Back to Herbivore, Mission District San Fransisco

This is a very quick blog post written purely to recommend three things. Visiting the sutro baths, eating before you get on an internal Delta flight, and eating the quesadillas at Herbivore. I could devour them every day and I don’t think I could get bored of that plate of food.

  

I’d get fat, yes, but aside from Mohawk Bend in LA, I’m not sure there’s another restaurant in the world that turns unhealthy classics vegan as well as Herbivore do. And no, I don’t do PR for them, I’m just hungry for quesadillas.

  

The mission burrito: vegan style at El Casa Mexicana, SF

The mission burrito. It had to happen. It’s a behemoth that puts all other burritos I’ve eaten to shame. It looks more like a brick than a food stuff, and after eating a quarter of it, I feel that the whole pound of burrito that is left could feed a small family for a week.

  

Although everybody says you should go to Mission Street to get the burrito if your dreams, we obviously didn’t do that, and went to a road about five blocks west, closer to Duboce and Castro than Mission. I wanted to go in because I am perennially afraid of beans being cooked in pig lard, and Casa Mexicana had an enormous range of vegetarian options including tofu. This sounded like the worst option, so I opted for that to see if they could make it work.
Like everyone in the world, they couldn’t make the white flaccid tofu work, however marinated it had been in Mexican flavour sauces. But the rest of the burrito was incredible.
First she coated the tortilla bread in a layer of rice, added black beans (with an elaborate wrist-flick) and scattered a few chunks of tofu (regret). Then a generous handful of lettuce, guacamole, hot sauce, and chopped tomatoes before packaging it all up – envelope style – and thwacking it on the plate.
If this sounds bland – thank you for your concern, but don’t panic! There was an enormous station of condiments, sauces, limes, and chopped onions to pour and drizzle over, which made the whole experience far more verdant and tangy.
I’ve been carrying around the amount of burrito I didn’t finish for about an hour and I’m concerned about developing repetitive strain damage. For $5.50, that’s an insane amount of good, tasty food, from not quite in the mission district and a free helping of some of the best tortilla chips of all time.

Herbivore: where skinheads and hippies join hands and eat pancakes

“Sitting in the booth next to me is a tattooed man. He is a skinhead. He has a male partner who is looking enviously at the vegan gluten free lasagne that the waitress has just placed in front of him. 

We are sitting in a vegan restaurant, called herbivore. In front of him sits a half drunk spirulina infused pineapple juice. When he talks he has a Yorkshire accent. “I’m from Chesterfield,” he says. We momentarily reminisce about the leaning spire of Chesterfield (google it). He looks hard -tough knuckles kind of hard – and like the sort of man I used to avoid in Sheffield City centre on a Friday night.


Folks, this is San Francisco, where men with tough morals and tough fists eat vegan.”

I wrote this almost a year ago, when I visited San Francisco for the first time. Now I’m back, and I’ve dragged Sam to the Berkeley branch of the same restaurant.

The breakfast menu is staggeringly good for this area, and the price is great compared to other vegan restaurant places we’ve visited. This is my fourth visit to Herbivore, and each time I’m torn between trail mix choc chip pancakes, salsa and corn cakes, the breakfast burrito, or sausage, biscuits and gravy.

Luckily, this time I have an ally, so we split the corn cakes and pancakes, and to alleviate the guilt, get a green juice too.

As ever, it’s perfect. Vegan sour cream, creamy avocado, crunchy corn cakes and piquant tomato salsa. Amazing.

I always forget how little I like pancakes for breakfast, but feel compelled to order them in the U.S. Regardless. These are fine, but I hate having such a sweet, stodgy start to the day. And this day I’ve been up since 4.30am trying to meet a deadline for my book proposal. So my fingers are hungry at the very least.

So here’s to vegan breakfasteries, and the pleasure of shared breakfast meetings. 




Similies: exploring Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

The last few weeks have provided the writer within me a chance to fumble around with some wordplay, and produce some hugely awful and desperate similes. Even though you’ve barely drunk your morning coffee, I’d be damn surprised if you didn’t want to hear any of these excellent examples. So here goes: As many ____ as ghost tours in New Orleans. As many ____ as animal hospitals in West Hollywood. As many ____ as car angst scenes in the movie Shelter.

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And now I guess I can add: As many ____ as fresh food marketplaces in Berkeley, California.

