my favorite health dives in San Francisco

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Now just imagine this avo toast coming your way. Photo credits to Instagram/@janeonlarkin.

I admit calling them ‘heath dives’ is oxymoronic. This won’t come as a shock, but in one of the United States’ most health-conscious cities, any restaurant serving the health community has to expertly curate and slave over every element of their aesthetic appeal to if they want to survive the criticism of the masses. Un-instagrammable avocado toast is basically a death sentence.

The ‘dive’ reference nagged at my mind for the sole unifying quality I picked up on between each of the five places I chose to highlight: they portray a sense of effortlessness, feeding into the dream that both healthy eating and living is far more attainable than buzzing through a fast food drive-thru.

My Summer roommate and I had an absolute blast scrolling through Yelp to find the health food gems of the Bay (she compiled a list we would religiously cross-off for each location we’d hit up). I’ll love the Midwest until the day I die, but one aspect’s it’s missing is the plethora of health-conscious restaurants SF provided (to put things in perspective and for some greater insight into the Midwestern cuisine I grew up with, check out this recent Buzzfeed article. Peep the story, then cleanse yourself with this one).

While everything from the breadth of options (vegan, raw, non-dairy, non-gluten, and of course, organic) to the eccentric atmospheres were wholly impressive, let’s not forget the core reason these joints made the cut: their food is damn good. In-N-Out who?

Judahlicious

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that acai bowls are my actual kryptonite. I spent easily more time and money than I should have this Summer attempting to crown a winner for the best acai in the Bay (keep an eye out for a future post). When a friend of mine showed me a photo of her acai from Judahlicious, I made an actual two-hour trek from my apartment to try it (I know, I easily could have ubered, but it was a particularly nice day and the two-hours adds to the drama of this post).

My god. Just look at it. Soak it in. The sheer artistry. This bad boy is dripping with peanut butter and smothered in superfood toppings like banana, maca, goji berry, hemp seed, bee pollen, and housemate granola. It’s not the most wallet-friendly deal around town (depending on the amount of toppings you add the price gets steep quick). The taste, however, was refreshing, not heavy, and never mundane.

The overall vibe of this vegan and raw cafe is exactly what you’d expect: A singular quaint room with chalkboard menus, wood paneling, and plenty of light streaming in for optimal food photo staging. I grabbed the raw Nahbo Taco (collard leaves filled with sunflower pâté, avo, dates, red onion, carrots, and curry cashew ‘cream’) to-go for lunch later that day that honestly overshadowed the bowl in all marks but appearance; it was intensely flavorful, bright, and messy.

Nourish Cafe

You had me at kombucha on tap. Nourish Cafe is a health-devotee’s paradise, serving up 100% plant-based dishes that are as hearty as they are colorful. The clean and simple aesthetic aligned with the food they served; no-fuss, uncomplicated vegan salads and adaptations of local favorites like a banh mi or tuna sandwich.

So, what did I *nourish* myself with? After ordering the Superberry Kombucha (from! the! tap!) and downing it way too fast for my own good, I embarked upon the daunting task of taking down the Mission Salad, which was about twice as large as my head.

The real standout of my meal, besides the cashier who was gliding around the store handing out samples of avocado brownies, was their house-made vegan ‘tuna’ (a ground-up paste of sunflower seeds, celery, almonds, onion, tahini, and kelp flakes). Did it taste like actual tuna? Nope. Does that mean it wasn’t delicious? Absolutely not.

Jane

While the line that will no doubt be forming well outside the doors of this trendy restaurant will be discouraging, for the sake of everyone in the wellness community: Stick. It. Out. The tables turn lightning fast, but more importantly nothing will compare to the satisfaction you’ll get from taking your first bite of literally whatever you order (you can do no wrong with any item on the entire menu). I had brunch at Jane practically every Saturday I lived in San Francisco, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I flip-flopped between ordering their Chia Pudding Parfait (toasted superberry muesli, almond chia pudding, macerated berries) and their Raw Sprouted Black Rice Porridge (almond and coconut milk, chia seeds, coconut crunch, goji berries, kiwi). After going keto, their Smoked Salmon Platter sans-bread always hit the spot (and my macros!).

Eager to rebel against the seemingly fitness-obsessed NorCal natives? While the majority of Jane’s menu appeases the health-conscious crowd, you can take a stand by ordering something like their Un-Smoothie*, an undertaking of a breakfast burrito stuffed with the works (scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, cheddar cheese, pico).

*Just a reminder that this is a health blog, so I’ll probably be posting more about the smoothie side of things.

Seed + Salt

I know, it’s not much of a shock that another plant-based, sunlit, simple-yet-sophisticated cafe made it onto this list, but when it feels like there’s one on every street corner their representation in this grouping is bound to be as substantial as the servings of superfoods in their salads.

The comfort foods developed by restaurants like Seed + Salt never cease to amaze me. Items like eggplant bacon, walnut chorizo, coconut yogurt, cashew cheese, and a beet burger grace an uncomplicated menu of salads, sandwiches, and snacks. Walking into Seed + Salt is almost a cleansing experience. No worries, just clean food. You can do no wrong (especially with an order of their Taco Salad, that walnut chorizo is a must-do).

Souvla

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Mary’s Free-Range Chicken Salad from Souvla.

This one may be a bit of a stretch given that it’s not technically a health joint, but it feels almost sacrilegious to leave it off the list. Souvla’s salads were as much a part of my SF Summer as learning to navigate the Bay’s microclimates and trying not to blow my entire paycheck at Whole Foods. My roommate and I even chose this stop as our final before our Summer came to a close.

Mary’s Free-Range Chicken Salad has got to be one of the best I’ve ever had. Peppered with fennel, navel oranges, pickled red onion, pea shoots, mizithra cheese, and smothered in a greek yogurt-based ‘ranch’ dressing, it’s not for the faint of heart. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Souvla landed a spot on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants list. I’m definitely not planning on arguing with Michael Bauer on that one.

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