VEGAN DISH Sure, vegan junk food has been visited in the past, but restaurants and changing menus come and go in this town. New fake meats, cheap sweets, and truffle-drenched treats are beefing up our veg options all the time.
And remarkably, there are still some casual diners out there unaware of the veg takeover — or at least, uninformed of the fact that you can find great tastes and high junk food art without dairy or meat:
BENDER’S: SATAN’S PHILLY CHEESE-FAKE WITH A SIDE OF FRIED PICKLES
This is a decadent dish — shouldn’t all Satanic sandwiches be of that flavor? Bender’s version ($9) is piled with house-made grilled seitan, onions, and peppers on sliced sourdough. Make sure to order it vegan by doing away with the cheese and adding the creamy “godless” dressing. Then add a side of barfly-favorites like the veganized fried pickles, or you could just lean into the stoney pub food goodness of it all and get the damn fried tots.
806 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 824-1800. www.bendersbar.com.
GRACIAS MADRE: GORDITAS WITH CASHEW CREAM
I’m going to be real honest here and admit that my first tastes of gorditas were modified from the suburban teen angst of a Taco Bell drive-through. This is not a Taco Bell gordita. The Gracias Madre version ($8) is an elegant, vegan stack of grilled potato-masa cakes topped with salsa verde, avocado, and the sauce de résistance, the delicious cashew cream. It’s not even that bad for you — that’s how good vegan junk food is. Especially compared to the far greasier alternatives.
2211 Mission, SF. (415) 683-1346. www.gracias-madre.com.
HELLA VEGAN EATS: DOUGHNUT BURGER
The adorable couple behind Hella Vegan Eats — Tiffany and Sylvee Esquivel — crisscrosses the Bay weekly to offer up inspired vegan takes on classic American and Mexican dishes. But here’s the tricky part: They’ve yet to open a brick and mortar location. So you can find tastebud-seducing treats like the Hella Vegan Doughnut Burger ($10) created out of a succulent beet burger (which is then plopped between two moist and sugary vegan doughnuts) at their many pop-ups. They regularly show up at Dear Mom in the Mission and Timeless Coffee in Oakland, and soon will be in Dolores Park on a more regular schedule of weekday lunches and weekend brunches, Thu.-Sun. The Hella Vegan ladies also whip up ingenious items like the seitan Autobanh Mi and Lusty Lovers Tacos (that would be mac-n-“cheeze” and barbecue “chicken” tacos), but that beet-doughnut burger — usually topped with a tangy secret sauce, greens, and pickled onions — seems to be the most consistent offering. The Doughnut Burger even looks cute, often topped with one of those colorful cocktail umbrellas.
Follow their Facebook page (Facebook: Hella Vegan Eats) and Twitter (@HellaVeganEats) for updates.
Various locations, SF and Oakl. www.hellaveganeats.com.
LOVING HUT: CRISPY TENDERS AND SWEET POTATO FRIES
I’ve always been jealous of fish and chips offerings at pubs. There’s something so self-indulgent, so existential about ordering a meal made up of two equally fried parts. Those who sit idly by while others dig in often feel compelled to silently judge, perhaps out of pure jealousy. And the aroma is usually enough to get me salivating. Loving Hut’s Crispy Tenders and Sweet Potato Fries appetizer ($6.45) is likely the least healthy item on the menu there, hence why I love it. The dish, while billed as an app, is absolutely enough to fill you up. It’s made up of equal parts salty and sweet (thanks to the switcheroo with sweet potato) and it comes with crunchy-crispy fried soy protein nuggets, fries, and a tart barbecue dipping sauce, as all good meals should.
Loving Hut Westfield, 845 Market, SF. www.lovinghut.us.
PEPPLES DONUTS: SALTED CARAMEL
With flavors like Matcha Green Tea, Philz Coffee, and Chili Mango, along with the standard old fashioned and chocolate sprinkled, it’s hard to turn down any donut Pepples has to offer — the likes of which can be found at its Donut Farm storefront in Oakland, a stand in the Ferry Building, and coffee shops and specialty stores throughout the Bay. The vegan, organic donuts are all delicious and moist, almost more cake-like than a traditional donut, and just the right size to avoid overdoing it. Plus, they look really cute, like cartoonish version of the standard, in perfect little round treats with candy-colored coating. The standout among these has to be the salted caramel ($3), so decadent, so sugary and salty. The purplish blueberry option is extra tasty as well, but there’s something exceptional about that rarefied salted caramel — it even impressed hard-won non-veg Guardian staffers.
