Vegetarian diners are no longer just an afterthought who must be subjected to sub-par meals. The fine dining world is finally coming around, building menus to suit sophisticated plant-eaters.
The city’s best restaurants are rising to the challenge of creating unique plant-based menus that are as complex and well-thought out as those containing meat. Find the beauty in beets, brassicas, and bucatini at six San Francisco restaurants with vegetarian tasting menus.
Nightbird's Elegant Plant-Based Tasting Menu
Chef Kim Alter trains her artistic talent on veggies, roots, and fruits in Nightbird’s multi-course tasting. Adhering strictly to the finicky schedules of seasonal California bounty, each dish on the vegetarian menu ($165/person) is elegant and a touch whimsical; a truffle and sweet corn agnolotti paired with a tiny elote brushed with huitlacoche aioli, for example, or a dessert made with cherries, tonka beans, and basil. Although what’s on the menu in the small, sleek restaurant changes frequently to reflect the week’s harvest, Nightbird’s plant-based plates are always a pleasure.
// 330 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), nightbirdrestaurant.com
Merchant Roots' Abundant Themed Dinners
Every three months, the team at Merchant Roots tears down its universe and rebuilds a new one from scratch. It’s not just the immaculately detailed menus that change; everything from the decor to dinnerware to server interactions get a complete makeover to go with themes like “school” and “mad tea party.” This winter, chef Ryan Shelton embarks on the Great Trees ($168/person), a show-stopping vegetarian tasting menu starring forest-harvested ingredients like birch syrup, bay logs, cedar smoke, pine bark, and madrone berries (think pitch-black sassafras gumbo with root beer cake and black walnut paté). The 10-course arboreal extravaganza starts February 3rd and runs through spring.
// 1365 Fillmore St. (Fillmore), merchantroots.com
Acquerello's Gastronomical Tasting of Vegetables
Exquisite Acquerello, Nob Hill's two-Michelin-starred mainstay, has crafted an entirely vegetarian gastronomical affair. In their Tasting of Vegetables ($195/person), produce gets the white tablecloth treatment in nine courses. Chef de cuisine Seth Turiansky’s Northern Italian–inspired dishes—sprouted chickpea and brassicas with grilled maitakes, fermented shallots, and sesame; dry-farmed new potatoes cooked in smoked seaweed butter with sea grapes, yuzu, and red dulse; and almond mousse with candied Buddha’s hand, lemon curd, and lemon balm—are works of art both on the plate and on the tongue. Add on the carefully selected wine pairings ($165/person) for a trully memorable meal.
// 1722 Sacramento St. (Nob Hill), acquerellosf.com
Anomaly's Nine-Course Tasting for the Vegetable-Curious
After nine popular pop-up residencies at The Mansion on Sutter, Anomaly is finally getting itself a permanent home. That’s good news for the meat-free and vegetable-curious who will now be able to access the fine dining restaurant’s vegetarian tasting anytime they please (well, within operating hours, at least). Chef Mike Lanham’s creative and satisfying vegetable-forward menus include dishes to satisfy and delight guests of any dietary persuasion: Think hen of the woods mushrooms crowned with yeasted romesco and chevre “cheese whiz”; curried carrot “pasta” with lime and peanut; and cold cheese soufflé with strawberry, lime leaf, and basil.// 2600 Sutter St. (Pacific Heights), anomalysf.com
Flour + Water's Meat-Free Pasta Tasting
Mission-Potrero favorite Flour + Water roared back to life after a pandemic hiatus with a new look and a return to its regional Italian roots. Their pasta tasting menu is a delightful romp through the restaurant’s handmade noodles, which range from classic spaghetti (made with seaweed and paired with fennel, pickled sea lettuce, negi onion, and Calabrian chili) to pillow-shaped agnolotti (with black trumpet and porcini mushrooms, smoked celery root, and rosemary). The meat-free version ($125/person) includes nine savory dishes driven by seasonal California produce and a rich dark chocolate budino for dessert.
// 2401 Harrison St. (Mission-Potrero), flourandwater.com
Besharam: A Vegetarian Taste of India
So maybe a vegetarian tasting at a restaurant that serves no meat anyway isn’t exactly unexpected, but the creativity chef Heena Patel brings from the lush Indian state of Gujarat to plant-based cuisine makes Besharam a vegetable-forward must. Their ultra-affordable eight-course menu ($65/person) includes dishes inspired by four cities in the region, including urad dal fritters with chilled yogurt and chutneys from Ahmedabad and maska paneer with spiced spinach sauce, garam masala, and silk chili oil from Vadodara. A variety of add-ons, like special chutneys and pickles, and cheeky cocktails give you the chance to make of your meal whatever your hungry heart desires.
// 1275 Minnesota St. (Potrero Hill), besharamrestaurant.com