Craving more than a salad? SLO CAL knows plant-based pleasures

Vegan food has transformed from bland to BAM! in recent years. So much so, in fact, that even the meat-eaters among us have been known to let our eyes wander to steaming plates of tofu stroganoff and jackfruit tacos. With summer bathing suit season around the corner, why not take a 100% plant-based approach, at least for the weekend (or just lunch)? You'll find insanely delicious—even deviously good—plant-based dishes at these vivacious vegan haunts! That's right. Plant-based does not have to mean plain. Quite on the contrary!

vegetable sandwich

1. Bliss Cafe - Reuben Sandwich

Crunch into some creekside bliss. Bliss Cafe in San Luis Obispo is known for its large back patio eating area nestled right up against the babbling creek. Any day of the week, you'll find businesswomen and students mingling over big plates of plant-based passion. Join the friendly crowd and dig into nourishing eats that never scrimp on flavor.

Order up: If you're not craving breakfast (if you are, you've probably already ordered the “all-day breakfast plate” with brown rice, pinto beats, roasted potatoes, scrambled tofu, avocado, tomato, cabbage, cilantro, hummus and chutney), we must recommend a behemoth of a sando so packed with personality you'll wonder if it's even good for you. Hint: It totally is! Bliss Cafe's Reuben Sandwich features marinated and grilled tempeh with sliced tomato, avocado, sprouts, house-made sauerkraut, veganaise, and mustard all served on toasted multi-grain bread. It's paired with a green salad, but you'll eat the sandwich first.

2. Shine Cafe – Famous Tempeh Taco

The sun is shining, the ocean breeze is exhilarating, and you're about to chow down on fresh, local produce at Shine Cafe in scenic Morro Bay, where every item on the menu is vegan! This is what SLO CAL lunch dreams are made of, right? Whether you just finished a hardcore surf sesh or you're strolling downtown poking your nose into antique shops, there is a coastal vegan snack here with your name on it.

Order up: You cannot go to Shine Café without at least seeing a few other folks ordering up the Famous Tempeh Taco (and, once you do, you'll want one for yourself). Think of this more as an “open face” situation—nearly a salad, as its contents doth overflow with goodness—we're talking seasoned house tempeh, quinoa, spring mix, fresh veggies, avocado, and sesame seeds all atop soft wheat or corn tortillas and drizzled with salsa and creamy cilantro dressing).

3. Planted - Heavenly Jalapeño Burger

Located in the heart of the Village of Arroyo Grande, be sure to say hello to the wild roosters known to roam about these parts (they are friends, not food). This small, family-owned restaurant is here to nourish both your body and your spirit. Whether you're craving a low-guilt sweet treat like warm vegan waffles or a killer salad topped with more than a few carrots (yes, vegan restaurants do serve salads, but they're way better than normal salads), Planted Juice Bar & Eatery can handle the task.

Order up: A zing straight to your tastebuds, Planted's Heavenly Jalapeño Burger brings a wallop of fire. Laden with black bean patty, hot jalapeño cashew cream cheese, caramelized onion, lettuce, and Dijon mustard, you may want to grab a shot of golden milk (almond milk + turmeric) to cool down.

picnic

4. Goddess Goods - Sun-dried Almond Burger

On Morro Bay's Embarcadero, you'll find fresh seafood, taffy and—in the case of Goddess Goods—some crave-worthy vegan and vegetarian breakfast and lunch options. Started by two friends who aimed to give “health food” a fun, flavorful re-branding, you'll find everything from bountiful breakfast bowls and fresh-pressed juice among an array of colorful offerings. Eat the rainbow, indeed!

Order up: The Sun-dried Almond Burger may not have meat, but it sure has a juicy, delicious patty that will have you noshing for more. Paired with goddess dressing, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, sprouts, and a vegan sesame bun, you'll polish off the entire thing without feeling an ounce of caloric remorse.

5. New Earth Superfoods - “Cheese Plate”

Fermentations (not for the faint of heart) await you. Specializing in raw and organic vegan and vegetarian dishes, New Earth Superfoods in downtown San Luis Obispo is known for its unique cultured and fermented superfoods. While the term “superfood' is a tad dubious, we can all agree that cultured and fermented foods—and the gut-loving probiotics in them—can truly boost your digestive system as well as add a funky, umami-packed tang to your meal.

Order up: This place is known for its probiotic coconut yogurts and cheeses, so why not try the totally vegan “cheese platter?” Nibble the cheddar, curry/ginger, and dill “cheeses” paired with fruit and crackers and be amazed by the fact that it took you this long to try dairy-free cheese. For the main course, go big: The open-face sandwich is a massive portion of sprouted kefir bread, avocado, cucumber, mixed greens, carrots, walnuts, berries—and yes—that popular probiotic coconut cheese! Never thought you'd see the day, right?

6. Ynot Juice Bar - Shiitake Pesto Toast

Why not stop at Ynot Juice Bar? Sometimes you're just craving a killer smoothie bowl sprinkled with all the ripe, fresh fruit Mother Nature has to offer. This little juicery located in Pismo Beach is ground zero for (yes, green juice), seasonal ingredients, organic local produce, and friendly smiles. Always check the menu for items inspired by the season and chef's imagination. A banana sandwich with dates, cashew butter and bee pollen may not have been on your to-eat list for today, but it sure is now!

Order up: Are mushrooms your thing? Then you need to try Ynot's savory Shiitake Pesto toast, which is earthy, crunchy and oh-so herbaceous! Made with roasted Shiitake mushrooms, creamy vegan pesto, red onion, tomato and perky micrograms, it's a mobile-friendly Italian inspired snack without the crash.

Acai bowl

7. Soto's Market - “Chicken” Curry Bowl

Cambria's historic market has been revamped into a gorgeous grocery store well-stocked with all things local, organic, and artisanal. But did you know that the deli at the back is also churning out outrageously good grub fashioned with fresh organic ingredients? Time for a drive along Highway 1 to check out Soto's True Earth Market & Deli and perhaps some elephant seals, too! Get ready for a nutritious meal that's far from old fashioned. Pick your mood: “sandwich, wrap or bowl,” pick your flavor—everything from Bahn mi inspired to Philly Cheesesteak inspired—then, add your extras. Yes, you can have it all, even if you're forgoing the black forest ham.

Order up: Chicken always calls out for spicy curry, even if the chicken is made of plants! We like the True Earth bowl filled with sesame noodles (or wild rice), saucy vegan chicken curry, and oodles of fresh vegetables. Slurp it down and thank us later.

8. Fig Cafe at Courtney's House – Quinoa Harvest Salad

Although not a 100% “plant-based” restaurant, this scenic Templeton hangout is flush with good greens you've got to get your hands on! The cafe is a welcoming home for employees with developmental disabilities, which will make you feel good as you grub down. Everything made at Fig Cafe at Courtney's House is truly fresh and handcrafted. Offering up global flavors with a local twist, you'll taste from-scratch goodness while dining on a Historic Victorian 1893 wrap-around porch. Talk about a pleasant way to spend an afternoon!

Order up: The Quinoa Harvest Salad is hearty and crunchy, salty, and sweet, featuring dried apricot, celery, green onion, pistachio, spring mix and a nutty garnish.

quinoa bowl

9. Odyssey World Cafe – Roasted Veggie Gyro

Odyssey World Cafe is truly “where the local's go.” With a cozy atmosphere and friendly staff, you'll feel right at home, even if you order something more commonly eaten on the other side of the world. This vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant has been a popular stop in downtown Paso Robles for some time. Perhaps that's because you can find a little bit of everything: soups, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, gyros, stir fry, and more. Taste the globe without stepping foot outside Northern SLO CAL. That's a fresh idea!

Order up: A warm pita bread pocket filled to the brim with roasted veggies? Count us in! Crunchy romaine, red onion, juicy tomato, and a sprinkle of fiery greek spices make this quick bite irresistible. Of course, it also comes with a cup of soup!