Vegan Dining Guide: Berkeley and Oakland, CA

There’s nothing more fun than traveling, if you ask me! However, traveling as a Vegan, Vegetarian, or Raw Foodie is quite a trip on it’s own! Depending on which part of the world you find yourself in, you might encounter fabulous eats, likeminded people, and even festivals and events dedicated to your favorite treats and pastimes. And then, of course, the opposite could be true.

But no matter where you are, having a good idea of what to look for is always helpful. Thankfully, we live in an era of smartphones and apps, and one visit to Google Maps, typing in Vegan, could be a lifesaver. However, as vegans are people too, we also have taste, look for good deals, and aren’t always satisfied with a restaurant or a meal just because it’s labeled Vegan. Hence the need for a Vegan travel guide.

I currently live in the San Francisco Bay area, about 10 minutes north of Berkeley, and 20 minutes (without traffic, of course) north of Oakland, so this isn’t technically a post about MY TRAVEL experience. However, if you are planning on visiting the area, you might as well get some tips from a vegan local.

Northern California is definitely a great place to be vegan. Many, many restaurants, food trucks, farmer’s markets, everyone from chefs to waiters, actually have a good idea what a vegan diet is (no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey for most). You will rarely encounter someone completely clueless or misguided, however, that doesn’t mean it’s an all vegan paradise. You still need to do some searching and digging to find the right place to fit your needs and taste.

The list of restaurants with vegan or vegetarian food options is extensive, looking at anything from Happy Cow app to Google listings to many blog posts that have already been written about this. Why am I writing this then, you might ask? Well, first off - I would like to share my favorite spots! And second, reminiscing about all the delicious vegan eats of the area is simply fun! Besides, I’ve had the luck to eat and most of these places more than once, and I will be returning as a happy happy customer again.

There are many towns in the area with fabulous vegan spots, starting from the city (San Francisco) all the way from San Jose on the south to Petaluma on the north. I am focusing only on the Berkeley and Oakland zip codes in this post.

VEGAN SPOTS IN BERKELEY, CA:
  1. Herbivore the Earthy Grill
    By far one of my favorite vegan eateries ever. They have 3 locations in the Bay, one in Berkeley and two in San Francisco. Their menu is very in line with the type of cuisine I cook and enjoy to eat every day. Come to think of it, the menu is extensive - you will find everything a vegan might desire, from breakfast pancakes to sandwiches to a special recipe or two you haven’t tried before. They have fabulous pastas, good pizza, some very savory asian dishes, big salads, and creamy desserts. Definitely worth a visit.

The vibe in the Berkeley location is relaxed, but there is plenty of room to sit, and it looks like a real restaurant (read: can take non-vegan, non-hippie friends here, it’s not an urban join type of a place). There are two big tables for outdoor seating, but they are right on the street so it’s not the most pleasant ambiance.

My favorite dishes: Lasagna, Phillo dough pie, Ravioli with Pesto. I am far from trying all the items on their menu though, so this list might change! German cake and Strawberry Rhubarb pie are delicious desserts.

2. Republic of V

The only all vegan shop ever. This is not a restaurant, but a market place for all your vegan needs. You will find common brands you might be used to seeing at Whole Foods Market (not sure what that is - read on), and some specialty treats that are harder to find. You will also find vegan eats for your pets here.

You might be thinking - is it pricy? Yes, I would say it is. Not too off the charts for a San Francisco Bay specialty shop, but it’s not cheap either. Some items I am used to shopping for might actually be .50C pricier than at a non-vegan retailer, but they will have sales as well. I unfortunately don’t get to shop there too often, it’s not really on the way home for me, but I like to support the place and the cause whenever I can - I definitely hope to see more all vegan markets in the near future.

They are open daily, and you will surely find things you haven’t ever seen before. The market is not too big (compared to a regular supermarket, I guess), but it is definitely worth your vegan time.

3. Flacos

Vegan Mexica Food, because who doesn’t like that!? This is a smaller joint in the center of Berkeley, that definitely boosts that cool, laid back, northern cali vibe. I would say their prices are great, you will leave the place full, and they even boost weekly deals (like Taco Tuesday).

Your best option is trying a full plate of goodies, customizing it to your needs. Good Gluten Free options here, with rice and corn making the base of a lot of meals. The food is authentic, mild to spicy in some preparations, with tons of salsas and delicious add-ons. Rice and beans is a go-to here, I can’t eat too much of it or daily because I would pop, but I think a lot of non-vegan locals appreciate the place because it definitely does not sacrifice any authentic flavors while delivering an all-plant based meal.

