Back in the day, prior to all my food allergies, I used to be a total a foodie. I mean, who's not a little bit of a foodie? Food not only gives us fuel, but provides the basis for our lives, and can be incredibly fun and exciting, too! While I'm not a foodie in the way I used to be (trying every variation of mac + cheese and cheese pizza available), I'd still consider myself somewhat of a foodie, just in a a different way. Now, I'm just a vegan/gluten-free/corn-free/gmo-free/organic foodie. I know, I know. I can see you rolling your eyes at how pretentious that must sound. Soooooo fun, right?
Well, plot twist: it actually is fun! Especially if you live on the sunny side of the Bay. I'm so excited to have partnered with Visit Oakland to show you just a few of the amazing vegan options that are available here in the East Bay. In preparation for Oakland Restaurant Week (which runs from January 19-29), I've highlighted a few of the most sought-after vegan spots, all of which will be partaking in restaurant week, which includes special menus, pricing, and items. Before I jump into the different restaurants, be sure to follow @visitoakland on Instagram and use the hashtag #ORW17 to keep up with all the restaurant week news.
301 Broadway, Oakland, CA
If you're a fan of Guy Fieri's popular show "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives", then this place might look familiar to you. In fact, when you walk into the restaurant, the first thing you'll see is a giant photo of the owner, Tamara Dyson, posing with Fieri himself. Souley Vegan has been famed and acclaimed both on the local and national level, and it's easy to see why. Their unique mix of vegan-friendly bites and Louisiana-style soul food is truly unlike anything else on the market.
Take these "Butter Lettuce Cups", for example. Now normally, soul-food isn't associated with bright, vibrant veggies, which are (obviously) a staple in vegan cuisine. Yet, mixing these colorful veggies with cajun spices and a little bit of gluten-free fried okra gives it that classic southern twist. I expected this dish to be light and airy- a great start to a day full of eating- and while it was in fact delicious, it was surprisingly heavy. I make lettuce cups at home all the time with various veggies and sauces, and can usually eat 5 or 6 of them. Yet here, I could barely finish 1! It was so surprisingly filling, and, not to mention, it's a great deviation from a normal salad. If you're a very light eater like I am, I would definitely recommend sharing this dish with someone else.
The next thing I ordered was the "Southern Fried Tofu Burger"... which I actually didn't eat. I really wanted to, but as it contained gluten, I couldn't. So, I gave it to my dad and made him tell me all about it. I have this theory that men will eat just about anything... but I digress. He's currently working on becoming vegan too, so I figured this would be a great dish for him to try, and he totally loved it. Despite the fact that he does love meat, he loved the tofu burger. To him, it was rich, satisfying, and hearty. Like I noted with the lettuce cups, he did say it felt like a lot of rich food for only one person, and that it might be better shared. Even though I didn't try this myself, I would probably have to agree with him, as not only was the patty fried, but covered in (vegan) mayo, veggies, and all the fixings.
Overall, I enjoyed Souley Vegan. It was a place I had been wanting to check out for a while now, so I was excited to finally have that opportunity. While their lack of gluten-free options made it a wee bit difficult to find items that suited my dietary restrictions, their extensive menu loaded with 100% vegan options was not only refreshing to see, but exciting. If I were to go back, I'd probably go with a group, rather than just myself, as the portions are rather large and very filling. Unless you're a big eater, definitely bring a friend with you and split something together! That way, you not only get the most bang for your buck, but you also get to introduce a friend to the wonderful and unique world of vegan soul food. Bonus points if it's a meat-eating friend.
499 14th St. Oakland, CA
Oh man... where to even start with Core Kitchen?! One day soon I'm going to do a whole post soon on just this place, because there is SO much to talk about! I don't think I've ever been more impressed with a restaurant than I was with Core Kitchen. Everything, from their location to their marketing strategies to their food, was absolutely incredible. In this post, I'll focus on the food, since I know that's what you all probably care most about. ;)
The most amazing thing about Core Kitchen is that they are the only restaurant in the world that uses only produce- no added salts, oils, and sugars, and certainly no animal products, all of which made me way too happy. They served me two of the most popular dishes on their menu, the first being this "Protein Power Wrap", which was described as being a cross between a burrito and an Asian spring roll. Since I love burritos and spring rolls, I was totally down. I actually got to watch them make it, and it was such an interesting process. It was almost like watching a puzzle being put together. The founder, Corey, described it best when he compared the blanched collared green "tortilla" to an actual flour tortilla. While the latter is uniformly shaped, making each burrito not only symmetric but easy to fold, collared greens are not like that. They're all different shapes, with different ridges and textures, so one Power Wrap may require only one leaf, while another may require four smaller leaves put together. This particular one I believe took about three different leaves to create.
