by Kylina Matteoli
Last month, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to San Diego for Comic Con and while we were there we were told by both locals and friends to check out some of their favorite restaurants that they swear by. And lucky for me, not only did these places have vegan options, but sometimes they had entire vegan menus. I was most surprised when people who were not vegan, like our Uber driver, recommended their favorite restaurants which turned out to be entirely vegan. I wonder if my Uber driver knew that the soul food plate at Kindred didn’t actually have real chicken fried up. Either way, my non-vegan husband and I can definitely attest that the restaurants we tried in San Diego had the best vegan food we ever tasted and we can’t wait to go back someday to have seconds!
The most recommended place to go in San Diego is Hodad’s Burgers. Try meeting a San Diego native that doesn’t recommend this place. (You can try, but you won’t. I guarantee it.) San Diegans live for this burger joint. Located in two locations (Downtown and Ocean Beach), the inside of this restaurant is decorated with posters, signage, license plates, and bumper stickers all over the walls and ceiling. It feels like you’ve just stepped inside an underground punk-rock bar/skatepark. After taking a seat in a booth or at the longboard/surfboard table, your waiter will sit down right next to you and join your table momentarily to take your order. After you order, your waiter whips away to the kitchen and after a brief couple of minutes (no kidding, this place has extremely fast service), they’ll bring you the biggest, fattest burgers and fries you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
This place is known for its beef patties, bacon patties, and their larger than life milkshakes (served with a good heaping of ice cream scoops on top); however, they do have a vegetarian burger. This normally comes with cheese and mayo, but if you ask for it to be vegan then they’ll bring you the Malibu burger which is a delicious chipotle, corn, black bean patty topped with lettuce, onion, tomato, mustard, and ketchup. And the fries! They are potato wedges that are deep fried, giving the inside of the fry a mashed potato texture and the exterior a hash-brown texture. Those were seriously delicious. My only regret was not coming here absolutely starving because the serving sizes were huge. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish all my meal, however the pricing here is pretty average compared to your local burger joint. And since restaurants in San Diego tend to be pretty pricey, this place’s prices are definitely on the lower end in comparison.
Another great find was Sab Lai Thai restaurant. After a long morning walking around at Comic Con, my husband and I were very hungry. The only problem with that was trying to find a restaurant where I could find something to eat. Sab Lai definitely saved the day for us like a comic book hero. Located right downtown on 5th Ave. in the historic gaslight district, Sab Lai proudly serves a vegetarian menu as well as a traditional menu. I ordered the simple dish of tofu with stir-fry vegetables. I was craving more of a simple, yet bulky meal to fuel me up for the rest of my day at Comic Con. However, I did notice that they offer vegan chicken substitutes in their Pad Thai meal, which I thought was really cool to even offer something like that. Most of the vegetarian menu is actually vegan since dairy isn’t a common ingredient in their dishes; however, eggs are often used or cooked with in certain dishes so just make sure to clarify when you order that you want it without eggs and you should be good to go. The pricing here was on the higher end of average, but it wasn’t too bad. Average meals range from $10-$14. But note that this is still a lot cheaper than most places located on 5th Ave. Most restaurants located in the gaslight district tend to be very pricey due to its location. However, I thought this was a very nice, fancy restaurant even if the prices didn’t reflect that. And after you’ve eaten, you can walk around the gaslight district to see more of what downtown San Diego has to offer.
I have saved the best for last. My new favorite restaurant, hands down, in the world (drum roll, please), goes to Kindred. This restaurant is a death-metal vegan bar. Yep. That is an odd combination, but once you’ve tried it you can never go back. It’ll transform you for sure. This place is only open for dinner during the week and on weekends they serve brunch and dinner. We went on a Friday night, and the liveliness of this place told us that this is where the locals go. Since it was a busy night, we went to the bar until our table was ready, and as we drank fruity, alcoholic concoctions you could slightly hear the undertone of metal music playing in the background. However, because it was so busy, you mostly heard the cheerful tune of the locals laughing, talking, and enjoying themselves around you. You can order at the bar as well as at a table, but we decided to just enjoy drinks at first.
Once we were seated, my husband ordered the Soul Food Platter which consisted of fried ‘chicken,’ mashed potatoes, vegan mac n’ cheese, and broccoli, which came with a side of spicy, chipotle gravy. And I ordered what our waitress suggested as her favorite dish on the menu, the beet risotto. It’s an entire dish made from beets. No rice or grains in this risotto. The risotto itself is comprised of the beets finely chopped up into grain-size bits. This dish came topped with three pan-fried slices of potatoes and a creamy, vegan aioli drizzled on top. One bite of this and I swear I flew straight up to heaven. I remember saying to my husband, “How did they make beets taste good?” Because I am not a fan of beets at all. The only reason why I had ordered it is because the waitress was insistent on this dish being the best thing she’s ever eaten, and I can agree with her. This dish is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Period. The Soul Food Platter didn’t disappoint either. The fried ‘chicken’ had a nice cereal breading that gave that oh-so-satisfying crunch. And the mash potatoes? Amazing. And the mac n’ cheese? Finally! An actual dupe of mac n’cheese that I enjoy. This is the best vegan mac n’cheese I have tried to date. And I don’t think there will be another one to beat it, that’s how good it is. And the broccoli? Eh. Just kidding, it was also delicious considering it was, you know, broccoli.
For dessert, we had the cherry cheesecake that was served with sugared pecans and candied fruit. It was the perfect size to share for two, and the creamy richness of this cheesecake was dangerously close to tasting like the real thing. So, if you are in San Diego, then Kindred is an absolute must-visit. Go on a weekend night, enjoy some drinks (even non-alcoholic ones if you prefer), enjoy the bustling ambience, the good San Diego weather coming in through the open garage doors, and munch on the best vegan eats you’ll probably ever find.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I explore more vegan restaurants in San Diego.