The Golden Lotus is a family-run Vietnamese restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown that uses a variety of imitation meats. Credit: Visit Oakland

Marcia Gagliardi wrote this story for Visit Oakland.

When I received the assignment to research restaurants for the Vegan Trail for Visit Oakland, I didn’t expect to find and visit over 20 vegan restaurants and businesses. Whoa, really? Yes! We aren’t talking about vegetarian restaurants that have a vegan option for some of their dishes — these are completely vegan businesses.

Oakland’s ever-expanding vegan scene stretches all over town, and is anchored by long-standing spots like the Ethiopian Cafe Dareye, Vietnamese Golden Lotus, macrobiotic Shangri-La Vegan, and the upscale (and globetrotting) Millennium. Two Mammas’ Vegan Kitchen has been serving down-home sandwiches and the best vegan Benedicts for brunch since 2014.

The latest wave of vegan restaurants includes a couple popular Black-owned spots (and trucks) that offer a healthier and planet-friendly alternative to fast food, with crave-worthy portions, like Instagram-ready Malibu’s Burgers (even the milkshakes are plant-based) and the hearty fried chicken sandwiches and tenders from Don’t be Chick’n.

It’s hard to miss the restaurant Vegan Mob in the Grand Lake neighborhood, with its lime green exterior. Credit: Visit Oakland

There’s an enthusiastic fan base for a couple spots serving vegan soul food, like the ample plates of vegan BBQ from Vegan Mob — with some Mexican and Filipino influences in their Fusion Meals — and the flavor-packed, Louisiana Creole-style dishes at Souley Vegan. (Chef-owner Tamearra Dyson has expanded to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and even beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network!)

A number of places are creating their own plant-based proteins, like the housemade diced Louisiana hot links at Souley Vegan. Taqueria La Venganza is making plant-based carnitas (with shredded soy skin marinated in a smoky citrus brine), pollo, and even chicharrón. Señor Sisig Vegano uses a marinated and char-grilled soy protein to make pork sisig, chicken sisig, longanisa chorizo, and tocino. With these housemade, seasoned proteins, all the authentic flavor is there. Bare Knuckle Pizza has a high-quality lineup of Neapolitan pizzas with some of the best vegan melty, creamy mozzarella you’ll ever taste (from local vegan deli The Butcher’s Son).

Something I really appreciated about the mother-daughter duo at Hella Nuts is they developed their own ground walnut meat since they want to avoid soy in their cooking; they use it in their old-school, Taco Bell–inspired lineup of dishes, and you won’t miss the beef. Something I noted about their cooking is how fresh everything tastes — you can tell they really love to eat (and prepare) their vegetables. Roasted and Raw also has a healthy, vegetable-forward focus in their dishes.

A former pop-up at Jack London Square, Roasted and Raw, now has a brick-and-mortar restaurant on 14th Street in Downtown Oakland. Credit: Visit Oakland

As a meat-eater, there’s always something in the back of my mind that says, “It’s good for a vegan substitute…” but the question remains: would I eat the vegan version instead of a beef burger or cheese pizza or fried chicken? One place where this doesn’t even enter my thoughts is the outstandingly creative Lion Dance Cafe, with the most flavor-packed, seasonal, Chinese-Singaporean dishes. Their shaobing sandwiches are simply amazing sandwiches, period.

Have fun exploring the Vegan Trail — there’s a unique story at every spot, and so many well-made, creative dishes worth traveling across town for. And stay tuned for the addition of artisan and craft-made vegan fare that you can find at farmers’ markets in Oakland.