Eating healthy means different things to different people. To some, it could be avoiding foods that start with the letter "P," and to others, it just means not eating anything that’s been deep fried. No matter which extreme you gravitate toward, your friends are still going to want to go out and eat, and it’s not going to be OK when you show up with separate jars filled with blanched almonds and homemade lemon cayenne salad dressing. That’s why we have this guide. It includes all the places in SF you should be going to if you want to eat a little better, but not feel like you’re training for some sort of space marathon while you do it.
Fish never stop swimming and exercising, so logically they’re the healthiest protein, and Hook Fish Co. in the Sunset does some of our favorite work in the city with it. The crab cakes are amazing (and light on breadcrumbs), the burrito is more of a great wrap with a different name, and the grilled fish tacos are good enough to make you feel like you’re maybe in LA for the afternoon.
There are a few La Meds around the city, but the Noe and Fillmore locations have the option to sit and eat instead of just getting takeout, which makes it a good place to go on a random weeknight when steaming vegetables sounds more painful than actually sorting through your junk email. If you’re a little more hungry, start out with some pita and dips, but when it comes to mains, order the pomegranate chicken.
Rooster & Rice
This place makes simple boxes of poached chicken and rice that work great for a quick lunch or early weeknight dinner. The menu is small with only four options that swap out light and dark meat chicken and tofu, rice, and vegetables, so it can be as healthy as you want it to be, but we like the original with both white and dark meat and rice. The portion is pretty big, especially considering a box only costs about $12.
Not only is Oren’s Hummus a pretty healthy option for lunch or dinner in the Financial District, it feels nice enough to bring your boss to, but it’s also cheap enough for you to afford before you ask for a raise. You could sit here and eat your way through dips for a while, but if you want something bigger, go for the lamb hummus and get some whole wheat pita if you’re really sticking to the whole health thing.
The portions at Zaytoon are large enough that getting takeout might throw off the balance of a small moped - you could easily split one thing between two people and have a full meal. The shawerma is somehow larger than a burrito, but is lighter from the onion, cucumbers, and tomato salad it’s loaded with. The mezza platter is also solid, and if you feel like veering away from health for a minute, so are the za’atar fries.
This is one of our favorite lunch options in the Financial District, because even though the pita sandwiches are large enough to convincingly hide under your covers if you wanted to sneak out of the house, they won’t weigh you down the entire day. What you fill it with is up to you, but we like the chicken and the sabik.
Getting frozen yogurt will never be as good for you as forever wiping the memory of it from your mind, but it’s better than getting ice cream or harboring anger toward yourself for passing on frozen yogurt. Loving Cup makes our favorite in the city, both because it’s great and because we love watching the mix-ins get pulverized via the giant drills they use. We like the peanut butter cup version, but nothing is stopping you from wildly pointing at every topping that catches your eye.
Order at the counter, then get ready for some of the best roasted things you’ve ever eaten. While the rotisserie chicken at this Hayes Valley spot is definitely worth your time, the cauliflower might actually be our favorite. It also happens to be a vegetarian entree that’s filling and delicious and not pasta. Overall, this is one of the best places in SF for an inexpensive, healthy dinner.
We don’t hate raw carrots or beets, but sometimes they can use a bump, and Vegan Picnic actually does a good job of making things like vegan chicken and burgers taste good. If you have a friend who’s been trying to casually introduce you to their version of a better life via alternative protein sources and Netflix food documentaries, this is a good place to get lunch with them. Go for the “crispy chicken” sandwich or a few sugar donuts.
This casual counter-service spot in the Marina serves tasty and filling rice/salad boxes with pre-set and make-your-own options. We like the tofu curry and the pork, and while it’s not going to be your new go-to date night choice, it’s a solid place to hang out and get a casual, healthy weeknight meal.
The food at Cala is so good that even if you’re a blood-thirsty carnivore, you won’t really notice the lack of land animals on the menu. This is also one of our favorite spaces in the city, and it feels like you’re eating in a garden party that you definitely had to sneak into. But you didn’t, so order some trout tostadas and sweet potato tacos while you’re not looking over your shoulder constantly for security to spot you.
Pacific Catch is a good choice for dinners when you want to have a glass of wine and eat something healthy, but you haven’t planned ahead. Both the Marina and Inner Sunset locations are low-key and easy, and while they feel slightly corporate, they also make better poke than your average fast-casual spot. The rice bowls and salads are also solid, and if you can get there early, Happy Hour includes $5 beers and $7 wines.
