Tacos, gorditas and burritos are just some of the many traditional Mexican dishes residents expect to find in the city, not only at local Mexican restaurants, but now also at vegan restaurants.
Lick It Up and Zona Centro are two Mexican vegan restaurants that are redefining Mexican cuisine through their plant-based menus in the heart of Downtown El Paso.
Lick It Up, now at 114 E. Mills Ave., first began as a food truck back in 2017 by owner Edgar Delfin, who was inspired by his upbringing in Ciudad Juárez and the lack of vegan restaurants in El Paso.
“I think what’s important is the culinary aspect of our food,” Delfin said. “It’s important that we impulse what we know here in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, to impulse on culture internationally.”
Seitan steak, seitan milanesa, adobada and mushroom chorizo are a few of the different protein options available for dishes served by the restaurant.
This includes its tortas, which consist of the customer’s choice of protein, black beans, shredded cabbage, guacamole and vegan mayo on telera bread.
Other items include tacos, served with a choice of protein, and flautas, served with cabbage and coconut milk cream, lime-coriander vinaigrette, guacamole, tomatoes and cilantro.
The coconut milk cream can also be found in their gorditas, prepared with corn dough shells, a choice of protein, black beans, shredded cabbage, guacamole and cilantro.
“I think our Mexican menu is basically that, just getting basic Mexican seasoning and combining them with cruelty–free ingredients,” Delfin said. “Sometimes people who have health issues or any health conditions, stop eating Mexican food altogether… They come to us because they’re like ‘Oh, I can still eat a milanesa torta without telling my doctor I eat meat.’”
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Hispanics are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, with a 40% chance of dying from diabetes.
The Vegetarian Resource Group reported that about three percent of Latinos in the U.S. are vegetarian or vegan, not far from the national average of adults that also comprise of this diet, which is 3.5 percent for females and 3.2 percent for males.
With plant-based diets becoming more and more popular, some restaurants are incorporating vegan options into their menus, like Zona Centro, one block away from Lick It Up at 218 Mills Ave.
For every item on its menu that includes meat, the restaurant offers a vegan version. Including its vegan and veggie fully loaded burritos made with homemade flour tortillas and six different seasoning options, including jackfruit verde, jackfruit al pastor, seitan colorado, gluten–free vegan steak, nopales and calabaza.
Another popular item on their menu are its vegan tortas, made of vegan bread, vegan sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, guacamole sauce and the customer’s preferred seasoning. Other menu items include vegan tacos and a vegan jackfruit bowl.
“We’ve always said that we were going to take the flavors from the non-vegan food and we’re going to make them vegan,” said Manuel Barquin, owner of Zona Centro. “We were very surprised at El Paso, with such a large vegan community.”
The last Saturday of every month, El Paso hosts Vegans at Night, an event that invites the community to come out and enjoy the variety of plant-based cuisine El Paso offers. The event began last year with approximately 40 people but has grown to host more than 400 attendees.
“Vegan options, I don’t think we have enough,” said Cesar Bravo, 27, who has been on a plant-based diet since May of this year. “I hope we get more places that cater to vegans, and not just to vegans, but that have that option for meat eaters, too. It’s just going to enrich the city.”
Lick It Up and Zona Centro are just two of the many plant-based restaurants that have appeared in El Paso within the past decade. Other restaurants near the downtown area include, The Green Ingredient, Savage Goods and Eloise, among others.
“Mexican cuisine, sometimes it tends to be really greasy,” Bravo said. “It tends to be so focused on meat, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have your burrito with mushroom chorizo and it still tastes so delicious. There’s so much more to it.”
Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]