Today I’m sharing our experience with San Diego vegan restaurants, and giving you pointers on what to expect when looking for vegan food in San Diego.
The beautiful city of San Diego is one of the most vegan-friendly places in the United States. During our recent family trip, we got a great feel for the vegan San Diego scene, and discovered amazing spots to grab vegan brunch or dinner, enjoy some tacos or pizza, etc.
We stayed in San Diego for a week, and on most days we went out to eat twice – usually lunch/brunch and dinner. Since the city had so many vegan restaurants, I gave in to a temptation to take a break from cooking and enjoy as much vegan food as we could find.
Since San Diego is located so close to the Mexican border, it was logical to see a big influence of Mexican cuisine in San Diego vegan restaurants. A lot of places feature tacos, burritos, nachos, etc. on their menus, even if Mexican food isn’t their main focus.
Our almost 2 year-old daughter baby J was with us, so when we looked for places to eat at, we needed to make sure those restaurants had something to offer to vegan kids. Thankfully, most of the restaurants we visited had either a specific vegan kids’ menu, or had an option or two for kids off menu.
Below I’m sharing our experience of dining at 10 vegan restaurants during our vacation in San Diego. Plus, I’m sharing names of additional vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants in the area that offer similar types of food.
To make our vegan travel experience enjoyable, I follow these tips for successful vegan traveling, and to lower the stress of traveling with our daughter, I stick to these tips for successful vacations with toddlers.
Planning a trip to other sunny destinations like Hawaii? Check out my posts about vegan food on Maui and on the Big Island. For more about California, see this post about vegan restaurants in San Francisco Bay area.
Where: 2201 Adams Ave (University Heights neighborhood). Offers lunch and dinner.
What we found: We chose Grains for our first dinner in San Diego on Friday night. We arrived early, and found a cozy, roomy area with lots of seating. The menu was quite extensive, and included salads, sandwiches, pastas, soups, etc.
What we ate: Online reviewers raved about the cauliflower popcorn “chicken” appetizer, so Rob and I knew we had to try it. A generous serving of it arrived with house-made ranch and barbecue dipping sauces. The latter was just phenomenal – perfectly smoky, lightly spicy, and just finger-licking good.
For our main course, both Rob and I ordered jackfruit banh mi sandwiches. I don’t always love jackfruit as a sandwich filling (its texture is often too light), but the jackfruit at Grains had a thicker, more toothsome texture that we both thoroughly enjoyed.
The sandwiches came with a side of delicious, lightly seasoned potato wedges.
Kids options: We didn’t find a specific kids menu, but it turned out that they offered a kids-size veggie pasta dish upon request, with options of linguine or angel hair pasta. We opted for the angel hair, which arrived tossed in a light sauce (it might have been just oil or vegan butter) with sauteed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
Overall: Grains in San Diego has delicious food, generous servings big enough to yield leftovers, welcoming atmosphere – what’s not to love?
More laid-back vegan comfort food in San Diego:
KINDRED – fully vegan, with lots of Southern-inspired comfort food options. Brunch on weekends.
Anthem North Park – a laid-back vegan spot offering sandwiches, burgers, and all-day breakfast.
Spoiled Vegans – a vegan breakfast spot open on Saturdays and Sundays. Menu items vary from healthy to all-out decadent.
To see an even more extensive list of San Diego vegan restaurants, businesses, events, etc., check out the Vegan in San Diego website.
Plant Power Fast Food
Where: 2204 Sunset Cliffs Blvd (Ocean Beach neighborhood). Open 7 am – 10 pm. Serves breakfast until 11 am.
What we found: When I was researching San Diego vegan restaurants, someone in a local Facebook group suggested visiting Plant Power vegan fast food, saying that it was so good they were thinking of taking a trip to San Diego specifically to stop by this place.
Plant Power is located in a nice building on a busy intersection, and has its own parking lot and a couple drive-in terminals. It appeared to be very popular with the local vegan and veg-curious crowd. There were quite a few families with kids.
What we ate: We ended up going to Plant Power twice during our visit to San Diego. The first time, I had a grilled BBQ ‘chicken’ salad with grilled Gardein ‘chicken’ (below). Rob had the Classic Bacon Cheeseburger.
We chose to upgrade both to full meals, and included French fries and drinks – lemonade for Rob, and strawberry milkshake for me.
