Chik’n Soup For the Herbivore’s Soul: Top Five SF Restaurants For Fake Meat

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The General Meatless Chicken Lunch Special at Big Lantern fills up any vegetarian and comes with a side salad in addition to rice and soup.  Photo by Harmony Corelitz/Foghorn
The General Meatless Chicken Lunch Special at Big Lantern fills up any vegetarian and comes with a side salad in addition to rice and soup. Photo by Harmony Corelitz/Foghorn

College is a time of awakening, and for many college students that means coming to terms with the environmental effects and health risks of meat consumption.  Whether you’ve been scared out of eating meat after calculating your geographic footprint in your Understanding the Environment lab, or are simply following the example of the punk bands you listened to in high school, we’ve got the best insider tips on where to get your hands on some amazing meatless grub.  If you thought that Outtahere chickenless salad sandwich you just ate for lunch was good, wait until you try out these guilt-free meat imitations.

Jay’s Cheesesteak (3285 21st St AND 553 Divisadero)

There is something inappropriately satisfying about biting into a thick, seitan cheeseless steak when you adhere to a mostly vegan diet. I am yet to figure out how Jay’s manages to give their seitan (wheat gluten) such a full and meaty flavor. On my most recent visit to Jay’s, I ordered the Mushroom Seitan Steak with no cheese and slathered on some tangy barbecue sauce and extra jalapeños. The shredded lettuce lent texture and freshness to the hot mess of seitan and grilled mushrooms, while the pickles and jalapeños livened the sammy’s flavor with a briny zing. Though initially not very hungry, I couldn’t help but shove down the whole thing, savoring each juicy little bite. Dressed with a Wyder’s Pear Cider, the September sun and the chaos of Dolores Park, this sandwich transformed my Friday afternoon into something worth writing about. With two locations in the city, Jay’s is a sure stop to get your fake meat on.

Weird Fish  (2193 Mission St)

If you are reading this and haven’t tried Weird Fish’s Buffalo Girls yet, please set down the paper and hop on the 33 bus.  Weird Fish proves that vegetarianism isn’t always healthy, with their overwhelming menu of grilled, fried, and tossed seitan.  The aforementioned Buffalo Girls (salty strips of seitan soy-battered and served with a side of veganaise or vegan ranch) are their most popular appetizer, but don’t stop in without trying the Hell Taco (seitan, avocado, and mango salsa) or Seitan “Fish” and Chips.  The comfy interior, cute waitresses and impeccable soundtrack at this hip Mission District hotspot make it a great destination for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Ike’s Place (3506 16th St)

When I finally went vegan this summer after years of being a vegetarian, my mother, the herbivore, only had one question: “What are you going to put on your sandwiches?”  The woman had a good point.  What good is a vegetarian sandwich without the cheese?  Thankfully, Castro sandwich shop Ike’s Place answered that question for me.  Frequently coveted for their distinctive take on their vegetarian and meat-filled delights, the sandwiches at Ike’s Place are the best thing between two slices of bread.  Choose from a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, from the Vegan Combo (Vegan Sliced ‘Meats’, Vegan Dirty Sauce, Soy Cheese) for us Vegans, to the Bowser (Vegan Meatballs, Mozzarella Sticks, Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers, Marinara). The best thing about Ike’s is that they bake all bread fresh to order, which might make the hungry man cranky due to the painful wait during their daily lunchtime rush, but is certainly worth sticking around for. Come with some friends and a deck of cards during Happy Hour (Mon-Thurs 4 – 7 p.m.) and add a bag of chips and a soda to your order, free of charge.

Big Lantern (3170 16th St)

Big Lantern is not your traditional cheap Chinese food joint.  Their menu is filled with great options to satisfy both the vegetarian and her meat-chowing friend. After indulging in one of their many meatless dim sum options, I usually go straight for the General Meatless Chicken.  Their suspiciously accurate take on crispy-fried chicken is deep fried, then wok tossed to perfection in a sweet garlic sauce and garnished with red pepper.  Lunch specials are served with an appetizer of hot-and-sour soup and a side of rice, so come in for an afternoon delight and leave stuffed to sedation, with some money still left over in your pocket to grab a tasty bite of dessert.

Lucky Creation (854 Washington)

A quick peek at Lucky Creation’s extensive menu is enough to get the salivary glands going in any vegetarian struck with meat nostalgia.  Lucky Creation offers a barnyard of imitations including vegetarian sliced pork, fake chicken and imitation goose, in addition to their peculiar sizzling spicy “shrimp” balls.  If you want the greasy charm of a Chinatown joint without the risk of accidental meat consumption, I’d recommend bee-lining for Lucky Creation next time you are in the neighborhood.

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