This one’s my hometown convention. San Diego has become a decent place for vegetarian and vegan options in the two decades since I stopped eating meat. That means there are a lot of places throughout the county I’m familiar with and love, but, as always, I’ll concentrate on those places convenient to the convention center. All are in the 92101 zip code.
[UPDATE 2016] SOL CAL Café is no longer a vegetarian restaurant. Apparently, it is under new management, though the website still has the same “origin story” on the About page. We’ve been there once since the change (which was a surprise that we almost didn’t notice before ordering), and the sweet potato still exists and was all right. The service wasn’t great; I didn’t get my expected side salad, and, when I asked and the waitperson checked into it, the manager pointed out that I had used an out-of-date menu and seemed very annoyed about the whole thing. Anyway, they replaced the menus at the front and gave me what I’d ordered.
This is a recent addition to San Diego’s vegan restaurants, and I’ve only had one chance to eat there. But I plan to greatly increase the number of visits during Comic-Con this year, especially since it’s only a ten-minute walk from the convention. It’s at 910 J Street, near the ballpark, and it’s open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It focuses on healthy food and juices (it was established by a former NFL player and a nutritionist). I had the loaded baked sweet potato, which I devoured happily. My partner got one of the panini sandwiches (roasted vegetables and pesto), and she was more impressed with my food (which was large enough to spare a few bites of). Hers wasn’t bad, but she thought the bread was a bit thin and plain (perhaps the wrap would be better).
Located in the Horton Plaza shopping mall, this “natural” foods grocery is a convenient option. Horton Plaza is a little over ten minutes on foot from the Convention Center, and tired feet can board one of the many convention shuttles that go there or nearby. The deli, bakery, and salad bar area has a number of hot and cold vegetarian and vegan options. The prices are reasonable, especially for Downtown. Jimbo’s opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends, and closes at 9 p.m.
This is one of my favorite Thai restaurants, especially Downtown (though if you are a little outside Downtown, I recommend Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant much more highly). It’s about fifteen minutes to walk there, at 906 Market Street. It has a number of options, though be sure to ask for your food without fish sauce, since, like any other non-vegetarian Thai restaurant, they’ll add it as a matter of course. Also, unless they’ve changed their ingredients, the curries all have shrimp powder in their base. I love the stir-fried spicy eggplant dish (Lotus Thai is where I first fell in love with eggplant).
The name and sign outside are a tad misleading; they serve plenty of meat here. But Pokez does indeed have a great variety of vegetarian and vegan options–and when it first opened, it was one of the few places to do so, especially for San Diego’s regional Mexican food. Vegetarian options in general, and Mexican in particular, have increased, but Pokez is a staple, an old friend. It’s not as cheap as it once was (rents have climbed steadily), but it still provides great value with its generous portions and comparatively low prices. I love the seasonings in their potatoes, so anything including those is a good choice. I’m partial to the potato burrito (topped with the mild and flavorful homemade salsa ranchera); potato rolled tacos are also great, especially if you want something less filling. And if you’re looking for something especially substantial, get yourself the chimichanga with tofu. At 947 E Street and festooned with stickers and street art, inside and out, it’s about a twenty minute walk, and the shuttles don’t get that close to it (but they’ll at least shorten your time on your feet). It opens at 11 a.m. on weekdays and10 a.m on weekends, and it closes at 10 p.m. (another thing to update on that sign, I see).
Café Gratitude (NEW 2016)
Part of a Southern California chain, a San Diego location opened in Little Italy last year. Located at 1980 Kettner Boulevard, they focus on healthy, organic gourmet cuisine and austere positivity, with the only animal products served being honey. This is the one location on my list that, while nearby, you’ll probably want to take transportation for. The trolley only takes five minutes to get there, not counting wait time and walking time to and from the station (about six minutes each leg, according to Google maps). You could also walk there from the convention center in about a half hour. The restaurant is often busy, so it may be best to make a reservation or order ahead for takeout. There is a waterfront park nearby. While all this makes the restaurant a little more inconvenient than other choices here, it’s an otherwise recommended one for a slightly upscale meatless treat. They’re open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.