Even though vegan milkshakes aren’t hard to come by at vegan-friendly restaurants these days, I haven’t had one in years, and loved every drop of this strawberry one.
The second time we stopped by Plant Power, Rob ordered the Big Zac burger – their take on Big Mac with two burger patties and all the trimmings. I had a chipotle ‘chicken’ wrap, and once again opted for a milkshake – this time cookies and cream 🙂
Kids options: Plant Power offers two meal options for kids – a small cheeseburger or 8-pc ‘chicken’ nuggets. Both are available with fries or a salad.
Oat milk is the default kids’ drink, but it can be replaced with something else – we got orange juice for baby J. She ate every last bit of fries and nibbled on the nuggets.
Overall: Plant Power Fast Food is definitely worth stopping by if you miss fast food restaurants from your pre-vegan days. Just keep in mind that vegan fast food is still not the healthiest thing in the world to eat.
Where: 1980 Kettner Blvd (Downtown area). Open 8 am – 10 pm.
What we found: I’ve heard about Cafe Gratitude restaurants so much over the years of being vegan that I knew I wanted to visit it when we headed to San Diego. Cafe Gratitude originates in Los Angeles, so it brings a particular, “my health guru told me to eat this to cleanse my chakras” vibe along with it.
The restaurant itself was very nice, but neither Rob nor I found it especially welcoming. It wasn’t very crowded when we arrived for dinner on Sunday (it was also our 7th wedding anniversary).
I have to admit – everything on the menu sounded delicious and healthy. Fresh plant-based ingredients arranged into salads, sandwiches, bowls, with not a single fake chicken breast in sight.
The menu had an interesting concept: the page had the words “I Am…” written on top, and each menu item underneath started with a descriptive adjective like, “Mindful”, “Thriving”, “Dazzling”, etc. When placing an order, we were supposed to say, “I am [such and such]” to inform our waiter about our selection.
What we ate: We chose the “I am Enchanting” warm asparagus and edamame appetizer to start. It was very flavorful, but it seemed a little confusing because, in my opinion, it would have made more sense served as a main course on top of some rice.
After that, Rob ordered the “I am Whole” macrobiotic bowl. It included an impressive selection of braised garnet yams, adzuki beans, sea vegetables, sautéed greens, kim chee, and was served on top of brown rice.
It was tasty, but Rob suggested that a better name for it would be, “I am Good, but Not as Good as the 12 Dollar Sandwich You Had Yesterday”. He’s really into sandwiches, as you can see 🙂
I went for the “I am Humble” Indian Curry bowl, which consisted of red lentil dal, spinach, roasted yams, coconut mint chutney, spicy tomato jam, served with brown rice (see above). The coconut chutney and the tomato jam had a fantastic, rich flavor, and made my taste buds dance a happy dance 🙂
We also got a slice of key lime pie to go. It was really delicious, and made for a nice late night treat on the balcony of our AirBnB later.
Kids options: The folks at Cafe Gratitude in San Diego have a separate menu for kids that comes on one of those paper sheets that kids can draw on while waiting for their food.
I picked gluten-free shells pasta with marinara sauce and a drizzle of creamy nut-based cheese sauce for baby J. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and also picked on some of the lentil dal and roasted yams from my bowl.
Overall: Cafe Gratitude is a nice (if not very laid-back) place with delicious plant-based food. If you’re looking for healthier vegan dining options in San Diego, this is it.
More healthy vegan food restaurants in San Diego:
Peace Pies – offers raw, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free foods ranging from salads to entrees and desserts.
Soulshine Vegan Cafe – healthy food made with organic, plant-based ingredients. Offers breakfast Monday-Friday, and brunch on weekends.
Trilogy Cafe at Trilogy Sanctuary – see my review below.
Where: 2949 Fifth Ave (Western edge of Balboa Park). Open for lunch and dinner + brunch on the weekends.
What we found: If we had known how nice our meal at Donna Jean would be, we would have come here for a special dinner instead of a casual Monday lunch. From the delicious “California meets Midwest” comfort food on the menu to the most inviting outdoor courtyard where we sat, this place was truly memorable.
The menu was fairly simple, offering comfort food classics like handmade pasta, cast iron mac and cheese (apparently named “The best vegan mac and cheese ever” by Huffington Post), pizza, etc. The pizza has been voted Best Vegan Pizza in San Diego in 2017 and 2018.
