A city rich in both culture and history, Oakland is the epicenter of the East Bay. This major city boasts a population of over 400,000 people. This massive city is home to a wide variety of communities and neighborhoods. In fact, Oakland consistently ranks as one of the top five most ethnically diverse cities in the United States! Oakland’s roots are deeply embedded in social justice movements. The Black Panther Self Defense Party was founded in Oakland, and the Chicano movement found its voice in advocating for civil rights in Oakland in the 60’s, 70’s and beyond.
Today, Oakland continues to serve as a hub for progressive social movements through protest and civil advocacy. The meatless movement has taken off and continues to grow here. Oakland is a true mecca for vegan eating, easily surpassing neighboring city San Francisco in sheer volume of plant-based businesses. The incredible diversity here means that no food is the same! From soul food to Singaporeon food, greasy burgers to fine upscale dining, whatever it is you’re seeking from food- you can find it in Oakland. Here are just a few of our favorites. It’s impossible to include them all!
Souley Vegan is a place with food as rich as its incredible story. Seeing how successful the restaurant is today, it’s incredible to know that it was started on a total leap of faith by a single mother with $27 to her name. Chef and owner Tamearra Dyson was raised primarily meatless by her mother, and knew she had to share her Louisiana Creole-style cooking with the world. This black-owned, community-run soul food kitchen takes the crown for our favorite spot in Oakland. Our favorite? It’s hard to know where to begin! The seitan chicken-fried “steaks” with gravy and mash (pictured), served with sauteed onions and collard greens, are a home run. The Jalapeno pesto mac n’ cheese is almost too creamy to be true, served on a piping hot skillet. Souley Vegan doesn’t slack on the atmosphere, either. A live New Orleans Jazz/Blues band plays every Sunday. A full bar serves up cocktails, beer and wine. They also serve weekend brunch with $20 bottomless mimosas and menu items like chick’n and waffles, okra gumbo, and seitan “shrimp” n’ grits. Have we convinced you?!
Lion Dance Cafe
Cuisine: Singaporean, Chinese
“Authentic, not traditional” is Lion Dance Cafe’s fitting slogan. Founders Marie Chia and Shane Stanbridge have channeled their Singaporean roots to create something completely new. Lion Dance is just about one of the best local places to support as a community, being 100% queer and immigrant owned and run, rooted in sustainable practices, and donating a small portion of every meal to assist Oakland’s underprivileged communities. Minimal single-use items are used here, produce is sourced from local farms, and great effort is taken to combat food waste. Most takeout packaging is compostable. Having been takeout-only since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lion Dance Cafe only recently announced the return of sit-down dining. The time to support this incredible business is now. Our favorite? The Oyster mushroom Goreng, cooked with calamansi sambal and fried curry leaf. Absolutely delicious!
Cuisine: American, fast food style
“If you’re vegan, why would you want to eat something that tastes like meat?” “Why did you go vegan if you still want to eat meat?” “Vegans should be healthy and eat veggies!” Are you sick and tired of hearing phrases like this? It’s true that whole plant foods are healthier for our bodies. But in order to make a plant-based diet sustainable for you, sometimes you need to get a taste of your old non-vegan favorites. Thanks to places like Malibu’s Burgers, you can still feel like you’re having a “cheat day” without actually eating animals. Because vegans deserve to have fun, too! You can enjoy classic American-style favorites, like burgers, loaded fries, chick’n nuggets, and milkshakes. Our suggestion? We’re partial to breaded “chicken” style mock meats, so the Fight the Power is our favorite! This spicy buffalo burger comes on a toasted brioche bun. Wash it down with a strawberry milkshake!
Cuisine: Asian/ Whole foods/ Macrobiotic
Does your body need a bit of nourishment after that delicious, greasy vegan burger? Shangri-La should be your next stop! This simple dining spot has a fixed meal every day. You’ll be served a piping hot bowl of miso lentil soup aside your heaping plate of goodies. Some sort of greens, grains, veggies and beans/lentils will be included in your meal, which changes every day. It’s the perfect nutritionally balanced entree, free of excessive salt or oils. The flavors are simple, yet deeply savory and satisfying. It’s the perfect stop for a kickstart to a healthier day. Our favorite menu rotation? The yellow split peas with onion and garlic. Treat yourself to a light dessert of key lime pie after your meal. Enjoy!
Cuisine: Soul food, Barbecue fusion
Craving some hearty barbecue? Vegan Mob is some of the best in the city. Founder Toriano Gordon comes from just across the bridge, San Francisco’s Filmore District. Gordon spent a great deal of his life helping at-risk and incarcerated youth in the city. The next stop in his life’s mission was to explore his passion of cooking. And he knocked it out of the park! What’s the best dish at Vegan Mob? We’d say the signature Mob Plate, of course. Customize this heaping plate with one protein and three sides. We highly suggest the spicy fried chicken with sides of Smackaroni (baked creamy mac n’ cheese), Southern Style Collard Greens, and Cajun Potato Salad. Still have room for dessert? Get yourself a fat slice of Peach Mobbler. You’ll thank us later!
Want to treat yourself to an upscale dining experience? Millennium has it all: the ambiance, the fine presentation, the tantalizing flavors. Executive chef Eric Tucker is an avid supporter of the local, sustainable agriculture movement as well as an instructor and chairing at CHEFS (Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Service. The ingredients to this pumpkin curry (pictured) just might blow your mind: panko & rice crusted red kuri squash, sesame black rice cake, pumpkin coconut curry, seared gai lan snap peas, tofu & Chinese eggplant, bird’s eye chile sweet soy glaze, Thai basil, Asian pear & carrot salad, served with peanut sambal. Are you kidding me?! You might not even have room for dessert, but if you do, try the Bay Leaf Creme Brulee.
Taqueria La Veganza
Need a late-night bite to eat? Hidden inside the Emporium Arcade Bar next to the Fox Theatre is a treasure worth finding. Taqueria La Veganza prides itself in the most authentic vegan versions of Mexican cuisine as possible. Chef Raul Medina says part of his mission is to disrupt the disconnected vegan narrative of what “cruelty free” means. “As a culture we define (cruelty) as an attack on animals, but we forget the human suffering that goes to pick our vegetables, and process the world’s meat. We are born and bred to disrupt the current narrative around factory farmed meats, immigrant labor, and losing the connection to what your grandma cooked.” Medina grew up killing chickens in Mexico, and realized he just couldn’t do it anymore. In the U.S. Medina worked as an immigration attorney, and noticed a lack of genuinely authentic Mexican food in the vegan community. He changed his career and now experiments with vegan pop-ups in Oakland, Santa Ana and Los Angeles. The vegan carne asada tacos and the vegan pollo nachos will blow you away! You can also order vegan “meats”, tamales and other goodies in bulk from their website.
Chelsea Pinkham is a long-time animal advocate, rescuer, and humane education writer. Chelsea studied Communications & Journalism with a minor in Environmental Science at Sonoma State University. She has been vegan for thirteen years, since she discovered the treatment of animals on farms in middle school. Outside of Vegan Unlocked, she works for a nonprofit farmed animal sanctuary, authors humane education children’s books, and has personally rescued, fostered and transported over 1,000 animals. She enjoys camping, hiking, learning about animal behavior, and traveling the world on a low budget!