San Diego's best trendy, upscale restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options
(Photo courtesy of @callierestaurant)
[UPDATED MAY 2023]
If you are in search of the best trendy and upscale restaurants in San Diego that have dedicated vegan options on the menu—be it for a holiday dinner, date night, or really any occasion— this guide is for you. If you’re like me, you often find yourself dining out with friends or family that have a wide spectrum of food needs—or maybe you just want to switch up your regular go-to restaurants—which is why this guide is critical and will help you find an inclusive dining hotspot that checks all the boxes.
All of these restaurants have a few things in common: They are all sit-down, full-service restaurants; they are all pretty damn cool, that one would consider "trendy;" many also lean on the more upscale end, or are in fact fine-dining; and, they all surprisingly have dedicated vegan options! (Plus, I threw in a few of my favorite all-vegan restaurants too, that surely anyone would love...I could not resist.)
Sorted by neighborhood—from Little Italy, to South Park, to Oceanside and in between—use this guide to help you find the perfect vegan-friendly restaurant for your foodie night out.
Huntress - Gaslamp
Huntress is a quintessential upscale steakhouse with a dim-lit, modern and swanky vibe. I know you might be thinking, "can a steakhouse really have good vegan options?” The answer is an emphatic “yes” at Huntress, which sits in the downtown Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. They offer a separate “Dietary Preference Menu,” which caters to nearly every preference you can think of (GF, NF, VEGT, DF, VEG). Plus, one that of the bests parts is, they have a 5-course all-vegan tasting menu ($85) which ends on the perfect tasting note with a vegan Chocolate Cheesecake. Whip out your cute night-out dress, or blazer, your appetite, and get ready for a special occasion or date night dinner.
Mr. A's - Banker's Hill
Sitting atop a commercial building in Bankers Hill, Mr. A's boasts one of the best views in San Diego—and you may be surprised to learn that the menu includes a number of dedicated vegan dishes! (Thanks @TheVegFoodie for the hot tip!) Clearly labeled, (vg= vegan item, and vg* = vegan upon request), it's easy and delightful to dine here no matter what your food preference. The menu is small and intentional, but does have at least one vegan dish for each section of the menu. Your date or dinner guest/s will be thoroughly impressed as you dine overlooking the downtown San Diego skyline, and the San Diego Bay. For a tried and true fine-dining white tablecloth experience, Mr. A's should be at the top of your list.
Callie - East Village
With California-Mediterranean cuisine, all the right ingredients perfectly merge together at Callie in the East Village of downtown San Diego. And, as you might suspect from the fact that Callie is Mediterranean cuisine, the vegetarian items are abundant, with a solid selection of vegan options too. The menu is clearly marked and labeled which is always nice and makes it easy to know what is right for your preference. The modern, contemporary vibe and expertly made cocktails will complement your tasty meal. There's a reason that Eater named Callie one of San Diego's hottest restaurants in 2022.
Civico 1845 - Little Italy
On the popular thoroughfare of Kettner Blvd. in Little Italy you’ll find the cute and quaint restaurant Civico 1845. They’ve been a go-to staple for authentic Italian food and vegan-friendly dining for years, even offering an entirely separate vegan menu with plenty of veganized classic Italian dishes. Don’t miss one of the several vegan desserts like the Tiramisu, the Canoli, or the pistachio ice cream. There’s a patio, and outdoor seating so you can people-watch while you dine. Don't miss the complimentary bread service and green dipping sauce—and don’t worry, if you don’t want to fill up before your meal, they will package up the bread and sauce so you can take home. For a festive vegan-friendly holiday dinner, Little Italy is the place to be as the decor on the mains strip—which Civico 1845 sits on—will satiate your desire for some holiday cheer!