What we ate: I would have loved to try multiple things, but since I only have one stomach, I ordered the Salisbury Tempeh. It came with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and greens, finished with an amazing red gravy. Everything was delicious, but the tempeh just blew my mind with its rich, umami flavor.
Rob ordered the Bread Fang pizza that came with tomatoes, vegan mozzarella, mushrooms, red onions, spinach, dried olives, and calabrian chiles. It was excellent – so good that I almost wished I’d ordered a pizza too. Definitely next time 🙂
Kids options: For kids, Donna Jean offers cheese pizza, pasta, or mashed potatoes. Baby J is a big fan of mashed potatoes, so that’s what I ordered for her.
Overall: If you’re into delicious chef-made vegan comfort food, I definitely suggest visiting Donna Jean in San Diego. It may not be the healthiest vegan food, but it’s truly delicious and unique.
More vegan pizza in San Diego:
Red House Pizza – not all vegan but has an impressive vegan menu with pizza, pasta, sandwiches, etc. Uses Daiya mozzarella.
Zia Gourmet Pizza – not all vegan; has a good selection of vegan pizza with topping combinations ranging from traditional to unique.
Pizzeria Luigi – not all vegan; has a few vegan options. Uses Daiya mozzarella.
Evolution Fast Food
Where: 2965 Fifth Ave (next door to Donna Jean). Open for lunch and dinner.
What we found: Evolution is the original vegan drive-through restaurant in San Diego. The menu features fast food classics like burgers, fries, sandwiches, wraps, as well as such California musts as burritos, tacos, and smoothies. There’s also a number of pre-made desserts stacked in a refrigerated showcase by the register.
Interestingly, Evolution fast food and Donna Jean are not just located next door to each other, but also share a bathroom. Their outdoor seating areas look a lot alike and are connected to each other.
What we ate: We stopped by Evolution for lunch on Tuesday. Rob ordered a BLTA sandwich (tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and mayo) with fries. I didn’t try it, but he said it was good.
I went for the portobello sandwich. The portobello mushroom cap was sauteed in balsamic reduction, and served on a bun with tomato, pesto and mayo. The pesto added a nice, bright flavor.
We didn’t try their shakes or desserts, but I’ve heard that their carob date smoothie is quite delicious.
Kids options: There wasn’t a specific kids’ menu at Evolution, so we ordered the 3-piece ‘chicken’ tenders for baby J, and shared some of our fries with her.
Overall: Evolution Fast Food is a casual, laid-back vegan fast food place with options that range from healthy (raw tacos and smoothies) to decadent (burgers and fries).
Where: 789 W Harbor Dr, Suite 113 (Seaport Village area in downtown). Open for lunch and dinner.
What we found: We discovered Hi Poke, a fast-casual eatery serving Pacific-style poke bowls, after taking a walk in the Embarcadero Marina Park at the Seaport Village. We were looking for something quick and kid-friendly, and Hi Poke fit the bill.
For the record, Hi Poke isn’t fully vegan: it has a large variety of seafood, but also offers tofu as one of its protein options. You’re supposed to either build your own bowl at the counter by picking the grain base, protein, sauce, and vegetable toppings, or select from one of their signature bowls.
FYI the bowls are served cold, which is particularly nice on a hot summer day.
We were informed that three out of their five sauces were vegan – Hi Poke Classic, Korean Lava, and Sesame Orange.
What we ate: Rob and I have slightly different palates regarding how exotic we want to go with our food. I like all the seaweed and spice I can get, and he usually plays on the safer side.
For my bowl (above), I chose the base of brown rice, tofu for protein, Korean Lava sauce, seaweed salad, edamame, onions, cilantro, with shredded seaweed on top.
Rob also chose rice and tofu, but went with Sesame Orange sauce and different toppings.
Kids options: The official menu didn’t list any kids’ potions, yet we were told that they made a small bowl for kids with rice, tofu (or chicken for non-vegans), corn, and edamame. We got a bowl with tofu for baby J with sauce on the side – she usually prefers her rice plain.
Overall: Hi Poke is a neat place for a casual lunch or dinner when you’re in the mood for refreshing Asian-inspired flavors. Bonus: if you come here with non-vegans, everyone can find something to their taste.
