Restaurant Reviews

Cha-ya, an All-Vegan Japanese Restaurant

Like most of us know, Japanese cuisine is usually popular for raw fish delicacies like Sashimi. Lucky for us vegans in the Bay Area, we get our fair share of the usual fish-laden food. Not only we could spot vegan versions in some Japanese menus, we could also enjoy and dine in at all-vegan Japanese restaurants like Cha-Ya.

Last weekend, Chris and I braved the “restaurant crowd” in the streets of San Francisco to grab some of our favorite rolls. Here’s what we thought of the experience:
Although Cha-ya is unconventionally vegan, folks in San Francisco don’t shy away from it.  In fact, people flock to this restaurant every weekend, packing this place to the gills (pun intended).

Because this place was packed, it took us quite awhile to get our food. I’d say it was at least a good 20-minute wait. Not cool if you’re hungry. Somehow though, my frustration dissipated when I took a bite of these Cha-ya rolls.

The Cha-ya roll had “asparagus, avocado, yam and carrots, is lightly battered and deep-fried, tempura style. Served with a special house sauce (8pcs).”

I heard it’s Cha-ya’s best seller. The fried batter gave the perfect crunch, which was my most favorite part when eating the rolls.

We also got the Vegan Roll which was equally tasty. This time, the rolls were covered by avocado. Obviously the Vegan Roll was the healthier choice. It had “spinach, atsuage tofu, cucumber, broccolini, seasoned shiitake and kampyo gourd, pickled burdock, and pickled ginger”.


If I have to name my least favorite dish out of what we ordered, this salad will be it. Crunchy, refreshing, and light and filling at the same time, but also VERY BITTER. I’ve gone on a raw diet before and I still hadn’t tasted this much bitterness from a vegetable or a fruit.

Ironically, the waitress claimed this salad was one of their top sellers. By the way, it’s called Senroppon Salad with: “Shredded daikon, turnip, cucumber, and carrots with atsuage tofu, radishes, soybeans, kaiware sprouts, and toasted pine nuts. soy-vinaigrette dressing”.

To cheer me up from such disappointment (I had high hopes for this salad), I turned into a “tried and tested” dish that I knew I’d enjoy: Seaweed Salad. I was ambivalent at first whether to order one more dish considering it took them awhile to bring out our first order (because it was busy). But when we asked the server, she said that it should be ready in less than 5 minutes, so we went for it.

The server came out with the seaweed salad in hand, in less than 5 minutes as promised. Chris and I were expecting the standard seaweed we always get at non-vegan Japanese restaurants. Instead we got 3 variations of sea vegetables, plus a creamy dressing on the side.

I have to admit I was creeped out at first by the sight of the white dressing, especially because I thought it was also a seaweed.  Then it turns out it was sesame cream. It tasted like some kind of cheese, which complemented the salad really well. I still dream about it up to this day! By the way, the menu didn’t specify what kind of seaweed they were, just “A variety of marine vegetables including seasoned hijiki served with a creamy sesame dressing”.

Overall, I had my favorites. I’d definitely come back for some Cha-ya rolls and a variety of Seaweed Salad – but on a slow weekday.

762 Valencia St, San Francisco CA 94110
(415) 252-7825

10 thoughts on “Cha-ya, an All-Vegan Japanese Restaurant

  1. a vegan japanese restaurant- how cool! both of the rolls sound and look delicious. i’m with you- i don’t think i’d enjoy the bitter salad at all. i’m glad the seaweed salad restored your palate for yummy food ;)

    • Yeah the bitter salad was just too much, I had to remind myself that at least the salad is good for my body coz it has tons of nutrients. But yeah, the seaweed salad definitely availed the experience :)

    • I agree, gotta love creative sushi rolls especially when they’re vegan. I notice that vegan sushi is a growing trend so hopefully that’s an indication that there’s a demand for it (perhaps from the two of us hehe).

  2. I was never a sushi fan until recently when I went to a vegan Japanese restaurant here in LA, Shojin. Now I’m obsessed. So, yes, if you’re wondering, I am totally drooling over the pictures of these rolls. ;-)

    • Yeah I’ve been hearing alot about Shojin. I’m very curious about the place. Will definitely check it out when I’m down SoCal.

  3. battered and deep fried roll? oh my, sounds delectable. you must try Shojin whenever you’re in l.a., pirates of the crunchy and hot n spicy ramen are what keep me here. i’m kidding, it’s follow your heart’s vegan reuben;)

  4. Cha-ya is awesome but I have not been there for a while. Glad that you had a great experience aside from the bitter daikon salad. Though if you ate it all then your liver was loving you! That seaweed salad looks wonderful and may get me back there soon. If you go to SoCal you must go to Sun Cafe and get the Kale Colossus salad. Someone recommended it to me when I was down there and man, was it tasty! The tacos were great as well.

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