Cesarina - Ocean Beach
After dining and soaking in the cute, colorful, modern-Italian atmosphere, here you’ll realize why it’s managed to receive a perfect 5-star Yelp rating and everyone, no matter what their foodie-heart desires, will be fully satiated. At Cesarina, the vegan options are abundant. They have over 10 dedicated vegan options on the menu including a pesto pasta, a vegan lasagna and many more. Don’t forget to end with the vegan Tiramisu.
Buona Forchetta - South Park (Encinitas, San Marcos, +other locations)
For Italian food-loving foodies who say “oh, I know the best Italian in San Diego,” they’re likely talking about Buona Forchetta. The good news is, Buona Forchetta has made strides to be more inclusive in its offerings, and now has a selection of vegan options. You’ll find six vegan pizza options, made with vegan mozzarella cheese. There is also a vegan salad, and a grilled vegetable appetizer which is heavenly. With pizza, salad, some expertly marinated veggies, paired with some Italian wine, you or your vegan-foodie guest will surely be back again soon.
Kindred - South Park
Since we are talking about South Park, and while this guide was meant to have standard restaurants with vegan options, I would be remiss not to mention the all-vegan restaurant and bar Kindred, in the heart of South Park (right next door to Buona Forchetta). If you are looking for an ultra-cool place to dine that whips up grade-a cocktails, look no further than Kindred. Draped in elegant goth decor, indoor and outdoor dining in the trendy, non-pretentious pocket of South Park, you’ll find yourself falling in love with every last creative detail and dish.
AND, starting August 2, 2022, you can have a pre- or post-dinner drink right next door at the newly opened Mothership bar (brought to you by the same owners as Kindred). It's an out-of-this-world experience, galactic themed, beaming with craft cocktails and a vegan menu set amongst an extraterrestrial vibey scene.
Garden Kitchen - La Mesa
Garden Kitchen is a surprising hidden gem in the La Mesa area with farm-to-table dining and a rotating menu. One thing is for sure: you will always be able to find a selection of dedicated vegan items.
Dija Mara - Oceanside
Oceanside is certainly having a moment…and there is no sign of that moment slowing down. The top-notch restaurants opening in the coastal city are helping prove that Oceanside is a destination for food and fun. Dija Mara, with its Balinese-inspired menu and natural wine program hits all the right tasting notes. While the menu does not label vegan or vegetarian items, the well-versed servers can help guide you. There are a number of dedicated vegan and vegetarian items, and many standard items can be modified on request to suit your dietary needs. You won’t find the feel of Dija Mara “fine-dining” from the looks of it—not even close; the decor has more of an artsy industrial-modern vibe. But let the food, cocktails and wine speak for the restaurant: it is first class. It’s certainly one of the best restaurants in Oceanside, and a great place to celebrate a birthday or date night.
Matsu - Oceanside
If you want to be immersed in a unique fine-dining culinary experience that will tantalize all your senses, Matsu will not disappoint. Matsu, which is the Japanese word for "pine," focuses on an omasake style menu -- so it's a prix fixe menu (no a la carte ordering), and at the whim of the chef, so you won't know what the dishes are in advance. While the standard tasting menu focuses on fish, meats and veggies, they do have a 10-course vegan tasting menu ($130), with optional drink pairing ($95). The dishes are quite unique and impressive — and you're likely to experience plants prepared in a novel way. Reservations are limited and should be made in advance.
The Plot - Oceanside
And, since we're talking about Oceanside, I have to mention The Plot, one of the best restaurants in Oceanside—forget the fact that it is actually 100% vegan, it’s just simply amazing food that happens to be all made from plants. It's not upscale per se, but a trendy spot, great for a large group or a celebration. With an expansive outdoor patio and vibey scene, the diverse menu boasts dishes like vegan chicken & waffles, and some of the best vegan sushi I’ve ever had. They are also a zero-waste restaurant hyper-focused on its environmental footprint. So you’ll be eating good, from a place owned by passionate people doing good.
Special thanks to the San Diego Vegans Facebook group which contributed some ideas to this post!