More vegan Asian restaurants in San Diego:
The Purple Mint Vegan Bistro – all-vegan pan-Asian cuisine including salads, soups, noodles, stir-fries, etc.
Veganic Thai Cafe – an all-vegan restaurant serving classic Thai food. Winner of multiple Yelp awards.
Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant – offers mostly vegan Thai food (some clearly marked dishes contain eggs or dairy). Uses locally made tofu.
Where: 3 locations in San Diego (plus more nationwide). We visited the one at 3369 Rosecrans Street (Point Loma area). Open for lunch and dinner.
What we found: I’ve heard about Native Foods before: their Portland, Oregon location has been praised by people in our local Seattle vegan Facebook group. On our way from La Jolla on Wednesday, we decided to stop by their Point Loma location and see what it was all about.
The restaurant had an inviting atmosphere, and even though it was clearly a fast-casual place, it felt more like a full-service sit-down restaurant.
The setup was similar to Veggie Grill: you stand in line looking at the menu, then come up to the register to place an order, take a number, and sit down. When the food is ready, it’s brought up to you.
What we ate: I ordered the Backyard BBQ bowl that included BBQ cauliflower, mac and cheese, Southern slaw, steamed kale with corn and seitan bacon bits, and green chile cornbread. The food was tasty and pretty light despite the large serving size of the bowl.
Rob had a California burrito (seitan, French fries, Follow Your Heart American cheese, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, and vegan sour cream) with a side of potato salad.
Kids options: It was nice to see that Native Foods had a designated kids’ menu. It wasn’t huge, but had options that went beyond veggie nuggets and pasta.
We ordered the Lil’ Buddha Bowl for baby J that came with jasmine rice, sweet potatoes, avocado, fresh pineapple, and a touch of teriyaki sauce. The bowl came with a side of French fries.
Baby J enjoyed it, and happily dug through the rice to get every last bit of pineapple.
Overall: Native Foods is great for a casual lunch or a quick dinner. The menu has a lot of comfort food classics, so everybody can find something to taste.
Where: 1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd (Ocean Beach area). Open 8 am – 9:30 pm.
What we found: I’ve shared how disappointed we’ve been with Mexican food in our home state of Washington in my post about vegan food on Orcas Island. Now that we were in San Diego, we had to delve into the vegan Mexican food offerings in this fine city.
What impressed me about Hugo’s Cocina was the fact that about 95% of their menu (they aren’t vegan by default) could be ordered vegan-style. Vegan options were as varied as they could be, and so were their vegan substitutes for meat and dairy.
Another bonus: the staff is well aware of what the word ‘vegan’ means, so there weren’t any awkward conversations about how we wanted our food to be prepared. I’m assuming Hugo’s Cocina gets lots of traffic from San Diego vegans, so it makes sense for them to know this stuff.
What we ate: We started with a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa. I haven’t been at a Mexican restaurant that served those by default in forever (remember that I’m not impressed with the Mexican food scene in Washington state), so it was a nice touch.
For my main course, I chose a combo plate of two tacos (soy chorizo and shiitake mushroom) served with refried beans and rice on the side. The serving was huge: I swear I could have gotten full off of just one taco. Each taco was served with lettuce, tomatoes, a generous serving of homemade guacamole (yum!), and topped with shredded cheese.
Rob also ordered a combo plate with two tacos – vegan steak and chicken in his case. I didn’t try his tacos, but he said they were excellent.
Kids options: Hugo’s Cocina has four kids’ options on their menu, and three of them can be made vegan. For baby J, I ordered a mini bean and cheese burrito that also came with a side of refried beans and rice. She’s been into burritos lately, but she isn’t very proficient in eating tortillas – those can be tough, and she’s not even two yet. She took a few bites, and the rest we took home for a later snack.
Overall: Hugo’s Cocina is a nice low-key restaurant where you feel welcome as a vegan. Delicious food and generous servings won’t let you leave hungry.
More vegan Mexican food in San Diego:
Vegan Tacos SD – a vegan food truck offering tacos, burritos and tortas.
Pokez Mexican Restaurant – not fully vegan; has lots of vegan options, including for breakfast.
Ranchos Cocina – not fully vegan; lots of vegan options including breakfast.
Trilogy Cafe at Trilogy Sanctuary
Where: 7650 Girard Ave (La Jolla area). Open 8 am to 9 pm. Has breakfast options.
