Oakland’s Vegan Barbecue Sensation Is Already Blowing Up in SF

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Vegan Mob owner Toriano Gordon stands in front of his Vegan Mob truck in a new food court in the Mission District.
Toriano Gordon's new Vegan Mob food truck builds on the success of his Oakland restaurant. (Vegan Mob/IG)

Ever since it exploded onto the local dining scene in 2019, Vegan Mob has been one of the most popular restaurants in Oakland—a bright-green, graffiti-bedecked retro barbecue joint known for its rib tips, brisket-stuffed burritos and garlic noodles. Naturally, everything on the menu is vegan.

Now, rapper-turned-chef Toriano Gordon (a.k.a. Don Toriano) is bringing his meat-free adaptations of familiar soul food and barbecue dishes to San Francisco. Vegan Mob’s new food truck is posting up in the Mission six days a week as part of an all-vegan street food hub Gordon has helped set up at 701 Valencia Street—the City Station SF lot, which was already a prime destination for vegan food fans when the popular Filipino-American food truck Señor Sisig set up its new vegan spinoff, Señor Sisig Vegano, there

Now that the two trucks have teamed up, they’ve created what might be the hottest block on the Bay Area’s vegan food circuit. During Vegan Mob’s March 21 San Francisco debut, Gordon says, the line of customers wrapped all the way around the corner, all day long—notwithstanding the fact that their block on Valencia Street is about three times the length of a typical city block. 

Business has stayed about as strong ever since. “We work together,” Gordon says of his collaboration with Señor Sisig co-owner Evan Kidera—a longtime friend from their days in the Bay Area rap scene. And the pair is bringing in other food trucks for guest appearances as well. This past Friday, for instance, Al Papi Pastor, the popular Mexico City-style taco truck, was on hand to dish out a special all-vegan menu: burritos stuffed with nopales and jackfruit al pastor.

For Gordon, launching the food truck was simply the next logical step for his growing business, once he convinced Kidera to sell him one of Señor Sisig’s old trucks. (“I begged him,” Gordon says.) The truck serves a slightly streamlined version of Vegan Mob’s restaurant menu—basically its 10 top sellers, plus Gordon’s newest creation: garlic noodles inspired by his lifelong love of Vietnamese institutions like Thanh Long and Crustacean. Vegan Mob’s garlic noodles don’t have fish sauce, and they’re made with vegan butter and vegan cheese, but Gordon says the noodles have been a runaway hit from the start—especially among his Black customers. “Black people who don’t mess with vegan food come and eat those noodles,” he says. 

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Vegan Mob is part of a new wave of popular, next-generation vegan food businesses in the Bay Area that includes Señor Sisig Vegano, Lion Dance Cafe, Vegan Hood Chefs and Malibu’s Burgers. They all boast large social media followings (Vegan Mob, for instance, has more than 73,000 followers on Instagram) and a diverse customer base. They’re all owned and operated by people of color. And they all have a certain cool factor that’s reflected in how successful they’ve been, even beyond the deliciousness of the food itself. 

Gordon credits the rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed almost exactly two years ago, for helping to raise awareness of—and establishing a kind of “street cred” for—the vegan lifestyle. And Gordon believes Vegan Mob has played a large part in that as well. “I really am from the streets,” he says, noting that his father was in prison for 27 years, and that he himself nearly died of septic shock after mixing morphine, alcohol and weed.

“I feel like God kept me on earth for a reason,” Gordon says. “I changed my life to come to school, to become this. To show the Black community and communities of color that it’s cool to be healthy—to be a role model to the ones younger than me, that you can have a business like this.” 

“My following is a lot of non-vegans who are African American, Latino, Filipino, and Pacific Islander. They come up to me and say, ‘Hey, your food is making me go vegan.’” 

As excited as he is about his newfound success in the city, Gordon says he feels hurt that some customers have accused him of abandoning Oakland for brighter lights on the other side of the Bay. Notwithstanding the fact that he’s from San Francisco, the Fillmore native says, “I’m not going nowhere. We’re expanding, we’re not leaving.”

The problem is that as much as he loves his current location in Oakland at the former Kwik-Way, near the shores of Lake Merritt, the building’s long-term future is very much an open question. For years now, the building has been slated to be torn down and turned into a mixed-use retail facility or, more recently, an affordable housing complex. Time and time again, those plans have gotten waylaid: Originally, Gordon says, Vegan Mob was supposed to vacate the building this month, but the landlords now say he can stay until this coming January.

So, Gordon is already plotting his next moves: In addition to a new virtual kitchen operation that he’s set up in San Jose, for pickup and delivery only, Gordon is currently in talks with his friend and mentor GW Chew about taking over the space currently occupied by Chew’s own vegan soul food restaurant, the Veg Hub, in Oakland’s Dimond district. If it works out, Gordon would move Vegan Mob there, joining a cluster of popular restaurants owned by people of color, including the new Puerto Rican spot La Perla, the soul food restaurant Southern Cafe, and Dimond Slice Pizza—all restaurants that are helping to turn the neighborhood into a cool food hub while still preserving Oakland’s authentic, homegrown culture, Gordon says.

 “I’m convinced if I left Oakland, God would punish me,” Gordon says, noting that Oakland is where Vegan Mob had its first successes. “That would literally be forgetting where I came from.”

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Vegan Mob’s San Francisco food truck operates Tuesday through Saturday, 5pm–9pm, and Sunday, 11am–5pm; the San Jose cloud kitchen operation offers takeout and delivery Tuesday through Sunday, 11am–9pm. For updates, follow Vegan Mob on Instagram.