I’ve been before. I suppose every vegan should one day make the pilgrimage to the home of California cuisine, and the town that kickstarted the vegan revolution (of sorts). Last time I came I was bowled over. London is doing many exciting things in its culinary scene at the moment, but none so thrilling as California’s: vegan cinnamon rolls at Cinnaholic; Cafe Gratitude‘s BLT; chocolate cake at Herbivore. Although probably tame and old news to Californians, from a Londoner’s perspective, where vegan food in comparison to the size of the city is lacking somewhat, Berkeley was mind-blowing to me.

After spending the last eight months actively hunting down vegan food around the world, it’s probably diminished in excitement, but it’s still the shrine; the original.

So, after a long drive down from Yosemite national park, we headed straight to Cinnaholic where I devoured a strawberry and cream cheese cinnamon roll washed down with lemonade. In desperate need of walking off my car fat (and now cake fat), we took a long walk around the UC Berkeley campus and hiked up and down Shattuck Avenue’s Gourmet Ghetto. When we’d worked up enough appetite, we headed to Cafe Gratitude.

Polenta bowl at Cafe Gratitude

Polenta bowl at Cafe Gratitude

We’d been so impressed with the LA location – the menu was enormous. This one was tiny, but had a vibrant selection of items. I picked my fave BLT (the bacon replaced by smoked coconut chips), and Sam chose the polenta bowl with mushrooms and greens. It was awesome, and I found myself picking at his meal the entire time – I can’t resist anything creamy when it’s so tough to make food creamy at home without turning it into a thai dish or a peanut butter flavoured dish! If only we had a surplus of avocados and cashew nuts back in England!

Now properly stuffed with food, we tootled down to the marina and strolled around the headland, watching people bring their boats in off the bay as the sun began to set over San Francisco. I spent far too much time staring in awe at the sky, when Sam reminded me we needed to speed up to be at our friend’s house for 7.30. I needn’t have worried leaving the sunset: their house is on the top of a hill in the bay area and overlooks the city, the Golden Gate bridge, and the ocean. It’s spectacular and is an absolute treat to be staying here. (So if either of them are reading – thank you!)

The view from Oakland hills over the bay

The view from Oakland hills over the bay

Eating vegan at Yosemite National Park

Bears. They’re everywhere if you’ll believe the signs. Every year 16 bears are hit and killed by speeding cars in the park, and the park rangers show vivid films of bears breaking into cars and stealing all the food. 

  

This meant that in the campground we were staying in – unheated tents in Curry Village (error, it dropped to about -3 degrees) – we weren’t able to cook our own food. We had to rely on the canteen and pizza place at the campground, both of which were very much geared towards pleasing children. The camp was probably doing the best it could, but the food was painfully expensive – a large pizza with no cheese and extra olives and tomatoes cost $28. I mean, what the hell? Surely cheese is the most expensive ingredient there – why not give me a handful of mushrooms for free? 

  

At the risk of sounding like a tight-arse miser, this felt expensive, even for the heart of the national park. 

This is a post about vegan food at the park rather than the national park itself, which is of course, incredible. Striking blue skies, powdery grey waterfalls, green trees and slate grey mountains made every vista look like it had been drawn by a child with a limited supply of crayons. But what crayons! What colour!

  

We did lots of hikes (three in one afternoon) – mirror lake, Vernal Falls, and Yosemite falls. They were all, of course spectacular, but we spent our visit desperately wishing we’d packed our hiking gear so we could tackle longer and more strenuous hikes. Sadly, our airline baggage allowance wouldn’t permit it.

  

Away from the mountains and back to the vegan food, which is surely a concern for anyone coming to visit. The grill in Yosemite Village has black bean burgers for 10.95 and there was a sizeable salad offering in Curry Village – bear in mind that each salad is measured by weight. There was also a vegan marinara sauce for the pasta dish which looked pretty good.

All in all, vegans could probably eat one evening meal fine in Curry or Yosemite Village. If you’re concerned at all, I recommend stopping off in Mariposa at the High Country Cafe, which is attached to a whole food shop (not Wholefoods). You can buy vegan trail mix there and the essential Almond Dream ice cream bites. Just remember that everything has to be put in the bear box outside your tent, and no cooking!

Ps. It’s cold at night. Get a sleeping bag at the very least. I wore two pairs of jeans, three jumpers and my coat. Still freezing. 

  

Berkeley, SF, CA: The epicentre of vegan cuisine

Of course the real reason I’d schlepped up to San Francisco and the Bay Area on the train when I could have stayed in LA sunning myself was to check out the vegan restaurants. California is heaven for vegans. From the train station in LA where I perused “vegan meals” in the American equivalent of WH Smiths, to a corner shop in SF that sold salted caramel almond milk iced coffee, I don’t think there’s a better place to be if you’re keen to cut out the dairy.

