[jump] 1. Vegetable Porridge at Spoon (933 Ashby Ave., Berkeley)
The vegetarian version of Spoon’s signature dish, juk (a Korean rice porridge that’s often made with milk), is dairy- and gluten-free. It’s also delicious — loaded with the natural sweetness of minced carrots. Enjoy your juk with complimentary banchan (side dishes) for a light lunch, or add an order of glazed, deep-fried potatoes if you’re feeling decadent. As an added bonus, Spoon’s excellent kimchi (whose che base builds flavor through the use of oranges, apples, and pears — no salted shrimp) is also vegan.
2. Vada Pav at Juhu Beach Club (5179 Telegraph Ave., Oakland)
Juhu is best known for its pavs, or Indian street-food-inspired “sliders,” which chef Preeti Mistry serves on custom-made Starter Bakery buns. The vada pav, which I once declared a “starch-on-starch masterpiece,” features an airy, deep-fried potato fritter, pickled red onions, and a fiery ghost-pepper-spiked tamarind chutney. I might like the vada more than any of Juhu’s meat-centered pavs, and, given that one of those is filled with braised short rib, that’s saying a lot.
3. Karaage-style Fried Tofu at Abura-ya (380 15th St., Oakland)
Abura-ya is the most vegan-friendly fried-chicken pop-up that I’m aware of, and, as good as the chicken is, I sometimes get a specific hankering for the organic tofu — thick, dense cubes that are dredged in cornstarch, fried, and then tossed in the sauce or spice mix of your choice. Order one of the excellent izakaya-style vegetable side dishes, too, and you’ve got the makings of a hearty meal.
4. Vegetable Paella at Venga Paella (229 Brush St., Oakland)
Venga’s seasonal vegan paella, made with vegetable stock and — gasp — basmati rice, is about as non-traditional as paella gets. But if what you’re in the mood for is a rice dish that’s loaded with fresh produce (sugar pie pumpkin, dino kale, persimmon, and chiles de arbol during one late-autumn visit), this should hit the spot. Plus, as far as paella goes, the $10 price tag is tough to beat.