Fountain of Youth

In a business as ruthless and cut-throat as the restaurant industry, it’s a well known fact that few fledgling establishments survive beyond a single year. Such depressing statistics are far from shocking when you consider the cost of rent, rising prices for food, and aggressive competition on all sides. That makes the longevity of a place like St. Francis Fountain truly remarkable, speaking volumes of the menu, of course, but also the fiercely loyal following it’s created over the past one hundred years in operation. Yes indeed, first opened in 1918, this little slice of Americana has beaten the odds for a century, with no signs of fading away.

It’s the kind of place where some things never change. Wooden booths where young lovers and families of many generations alike convene over classic breakfast fare, no matter the time of day. Nostalgic signage lines the walls, bearing such endearing statements like “we’re glad you’re here” that you can’t help but believe their genuine sincerity. The relentless march of time is evident in the menu, however. The option to have a milkshake made with soy gelato, or scramble platter swapping eggs for tofu, was probably not part of the original plan.

While it’s true, you will find toast in ample supply here, it’s a far cry from the $9 avocado creations assembled for Instagram notoriety; rather, they’re the default side dish to all savory entrees, toasted dry, with a side of vegan butter on the side for all who wish to remain dairy-free. Sourdough seems mandatory for such a classic San Francisco institution, no matter the pairing. In this case, roughly crumbled chunks of tofu slathered in a mild ranchero sauce will cure what ails you, sauteed with as many (or as few) vegetables as your heart desires, scrambled to taste.

Best known for a quirky dish that’s offered as a side but eats like a full meal, the “Nebulous Potato Thing” defies definition, which is part of the appeal. A mountainous pile of hash browns, crisped on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, arrive at the table like a gustatory challenge. Even the half portion is immense, enough to satiate any reasonable eater for a full day. Spicy pico de gallo is crowned with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole for the vegan version at no extra charge. In this day and age when just the green fruit alone can command sky-high prices, this just may be the bargain of the century.

Like any greasy spoon worth its griddle, pancakes flip onto plates in a diverse palate of fruit flavors. Banana walnut is a real winner, yielding large chunks of toasted nuts and sweet banana in every forkful. Granted, the syrup isn’t pure maple, but it suits the venue for its no-frills, unpretentious sensibility.

Though not explicitly stated, the chocolate egg cream, arguably one of the greatest obscure soda fountain staples, can still get its fizz on with a quick soymilk swap. This may be the only place in the city, if not the entire west coast, willing to serve up this slice of childhood sweetness for alternative eaters. Even if you wake up late, don’t sleep on this option.

Limited hours preclude it from being the late-night haunt of many stoners’ dreams, but every morning, seven days a week, St. Francis Fountain consistently delivers the hits to soothe the hungover and the heartbroken, to feed the community, body and soul.

It’s hard to say what might be coming out of the kitchen in another hundred years from now, but based on its track record, I’d sure like to think that it will be hot, comforting, and easily veganized.

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110


Birthday Free For All

As a closeted couponer, there are few things that give me more joy at the checkout line than seeing the bottom of my final total drop out after scanning a few little slips of paper. It’s not uncommon for fellow shoppers to crane their necks away from glowing smartphone screens, startled to see such impressive savings. Where does all this free money come from, and how can they get in on the game?

Daily grocery shopping is nothing compared to the embarrassment of riches one can collect on their birthday. Planned out properly, you could eat for free for weeks, if not your whole birthday month! Plenty of roundups exist online, but few, if any, take veganism into consideration. After posting about all my loot on Instagram a few years in a row, I’ve decided to lay out the spoils of my plunder in one post for easy future reference. These options include smaller stores that have only a few outposts located on the west coast, and larger chains that you may or may not wish to endorse based on ethics, so your mileage may vary. Many more independent local shops will likely offer discounts if you just ask, so whenever you’re out shopping, don’t be afraid to mention it!

