A Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

by Lincoln Spector and (augmented and updated by) Gary Meyer

I love the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but it can wear a body down. Especially this year, with 21 programs and a party over the course of four days and five nights. For three of those days, the first screening starts at 10:00 a.m., and the last one starts at 9:30 p.m. The human body isn’t built for that much fun sitting down.

Aside from the lack of sleep and exercise, maintaining a healthy diet can be a challenge. This is especially true if you have any sort of restrictions on your diet. I have two: I’m a vegetarian (45 years and counting) and I try to keep sugar intake to a bare minimum (four months and, hopefully, still counting).

To get through the festival successfully, you must bring your own food, know where to buy more, get some exercise, and get some sleep. As a veteran who manages to see most of the films screened, I’ll give you advice on all of these.


It’s better to sleep in bed than in the theater. When considering your schedule, take a realistic look at how much downtime you really need, and plan accordingly.

Sometimes I skip the 9:30 p.m. screenings, along with the opening night party. That should give me a good night’s sleep before waking up in time to head back to the festival. Geography plays a role here. If I lived near the theater, I’d probably plan to see the entire festival. But I live in the East Bay, and it takes time to get to and from the Castro. While I tend to be an early riser, you may prefer staying up late and skipping the 10:00 a.m. screenings. Or you could take advantage of a long break (or skip a movie) and take a nap in your car (but you really should take public transit).

FROM YOUR KITCHEN TO THE CASTRO:Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.32.47 AM.png

To best control what you eat, and to save money, bring your own food. These are the items I’ve found most portable:

  • Baked tofu.
  • Whole wheat bagel
  • String cheese
  • Toasted almonds, possibly mixed with raisins
  • Raw vegetables, such as carrots, snap peas, lettuce, and baby broccoli.
  • A small container of hummus for dipping those veggies.

If you take the vegetables, eat them only in the breaks between movies. The sound of crunchy food can annoy people. And bring your own water bottle.


You can only smuggle so much food into the Castro. So as your rations from home become thin (or tiring), take a break between films to buy more food.

The breaks between movies at this festival generally run about an hour—sometimes more, sometimes less. And you can never really know when a break will start.

I can recommend a health food market in easy walking distance from the Castro:

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 8.27.37 AM.pngBuffalo Whole Food & Grain Co. (598 Castro Street) is a small, friendly market on the corner of Castro and 19th, about two blocks south of the theatre. There you’ll find fresh produce, pre-made sandwiches and wraps, and assorted snacks.

oGreenSurge offers green smoothies and cold press juice that can be as filling as a meals.  And they have excellent salads. Reports of matcha mint bowls (avocado, mint, banana, apple, and matcha topped with fresh fruits, goji berries, and chia seeds), smoothie bowls and avocado toast being satisfying. The website only shows their bottled drinks. 2301 Market St. (between Castro St. & Noe St.).

We have yet to try Project Juice at 506 Castro St. (between 18th & 19th Sts.). If nothing else it is entertaining to read the full menu of Greens, Blends, “Nut Mylks & Shakes,” Organic Superfood Bowls and Smoothies, “Adaptogen Lattes”(?), Breakfast Bowls, Paleo Protein Waffles, toasts and soups.

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 12.30.13 AM.pngA few blocks away is the long-standing La Méditerranée Noe, a dependable
Middle Eastern eat-in or take out place with plenty of tasty vegetarian options. 288 Noe at 16th Street. The owner is a film buff and has often supported the city’s various festivals by providing food.

You just might want to skip a movie, or take advantage of a longer break between films, and enjoy being served while sitting at an actual table.

The Castro is surprisingly thin when it comes to vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Here are some that we recommend—all with caveats:

CafeMystiqueCafe Mystique (464 Castro Street) is almost right across the street from the Castro. It doesn’t have all that many vegetarian options, but what I’ve tried has always been delicious.

Lark This place, around the corner from the Castro, opened recently. We have eaten there several times during film festivals and the food was superb and a vegetarian/gluten-free member of the party was very happy. (GM)

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.01.51 AM.pngStarbelly is a 4 minute walk and has excellent vegetarian pizzas and dumpling plus salads and appetizers. It is popular and a reservation or at calling ahead is suggested. 3584 16th St. at Market. (GM)

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.26.41 AM.pngThree blocks to Kasa Indian Eatery, 4001 18th St. at Noe, serves large platters with several vegan and vegetarian items on the menu plus daily specials. Great Mango Lassi. (GM)

We hear that Me & Tasty, around the corner at 3970 17th St. has many selections on their Thai and Asian Fusion menu and are happy to accommodate your needs. (GM)

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.15.22 AM.pngThai House offers a more traditional menu of delicious dishes beautifully served including many vegetarian choices..  599 Castro is two blocks away. (GM)

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.05.30 AM.pngPoesia Italian Restaurant, 4072 18th Street, supporters of the Festival, have superb pastas, soups and salads and can adapt most dishes to meet your needs. (GM)

If you are a pescatarian Catch is excellent nearby spot at 2362 Market. They do have some entree vegetable salads. Can be popular so suggest calling ahead and don’t expect a fast meal. (GM)

There are other small Thai, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, and Middle Eastern places with plenty of vegetarian offerings.

If you want to find good vegan eats anywhere in the world, you need to get acquainted with Happy Cow. Either visit the website, or install the app on your smartphone.  There are several option in the city but none in the Castro.

VegSF lists several more places with vegetarian options..

And what about the Castro’s own Concession stand? You won’t find much there that’s healthy. I use it primarily for occasional popcorn and far more frequent caffeine.


Don’t spend the whole day sitting down. You need to take any available option for exercise. If you have the time, work out before leaving home. If you don’t have the time, find it.

Skip the car, and walk or bike to the Castro. I bike to BART, take the train, then walk from the 16th St. BART station to the theater.

As soon as a movie ends and the house lights come up, stand up and stretch. Twist your body about. Bend your knees. Stretch your arms high and your legs wide. Lift yourself up on your toes several times and stretch those thighs.

Don’t worry about looking weird. You’re spending four and a half days watching silent movies. You are weird. And so are a lot of others there.Horizontal Rule

LincolnSpectorLincoln Spector is a life-long cinephile and an award-winning journalist who writes about entertainment, culture, and technology. His advice column and blog, Answer Line, appears in PCWorld. He’s also a frequent contributor to TechHive and Windows Secrets. His articles have appeared in  The New York Times, The Washington Post, Small Business Computing, Home Office Computing, Oakland City Magazine, Time MagazineTechnologizer, and InfoWorld. His local film blog, Bayflicks, contains a weekly newsletter covering speciality screenings throughout the Bay Area.

Horizontal RuleRead Meredith Brody’s eating suggestions in the neighborhood.

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