San Diego has a very active and inclusive food scene. You can find restaurants that cater to those with food allergies, gluten sensitivities and special diets, like the trendy Paleo diet or popular low-carb systems. You can also find myriad restaurants that serve dishes for vegetarians and vegans.
In fact, choosing not to eat meat or animal products is so common that you can find vegetarian-friendly eateries in just about any neighborhood around the city, from Gaslamp to North Park. Some of these places will specialize in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, while others simply include a few solid vegetarian or vegan dishes on their menus.
It’s important to realize that being vegetarian means more than just not ordering steak. If you’re looking for a vegetarian-friendly place to eat with a friend who eschews animal products, you need to realize that just a lack of visible meat isn’t vegetarian. You also need to ensure that the kitchen doesn’t use meat-based stock for seasoning or any kind of animal lard in their preparation of otherwise meat-free dishes.
If you’re looking for a great place to grab a bite around the North Park area of San Diego, we’ve already done the research by hunting down some of the more popular meat-free destinations in the neighborhood. Whether you enjoy meat-free Friday for environmental reasons or have permanently sworn off animal products for ethical or health reasons, you can confidently enjoy eating at any of these four restaurants.
Sipz – Respecting the World and Every Human (& Animal) In It
Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion Cafe
Location: 3914 30th Street
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
If you’re looking for a healthy, ethical and flavorful take on fusion foods, you should definitely check out Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion Cafe. As a small family business, Sipz really focuses on a mission to respect the world and everyone on it.
Everything on their menu is completely vegetarian, and many of the options here are vegan, with no dairy, egg or animal by-products at all. Everything on their dessert menu is vegan, meaning this is a great place to stop into to treat your sweet tooth.
Initially opened as a coffee and boba tea shop in 2002, the modern incarnation of Sipz is an expansion on that vision with an impressive fusion menu featuring Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes.
They have all kinds of vegetarian dishes, include Tom Yum, Chinese herb and tofu vegetable soup, a host of salads made with fresh greens or seaweed, noodles ranging from Pho to Thai drunken noodles, and plenty of stir-fry dishes with either spicy or mild flavors, depending on your preferences.
If you find yourself in the Clairemont or Kearny Mesa region, they have a second location at 5501 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. for when you need your fix.
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Meat-Free Ethiopian for Lentil and Pea Lovers
Awash Ethiopian Restaurant and Market
Location: 2884 El Cajon Blvd.
Hours: Seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
If you want a meal that is more of an experience than just a few dishes at a table, consider dining at Awash Ethiopian Restaurant and Market. There’s a wide range of dishes here, including some that feature meat, such as lamb, tenderloin tips, chicken and even fish.
For vegetarians, there’s a wealth of meat-free dishes, ranging from lentil dishes or ground peas to a specialty vegetarian combination. Every dish is served with fresh bread or injera, which is a kind of sourdough pancake, often made from a tiny grain called teff. Most of the dishes on the menu have a number of fresh ingredients and an impressive combination of spices and seasonings. While not overtly hot or spicy, there is a lot of flavor to enjoy in Ethiopian dishes.
To go with your meal, you can enjoy Ethiopian coffee, hot tea, espresso-based drinks, fresh juices (such as orange, guava or mango), soda or even the Awash special ginger tea. Like many of the best ethnic restaurants, Awash is also a market that caters to first generation Ethiopian immigrants in the San Diego area. You can pick up some injera to take home with you after your meal.
Wraps and Sandwiches with Imitation Meat or Just Veggies at Swami’s
Location: 2920 University Avenue
Hours: Seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Not every family-owned restaurant can expand to nine locations in an area like San Diego, where commercial properties are very expensive. However, that’s exactly what’s happened with Swami’s Cafe.
They’ve built a reputation for great good in a comfortable atmosphere, making them popular with patrons wherever they establish themselves. We’re focusing specifically on the North Park location, but you can also visit a Swami’s Cafe in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, La Mesa, Oceanside, Point Loma and Poway.
The North Park Swami’s Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, as well as smoothies, bowls and fresh juices. They definitely cater to the health-conscious, with wheatgrass, as well as carrot, apple, orange, watermelon and grapefruit juices.
For breakfast, they serve up three egg omelets, including a Santa Fe turkey omelet with Ortega chilies, green onion, tomatoes, pepper jack cheese and either real or imitation turkey for the vegetarians in your group. They also make up breakfast burritos, pancakes, French toast and waffles. You can upgrade most dishes to include tofu instead of eggs or even soy cheese.
During lunch, you can order a number of salads, some of which include salmon, shrimp, chicken or tuna. There are also wraps and burgers, including several vegetarian options, like the spicy ginger wrap or the protein veggie wraps. They even make a chipotle black bean and rice patty for veggie burgers.
A Tribute to Vegans and Vegetarians
Location: 3077 North Park Way
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For many vegans, giving up pizza is a very hard step in the process of moving away from animal products and dairy. Thanks to Tribute Pizza, however, you can enjoy an incredible pizza that’s totally vegan or even gluten-free without sacrificing flavor for ethics.
Check out their Super Vegan IV: Return to Krypton. This humorously-named pie features Japanese heirloom purple sweet potato puree, kabocha squash, leeks and crispy hazelnuts. They have a host of impressive specialty vegetarian pies, such as the vodka sauce pie with ricotta, mozzarella and arugula, as well as the chile relleno burrito pizza, topped with poblano peppers, salsa, crema Mexicana, crispy potatoes, cayenne peppers and a cheese blend. Non-vegetarians can add ghost pepper salami as well.
They serve wood fired sandwiches, fresh salads, breakfast dishes on the weekends (including an everything bagel calzone), and even mac and cheese as part of their kids menu. If you want to check them out without paying full price, stop by during Happy Hour. Tuesday through Friday each week, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., you can enjoy $3 bar snacks or wood-fired focaccia, $7 margherita pizzas and $10 pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon.