But even though California is synonymous with health and veggie eating to many, the reality is that vegetarian restaurants have been few and far between in the City until quite recently.
Little by little vegetarian selections started to gain menu space in many San Francisco eateries - but these were usually token dishes to placate the the odd non-meat eater in large groups, and was generally confined to a tasteless dish of pasta and overcooked vegetables. The City just didn't take meat-free cuisine seriously.
Those days are now - thankfully - behind us. It is now becoming quite commonplace to see a wide variety of vegetarian eating establishments not only in the City - but around the Bay Area.
But even as this exciting new direction begins to take on steam, the gold-standard in fine vegetarian cuisine remains the venerable trail-blazer of San Francisco meat-free dining - Greens Restaurant. Greens is - simply put - the best vegetarian restaurant in the nation; both in terms of food and location.
Situated in an old warehouse in a semi-deserted, one time army base on the very edge of the bay, it just doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd fine anything to eat - let alone the flagship of modern organic dining.
Started in 1979, Greens is the creation of the San Francisco Zen center. They took over a rather dilapidated warehouse space and turned it into a large, airy, high ceilinged space with roof to floor windows facing the bay and filled with imaginative furniture displaying the wide-variety of wood available in northern California. A craftsperson would enjoy their visit without ever lifting a fork.
But the main achievement of Greens was to raise the world of vegetarian cuisine from the image of carrot sticks and sprouts and take it into the realm of sophisticated haut cuisine.
Mesquite grilled brochettes of mushrooms, yellow finn potatoes, marinated tofu, white corn and summer squash. Gratin provençal with slow-roasted eggplant served alongside grilled Ridgecut Gristmills polenta, or Hamada Farm fruit-almond couscous. Are you catching the drift?
The selection of creative and beautifully presented dishes is simply remarkable. And nearly everything is supplied by small, local organic farms and brought daily to the restaurant. The freshness and full-flavored taste of the vegetables comes as an epiphany to many. Who knew this stuff could be so - well - sumptuously delicious?
This blog will feature several other establishments from the Bay Area's nascent vegetarian restaurant scene in the coming months - but let it be said at the outset that the original is still top of the heap. And be you a vegetarian or not - rest assured that a visit to this San Francisco legend will long be remembered for both its spectacular visual display and the savoriness of your meat-free fare. It's a dining must when visiting the City.