The meaty, cheesy, and fried nature of many typical Mexican dishes may seem fairly common, but Mexican cuisine has traditionally been entirely plant-based (according to Lauren Ornelas, founder of the National Food Empowerment Project who wrote the website on Vegan mexican food).
Many Mexican dishes like nopales and ensalada de frutas con chili (Mexican fruit salad) are naturally vegan. Meanwhile, predominantly meat-based meals can be reinvented with plant-based substitutes – as these 10 vegan Mexican dishes around the valley demonstrate.
Carne Asada Nachos
5555 North Seventh Street, # 108
Nachos could be technically defined as tortilla chips with toppings, but to Verdura, nachos are proverbial mountains with a crazy flavor that must be climbed slowly while shaking your head at the Bauhaus and watching cartoons projected on the wall. Known for its large portions anyway, Verdura gives his carne asada nachos extra breadth with sweet but crunchy seitan (aka “wheat meat” aka gluten), black chipotle beans, guacamole, black olives, spoonfuls of big pico de gallo, chimichurri bursting with herbaceous parsley flavor and loads of “cheese queso”. There’s also a noticeably spicy kick from the jalapeños, so if you’re not a fan of the heat, have them forgo the peppers.
Earth’s Plant-Based Cuisine
1325 Grand Avenue
The menu at Earth’s Plant-Based Cuisine is modest in size but powerful in flavor. The spartan vibe of this family-run restaurant – exposed wooden beams and tables, metal chairs, minimal decorations – belies the fantastic food. By far the most popular item on the menu (although Earth’s chorizo fries are some serious competition), daddy’s flautas take the idea of rolled tacos to new heights. The flautas are topped with lettuce and radish, drizzled with avocado salsa verde cream and topped with homemade snowy-looking cotija cheese. One bite of the crispy tortilla yields creamy potatoes, spinach and aromatic Mexican herb epitones, which give the whole a tangy and odd note of citrus and mint. Served with a side of beans or salsa made from scratch for that extra “oh my god” moment.
Mulita by al Pastor
AZ Vegetarian Tacos
The mulita has been described as “a quesadilla on steroids” and a “two-tier quesadilla”. Whatever name you want to give to this traditional Mexican wrap, the vegan version of the mulita de al pastor from the pop-up concept AZ Vegetarian Tacos is most simply and rightly described as “awesome”. AZ Tacos Veganos’ food variety includes birria and street tacos filled with imitation beef and chicken, but it’s the concept’s smoky and flavorful fake pork that really makes the editable menu shine, especially in la mulita de al pastor. Plant-based pieces of grilled pork are deliciously seasoned and cooked to perfection, then stacked on a bed of vegan cheese between two crispy corn tortillas. It’s a starter from AZ Tacos Veganos that makes you want to eat. Find them at Helton Brewing Company on Friday and Saturday nights, and at the Fresh 2 Def Barber Shop in Goodyear on Sunday nights.
Cocina by Raul
5757, avenue du center-nord
Cocina by Raul recently left its space in Glendale, but you can now find it at the Uptown Farmers’ Market in central Phoenix on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And if you get there early enough, you might be able to grab a bowl of vegan pozole before it sells out. Chef Anna Salazar’s take on traditional Mexican hominy stew replaces jackfruit with pork, and she makes versions of red chili and green chili, sometimes with squash as well. It’s deceptively tasty for something that doesn’t contain meat or fat.
Dilla from California
Among the many dishes prepared with Beyond Meat these days, Dilla Free does one of the most masterful – the vegan California Dilla. The restaurant uses Beyond Burger crumbs to create a carne asada that would fool even the most committed carnivores. Stuffed with fries (yes, inside the crisp, folded tortilla) and wrapped beyond capacity with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole and gooey vegan cheese, the California Dilla is bursting with almost flavorful flavor. as thrilling as watching the Lucha Libre of wrestlers flying off the turnbuckles and top ropes all over the walls of Dilla Libre.
Menu of the week
1701 East Guadalupe Road, Tempe
It’s impossible to predict what types of tacos and quesadillas might be on the rotating weekly menu at 24 carrots, but you can count on them to always look weird and wonderful. Tacos can be filled with anything: fried rice with seitan sausage, chickpea sausage with green chilli, butternut squash, quinoa, tater tots … and quesadillas can also get a little crazy (soy chicken balls?). For example, the Cowgirl Chow quesadilla with soyrizo, three bean chili and roasted corn. Or the Samesa quesadilla with potatoes, peas, masala, spinach and vegan cheese. Weekly specials are usually posted on Tuesday via Facebook, and it’s always worth checking out – if only to see what kind of culinary convention chef / owner Sasha Raj is fighting this week.
Mi Corazón ceviche
4115 North 19th Avenue
You know a place keeps it cool when it gets its nickname from the Andean goddess of planting and harvesting. Pachamama definitely lives up to its namesake with a menu of 100 percent plant-based dishes bursting with lively flavors from husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Maria Lebron. The Ceviche de mi Corazón is particularly tangy – a rich blend of heart of palm “seafood”, tomatoes and celery punctuated with serrano peppers, guerito peppers and onions swimming in citrus and sprinkled with cilantro. It’s served with a side of fries (also good here) which helps offset the heat of the ceviche.
Vegan chilis in Nogada
2814 North 16th Street
Cafe Barrio is known nationally for its Mexican dishes, especially its chilli en nogada. The vegan version replaces the sweet fried plantains for the chicken in poblano pepper, giving the dish some texture. Mountains of mushrooms bring an earthy flavor, while the Chilean warmth is balanced by nuts, dried fruits, and fresh apples and pears. Swimming in a tasty reduction of cashew nut cream, the nogada peppers are even sweeter thanks to an accompaniment of mini glazed carrots with piloncillo. It’s all about balance at Barrio Café, which offers a similar setting in its central Phoenix building – traditional Mexican decor and dishes alongside contemporary murals by local artists, including the “PHOENIX” mural in front of which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris posed during a presidential campaign trail stop.
GuacStar Cuisine & Cantina
920 East University Drive, # 204, Tempe
The extensive menu of Mexican plant-based dishes at GuacStar Cuisine & Cantina is fun, offering everything from Sinaloa ceviche to Baja pescado tacos. Chef Clinton Lomayma seems to pay particular attention to taquitos, one of the most consistent dishes on the menu. Wrapped with annatto rice, Impossible Meat, mozzarella, red onions and white beans and topped with a red enchilada sauce, the taquitos take on a tangy tone of pickled jalapeños and Fresno peppers. It’s worth sharing, but you probably won’t want to.
Three of the 13 branches of this Southern California-based chain are in the greater Phoenix, and its guilt-free, low-carb Burrito has been in the spotlight (or at least vegan Facebook groups). Unlike some burritos that don’t fit into a human mouth in one bite, this Organic Tocayaone dish is manageable – no one would complain if it was bigger. A gluten-free coconut and cassava flour tortilla serves as a container for the Spanish cauliflower rice, black beans, peppers and jalapeño cabbage. Add mock chicken or beef for even more flavor and dip it in a side of vegan chipotle cream for a smoky finish.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original version.