What we found: Trilogy Sanctuary was highly recommended on the Happy Cow app. We decided to stop by for lunch on Thursday after visiting the beautiful beach in La Jolla.
The all-vegan, 100% organic restaurant is only one part of Trilogy Sanctuary. It also includes a yoga studio offering a variety of classes and yoga teacher training, a boho clothing boutique, and an event venue.
The place was quite busy, but there was plenty of seating. We sat on their rooftop patio with gorgeous views of the ocean and the surrounding areas.
The menu was quite extensive. Everything was vegan, organic, and gluten-free, and included both raw and cooked foods. There were a lot of smoothies and acai bowls, salads, tacos, wraps, bowls, etc. A selection of vegan baked goods was available for purchase by the register.
What we ate: Both Rob and I decided to go for tacos again (when in California!). I ordered the Cali tacos (below) made with roasted potatoes, mushrooms, raw vegetables, topped with a creamy dressing. They arrived with a generous side of fresh salad.
Rob went for buffalo cauliflower tacos made with a variety of vegetables, and topped with coconut yogurt-based tzatziki sauce. Everything was fresh and light – just what we needed after all of those heavy meals in previous days.
Kids options: I don’t remember if kids’ options were clearly marked on the menu, but the lady at the register told us that they offered a peanut butter and banana ‘quesadilla’ for kids. That’s what we ordered for baby J.
The filling was wrapped in a large gluten-free buckwheat crepe. It was softer than a tortilla, so baby J was able to eat it easily. She really enjoyed her lunch, and ate much better than for most of her previous meals.
Overall: The Trilogy Sanctuary cafe has lots of plant-based options perfect for a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a mid-day pick-me-up. Stop by for a meal with friends, or grab a smoothie or a juice after a yoga class.
Where: 3852 Mission Blvd (Mission Beach area). Open 12 pm – 9 pm.
What we found: NoW Sushi is another place that was highly recommended by the folks in our local vegan Facebook group. An all-vegan, full service sushi restaurant a couple blocks from the beach? What’s not to love?!
As it turns out, NoW Sushi and its sister NoW Cafe (also in Mission Beach area) are run by NoWorriesMovement, a local nonprofit focused on improving animal welfare and raising awareness about animal cruelty. The nonprofit closely works with other animal advocacy charities, and has recently purchased land to start an animal sanctuary in Bastrop, Texas.
I’ve always been a fan of sushi, even after going vegan. I’m thankful to have had some amazing vegan sushi locally in Seattle area and in New York City. To our delight, NoW Sushi in San Diego welcomed us with beautiful and delicious creations that held their own compared to sushi we’d had in other places.
What we ate: We ordered the veggie tempura basket appetizer as our starter. The menu said that it was supposed to have 10 pieces of vegetables, but in fact it had much more than that.
Asparagus, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant, and two pieces of vegan shrimp were all perfectly fried in light tempura batter, and came with delicious garlicky spicy mayo for dipping.
For our main meal, Rob ordered the Zane roll (below) that was filled with spicy vegan ‘tuna’ and cucumber, and topped with lemon slices, tempura crunchies, and unagi sauce.
I had the Fiesta Rolo filled with cucumber, mango and cilantro, with grilled red pepper and jalapeño, avocado, and ponzu sauce on top. Both of our rolls were delightful in flavor and generous in size.
Kids options: There wasn’t a specific kids’ menu at NoW Sushi, so we decided to order chilled soba noodles that came with dipping sauce for baby J. Our waitress also brought a side of sushi rice for her. Baby J enjoyed the noodles, and loved the tempura vegetables.
Overall: If you’re looking for vegan sushi in San Diego, visiting NoW Sushi is a must! Enjoy the delicious food, and feel good knowing that your money is going towards helping animals.
More vegan sushi places in San Diego:
Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion (4 locations) – Asian-inspired menu including sushi.
Kappa Sushi – not fully vegan; offers a few vegetarian sushi options.
The Joint – not fully vegan; a few veggie rolls on the sushi menu.
Now that you have a better feel for the San Diego vegan scene, you know exactly where to go to find delicious vegan food when visiting this beautiful city! And if you’re traveling with family, I hope my notes about kids’ food options in San Diego vegan restaurants will be helpful.
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