SAN DIEGO — A new generation of Mexican American chefs are changing how traditional Mexican food looks.
Caring for the community starts in the kitchen for Olga Saldivar. She is the owner of Phatties Vegan Mexican Restaurant and is shattering the notion that eating plant-based means going hungry.
“Bigger than my hand,” she laughed, holding her arm up to compare it to the size of their hefty burritos.
Saldivar is bringing the flavor of Mexico City to San Diego. She draws inspiration from her mom’s style of cooking while veganizing the recipes she grew up on to offer healthier options to her customers and staff.
“Like authentic Mexican food but completely like not messing with meat or dairy, basically,” she said.
Saldivar makes her famous birria with king trumpet mushrooms that she specially prepares to mimic the texture of shredded beef. Even their adobo sauce is made from scratch, using bucket-fulls of fresh chiles. It takes more than an hour to properly cook each batch, but making everything by hand is how Saldivar honors her heritage.
“The ingredients that go into like the bases is really what adds the flavor to the food,” she said.
Luz Leal is also shaking up the Mexican menu with her pop-up, Casa de Luz. When Leal first went vegan, she thought she wouldn’t be able to eat the food she grew up on from the Guanajuato region in Mexico.
With help from her mom, they tweaked family recipes and cooking methods to craft new food, like her popular Shroom Asada, which is her version of the traditional carne asada.
“I marinade [the mushrooms] with all the traditional spices, and I marinade it overnight with slices of onion to really give it that asada taste,” Leal said. “I do press it on the grill to give it more of that charred-like, of a real carne asada in your backyard with your family.”
Leal believes making this kind of food gives other people like her a way to enjoy the foods they grew up with while also addressing concerns about the environment and animal welfare.
“It’s been awesome to be able to connect back to our roots through a plant-based diet,” she said.
Phatties is also tackling dessert, making each churro by hand. Saldivar said many of her customers are not vegan, but they keep coming back for the good food.
“This is a gold mine,” she said. “It’s vegan, but you would not find it anywhere else.”