Beloved Café's Green Goddess Bowl ($13): avocado, spinach, dates, ginger, lime, coconut water, topped with homemade granola, banana, fresh berries, goji berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds and maca. This bowl was great for getting energized at the start of a day. A perfect combo of sweet and savory. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are abundant in the Bay Area where people tend to be conscious of the benefits of plant-based diets. Besides potential health benefits there are the ethical issues of eating animals and animal byproducts, as well as spiritual practices that involve abstaining from meat to purify the body, mind and spirit.
As a vegetarian/vegan it is comforting to go to a restaurant devoted to a purely plant-based diet. You have full access to all menu items and don’t need to be concerned about meat coming into contact with your food. There tends to be a greater awareness of the art of vegetarian cooking – combining foods to present a balanced and wholesome meal that doesn't leave you hungry or craving sugar from a lack of protein and carb overload. When eating at vegetarian-friendly spots that also serve meat, there is a tendency to be vigilant to ensure that the few menu items are truly animal-free.
I was on a mission in SF’s Mission to find lunch at vegetarian/vegan restaurants serving a variety of cuisines.
I found four worthwhile spots:
Beloved Café, which I will highlight, is an organic and mostly vegan café that incorporates the concept of superfoods with herbalism, Ayurveda, and a belief that food is medicine.
Udupi Palace, a vegetarian Southern Indian restaurant.
Cha-Ya, a vegan Japanese sushi and noodle spot.
Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant from the folks that own Café Gratitude and Be.Love.Farm.
I fell in love with Beloved Café. It reminded me of Angelica’s in NYC – the original location at St. Marks Place – that introduced me to macrobiotic food in the early 1980s. Angelica's was a bohemian hole-in-the-wall that served its signature Dragon Bowl that always made me feel so nourished and full of energy. It was also a community space where I could go to eat by myself and easily meet other like-minded people.
Beloved Café inhabits a small cozy space on 24th Street near Mission Street. The interior design and décor reflect the creativity and care supplied by artists and friends of the owners. The atmosphere is warm and friendly; the food tastes great and feels healthy, fulfilling and transformative.
I spoke with Amy Vito, co-owner of Beloved Café to get the story behind the restaurant. She and her partner, Kambiz, were looking to open a café in San Francisco and, after a two-year search, found a home in the Mission in 2017.
“We wanted to pour all our love into the space.”
They are both yoga teachers and Vipassana meditation practitioners and wanted to create an eatery where people could be nourished in a loving and conscious way like they were doing for themselves at home. Together they source ingredients carefully, follow health trends, and incorporate herbalism and Ayurvedic food practices into their cooking. Although they are both vegetarian they decided to simplify the offerings for Beloved and create a primarily vegan menu for the café (non-vegan items available are honey and ghee).
Beloved Café makes the majority of their basic ingredients in-house including homemade hummus, coconut yogurt, granola and nut milks from a variety of nuts including: cashews, walnuts, coconuts, pecans. They also make their own chai tea, golden milk and superfood sweets. All juices are freshly made to order.
Vito claims the Quinoa Bowl & Roasted Vegetables ($13) is Beloved’s most popular item. It contains: quinoa, wild rice, coconut oil, roasted vegetables, fresh sprouts, toasted sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, and chipotle aioli. Rhizocali Tempeh based in Oakland can be added as well as avocado or hummus ($2 for each item).
Herbal formulations for their offerings are sourced from local herbalists and the herbs are purchased through the Sonoma County Herb Exchange. The Elixirs and Tonics menu provides a variety of panaceas from aphrodisiac effects to stress relief, immune boosting, brain support, and mood balancing.
With the exception of the tropical fruit, the organic produce comes from a variety of local farms within 100-mile radius.
The organic tea menu is extensive, and the teas originate from various countries around the globe. The food and drink recipes have been developed and adapted from a variety of sources and experiences researching, cooking and traveling. They encourage their team members to be creative and experiment developing new products – recently, a beet latte was added to the menu from this practice.
