Lettuce Celebrate

By Erin Jackson

From stylish new restaurants with elevated menus to indie joints slinging budget-friendly fare, San Diego's vegan dining scene is growing faster than Jack's beanstalk. If you don't know jack about veganism, then you may be surprised to learn that some of these veggie-forward eateries serve loaded nachos, glazed doughnuts and biscuits slathered in gravy - all vegan and all able to tempt ardent meat-lovers to temper their palates with tempeh (an Indonesian soy product).

Just in time for National Vegetarian Day (October 1) and National Vegan Day (November 1), here's a bumper crop of the plant-based offerings that have been sprouting up around the city.

Anthem Vegan
Score vegan sandwiches, tacos and breakfast favorites like "F*@kin Yum" biscuits and gravy at this budget-friendly food cart that recently celebrated its second anniversary. Regular stops include the OB Farmers Market and SPCA (Wednesdays), SDSU Market (Thursdays), 30th Street (just north of Lincoln Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays) and Hillcrest Farmers Market (Sundays). 619.268.4367, anthemvegan.com

Café Gratitude
This Bay Area import offers the most refined vegan dining option in the city. Chef Dreux Ellis' menu features plant-based plates named after life-affirming descriptors including Dynamic (yam and cauliflower samosas), Transformed (pinto beans and blackened tempeh tacos) and Liberated (kelp noodles in a creamy pesto sauce). 1980 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, 619.736.5077, cafegratitude.com

Donut Panic
Eschewing eggs and dairy can make a vegan's dessert prospects downright dull. Never fear, Donut Panic is here. This Grantville sweet spot stocks limited quantities of vegan (and non-vegan) doughnuts, deep-fried delights made with soymilk and potato flakes. Arrive early to get your hands on some of the shop's tastiest creations, which include rose cardamom doughnuts, apple fritters and cinnamon rolls. 6171 Mission Gorge Rd., Ste. 113, Grantville, 619.280.1894, facebook.com/DonutPanicSD

Evolution Fast Food
Three varieties of veggie burgers, fried faux-chicken sandwiches and sweet potato fries make this "feel good fast food" eatery ideal for an introductory vegan meal. The outdoor patio is dog-friendly and fun, and neighboring Balboa Park is perfect for an impromptu picnic. 2965 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill, 619.550.1818, evolutionfastfood.com

Gelato Vero
Upstairs The casual, all-vegetarian café atop Gelato Vero serves a handful of vegan dishes. The inside scoop: try the Vegan Florentine, an open-faced sandwich with tomato, spinach, avocado, chickpea patties and cashew hollandaise. Or sweeten the deal with a vegan waffle with coconut whip. 3753 India St., Mission Hills, 619.269.1178, gelatoverocaffe.com

Kindred
Shareable small plates and legit cocktails are planned for this all-vegan eatery, opening this fall at the former site of Alchemy. Considering the talent involved (Kory Stetina of vegan pop-up LOVELIKEBEER, and Arsalun Tafazoli and Paul Basile of CH Projects) it's safe to get excited in advance. 1503 30th St., South Park, barkindred.com

Moncai Vegan
After two years in North Park, this family-owned vegan eatery relocated to new digs in Normal Heights . The short but sweet menu remains the same, with fan favorites like Chick'n & Dumplings, pancakes and a bevvy of sweets - muffins, doughnuts and cinnamon rolls the size of your head. Bring paper money; it's cash-only. 3531 Adams Ave., Normal Heights, 619.228.9881, moncai-vegan.com

Native Foods Café
With more than two dozen locations, this thriving chain lacks the appeal of a locally born one-off, but its comprehensive menu, big portions and seasonal specials boost its popularity, even among meat lovers. Menu items modeled after comfort food - like chili cheese fries, chicken wings and nachos - are a good place to start. Be sure to save room for the peanut butter parfait. 5604 Balboa Ave., Clairemont 3369 Rosecrans St., Point Loma; 127 North El Camino Real, Encinitas , nativefoods.com

Peace Pies
There's no gluten, dairy or soy in any of the raw, vegan fare at Peace Pies, but that doesn't hinder the flavor factor. The Magical Mango Curry Wrap, kale chips and Cosmic Coconut Cream Pie are enduring favorites for good reason, but the shop also rolls out new creations to keep things fresh. Get your fix at brick-andmortar locations in Ocean Beach and Encinitas, or find them at the Hillcrest, Leucadia, Ocean Beach and Little Italy farmers markets. 4230 Voltaire St., Ocean Beach; 133 Daphne St., Encinitas, peacepies.com

East Village; photo by Kate and Michael Auda" src="http://www.pacificsandiego.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/20150910_Pokez_Mexican_PacificMag-22.jpg" alt="Pokez in East Village; photo by Kate and Michael Auda" width="370" height="277" />Plumeria Thai
From the mock chicken sauté appetizer to the ice cream dessert, the vast majority of the menu at this cozy Thai restaurant is vegan. Entrées come with a choice of veggies or mock meat, and the organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, locally produced tofu is particularly delicious. 4661 Park Blvd., University Heights, 619.269.9989, myplumeria.com

Pokez
Familiar flavors and ingredients make eating a meal at Pokez like dipping a toe in the vegan dining pool (as opposed to diving in head-first in a hemp bikini). Tofu can be swapped for meat in most dishes, and, because the kitchen uses vegetable oil (versus lard), the beans and rice are both vegetarian. Flaky, deep-fried flour tortillas make the potato flautas a great option, day or night. 947 E St., East Village, 619.702.7160, pokezrestaurant.com

Sipz
Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese-inspired dishes appear on the faux-meat-heavy menu at Sipz, where entrées are served with a choice of mock chicken, beef, duck or fish (or tofu or vegetables). Although the restaurant is technically vegetarian, most of its Asian-fusion offerings are vegan. 3914 30th St., North Park; 5501 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Kearny Mesa, sipz.com

Trilogy Sanctuary
Aerial yoga, spiritual-development classes and a plant-based vegan café create good vibrations at this airy and chill ocean-view rooftop in La Jolla. Tasty options like açai and pitaya (dragonfruit) bowls; raw vegan cheesecake; and nachos loaded with "cheezy" sauce, quinoa chorizo and chili up the allure. 7650 Girard Ave., Ste. 400, La Jolla, 858.633.3893, trilogysanctuary.com

SOL CAL Café
Cold-pressed organic juices are a major focus of this vegan market cafe with a built-in naturopathic doctor's office. Fruit-forward dishes like the Epic Açai Bowl with gluten-free granola, fruit and coconut milk yogurt make a great midday pick-me-up. For something more substantial, try the built-to-order veggie burger on a bun or wrapped in cabbage. 910 J St., East Village, 619.255.2927, solcal.com

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