Vegan Mexican food options and restaurants are gaining momentum, and VegNews is lucky enough to be in close vicinity to two of the country’s only solely-vegan Mexican food spots—San Francisco’s Gracias Madre and Berkeley’s Flaco’s. Neither of these eateries serves animal products, so there’s no hunting for veg-friendly options on the menu or making special “no cheese or sour cream, please” requests. And if you can’t trek all the way to Northern California, VN’s 2010 Book of the Year Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers offers dishes to make at home.
Falling for Flaco’s
Antonio Magaña didn’t want to order veggie burritos sans cheese and sour cream over and over anymore (who does?). After being convinced by friends who loved his cooking, he opened a stand at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market called Flaco’s. Soon enough, Magaña gained a loyal following, quit his day job, and devoted his time to creating delicious vegan Mexican fare. Many of his recipes were passed down to him from his mother and grandmother. Magaña notes, “Most dishes had meat, but it wasn’t hard to veganize them, to find what vegetables worked best. Tamales are really good with potatoes, capers, and green olives, for example.” And what did his mother think of all the recipe alterations? “Culturally, older generations have a harder time letting go of meat, but once my mother tried the food, she was convinced,” he says. In 2010, Flaco’s opened its first storefront. Homemade tamales made of organic masa, filled with roasted poblano chiles, pinto beans, and potatoes topped with fresh avocado salsa? That’s a delicious mouthful, whether you’re vegan or not. And those on the East Coast can look forward to Flaco’s without the plane ride, as Magaña has plans to eventually open a restaurant in New York City.
Matthew and Terces Englhart, founders of Gracias Madre (and Café Gratitude), noticed that there was a lack of vegan, organic Mexican food choices in the Bay Area. With Terces’ passion for Mexican cuisine—she makes daily meals for her family using her own corn grinder and tortilla press—the Engelharts opened Gracias Madre in 2010. Most of the ingredients used in the food come straight from the Engelharts’ organic, biodynamic Be Love Farm in Vacaville, Calif., less than a two-hour drive from the restaurant. With a love and desire to “celebrate the richness of Mexican culture and foods that so beautifully shape [its] neighborhood, the Mission,” Gracias Madre’s menu highlights “The Three Sisters” of Mexican cuisine—corn, beans, and squash—along with a variety of seasonal veggies. After a hugely successful first year, Gracias Madre was named VN’s Restaurant of the Year in 2010.
Viva La Veganización!
To say Terry Hope Romero is the queen of vegan Latin food is an understatement. VN contributing columnist and popular cookbook author, Romero assures readers that vegan Mexican food is so much more than burritos and nachos. Initially, she says, “people thought I was crazy to attempt a ‘veganization’ of cuisines that are so heavily associated with meat and dairy products.” Since then, feedback for her Viva Vegan! cookbook has been overwhelmingly positive. The recipes are packed with authentic Latin flavors and highlight naturally vegan ingredients such as tomatoes, avocados, limes, plantains, chile peppers, corn, and beans. The key? “Learn to pick a perfectly ripe avocado. Or at the very least, make sure your produce is the freshest you can afford,” Romero advises. She also believes that eateries are becoming more open to offer their own veg-friendly take on Mexican classics, but if you can’t locate a spot near you, or would prefer making something at home, try out Romero’s Quicker Red Posole with Beans and serve with Essential Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and tortilla chips.