Soul food gets a vegan twist

Isaiah Kramer
The Guardsman

San Francisco’s culinary landscape ranges like the city’s topography – pretend Ocean Beach represents health-conscious vegetarian, vegan and raw comestibles, while Twin Peaks is the fat-full southern eats, soul and Creole food.

In the city where the sea meets the mountains, two seemingly opposite corners of the food world coalesce on one plate – vegetarian versions of classic comfort food dishes.

Though the trend may have kicked off in Oakland at Souley Vegan restaurant, where they do everything from fried “chicken” to vegan mac n’ cheese, San Francisco is an early adopter to all types of cruelty-free cuisine.


One exemplary item served up by Brenda’s French Soul Food (located on Polk at Eddy), is the Sloppy Josephine. The vegan version of a Sloppy Joe is boasted as “The best tofu you’ll ever wrap your mouth around.” Served on a starchy potato roll, this lighter but no less sloppy alternative is a touch sweeter (think Chinese pork bun) than a traditional ‘Joe.

Brenda’s recently expanded their operation from a cramped café to a high-ceiling, cement-walled bistro with overhead skylights, although seating is still limited and the wait can be up to 40 minutes on weekends. With the space upgrade also comes a dinner menu debuting in early May.

In the realm of deli sandwiches, vegetarian fare is dominated by bland sprouts between limp wheat bread accompanied by pedestrian toppings such as avocado, tomato and hummus. But at Rhea’s Deli (on Valencia at 18th), a California-style corner store/sandwich shop, they offer a spicy vegan take on the fried-chicken sandwich.

Over a dozen lunch-spots in the city have added a crispy breast sandwich to their menu, making it a veritable trend. Topped with cool jalapeno coleslaw on a French roll, this sandwich has been popularized by Bake Shop Betty’s on Telegraph in Oakland. Copycats and imitators abound.

Rhea’s Vegan BBQ Chicken is the closest thing to a real fried chicken sandwich for the non-meat crowd. The foundation is an Acme roll—a sure sign of a good sandwich. The coleslaw made of carrots, red pickled onions, peppers and both color cabbage is a fiery rainbow of flavor. The chicken substitute is made with wheat gluten and soy protein. While it’s not a shapely breast, the several “drumsticks” have crunchy outer skin and moist “meat.”

Front Porch

Hidden beyond the point where Valencia and Mission collide, The Front Porch (on 29th at San Jose) is well known for its chicken n’ waffle brunches and unique afternoon cocktails. Being in the Mission, it caters to a diverse crowd, also offering vegan options alongside their Cajun-style bar food.

If they don’t have the only veggie po’boy in town, then they certainly have the best one. But sandwiches aren’t all there is in the no-meat category, Front Porch also does a spontaneous vegan dish (lunch only) that changes with the produce available. Sometimes it’s grits and greens. A Classic poor boy’s dish is red beans and rice. Cheap and filling. Often served with ham, Front Porch does a vegan version as well.

Ananda Fuara
At dinnertime the right choice for comfort is a big slab of “Neatloaf.” The more complex meat substitute is made from eggs, ricotta cheese, grains, tofu, and spices. There is no other animal-free dish in the city that replicates a savory juicy slab of meatloaf like this one. Can be made vegan upon request, but recommended as is.

Anada Fuara is perhaps the only restaurant worth checking out on mid Market. It’s overtly spiritual motif, replete with saintly pictures and ceiling high waterfall, is tacky yet calming. The waitresses wear saris, traditional Indian garb, and speak in soft pleasant tones. All their food is vegetarian, but the best-selling Neatloaf is the best. Many baked goods and desert options to consider for after.


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