Dinner spread at Little Gem (©Cynthia Linh)
San Francisco has never been afraid to take risks, and that adventurous spirit remains evident in the food scene. From fast casual to fine dining, this city is brimming with refined, sustainably-sourced cuisine and it’s easy to find a delicious meal—even for those with allergies or aversions.
Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, paleo—these were fringe terms not long ago. The past decade has witnessed a culinary shift toward embracing dietary restrictions and healthy preferences. But let’s face it: What really counts is flavor, and these places will please the pickiest and most sensitive eaters.
Sisters Andie and Kara Yamagami opened their restaurant in March 2016 in Presidio Heights—not far from where they were born and raised. After being diagnosed with five different food allergies, Andie became a personal chef specializing in alternative cooking. Her natural, holistic technique is manifested on the gluten-free, bistro-style menu that’s mostly devoid of dairy, soy and nuts. The Yamagamis have been in the San Francisco restaurant industry over 40 years, and As Quoted is a family affair in every sense. Kara is an architect who designed the sleek, minimal interior and made most of the furnishings, and their mother helped with the interior design and floral centerpieces. The many regulars swear by the taco salad and the open-faced BLT with homemade ranch sauce. 3613 Sacramento St., San Francisco.
Coming from white tablecloths and maitre d’s, restauranteur Eric Lilavois and head chef Dave Cruz sought to achieve the same quality in a more relaxed setting. Little Gem opened in winter 2015 with an ambitious plan to eliminate gluten, dairy and refined sugar from its ingredients, creating a globetrotting menu designed for sharing. Refusing to make substitutions or compromises, this modern California eatery makes believers out of skeptics. All it takes is one bite of the spiced aioli fried chicken, featuring a light, crispy batter of brown rice flour. Save room for the smoked Wagyu beef brisket in bacon broth. 400 Grove St., San Francisco.
This darling of the Richmond District will make anyone fall in love with vegan pastries and desserts. Made with all-natural sweeteners, breakfast items include the cashew cream cheese toast and several versions of acai bowls. Nourish Cafe also offers plenty of savory delights, like the Nourish Bowl featuring a bed of super greens with pickled beets, boiled sweet potato and hummus—not to mention the big, beautiful wraps. 189 6th Ave., San Francisco.
You’ll thank your mother for giving you the chance to taste 100 percent organic, plant-based and locally sourced Mexican food. Whoever says a taco shouldn’t be vegan has never tried these corn tortillas with grilled zucchini, mushrooms and eggplant topped with cashew cheese. From the minds that brought you Cafe Gratitude, this hipster haven in the heart of the Mission is brimming with passion and enthusiasm. They serve awesome empanadas, enchiladas, tamales and other standard Mexican fare with a fresh, creative twist (and don’t get us started on the guacamole). 2211 Mission St., San Francisco.
Amawele’s South African Kitchen
Looking for something quick and affordable to eat near the Embarcadero? We suggest comfort food, South African style, hosted by twin sisters Pam and Wendy Michaelson. Rich curries, spicy sauces and exotic spices infuse the variety of authentic dishes. They specialize in paleo meals, including bobotie ground beef, which is both fruity and spicy, and lemon and herb chicken and the popular peri-peri chicken. 101 Spear St., San Francisco.
Seed + Salt
Instead of chickpeas, the falafel is made of quinoa. And instead of eggs, the frittata is made of chickpeas. It’s that sort of vegan voodoo that enchants the guests of Seed + Salt. Just take its inventive uses of nuts in everything from almond mozzarella to cashew crema and walnut chorizo. The plant-based fare embodies what they call NorCal flavor: sincere and thoughtful, humble yet proud of its dependence on local suppliers. Everything on the menu is gluten-free and dairy-free, with no trans fats or GMOs... perfect for anyone (without nut allergies). 2240 Chestnut St., San Francisco.
Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
This innovative hot spot is Japanese food, reimagined. Creamy tofu and cashews along with smoked and spicy bean curd serve as smart and equally appetizing proteins. Get started with the yuba salad and don’t miss the garlic miso ramen noodles. It also offers a divine assortment of izakaya, and the shizen mushrooms are particularly scrumptious. 370 14th St., San Francisco.