This weekend marked another successful Outside Lands complete with its veritable buffet of entertainment, food, and drink options. With so many great vegetarian foods to choose from, this year I challenged myself to find selections I could “ veganize” too. The task turned out to be less of an undertaking than I assumed, which should come as no surprise given San Francisco’s reputation as one of the most veggie-friendly foodie cities around. The real question was whether my finds would be as indulgent and satisfying as any of the other fried, cheesy, or sugary vegetarian goodies that Outside Lands’ food vendors offer—especially after throwing back a few beers. Here aremy top 5 veggie-friendly (and sometimes vegan) eats that didn’t disappoint:
1. The Chairman – Baked or steamed tofu bao
The food highlight of my weekend came packaged in these delicious tofu-filled buns, which come baked or steam. Naturally I tried both. The Chairman food truck isn’t new to the Outside Lands scene and I’ve spotted it at other events around the Bay Area, but I’ve always been deterred by the long lines. In a moment of festival clarity, I finally decided to make it my first food stop on Sunday and was blown away by how flavorful these buns were. The miso cured tofu came with a crispy coating and was complemented by a tofu mayo and baby choy-sum. The smaller, steamed tofu bao is a great handheld snack and perfect if you are craving a pillowy, slightly sweet bun. The bigger, baked tofu bao offers a crispier texture thanks to its toasted buns and holds up as a meal on its own. Next time I won’t be hesitating to get in line.
2. The Little Chihuahua Fried Plantain and Black Bean Burrito
I have to confess that I’ve tried this burrito once before when I lived closer to The Little Chihuahua’s location in the Lower Haight and I wasn’t its biggest fan. This time I opted for the vegan version and was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed it in comparison to its vegetarian brother. In addition to the fried plantains and black beans, this vegan burrito came with roasted red bell peppers, Mexican rice, smoky chile salsa, pico de gallo, and fresh onion and cilantro. This was the ideal food to fortify me before settling in for a long stint at the Twin Peaks stage. It was filling without feeling too heavy and I think I’ll be sticking with the vegan option in the future.
3. Itani Ramen
New to Outside Lands this year was Oakland-based Itani Ramen. I’m not usually one to pick soups or liquids other than beer or wine at music festivals, but Saturday’s weather was so cold I had to warm up. A hot cup of house made ramen noodles in a not-too-salty miso veggie broth did the trick. Itani Ramen’s vegetarian option also included yu choi spinach, corn, green onion, nori, bean sprouts, and fennel oil. My only regret is that I neglected to grab a spoon so my limited chopstick skills made it more challenging to enjoy the ramen’s toppings in a graceful way. However, quickly gulping down the broth proved to be a useful strategy in consuming my ramen while it was still hot. Never underestimate the chilly temperature that Karl the Fog brings with him to the festival!
4. Monk’s Kettle Veggie Sausage
Positioned just outside of Beer Lands, I was delighted to find that Monk’s Kettle offered a veggie sausage to go along with my craft IPA. Sausage and beer is a match made in heaven, even in the vegetarian and vegan worlds. The potato-based veggie sausage from Monk’s Kettle is a delicious vegan option on its own, but the non-vegan, soft torpedo roll it comes in is pretty tough to resist. In the end I ate the combo as is with heaps of tangy sauerkraut and grainy, spicy mustard—a glob of ketchup was my festival companion’s bewildering addition—but you can always forego the roll and save your carb points for another craft beer.
5. Azalina’s Malaysian Peanut Sauce Tofu Braised Nachos
It’s not quite a festival without some form of nachos so when I discovered Azalina’s offered a vegan option I was curious to see how they’d stand up to the cheesy variety. The Malaysian tofu nachos offered an unexpectedly satisfying and interesting twist that didn’t leave me wanting for cheese. The star of these nachos was of course the tofu, braised in Azalina’s classic peanut sauce, but the pickled vegetables were an excellent crunchy addition. Other great finds from this year’s food search included the smoked pulled jackfruit sandwich and coleslaw from Southpaw BBQ & Southern Cooking, the vegetarian kamikaze fries from Koja Kitchen, and the vegan empanada from Sabores del Sur. Cheers to another year of delicious veggie-friendly eats!