffed with faux-crab is equally compelling. Throw in a sleek, contemporary setting, and Shizen is a winner for eaters of all stripes.”

Mesa Verde

Santa Barbara

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: “Don’t let the less-than-swanky location fool you into thinking that this is anything less than an excellent vegan restaurant. Besides, once inside it feels more like a house with a lovely garden terrace, wood décor and wide-open kitchen. This is the kind of food that even meat-eaters can instantly love. From the first bite of a mushroom umami burger with crisp lettuce and superb heirloom tomatoes, it is abundantly clear that these ingredients arrive fresh from the farm. Be sure to sample their Latin-style dishes like gluten-free picadillos tacos or empanadas. Polenta fries with jalapeños and caramelized onions are a hands-down favorite; while the sweet cashew cheesecake decked out with strawberries and an almond crust is a signature for good reason.”

Plant Food + Wine

Los Angeles

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Plant-based chef and lifestyle guru Matthew Kenney successfully brings the vision of pure food and fine wine to the West Coast by way of Plantlab—a lifestyle brand replete with cookbooks, wellness retreats and a plant-based cooking school. Unsurprisingly, his Venice restaurant offers a taste of all that deliciously wholesome and gorgeous vegan goodness with vibrant, complex and beautifully plated dishes. This serene and contemplative space is the perfect backdrop for his bright and flavorful cuisine—and with such prime access to the Santa Monica farmer's market, the quality of ingredients is all but guaranteed. Heirloom tomato- and zucchini-lasagna finds next-level palatability thanks to a wonderful macadamia nut ‘ricotta’ and sundried tomato sauce."

Shojin

Los Angeles

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “In L.A.’s competitive Japanese food scene, Shojin stands tall thanks to a menu that’s delicious, complex and 100% vegan—not to mention further options for diners sensitive to garlic, onions and gluten. Though it’s set on the third floor of the busy Little Tokyo Market Place, it has an appealingly sleek vibe, carefully decorated with fresh flowers and fine linens. That care extends to the menu, which will make even omnivores sit up and take notice. Stuffed shiitake mushrooms are perfectly calibrated with miso, tamari and just a hint of smoke; while the soy-paper sushi roll encases a surprisingly hearty and satisfying mix of cucumber, shiso and seaweed. At the end, their pumpkin ‘cheesecake’ is so blissfully creamy that it's hard to believe there is no dairy.”

Hero image courtesy of Mesa Verde. 

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