Vito shared that through a healthy plant-based diet (including ingredients deemed “superfoods” like ashwaganda, triphala, maca, chaga, spirulina, turmeric, Siberian ginseng, and more), these high vibration foods support a disease-free body, spiritual development and the process of awakening.
“At some point your spiritual practice and your regular life are no longer separated, it just becomes one unified experience.”
Beloved Café believes in giving back to the community as well as creating community and they donate money to a number of organizations that aim to create economic justice and do positive work for humanity and wildlife throughout the world.
“Our bottom line isn’t about making a profit, it’s about delivering something that we really believe in and that is really healing and nourishing for the body – which is a big paradigm shift from the typical restaurant owner. Food is medicine and we want to educate people in a way that is not pushing this lifestyle onto people.”
Udupi Palace on Valencia near 21st Street serves South Indian vegetarian cuisine. The no-frills atmosphere is decorated with imagery from Indian culture. Highlights include the dosas and uthappam. The former are thin crepes made from a batter of rice and lentils that wrap around a variety of fillings, and the latter are thicker pancakes made from the same batter, adorned with a range of toppings. There are also a number of vegetable curries to choose from and a good way to sample them is to order the South Indian Thali which is an assorted platter of soup, curries, rice, bread and dessert.
The Spinach Masala Dosa is classic and delicious. All dosas are served with Sambar, a lentil-based vegetable soup that is full of flavor and spice, and three chutneys: coconut, tomato, and ginger.
The Mix Veg Uthappam was crispy around the edges, chewy with medium density and seemed to reside somewhere between a pancake and a pizza. The vegetables toppings are cooked into the batter and consisted of onions, peas, shredded carrots and tomatoes. The three chutneys should all be sampled as each one complements the uthappam with unique flavor.
Udupi's Sweet Lassi was especially creamy and thick and had a floral hint of rosewater which made it a refreshing complement to both the savory dosa and uthappam.
In 2008, Check, Please Bay Area reviewed Udupi Palace in Berkeley. Learn about the background of the restaurant and what the reviewers said about the South Indian cuisine. The segment begins at 18:07 of this episode.
Cha-Ya Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine is located on Valencia between 18th and 19th Streets. According to the menu, the cuisine originated at a Zen temple in Fukui in the mid-13th century. The monks practiced shojin ryori, daily cooking with seasonal vegetables, plants from the mountains, seaweed, soybean curd, and seeds. Cha-ya’s vegan menu is founded on this cuisine and is prepared primarily as sushi, tempura and noodle dishes.
The general feeling of the Cha-ya experience is that you are eating clean, healthy, nourishing food. A go-to vegan comfort food spot that calms the body, mind and spirit. For East Bay folks, the Berkeley restaurant provides the same comfort and quality.
Cha-ya offers sushi in the form of specialty rolls ($10) as well as Hosomaki (thin rolls $5), Nigiri sushi (2 pieces, veg resides as topping on rice mound $4), and Uramaki (medium rolls or inside-out rolls, rice on the outside and nori on the inside $7). Brown rice can be substituted for sushi rice ( $2 for specialty rolls, $1 per item for other types).
For the noodle options, the menu offers three types: Udon (flour), Soba (buckwheat blend) and Harusame (clear potato starch +$2).
According to the website, Matthew and Terces Engelhart, the founders of Café Gratitude and Be.Love.Farm could not find organic vegan Mexican food in the Bay Area so in collaboration with Chandra Gilbert, now Executive Chef at the LA restaurant, they opened Gracias Madre in the Mission, the home of Mexican culture and cuisine in San Francisco.
For this guide, I focused on the three bowls offered at lunch. My favorite was the Bowl Dos which had a flavorful mixture of savory and sweet elements that worked well together.
In 2016, Check, Please Bay Area reviewed Gracias Madre. Learn about the background of the restaurant and what the reviewers said about the vegan Mexican cuisine.