Various locations in SF and Oakl.. Pepples Donut Farm, 6037 San Pablo, Oakl. www.pepplesdonuts.com.
SATURN CAFÉ: DIABLO BURGER
Saturn has long been a staple of late-night college grubbing in Santa Cruz, so when it opened up in Berkeley a few years back, veggie and vegan stoners came crawling out of the woodwork. The menu offers everything from taquitos to milkshakes (all of which can be made vegan), but your best bet is the Diablo Burger ($10.50). It’s the spicy housemade Saturn veggie burger topped with fresh jalapenos, spicy chipotle, grilled onions, and traditional accoutrements — remember to ask for it sans cheese. You won’t miss it, since the insanely spicy kick from those other ingredients is cooled with fresh lettuce and tomato. Plus, it comes with Saturn’s tasty, “award-winning” fries, thin cut or thick steak style.
2175 Allston, Berk. (510) 845-8505.saturncafe.com/berkeley.
SOULEY VEGAN: SOUTHERN FRIED SMOTHERED TOFU
Imagine two sizable hunks of crispy Southern-fried tofu nearly engulfing the (indoor) plate or (outdoor) basket they’re placed in ($10). Now picture those deep-fried tofu pieces smothered in savory vegan gravy and onions. Visualize yourself sitting outside across the way on the sunny deck at Beer Revolution, pounding local lagers and biting into the succulent crusted tofu coated in sauce. It’s a rather pretty picture for a summer afternoon, isn’t it?
301 Broadway, Oakl.. (510) 922-1615. www.souleyvegan.com.
SOURCE: BAKED VEGAN SPINACH ARTICHOKE FONDUE
Source is all about feelings, and vibes, colors, sounds, and a “multi-dimsensional dining experience.” But for me, Source means roasted peppers and spinach in a warm, gooey cashew cream with truffle oil and toasted pita bread to dip ($8.95). The Baked Vegan Spinach Artichoke Fondue is a snacktacular dish that serves as both yummy appetizer and dessert, so much that you’ll likely pass on the actual Source dessert options like the vegan chipwich or “Twinkees.”
11 Division, SF. (415) 864-9000. www.source-sf.com.
ST. FRANCIS FOUNTAIN: DEVIL BURGER
The seitan name really does lend itself to devilish dishes, doesn’t it? It’s a great hook, not that one is necessary for this burger, which was added to the menu along with some other vegan items back in 2010. The St. Francis Devil Burger ($8.25) is a rather sloppy (and delectable) pile of marinated and grilled seitan and melted vegan cheese, doused with veganaise, and teetering on a regular-sized bun. Many napkins will be needed, but you won’t regret it for a moment. At the time of its appearance on the St. Francis menu, blogger Vegansaurus noted that the burger was “exactly the kind of greasy vegan diner food San Francisco has been missing.”
2801 24th St., SF. (415) 826-4210. www.stfrancisfountainsf.com.
VEGAN MACARONI AND CHEESE, MADE BY SAVVY SAVORIES
This is my version of the “sad desk salad,” in that I eat it during work hours while perusing gossip columns. Yet, it’s not a bummer at all: it’s warm pasta shells coated in delicious vegan cheese and crumbly breading. The dish ($6.99), made by Berkeley natural food company Savvy Savories, is always available in the chilled meals section of Falletti Foods. Warmed up (best in a conventional oven, but microwave works too), this version of the classic staple is creamy and filling, like any good comfort-food should be. It blows the Amy’s Kitchen Dairy Free Rice Macaroni and Cheeze option out of the competition — wait, is there a vegan mac and cheese contest? If so, I’m available for judging.
For further reading on making your own vegan junk food, consult the cookbook Vegan Junk Food: 225 Sinful Snacks that are Good for the Soul (Adams Media, 240 pps.,$16.95).