While most people are led to believe that collared greens are bland and boring, this wrap was anything but that. To be completely honest, there were so many different flavors, I can't even begin to name everything that was inside of it! But what stood out the most to me was the "protein" aspect of the wrap: a combination of plantains, mushrooms, and herbs. Now, I have quite an aversion to anything banana related, be it an actual banana or a plantain, I usually can't stand them. Yet, this was absolutely delicious. I could't even taste the plantain amongst all the other flavors, which made things even better, in my opinion. I saved a half to take home to share with my family, but I could have easily eaten the entire thing, or two, if I didn't have an entire food-filled day ahead of me.
The next dish I tried was the "Thai Zucchini Noodles" which, like the wrap, was so good. I think this was personally my favorite dish of the day. Soft zoodles covered in a creamy, buttery cashew sauce + lots of veggies... oh my. It was light, yet filling and completely satisfying. As someone who loves traditional pasta, I normally am not too big of a fan of zoodles, but these were incredible, and definitely converted me over to the "raw" side. I again got to watch this dish being made, and learn a few tips about cooking zoodles. Pro tip: you'll want to blanch them in water first, then add the sauce once they're cooked- not the other way around. Otherwise, they'll get soggy and start falling apart. You're welcome in advance.
Like I said earlier, I'm going to be doing a whole separate post about Core Kitchen at a later date. There is so many wonderful things I want to say about them, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. I definitely want to send a huge thank you to Corey and Mercedes for having me, and for being so gracious and kind in showing me around the space and telling me their story. I can't wait to go back to Core Kitchen, and bring my friends and family there!
5912 College Ave., Oakland, CA
Out of all three restaurants I visited, it's hard to pick a favorite. But, if I had to- based purely on menu alone- I would choose Millennium (though it's a close tie with Core Kitchen). Millennium definitely had the most eclectic menu, and the best part is that it changes every day, to incorporate a mix of global and seasonal flavors. It's the perfect place for a date night or other special occasion. Think: upscale, classy, moderately-priced dining in a dimly lit, hipster-like atmosphere.
One of the coolest things about Millennium was their list of drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. As someone who isn't an alcohol drinker nor a soda drinker, I find it fun and refreshing when restaurants have fun drinks geared toward the health-conscious. This one, called the "Orange Dreamsicle", was made of fresh orange juice, sparkling water, and soy creamer, man, was it good. Definitely a nice, interesting change from the usual glass of water.
The next thing I tried were the "Sesame & Arborio Crusted King Trumpet Mushrooms" and oh my god, they were so good that I ate this entire plate! They reminded me a lot of tempura mushrooms, which I used to love, back before I was gluten-intolerant. However, these mushrooms were 100% gluten-free, crusted with rice rather than wheat, and well priced for an entree (under $10!) If you're going with a friend, I wouldn't recommend splitting the plate as an appetizer, as it's small enough to be a substantial entree for one person. Plus, once you start eating it, you aren't going to want to stop... it's that good.
The last thing I tried at Millennium was the "Hazelnut-Pear Muffin", which I was so excited to find out was gluten-free. It was soft, moist, warm, and light - the perfect compliment after the heavy mushrooms. It was served with a coconut cream that was fluffy, creamy, and so so good. I could have eaten a bowl of it alone with a spoon! But, layered on top of the muffin... it was seriously perfect. This alone, paired with a cup of coffee, would make for a perfect breakfast on-the-go. Though it is worth noting that this item is only available on their Sunday brunch menu, so make sure to make reservations for a weekend so you can try this and some of their other sweet pastries (most of which are not gluten-free, FYI).
Out of the three restaurants, Millennium was hands-down my favorite, so much so, that I plan to come back with my family next week (EDIT 10/17: Since the writing of this post, my family now goes here for every birthday/holiday/special occasion. We absolutely love the fact that, as vegans, we can all go out and have a nice family meal, without having to worry about there being options for our dietary restrictions. In fact, the Millennium team is so nice, that we are able to call in ahead of time some days and they'll make us custom, gluten-free options. It's an amazing luxury to be able to go out to eat like normal people, and Millennium makes it so easy for us to do so!)
I had such a fun time trying out all of these amazing vegan spots inside one of my favorite cities! Make sure you add these restaurants to your list if you're planning on coming out to Oakland for restaurant week, which runs from January 19-29. Don't miss it! Head over to Visit Oakland's website for more information, including accommodations and a list of all the restaurants participating in restaurant week 2017/
** Huge thank you to Visit Oakland for sponsoring this post!