4. Cafe Gratitude

I love this place. I have seen plenty of posts on Instagram about Cafe Gratitude before I ever came to California, and I see why it’s popular. They have a few locations in the Southern, Northern Cali, and Kansas City. The Berkeley location is medium sized, right next to a yoga studio so it’s a perfect location to hit after class. It has a nice vibe for lunch or sit-down dinner.

I would describe the food here as very light, healthy, and raw. This is a great place for raw vegans, although the menu offers cooked preparations as well! As with most raw foods, it’s on the pricer side, and the portions won’t be huge. I enjoyed a light quinoa porridge from their breakfast menu once, I love the raw nachos (a bit spicy for my taste, I’m a coward), and I like the sushi bowl from the cooked specialties. The raw cheesecakes are delicious, and somewhat heavy as they are made of nuts - a good plate to share with your date.

Oh yes, and all the names of the preparations are romantic and hippie, like Fulfilled, Abundant, Peace, etc. Come to think of it, very yogic as well! The plates might have nice messages on them, and they will ask you a question of the day to ponder upon.

Raw Nachos[/caption]

Quinoa Bowl and Almond Latte[/caption]

5. Saturn Cafe

Going in somewhat opposite direction from raw food, Saturn Cafe offers traditional American diner style burgers, fries and milkshakes, 100% vegetarian. Their menu also offers vegan or vegan upon request options, as well as gluten free and soy free meals.

It’s a great spot for kids, as they will get plenty of kid menu options, and non-vegan friends and family. If you are not in a mood for a burger, they do offer big salads, and entrees that aren’t typical diner food. I was in pure chocolate heaven enjoying one of their milkshakes on my first visit, so if you are a vegan with sweet obsessions like me, give it a go.

6. Cinnaholic

Now this place kept on escaping me every chance it got! As it’s a smaller bakery, it closes at 7pm - and I came to closed doors good 3-4 times when I first moved to the area. Cool thing is they offer shipping, so you can order delicious vegan treats for your next gathering - these sweets would be great at a bridal shower or a daytime party. They offer something you definitely don’t get a chance to try before - cinnamon rolls with toppings. From creamy to crunchy, and every flavor combo you can think of, this is a heavenly sugar overload place.

VEGAN SPOTS IN OAKLAND, CA:
1. Millennium

Millennium is probably top 5 most famous vegan restaurants in the US, if not the world. They keep winning VegNews and other awards year after year for best plant-based fancy vegan restaurant. And yes, besides Sublime in Fort Lauderdale, this was definitely one of the top nicest all-vegan restaurants my taste buds had the pleasure of enjoying.

Millennium used to call San Francisco home, and I hadn’t had the pleasure of eating there, but it moved to the east bay due to some leasing issues in 2015. There was quite a commotion when they announced they will be closing, but luckily many vegans jumped on board and saved their favorite sinking ship/restaurant.

The vibe of Millennium Oakland is great, I love the back terrace. It’s a fabulous place for a fancy date night, or a group of foodie friends. Now, to be perfectly honest, this place is pricy! I ordered an apple and cucumber salad with in-house made coconut yogurt (which was, to be honest, heavenly), and I got 3 slices of each, with a few pistachios to top, for $13.00. In any other vegan place, $13.00 gets you a big bowl of salad, but this was a delicate appetizer style serving. The entree prices range from $18 to $24, give or take a buck depending on that night’s menu, luckily the plates will fill you up. They do have some staples and they rotate dishes as well.

You are definitely paying for the ambiance, service and mood more than food, which is delicious but like I said, definitely pricy. I don’t go there weekly or even monthly, as someone who cooks and blogs about food, I just know how much foods cost and how to recreate them at home as well.

The play on flavors is special, and there are little nuances in recipes that separate Millennium’s menu with your regular, go-to vegan bites. But I cannot say I was as impressed as I hoped I would be the first time I finally went there, after months of hearing about this restaurant’s glories. I had the Tikka cake, and although made with special flavors and ingredients (such as sunchoke, and a delicious tamarind chutney), it left me a bit dry and heavy - there wasn’t much salad like I said. You are getting plant based unique recipes recreated by award-winning chefs, so if you are in the mood for a fancy vegan night out, give Millennium a go.

Tikka Masala Cake[/caption]

Glazed Tempeh and Rice[/caption]

2. Souley Vegan

Stirring in a completely different direction, Souley Vegan is a place where you will get huge portions worth every buck in a cool, relaxed setting. This is soul food at it’s best - if I may say so, regardless of it being plant-based (as a Croatian I might not know much about soul food, but there you have it). It’s like the IG hashtag #VeganComfortFood was created specially for this place.

