Treats for Your Temple: 10 Healthiest Restaurants in San Francisco

Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

Some cities say they are concerned about health, but only San Francisco puts its money (and tofu) where its mouth is. For example, in 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban toys in Happy Meals, deciding that the trinkets lured kids into an unhealthy diet.  

This kind of progressive (some might argue radical) approach to diet has been a signature mark of California cuisine ever since Chez Panise opened years ago in Berkeley.  Like the ancient Greeks, San Franciscans believe that food is medicine. If you share that belief, our list will get you to the healthiest restaurants in San Francisco.

If you want to go vegan, you can't go wrong with Greens, which also offers a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. If you want a taste of the latest "foodie" trends, try out Source, which offers one of the more experimental and daring menus in the city.

Whatever restaurant you choose, rest assured that your body will thank you for the meal. All of the restaurants offer locally sustained and organic fare, so the planet will owe you one, too. And since you'll be eating meat, fish, fruits and vegetables grown and raised right in the Bay Area, you'll be taking a healthy bite out of California itself. Bon appetite!

10. Pacific Catch San Francisco - Marina
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Specializing in fish, Pacific Catch combines innovative cooking styles from Asia, Latin America and Hawaii with fresh, local ingredients to create a California-style cuisine all its own. Patron favorites include the raved-about island fish tacos (also available with chicken or steak), as well as the pan-Asian rice bowls. The signature sweet potato fries are a must-have accompaniment to any of the seafood baskets, which feature Thai coconut shrimp, crispy oysters or a mixed catch. The staff is very responsive to your specific order, including gluten-free options. Locations in the South Bay, North Bay and two in San Francisco - including one right next to Golden Gate Park.

9. Shangri-La Chinese Vegetarian
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Vegetarian restaurants can be expensive in the city, but Shangri-La is a good option if you want excellent Chinese food at a reasonable price. Shangri-La has been around since 1978 and doesn't do vegetarian as a gimmick; everyone who works there believes in the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. In fact, they take the approach that food is the same as medicine and proudly proclaim that statistics show those who follow a vegetarian diet have longer, healthier lives. Shangri La uses only fresh garden vegetables, bean, nuts, tofu and whole grain products for their dishes, including the very popular Veggie Chicken Soup boiled in a nutritious broth of Wolfberry and Lotus Seeds.

8. Waterfront Restaurant

For more than a generation, Waterfront has tempted diners with a host of fresh seafood offerings. These days, with renewed interest in the Embarcadero, the upscale restaurant enjoys an added dose of attention. Its amazing views of the Bay, and the Bay Bridge in particular, are sublime whether you dine inside or out. The menu is also an enticing prospect, populated by dishes like wood oven-roasted Dungeness crab, bouillabaisse, linguine with clams and grilled fish. A robust wine list includes selections by the bottle or the glass. The brand new Exploratorium is a quick walk away, which has 1.5 acres of free public space that offers more spectacular views.

7. ICHI Sushi + NI Bar
Photo courtesy of ICHI Sushi

Owners and partners Tim and Erin Archuleta have put their heart and soul into this small, popular sushi restaurant. Since opening, ICHI Sushi has won Best of the Bay in five outlets, was named one of Zagat San Francisco Bay Area Guide 2013's Top 20 Restaurants, and is included in the 2013 San Francisco Louis Vuitton City Guide. Sustainability is the focus, and menus change seasonally. ICHI offers Omakase service at the bar and full menu service at tables. Brand new location on 3282 Mission is even bigger and more comfortable than their old space in Bernal Heights. One of the most popular restaurants in the Mission area.

6. Firefly

Marked only by the image of a firefly, this neighborhood restaurant features a fabric-draped ceiling and impeccable seasonal cuisine. Local, organic ingredients play a major role in the menu, especially in favorites like shrimp and scallop potstickers and scrumptious fried chicken. Richly creative dishes also include roasted duck breast with chestnut bread pudding, slow braised beef short ribs, and cornmeal-crusted rock cod with bacon-braised cabbage. A three-course, prix fixe option is available for $35 Sunday through Thursday and is a great deal. Wonderfully unpretentious and casual, Firefly lets the natural seasons dictate their menu. For example, a summer menu highlight is "Chopped Salad of Yummy Summer Stuff with Fun and Exciting Vinaigrette." Who said eating healthy can't be fun?

5. Pluto's

For consistent food at easy-to-swallow prices, head to Pluto's, which is known for fast service in a cafeteria setting. The menu has an abundance of chicken and beef entrees, along with salads, sandwiches and appetizers. Indulge in an order of garlic potato rings or barbecued chicken wings to test the kitchen's mettle. Vegetarian selections are also available. And don't leave without ordering one of Pluto's homemade desserts. Outdoor dining available. If your San Francisco day is already jam-packed with activities, and you want to chow down fast but still want to eat healthy, a trip to Pluto's is the perfect choice.

4. The Plant - Cafe Organic
Photo courtesy of Pica Pica Maize Kitchen

When a big popular tend like gluten-free comes along, it's definitely important to distinguish the posers from the true believers. If you want to eat where they take gluten - or the lack of it - very seriously, head to one of the Plant's six locations, including three in San Francisco. All of the food served at Plant is organic and locally sourced from some of the best farms in the Bay Area, including Wineforest Wild Foods in Napa Valley, County Line Harvest in Marin and Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol. If you still have room after your heaping plate of organic and gluten-free food, try the signature Plant menu item: the Cleanse, a raw, organic vegetable or fruit juice that will completely detoxify your system.

3. DOSA on Valencia

Dosa provides some of the finest authentic Indian Cuisine in San Francisco. The restaurant derives its name from its specialty dish, the dosa, which is similar to a crepe, it is made from rice & lentils (no wheat) and served with a variety of fillings. The excellent Indian cuisine is mixed with a casual yet refined atmosphere, making Dosa the perfect venue for a night out with a little bit of international flair. And DOSA was popular even before the recent surge of new restaurants opening up and down all of Valencia Street, so they're more tried and true than some of the more recent arrivals.

2. Herbivore
Photo courtesy of Herbivore

Herbivore promotes the idea that a thoughtfully prepared, plant-based menu with just the right amount of spices can be just as yummy as any meat-centered menu. And, unlike some of the San Francisco restaurants that serve a "healthy" menu with a side of snobbery, all three of the Herbivore locations are in comfortable but stylish buildings with an informed staff serious about a vegan diet - but not so serious to get carried away with themselves. Herbivore's menu is broadly ambitious, featuring everything from Beef Straganoff to Chow Mein to Fajitas. Leave room for their exceptional desserts, especially the Coconut Bliss Ice Cream.

1. Greens Restaurant
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Greens, one of the city's finest vegetarian establishments, is owned and operated by the San Francisco Zen Center, which helps supply it with organic produce. Inside the voluminous space, diners are afforded spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. Chef Annie Somerville, the creative force behind the menu, has an artistic touch, as proven by Asian-inspired curries, fresh pizzas and luscious pastas. Soups, sandwiches and salads also delight taste buds, as does a tempting wine list. If you happen to be visiting on a Friday night, be sure to order a cocktail form the Arts and Crafts "pop-up" cocktail bar.