Our favorite part of moving to the west coast is having a new set of weekend trips within reach. It has been almost a month since our last mini vacation, so it was about time. I had a work trip planned, so we built a trip to San Diego around it and booked three nights at a little AirBnB in Sunset Cliffs. Of course the trip fell during “June Gloom” where overcast and cool is the norm, so we were ready to check out museums if the weather didn’t cooperate. While we didn’t see any epic sunsets, the middle of the days were mostly sunny and warm!
As per usual, in between the beaches, parks, and museums, we tried to find (and eat) all the vegan food so we could make recommendations for others heading to this wonderful city.
A Break From The Hotel
I flew in to San Diego on Monday for a conference, and Kyle joined me very late on Thursday night. While many of my meals were included in the conference, I gladly took any opportunity to start tasting Vegan San Diego. Before the conference officially started, I was able to grab lunch at Cafe Gratitude. Rich Roll talks about Cafe Gratitude on his podcast, and while I usually have a rule against chain restaurants, I won’t hold the fact that this place has 6 locations in Southern California against them. I quickly learned that the menu items are all named after positive affirmations, and instead of saying “I would like a…” you say “I am…” This explained why the people sitting next to me at the bar declared “I am Refreshed!” and “I am Effervescent!” as they put in drink orders.
Being vegan with a nut allergy isn’t usually a big deal, but I realized most of this menu had nuts. Nut sauces, nut cheeses, nut milks, nuts, nuts, nuts on every menu item. I ordered the BBQ Portobello Panini by stating “I am Committed” then quickly added the nut-free caveat so I could modify the sandwich a bit. The irony wasn’t lost on me, and I felt less committed by making all these nut-free requests. The sandwich should have been served with spicy coleslaw and roasted garnet yams, and those both were surprisingly made with nuts. The server graciously swapped in a salad for the missing slaw and yams, but it took an extra minute to find a dressing that wasn’t made with nuts either (landed on the Fig Balsamic – good choice). While it was not quite the experience I had anticipated, my sandwich with portobellos marinated in housemade barbecue sauce and avocado on ciabatta was tasty.
I am Committed @ Cafe Gratitude San Diego.
The next time I had a break in conference festivities, I wandered over to the bustling Gaslamp Quarter to eat at Harvest By The Patio. I walked into a small space with pre-packaged salads and bowls, and I got worried that online reviews led me to a grab-n-go place. A friendly employee behind a counter welcomed me and asked if I was here for dinner, and I replied “yes, vegan dinner!” and he told me I was in the right place. He walked me through the menu, navigating around nuts, and identifying what was served hot. I ended up with two starters instead of an entree – Coconut Lime Ceviche and Crispy Artichokes. The Coconut Lime Ceviche was made with seasoned coconut meat, and while I’m admittedly not the best for providing a good comparison, others that some of the freshest ceviche in San Diego think this is better! On top of the coconut meat, there were diced pepitas, avocado, and cilantro, and the dish was served with tortilla chips. I was really impressed!
Coconut Lime Ceviche @ Harvest by the Patio
The Crispy Artichokes were more fried that I imagined, and there were certainly some pieces I likes more than others. Some of the pieces were quite small, and they tasted more fried than vegetable. I wasn’t wild about those pieces, but the artichoke hearts were juicy little bites of fried heaven. The bigger pieces were the perfect texture and the flavor really came out with the lemon ginger dipping sauce.
Crispy Artichokes @ Harvest by the Patio
When the conference wrapped, my colleague and I set out for lunch at Sol Cal Cafe
. We picked this place because the website had plenty of vegan options, and had chicken, tuna, and salmon options for my colleague. We passed a sign touting their Flyin’ Hawaiian Sushiritto with tuna on the way in, and saw all the same veggie and meat options from the website displayed on monitors above the counter. My colleague ordered a Mediterranean Wrap with Chicken, and was told that this was a vegan establishment. There was no chicken or fish available. There was also no vegan chicken available anymore. The server said this was a recent change, but my head is still spinning as to why they hadn’t updated signage (a week later, the website still shows meat…) We both had the Mediterranean Wrap
with added chickpeas, and they were served with hearty, colorful side salads.
Mediterranean Wrap @ Sol Cal Cafe
My sweet tooth also led me to order a Birthday Cake Bar, and while it was a bit crumbly due to being gluten free, it was a delicious combination of sugar and more sugar, with some drizzled sugar on top.