Starbucks: Sign up for Starbucks Rewards and get a free drink or prepared food item upon registration and for your birthday. Almost any of the drinks can be veganized thanks to the option to substitute soymilk, almond milk, or coconut milk. Just avoid the pumpkin spice, white mocha, caramel brûlée syrups, caramel sauce, java chips, and of course, whipped cream. Many stores now offer a highly serviceable brown rice bowl if you’re hungry for something more substantial.

Rubios: Although best known for their cheap fish tacos, if you sign up for the Beach Club mailing list, you can score a free grilled veggie taco right away, and a free entree on your birthday. My favorite pick is the Balsamic & Roasted Veggie Salad, with extra veggies and avocado because hey, it’s all free! Don’t forget to load up on as much salsa as you can carry at the self-serve salsa bar too.

Flacos: You’ve gotta hike out to their solo Berkeley location, but trust me, it’s worth a trip from anywhere. Just show up with your ID on the exact date of your birthday to get an entree of your choice, including rice, beans, and salad. That means you can dig into their superlative tamales, tacos, taquitos, or huarache, on the house!

Jamba Juice: Become a Jamba Juice Insider for $3 off your next purchase, and any small juice or smoothie your heart desires on your birthday. Opt for an all-fruit blend to avoid the yogurt or sherbet bases, or get a bit more creative. I’ve found that by ordering the Cookies ‘n Cream Protein Shake with soymilk and soy protein, it becomes a sweet vegan treat!

Yogurtland: Register for Real Rewards and let the froyo flow! Okay so it may be soft serve sorbet, since only the syrup-based options are vegan, but that still shakes out to over two dozen potential flavors to choose from. It’s not all fruit either; that dark chocolate sorbet is nothing to scoff at. Get your first free 3-ounce swirl as soon as you sign up, and another on your birthday.

CREAM: Speaking of sweet, get ready for dessert by snagging a free sundae at any CREAM location. Take your pick of one vegan cookie (oatmeal, banana chocolate chip, or “fudging awesome” chocolate), one scoop of ice cream (soy-based blueberry or mint chocolate chip) and any two toppings when you sign up for their CREAM Rewards Program.

San Francisco Soup Co. and Ladle & Leaf: They go by different names but these two soup-slingers are really the same brand. Redeem a free bowl of soup on your birthday after signing up for their newsletter at either shop, and don’t forget to snag a free roll while you’re at it! Vegan options are clearly marked on the board, and there’s always at least one available everyday. You can’t go wrong with a comforting lunch of split pea soup or southwestern corn chowder, but keep your eyes peeled for special offerings on the daily menu, which vary by location.

Proper Food: Growing in leaps and bounds, this one tiny startup now has closet-sized outposts all across the downtown San Francisco area. Download the Thanx app and register for the Proper Food rewards program to get discounts all year round, and $8 off any purchase on your birthday. That’s a free box of tofu spring rolls, hummus and vegetable platter, or bowl of oatmeal!

Moe’s Southwest Grill: Welcome to Moe’s! If you’re familiar with this ubiquitous rally cry, you already know that there’s plenty of tofu, beans, rice, and plant-based goodness to go around at this quick service establishment. What you might not know is that by signing up for the Moe’s Rockin’ Rewards, you can walk out with a completely free burrito on your birthday. Load it up with all the good stuff, including guacamole, and come hungry because these are some behemoth tortilla torpedoes.

Project Juice: Also available through the Thanx app, redeem a free wellness shot along with a 10% discount on anything else purchased on your birthday with registration. If you plan it right, you can combine this deal with $5 off for following them on social media, and get a seriously healthy discount on some liquid nutrition.

Veggie Grill: Download the Veggie Grill Rewards app to your phone to cash in on $5 off your purchase, both when you sign up and when your birthday rolls around! That’ll net you a free soup, mac and cheese, mini wrap, black bean and quinoa mini bowl, side of fries, cauli-mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh little salad, multiple veggie sides, or a dessert. With so many tempting choices, you can easily stretch that fun money into a satisfying snack or light meal.

