Silent Sunday: Salad Daze

Tea Leaf Salad from Burma Superstar

Yemeni Okra from Saha

Vegan Cobb Salad from The Cheesecake Factory

Roasted Beet and Shaved Fennel Salad from Pizza Moda

Kale Salad with Tempeh from Samovar Tea Lounge

Peach Salad with Herbed Cashew Cheese from Sound & Savor

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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!

In Loving Memory

Talk about a turbulent year. 2017 has generated more sensational headlines than the past decade altogether, and even with mere hours left on the clock, I wouldn’t count it out for churning up some new controversy yet. Eager to move ahead straight into the new year without looking back, leaving those lackluster memories far in the past, it’s essential to hit pause, resisting the relentless push forward, to reflect on just those low points. For perspective, we can better appreciate when things are genuinely good, and for knowledge, to prevent those same mistakes from being repeated once again.

In this case, I wanted to take a moment and say a final farewell to some of the dearly departed vegan establishments that we’ve lost in San Francisco in the short span of 12 months. While it’s a grueling industry where failure is much more common that success, especially in the long term, it feels particularly poignant to see so many personal favorites close their doors, despite the immense talent, support, and passion in the kitchen.

Encuentro is the establishment I find hardest to let go of. If you had asked me before, I would have easily placed it on my list of top three restaurants in the bay area, if not first place to begin with. Few fine dining establishments exist for those that eschew meat, dairy, and eggs, but you would never even consider what wasn’t present on the plate here. Execution was on par with that of any Michelin-starred restaurant, in my opinion, but without the pretension that goes along with such a lofty award. Fancy but not fussy, I can’t recall a single bad meal here. Generous platters of tender sweet potato gnocchi and dark, devilish chocolate cake will forever haunt my memory. The dream is not yet dead, though, as the otherwise vacant store front still plays host to periodic pop-up events.

No No Burger shocked fans when they announced the end of their glorious but shockingly brief run. After transitioning from an infrequent pop-up to a daily staple at the SoMa StrEat Food Park, the future seemed bright, especially considering the nearly universal rave reviews for their juicy meatless patties and decadent toppings, deeply savory and indulgent enough to satisfy the cravings of even the most staunch omnivores. Many considered their burger to be the bright spot in a dark, murky landscape of mediocre vegetable-based hockey pucks, leaving a gaping hole in the dining scene between the ultra meaty Impossible Burger and old-school bean burgers.

Photo from Elyse T. via Yelp

RAW – A Juice Company was so much more than just juice, contrary to the name. Offering a rainbow of produce painstakingly crafted into living cuisine, you couldn’t go wrong with a plate of raw lasagna or an abundant acai bowl. Judging by the active Facebook page, though, we may just see the next chapter to this story taking place in the topical islands of Hawaii. Only time will tell when, or if, these fresh finds will resurface.

Seed + Salt had a whole lot of heart for such a tiny place. Wedged into a storefront the size of a bread box in the Marina, not even the limited seating could detract from the experience of eating in. Fully gluten-free in addition to being vegan, eaters of all stripes could find sweet and savory treats to enjoy. The chickpea frittata, served solo, in a breakfast sandwich, or sliced atop a bountiful plant-based Cobb salad, was always hard for me to resist. It’s a simple yet satisfying entree that has inspired many attempts at replication by myself and others in the know.

The Plant Cafe, while still an apparently thriving business with no less than six bustling outposts under its belt, including one in the highly desirable SFO Terminal 2 space, has shuttered both the Burlingame and waterfront Embarcadero establishments. Citing the usual battery of labor shortages and skyrocketing rents, it’s just a relief that their light, healthy fare will still be available for visitors and locals alike. Their impeccably well-balanced grapefruit and avocado salad remains the highlight of any trip that necessitates a stop at the airport. If you find yourself at any of other sit-down cafes that offer a full menu of brunch choices on the weekends, you can’t go wrong with the pesto tofu scramble, either.

Photo by Celiac Community

3 Potato 4, once a small franchise with three locations scattered about the bay, has slowly been shuttering those outposts one by one. The last holdout was in the Pleasanton Stoneridge Shopping Center, but without any warning or confirmation, that store seems to have gone dark mere weeks ago. Dedicated to spreading the spud love, their simple menu offered an array of baked fries and sauce, with seasonal soups, plus soft serve to finish on a sweet note. For comfort food without all the grease and guilt, it was hard to beat this accessible, affordable option. Here’s hoping that the tides turn and this outage is but a brief blip in business as usual.

To these fallen friends that we leave behind in 2017, I’d like to raise a toast- Piled high with avocado, of course- And wish their proprietors all the best on their next big idea. May they find this fork in the road ultimately as fulfilling as the meals they once shared.