My parents consider themselves to be California natives, and after spending their working lives in Michigan, have recently moved back to San Diego—the city where they met.
My mother, who is not strictly vegan but has always been very health-conscious, began raving about the city’s vegan food well before I arrived for the holidays. So, this weekend we decided to make a tour of the city’s animal-free eateries.
Native Foods might be compared to a Chipotle—with its “fast casual” dining atmosphere and a growing number of locations. But after we ordered from the counter, the staff brought out our foods and later cleared the table.
The menu is entirely plant-based, but there are plenty of “meats” to choose from. The daily special was a classic ruben with spot-on corned “beef.” The Japanese sesame crusted “chicken” bites were also delicious, but just a touch less like the real thing.
If you’re not into imitation meat, there are of course lots of options. I ordered the portobello burger with seitan, which was moist and wonderful—although I made a mess of the very large heap of lettuce that came on the sandwich.
This restaurant has been open less than a year. Chef Don told me he got his start baking for other restaurants and selling at farmers markets. Now with its own storefront, Moncai Vegan has a homey interior, complete with a mural by a local artist and a little library of kid-friendly vegan books. All of the ingredients are sourced locally—Don said that his time spent selling at farmers markets makes that part easy.
To drink, we ordered the “Chilled Glass of House-Made Daily Water,” which was a rich hibiscus tea favored with anise stars and sweetened with fruit juice.
The food was exquisite, we started with an appetizer special of avocado bruchetta, which was topped with delicate sprouts.
The Chick’n & Dumplings came highly recommended and did not disappoint. The pillowy dumplings were perfectly paired with carrots and peas, and tender chick’n chunks. My mother ordered the Tuscan vegetable soup, which has a rich broth and a hearty serving of veggies.
The shop also has a daily array of baked treats, including donuts and cupcakes.
The farmers market is my favorite spot to shop for groceries, so on Sunday morning we headed to La Jolla to stock up on local produce. More than just a farmers market, the Open Aire Market also hosts artisans and food vendors.
My first vendor stop was at GreenFix, which sells organic smoothies. I chose their “Original,” which is a blend of greens, apple juice, banana and flax seed. It had none of the bitter taste that some veggie-heavy drinks can have.
Next I stopped by Green Door, whose menu is charmingly written on a door of the apropos color that’s been turned into a chalk board. I ordered up the tacos, which were filled with richly marinated cactus and onions, and served with a side of fresh salad topped with seeds and sprouts.
There are all kinds of other vegan treats to be found at the market—like vegan organic chocolate, plenty of take-away hummus and, of course, lots of fresh produce.
Of course, this is only a small sampling of the city’s vegetarian and vegan offerings. Did I miss your favorite vegan spot in San Diego? Tell me in the comments and I’ll be sure to try them next time!