The ambiance is very chill, and on any Friday night, the place is packed to the max. You order and pay at the entrance, and then take a seat while they bring you your order. Great for big groups and fun events. Music is in line with the name of the place, and there’s cool art and vintage photographs on the walls. One thing that stroke me as well is no mirror in the bathroom (there is one outside of it if you must know what you look like). For some reason, I felt like it encouraged more insight, less superficial behavior.

Now onto the food - big plates, great price! You can feed 2 hungry vegans for some $30, plus dessert, no problem! And for the Bay area, that is cheap. I love, love the mix and match plate - ordering 3 items from an extensive list to create your meal. I usually get mash potatoes and gravy, great match with collard greens and Southern style tofu, with a side green salad. You’ll get all of that for some $13.00. Otherwise, Creole spaghetti, Wild rice pilaf, and ‘shrimp’ sandwich (not sure if that’s exactly what it’s called) are amazing! Desserts are displayed for you to pick and choose from, mostly cakes, cupcakes and cookies.

From all the places in the Bay, except maybe Herbivore, I eat here most often. That must speak for something!

Vegan Comfort Soul food at it’s best[/caption]

3. Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

This was one of the first vegan places I ate in Oakland, on a vegan Meet-up (an event organized by a vegan group on meetup.com - if you don’t know it, check it out!). There were dozens of hungry vegans at that event, and I even made some friends. The setting is, without sounding offensive, a typical asian eatery place. But their menu is great, and they make their own meats and seitan, such as ‘chicken’ and ‘beef’. As I don’t make those at home myself, I really enjoy fake meats when eating out.

We ordered a few meals and shared among our table, one of three all-vegan tables of the night, and I tried so many delicious things, plus took food home as well. If you are in the mood for good, fast, asian vegan food, this is your place. I don’t think I ever tried the desserts, but I’m sure they were good as well.

4. Temescal Farmers Market

This is my go-to farmers market on Sundays. They sell supreme products, and you will find special foods us vegans and raw foodies love, like eatable flowers and an array of sprouts (from sprouted garbanzo to pea shots)! Besides delicious organic fruits and veggies, they have a few great food stands as well.

There is a stand with raw sauerkraut, in various flavors, from Farmhouse Culture, my favorite kraut there is. You will find great vegan falafel and pita chips, some nice breads, homemade almond milk, and specialty tofu. A very popular specialty coffee stand offers delicious drinks with almond milk, I usually go for mocha - their lines are huge, so I figured I must try the coffee for myself. Besides Fort Mason Farmers Market in San Francisco, I really enjoy visiting this one and always find something delicious and new to try.

BONUS MARKETS:
Whole Foods Market

I feel silly mentioning WFM, specially as this is not a shop unique to California. However, I had Croatian friends visiting recently, with one of them living in San Diego. Although they are all vegetarians, they were unfamiliar with WFM - shocker, I know! They complained about shopping at Walmart and such, so I figured I must include this in my list.

WFM is very fancy, expensive, and it isn’t only vegan or vegetarian, but they do sell a variety of specialty vegan products, as well as raw foods, gluten free, paleo etc. This is supermarket shopping at it’s finest. Whatever you are looking for - you read about Macca powder and want to try it, you are going raw and want kelp noodles, you are in a mood for a decadent chocolate vegan cake, WFM has it. They have a salad and a hot bar at all locations, so you can have a full warm meal instead of hitting a restaurant. Because they are pricy, WFM has earned a nickname ‘Whole Paycheck’. I shop there about once a month to stock on all my vegan necessities.

Trader Joe’s

TJ’s is another health focused chain of supermarkets that should be known by vegans. Not only do they sell decent and affordable organic produce, but they also sell vegan and gluten free goodies, from chips to sweets to yogurt to ice cream. The majority of the store is in-brand or Trader Joe’s products only, that is why they always offer low prices (but no coupons or discounts). The chain is still growing and expending, so it’s not available in all states - mainly California. If you are not familiar with TJ’s, take advantage while you are traveling. It’s are a great choice whether you are on the road or cooking dinner yourself. They have a few ready to eat products in the fridge (think wraps and salads), but no hot or salad bar.

CONCLUSION:
California is definitely a great place to be Vegan! San Francisco city and bay are one of the coolest areas to visit (or live), and I hope my little vegan guide helps you once you are here! If you try any of the spots mentioned, share your favorite dishes!
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