Pinkberry: Go froyo! Join the Pinkberry loyalty program through the mobile phone app for free and you’ll instantly earn a generous swirl of the frozen creamy confection with four toppings from the array of fresh fruits, nuts, crushed Oreos, mochi, and popping boba. Non-dairy froyo flavors will vary by store, but you can always count on finding at least one creamy treat to cool down with. Coconut and salted caramel coconut provide a more ice cream-like soft serve indulgence, while simply fruit peach passion and tropical mango offer a lighter, more refreshing experience. Take a peek at all the ingredient information here.

Dunkin’ Donuts: DD Perks offers a free beverage upon registration and on your birthday, but there is a small catch: You need a card to create your account, which means dropping some actual cash in advance. The good news is that you can load as little as $5 to get started, and if you’re already inclined to make a stop for coffee, that shouldn’t be such a big sacrifice. Dunkin’ Donuts has even made the work of sussing out the vegan options easy by rounding them up in a handy guide.

Pressed Juicery: Create an account under your phone number next time you make a purchase, and you’ll be treated to any full-sized bottle you fancy when it’s time to celebrate your birthday. Make the most of this opportunity by trying one of the creamy nut milks that usually fetch top dollar.

Sprinkles Cupcakes: What’s a birthday without cake? Sprinkles understands that we’re not all up to the task of baking amidst all the festivities, which is why they’re kindly gifting all the lucky birthday girls and guys who join Sprinkles Perks with one cupcake on their big day. I hope you like red velvet because that’s the only vegan flavor, but hey, who could really complain about free cake?

Peets: More free coffee, yes, but not just any coffee. Fancy coffee that you can top with whipped coconut cream! Blend up a decadent Javiva with almond or soy milk, warm up with a cup of thick hot chocolate, or cozy up to a seasonal latte with billowing mounds of the exclusive tropical topping, in any size from small to large, all compliments of this national chain. Beware that Peetnik Rewards are only accepted at select locations, so call ahead to your nearest outpost to make sure they’re in on the deal.

Ike’s: I like Ike, and you will too once he treats you to a generous full meal for your special day. That includes any sandwich, along with a bag of chips and a drink. Almost anything on the extensive menu can be veganized, and some of the best combinations aren’t even listed in store so don’t be afraid to ask. One of my favorites is the Tom Brady; breaded meatless chicken, mushrooms, avocado, and non-dairy cheese. Sign up for the e-club to get this offer, or email customer service directly. They’re super responsive and very friendly!

Living Greens: Snag this one by downloading the handy FiveStars app, and you can boost your immunity with a free shot comprised of ginger, echinacea, cayenne, lemon, and apple. It may be small, but it sure is strong and spicy.

VeganBurg: If you’re craving more comfort than cleansing, head out to the Haight with that same FiveStars app booted up and ready to go. VeganBurg has made their name on juicy meatless patties, but the free swirl of soft serve they’re offering to celebrate your birthday is no trifling consolation prize. It comes only as a creamy vanilla blend, but will definitely hit the spot after a long day of hustling for freebies.

Milkbomb: As the name might suggest, this isn’t exactly the most vegan-friendly scoop shop in the bay area, but they do offer at least one or two flavors of dairy-free sorbet to satiate your sweet tooth. Sign up for their email newsletter and get a complimentary scoop on the exact day of your birthday only.

Sephora: Rounding out the list with some non-edible pampering, this one is for all you glamorous makeup enthusiasts out there. Become a Beauty Insider to earn rewards for your cosmetic purchases all year round and cash in on free luxury minis on your birthday. Those deluxe samples change every year and there’s always two or three options to chose from, but bear in mind that not all brands are cruelty-free, so do your research before showing up at the counter to cash in.

Do you know about more vegan birthday freebies to add to the list? Let me know and I’ll keep this post updated!