Birthday Cake Bar @ Sol Cal Cafe
Friday – Vacation Actually Begins!
Kyle’s Thursday night flight was delayed into the wee morning hours of Friday, but after a few hours of sleep, we were ready to take on San Diego together. We started with a run along Sunset Cliffs toward Cabrillo National Monument, and while I thought I was getting better at hills from living in Seattle, Point Loma kicked my butt. We felt like we really earned breakfast, and went to the nearby Plant Power Fast Food
in Ocean Beach. We have some fast food vegan places in Seattle, but we really don’t go out for breakfast, so when there is a Chicken and Waffle Sandwich
on the menu, we had to order the Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. Just like it sounds, it was a piece of breaded and fried vegan chicken with maple bacon between two waffles, and it was glorious.
Chicken and Waffle Sandwich @ Plant Power Fast Food
We also split the Breakfast Burrito packed with tofu ‘egg’ scramble, provolone, sausage, potato hash, chipotle aioli, salsa and spinach in a whole wheat tortilla. I’ve had plenty of vegan burritos, and I’ve found many “breakfast” burritos just tasting like lunch or dinner burritos, but this one really had some good breakfast flavors with the potatoes and tofu scramble.
Breakfast Burrito @ Plant Power Fast Food
Now that we had some vegan junk food, we ready for healthier Southern Californian fare for the rest of the day! After exploring the rest of the morning, we went to Naked Cafe
for a late lunch of salads. I had the Baby Reds and Greens
with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and onions with basil dressing, and Kyle had a Golden Goddess
salad with almonds, mango, feta, raisins, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a much needed change from the heavy breakfast, and the veggies were so fresh and delicious.
We spent the afternoon in Del Mar, catching up with a friend, and enjoying a beautiful day at the beach. After getting a bit too much sun, we headed back towards our AirBnB, and stopped for dinner at Hugo’s Cocina
. We were surprised to see a “grand opening” banner on the building, as it didn’t look brand new. After we were seated with some delicious chips and salsa, we asked about the banner and learned the owner and name of the restaurant recently changed, but the staff and menu were the same.
Chips and Salsa @ Hugo’s Cocina
The simple laminated yellow menus were packed with vegan options, and I opted for the Trio of Enchiladas. I could pick 3 different fillings from a list of faux meats and veggies, and opted for shitake, spinach, and tempeh. Each enchilada had a different flavorful sauce on top. Each combo was delicious, but if I had to choose, I’d pick the shitake with verde sauce again and again!
Trio of Enchiladas @ Hugo’s Cocina
Kyle ordered Vegan Carne Asada Fajitas and enjoyed them. I’m not sure if they were out of smaller tortillas, or if it was because he asked for flour vs. corn, but he was served a huge burrito-sized homemade tortilla, and he ripped off hand-sized pieces to make tacos with the filling. I’ve never had carne asada, so I’m no judge, but he said that while the texture was a bit different, the flavor was on point.
Vegan Carne Asada Fajitas @ Hugo’s Cocina
After a delicious dinner we headed home and walked over to Sunset Cliffs, and while there wasn’t a beautiful sunset, it was still a great way to end the day listening to the waves crash on the cliffs.
After eating some fruit and going for a run, we weren’t starved for a big breakfast like the day prior. We went to the The Nest
for our first Acai Bowl
of the trip and some Unicorn Tears
(soda water with mint, lime, and lavender). The Acai Bowl had hemp granola and shaved coconut, and it was delicious.
Acai Bowl @ The Nest
After this light start to the day, we checked out Liberty Station to learn about some US Naval History, then we went over to The Midway Museum, and spent four hours winding our way through the aircraft carrier. To feed 5,000 people at a time, they had to make some serious batches of food. In the galley, I saw these recipes for desserts – over five pounds of sugar in the brownies!
Dessert Recipes in the USS Midway galley
After touring more than a dozen planes and helicopters on the flight deck, we were ready for dinner. I was so excited to go to Civico 1845
in Little Italy! I hadn’t told Kyle too much of what I’d read about it, and he was sufficiently surprised and impressed with the menu and everything we tried.
Fresh bread with imported olive oil and herbs @ Civico 1845
They have a separate vegan menu, and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, so started with two antipasti. The Mushroom Calamari – breaded and fried oyster mushrooms with Arrabbiata sauce – was good. The way this was presented gave Kyle the same experience he remembers from eating calamari, and he really liked it! Similar to the crispy artichokes from earlier in the trip, I realized I don’t mind fried things – I just prefer a more vegetable heavy ratio.