Tacolicious is a surprise option for eating healthily, even when the rest of your group wants queso and tacos. The Marina Girl (lettuce, avocado, and other toppings with a jalapeño vinaigrette) and kale salads are huge and delicious, and you can add grilled shrimp or chicken if you need some extra protein. The tacos themselves are less healthy than the salads, of course, but the portions are small enough that they still feel light, and there are some solid vegetarian options that won’t leave you starving afterward.
Being healthy is just as much a state of mind as anything, and while hammering down a plate of fries and thinking the word “health” over and over probably won’t cut it, going to Onsen will definitely help get you in the right headspace. Aside from this Japanese place making some great food that’s also pretty healthy, like lamb skewers, mushroom dumplings, and poke, it’s also partially a bathhouse. So if the food isn’t doing it, you can treat a trip here as a spa day too.
The salads at Blue Barn are topped with so much grated cheese that speaking too loud around one might cause an avalanche. But it would be an avalanche on top of a salad, so there is some health benefit. Aside from that, they serve consistently awesome sandwiches that won’t make you feel conflicted for eating them in gym clothes. This place gets a little pricey, especially if you add proteins to your salad, but one of these and a to-go box will give you enough to eat for two meals.
Sure, Tartine Manufactory is primarily known for making incredible bread, but this spot also serves a dinner menu of seasonal vegetables and proteins that are both very fresh and not doused in butter and cream sauce. It’s an excellent choice for breakfast, too - the smoked salmon tartine is delicious, and the yogurt with granola and bee pollen is one of the best things in a bowl you can start your day with.
Darwin Cafe has lots of bar seats and a few tiny tables, along with a kale salad you’ll actually be thinking about after you leave. The secret may well be in the prosciutto and cheese that come with it, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s still kale. The sandwiches and baguettes here are fresh and flavorful, and the muesli with tons of fresh fruit at brunch is one of the better ways to start your day.
If you come here when it’s busy, it’s even better for you since you’ll have to stand in line for a while, but going to Souvla is always a great option. The menu is simple, with only a few proteins in salad or sandwich form, and we usually go for the chicken salad or the lamb wrap. When you’re ordering though, go ahead and make the decision to get some Greek frozen yogurt for your walk when you’re done.
Jane on Fillmore
Jane is a bakery, but it’s not the kind where you come to load up on bread and pastries. Instead, it’s the place you go for a light breakfast or lunch and eat an egg sandwich, avocado toast, or a rainbow and green queen salad. If you’re feeling pretty good about yourself when you’re done, grab a cookie on the way out the door.
Basik serves some seriously good acai bowls (or really acai plastic cups/tubs). A few bar seats that look out on Polk Street are all they have inside, so this is more of a grab-and-go situation. But odds are, you’re getting this after going on a run or a trip to the gym anyway, so why slow down by sitting?
The most high-tech of all the healthy options, Eatsa represents either the future of food or the end of the entire service economy/beginning of our enslavement to artificial intelligence. You order on an iPad and then collect your food from a box in the wall, so if you don’t feel like speaking to a single human on your lunch break, this is the spot for you. They’ve managed to make some very good, filling, and healthy quinoa bowls that are extremely cheap. Just know that it’s not open for dinner.
The $11.25 lunch combo at Heyday is healthy, quick, and one of your best options for a not-too-expensive meal if you work near the Financial District. Go for the raw kale salad - it has a great avocado-y dressing.
If you like raw and/or vegan food, you’ll like Judahlicious in the Sunset. This place has very good acai bowls, hearty salads, and a general “I am healthy just for walking in the door” feel. No matter what you order, get the cashew creme sauce - it’s way better than it sounds.
Picnic on Third
This place is nothing like a picnic, but it’s still a very good spot for coffee and granola. And they also have paleo muffins from Muffin Revolution if that’s more your thing. For lunch, Picnic gets a little fancier and you’ll find fresh, healthy dishes that aren’t doused in creamy sauces. The menu changes daily too, so you can come here more than once a week and not feel like you’re overdoing it.
Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant
If you happen to be looking for healthy food before or after spending time in Dolores Park, head over to Cha-Ya for excellent vegan and vegetarian Japanese small plates. You’ll take care of fulfilling your annual tofu and mushroom quota, and you’ll actually enjoy it.
Roam Artisan Burgers
Burgers can be healthy when they’re the organic, grass-fed, free-range ones at Roam. Probably. Choose from whole grain, gluten-free, and lettuce wrap buns - or, if you’re feeling extra virtuous, get the salad with mini burger patties on top, which is both entertaining and tasty. Add some of the awesome sweet potato fries, too. You’re eating a burger anyway. But if you want to make an even better effort, they have a solid veggie burger too.