Straight to the Source: Non-crunchy vegan food in SF

It’s always a bit disappointing when your expectations aren’t met, or your perceptions are changed for the worst. Despite charges of being “hippy dippy” and “cult-like,” I’ve been a longtime fan of Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre in San Francisco. I haven’t been often because they trend toward the pricer side, but I found the food fresh and flavorful and although others have said differently, never found the service to be intrusive or annoying.

But it appears that their record on labor practices may be less than stellar, and they are closing down all eight northern California locations because of labor lawsuits being brought against them. Some allege that there is something fishy going on, but of course it’s impossible to know the real story. Regardless, there seems to be some indication that there has been some foul play, which is disheartening to hear about a business that presented itself so well. It just goes to show that marketing doesn’t tell the whole story.

In addition to being disappointed about the practices in play, I will genuinely miss the food of both Gracias Madre and Cafe Gratitude. Both offered such delicious and unique vegan options that were filling and satisfying. Thankfully, in the last year I’ve discovered another restaurant that meets similar requirements that hopefully isn’t going away anytime soon.

Just one side of the menu - so things many to choose from!

I think I’ve mentioned Source before – as I try to go as often as possible – but I don’t think I’ve ever done an actual review. Source is a semi-new restaurant in SOMA, tucked away on a side street in a less than stellar looking industrial neighborhood. The place is usually pretty packed though, so they seem to be doing quite well for themselves. Perhaps it’s the menu options!

They’ve taken similar principles of Cafe Gratitude – infusing food with love, triple filtered water, high-vibration music (which apparently means hip hop) – and given it a modern, technological flair. The space itself is modern but playful, with metal tables and chairs, big windows, and red, blue, and purple hues throughout. Their tagline is “a multi dimensional dining experience,” a phrase which I can’t help giggle over every time I go.

Alex enjoying his multi-dimensional pizza

The sentiment seems genuine though, so I can’t really knock it. They serve organic produce, have raw and cooked options, vegan and vegetarian, smoothies and elixirs, delicious desserts, and manage to offer “hippy-dippy” options without coming across that way. They send their message of wellness, kindness, compassion, and consciousness without being at all alienating. Even though I was always happy to visit Cafe Gratitude, there are people I would hesitate to bring there, because of the atmosphere and vibe. I have no similar reservations about Source (or Gracias Madre for that matter).

The food is 100% vegetarian, and almost anything can be made vegan. When I once asked for no cheese on a pizza, they offered cashew cheese instead! They also have a lot of mock meat, which I tried for the first time recently when we got a buffalo wing appetizer. I have never had real buffalo wings, and probably never will now, but my friend Bryan said they were surprisingly similar to the real thing. I found them a bit chewy to be honest, but the buffalo sauce was great, and it came with vegan ranch which I didn’t even know was possible!

I’ve had a lot of things on the menu, pizzas, salads, burgers, and my number one favorite thing (which I don’t have photos of) – the falafel. Their falafel is to die for and is probably big enough for two meals but it usually doesn’t last that long. It comes wrapped in a warm pita stuffed with tahini sauce, lettuce, and tomatoes. Their food manages to be comforting but not heavy.

Veggie burger, fries, and salad!

The menu includes a variety of globally inspired dishes, as well as more traditional comfort foods like pizza, burgers, fries, etc. They have stir fries and curries, plus things like quinoa salad or a kale salad with green goddess dressing. The options really run the gamut from ultra-freakishly-healthy to pretty-healthy-but-I-still-want-fries-with-that. A perfect place for a group; every omnivore I’ve visited with has also loved it.

Quinoa salad with literally half an avocado

For what they offer  in terms of sourcing, portion size, and preparation quality, their prices are also reasonable. Entrees run anywhere from $11 to $15, with sandwiches and burgers running $9 to $13, depending on whether it’s lunch or dinner (not sure if there’s a difference in what you get). It’s not exactly cheap, but it runs pretty on par with the rest of SF restaurants, and you’re getting a whole heck of a lot more.

And lastly, the service. The servers at Source are always genuine and friendly, always offering to answer questions and happy to give any recommendations. They are prompt with refilling water glasses (one of my biggest gripes) and although it looks like a place where you pick up your own silverware, condiments, and napkins, they always shoo you to your seat and bring them to you. The owner also walks around every time I’m there to ask how things are going and if we’re enjoying our meal.

Alex's sister is most definitely happy

My only slight gripe is that the dishes often don’t come out together, meaning one person is eating while no one else is, either at the beginning or the end of the meal. But I appreciate that they don’t use heat lamps and bring out the food as it’s made, so I can forgive them this.

Overall, I highly HIGHLY recommend Source anytime you are in SF – especially if you are looking for a not-especially-crunchy but still extra healthy/vegan/multi-dimensional dining experience!

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