Yeh, yeh London is great, but we’re stymied by our crap weather and lacklustre fresh fruit. There’s only so many times I want to eat stew before I scream. Here, salads are a meal in themselves. I’m sure I’ve raved about this before, but why shouldn’t they be a meal in themselves? In the UK, salads are watery bowls of romaine lettuce, cucumber and wet tomato. There might be an olive. Occasionally, there may even be a twist of lemon. But they are rarely interesting.  Even in restaurants like Pizza Express, the salad is made filling by the inclusion of dough sticks. Rarely do you eat a salad, leave the restaurant and think: “I MUST try that at home.”

But in California, they’re blessed with fresh fruit and vegetables-the type that make me happy anyway. Generous slices of avocado share a salad bowl with ruby red grapefruits drizzled with coriander dressing and liberally scattered with almonds. These are hearty meals and they’re delicious.

Anyway, I’m getting off the topic. It was my plan to locate some top notch vegan options while I was in the Bay Area, and, although I was on a budget and so couldn’t afford to eat out that often, I think I did my best.

Berkeley:

Cafe Gratitude

BLT at Cafe Gratitude

BLT at Cafe Gratitude

So these cafes can be found in LA and in SF. And excitingly, there’s also one in Berkeley. It was a hike-right at the northern end of Shattuck Avenue- but my god was it worth it. The premise of the cafe is that you remember to be grateful for everything in your life, something that could feel a bit hippy and strange if the food wasn’t so damn delicious. I ordered a BLT. This was a sandwich combination I’d never been able to eat before. It came with a mound of beautifully dressed salad. AT $13, it was more than I’d intended to pay, but the novelty won me over. There was lettuce, and there was tomato, yes. But the bacon itself was smoke roasted coconut flakes, which gave the sandwich a crunchy, chewy layer. There was also a thick layer of chipotle aioli, which sandwiched the bun together and added this incredible extra smokey flavour. I was also persuaded (easily) to buy a slice of raw vegan chocolate torte. This, at $8, I regretted. I forgot that I don’t really like raw cakes and the slice I’d got was the size of half my arm. I dumped it in my friend’s fridge and it lasted me for three days.

 

Cinnaholic

Cookie dough topped bun with vanilla frosting

Cookie dough topped bun with vanilla frosting

Who knew that I would be able to find a cinnamon roll, complete with topping, soft scoop ice cream and frosting that was vegan? This place has them. Situated on Oxford Street, just opposite UC Berkeley Campus, Cinnaholic offers a standard cinnamon bun (but it’s far from standard, with a caramelised, crusty bottom layer and warm, melt in the mouth dough) complete with a choice of frosting (caramel, strawberry, anything) and physical topping. I got cookie dough (VEGAN COOKIE DOUGH-YOU HAVE NO IDEA!) but I could have opted for the far healthier fresh blackberries.

 

 

 

 

San Francisco

gracias madre

“Cheesey” Mexican food

Gracias Madre
Hands up, I didn’t actually go to this, but I salivated over the menu enough to at least have an appreciation of its wonderfulness. This Mexican restaurant is located in the heart of the mission, actually on Mission Street itself, a world away from the upmarket chic nature of neighbouring Valencia. Expect vegan tacos, salads and enchiladas, complete with vegan cheese and vegan sour creme. For desert, a slice of chocolate tart and ice cream or pear cobbler. Dreamy. I just wish that I hadn’t wasted that last food hole in my tummy having a fruit juice.

 

Herbivore

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Mexican corn cake breakfast platter

I was a herbi-bore in San Francisco yesterday. I went here twice. Two different locations, granted, but I probably should have mixed things up a little. I just knew I could get coffee and a cake here, hence why I gravitated to the Valencia Street branch of the restaurant. At the Herbivore in Haight however, I treated myself to the full shebang. Brunch and a smoothie. Although the stack of pancakes tempted me, it was late enough in the morning for me to crave a more savoury brunch. I opted for the corn cakes, black beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and what they call Hash Browns. As in, not hash browns, but still pretty tasty. After a good heap of hot sauce, it was an amazing plate of food. Later that afternoon when I came back for tea and cake, I opted for a massive hunk of german chocolate cake and brewed coffee. The cake filling was crunchy, chewy caramel peanuts and thick chocolate frosting. Not too sweet, not too bitter. Amazing.

Menu at Herbivore

Menu at Herbivore