Mushroom Calamari @ Civico 1845
The Caprese Mozzarella was fantastic! Civico 1845 makes mozzarella from rice milk, and serves it over wedges of heirloom tomatoes with balsamic drizzled on top. It was perfect.
Caprese Mozzarella @ Civico 1845
For our main course, we both wanted the Ravioli Boscailoa; housemade pasta filled with truffle wild mushroom sauce. In an effort to try as much of the menu as we could, we also got the popular Lasagna Romagnola with seitan ragout. Both dishes were incredible. The pastas tasted so fresh and homemade.
Mushroom Ravioli @ Civico 1845
Lasagna @ Civico 1845 sans vegan parmasean (made from nuts)
So many delicious layers to the Lasagna @ Civico 1845
The service at Civico 1845 was on point, and everyone was friendly and helpful. When I had allergy questions about the menu, our server brought over the owner and kitchen manager, so we heard right from the person who makes the menus about the ingredients. I can’t wait to return!
On our last day in San Diego, we woke up early and packed up our little AirBnB. We headed to The Lazy Hummingbird
– the sister restaurant of The Nest – for another Acai Bowl with lots of fresh berries and a smoothie.
Acai Bowl @ Lazy Hummingbird
Following a long walk around Ocean Beach and the fishing pier, we worked up more of an appetite for breakfast, and decided to revisit Plant Power Fast Food
before leaving the Point Loma/Ocean Beach area. We each got English muffin sandwiches – one Canadian Bacon, Provolone, and Egg Muffin with spinach, and one Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Muffin with spinach – all made with plants, plants, and plants like coconut-based cheeses, tofu egg, and soy/wheat meats. This is by no means a health food, but a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin has 245 mg (81% of Daily Value) and McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffin has 300 mg (100% of DV!)…and these animal-free alternatives have no cholesterol at all. A win for the humans and the animals!
Breakfast English Muffin Sandwiches @ Plant Power Fast Food
After our (second) breakfast, we went to check out Balboa Park for a bit, then headed to Coronado to walk along the beach. We drove south along the Silver Strand, through Imperial Beach – “The Most Southwesterly City” – and along the Tijuana River. We contemplated walking over to Mexico for lunch (it would have been a good story) but erred on the side of caution and stayed stateside so we wouldn’t miss our flight. We visited Presidio Park and toured the old mission and Junipero Serra Museum, and we found a hot sauce shop in Old Town but they didn’t have any airplane-size bottles. Eventually, we got hungry for a late lunch.
Our last meal of the trip was at Veganic Thai Cafe
in Hillcrest. Yellow Curry
is one of my favorite dishes, so in a never-ending horizontal taste test of all the Yellow Curries, I ordered the Yellow Curry.
Yellow Curry @ Veganic Thai Cafe
Kyle was more adventurous, and tried a dish called Larb
informed us that “Larb is a type of Lao meat salad that is regarded as the “unofficial” national dish of Laos. It is also eaten in the Isan region, an area of Thailand where the majority of the population is of the Lao ethnicity.” The dish was served with vegan duck, and Kyle said it was crispy and flavorful. I’ve never had duck so I have no basis for comparison, and since he ordered his dish spicy, I wasn’t going near it. The vegan duck was spooned into lettuce wraps, and served with rice, cucumbers and potato chips – likely to put out the fire of ordering a 5 out of 5 on the spicy scale. Pro tip: order a Thai Iced Tea to help with the heat as well.
Larb @ Veganic Thai Cafe
San Diego was a great city for vegan cuisine! While it is easy enough to find faux meats and we could find the “junk food” if we tried, the overall vibe was around health. It was refreshing to find so many fruit and veggie options. I think some restaurants have meat analogues as a way to seem approachable for non-vegans and veg-curious, but sometimes it feels like an overabundance of soy- and wheat-based meat products are really prioritizing the concept of “vegan for the animals” over vegan for our own health. I’ve always referred to my lifestyle choice as a three-legged stool that balances equally on health, environment, and animals. Based on our experience, the San Diego vegan scene seems to be on the same page.
I can’t wait to return (after June Gloom) for more great food and these fabled epic sunsets!