In a country often best known for tacos al pastor and cochinita pibil, a surprisingly strong vegan scene has been growing over the past few years. No longer limited to beans and tortillas (although Mexico’s handmade tortillas are nothing to frown upon!), plant-based eaters heading to the largest city in North America have dozens of meat-free restaurants to choose from. Several vegan street food stalls have popped up in the past few years, as have vegan groceries, and even a vegan food walking tour! (Full disclosure:this author will launch a new vegan group tour to Mexico City in 2019).
That said, vegetarianism is nothing new to CDMX, the Ciudad de Mexico, as the city is increasingly known as. While new vegan restaurants aim to attract a more refined palate with creative, artistically presented dishes using ingredients such as jackfruit and house-made nut cheeses, a handful of veteran vegetarian restaurants cater to a mostly local audience that has been enjoying a soy-heavy menu for nearly two decades. Their menus are reminiscent of vegetarian restaurants around the world circa 2001, when the only option available was likely to be reconstituted soy protein served over whatever the local staple grain was—rice, bread, tortilla, etc.
One of the city’s first vegetarian restaurants, Gold Taco, has been serving up steamy bowls of rich mushroom and hominy pozole and soy carnitas tacos, enchiladas, and tamales for over a decade. This author has been gorging herself at Gold Taco since 2007 and subsequently explaining herself to airport security officials who are confused to find a dozen tamales stuffed into carry-on bags. Note to travelers unopposed to packing their luggage with leftovers – tamales travel well and can be frozen and enjoyed at home for several months! Pro tip: try the hoja santa (holy leaf) tamale. This flavorful leaf is widely used in Mexico but is much harder to find outside the country.
As for modern herbivores, just about every vegan in Mexico City will tell you that they’ve eaten at Gatorta, a street food stall in Roma Norte specializing in tortas, Mexico’s humble and tasty sandwiches. The addictive sandwiches attract a mostly local crowd, willing to stand in long lines for fluffy baguettes piled high with milanesa (seitan steak) and soyita pibil, a vegan take on the traditional Yucatan dish cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish marinated with orange juice and achiote (annatto). Grab a seat at the stall and watch seitan and soy be flipped, chopped, and fried the same way that meat is at thousands of street stalls across the city. The sandwiches are phenomenal and filling but save room for the vegan tiramisu and donuts!
Por Siempre Vegano is another favorite of local hardcore vegans who brave long lines until midnight to feast on deceptively realistic mock meat tacos and tortas. Not far from their five-year-old corner food stall in Roma Norte is their two-year-old restaurant, Por Siempre Vegano 2. In addition to the chimichurri seitan, mushroom alambre, and pineapple-topped pastor tacos that are also offered at the food cart, an expanded menu is available at the sit-down restaurant (if you can manage, grab one of the highly sought-after seats!). Try the choriqueso – crispy garbanzo-based chorizo sausage and almond cheese served with warm tortillas, or the molcajete, a gigantic stone bowl stuffed with seasoned soy and seitan mock meats, almond cheeses, toasted chiles, and tortillas. Those in the mood for something lighter and milder can head next door to Señor Vegano, which offers traditional Mexican fare and international items such as sushi, salads, and pasta.
Diners looking to up their Instagram cred should head to La Pitahaya Vegana (also in Roma Norte), a two-year old establishment famous for its tacos served on bright pink tortillas. Fresh beet juice is used to dye the tortillas, which are made from fresh corn, amaranth, sesame, and flax. Grain-free diners are also invited to enjoy their tacos on dramatically less-photogenic lettuce leaves. Notable fillings include tender cauliflower with zesty coconut cheese and pineapple cream, hearty adobo mushrooms, and spicy machaca tofu. Wash it all down with another new trend in Mexico City—kombucha! The house made brew is served in glass bottles with chunks of mandarin orange and other seasonal fruits. La Pitahaya Vegana attracts a mostly foreign crowd in Roma Norte, a neighborhood very popular with tourists, and word is spreading fast!
Just across the border in the Condesa neighborhood is Veguisima, which attracts a bit of everyone but where locals and tourists order very differently. Two of the most popular items are gigantic burritos stuffed with your choice of goodness (popular with Mexicans), and brightly colored quinoa bowls topped with pumpkin seeds, curried chickpeas, and fresh sprouts (popular with tourists). Can’t make up your mind? Go with the enchiladas divorciadas. This “divorced” enchilada trio is stuffed with three different fillings and topped with both the red and green salsas. Fillings vary daily and could include spiced fava beans, sweet teriyaki cabbage, tangy carrot tinga (shredded chicken with onions), or vegan chicharron (pork skin). Veguisima’s chefs flex their creativity with the daily “Inspiration” meal, which could be sweet and sour meatballs, lasagna, or a pulled jackfruit sandwich. Regardless of what you order for your meal, be sure to try the cashew cream tart and one of their house-made fruit, juice, or nut milk beverages.
Several non-vegetarian restaurants are now offering vegan pizza but the best and most extensive offerings can be found at U.to.pi.a, a vegan pizzeria in Condesa. Mexican-themed pizzas topped with poblano peppers, chorizo, and corn are offered alongside the popular “meat lovers” pizza. Not interested in pizza? Try the house-made hot dogs covered with smoky coconut bacon and fried onions or the sopecitos, thick, pillowy corn tortillas topped with beans, soy chorizo, almond cheese, and cashew crema.
While the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods have the densest concentration of vegan restaurants, Coyoacan is well worth a trip to visit Aura Vegana. Tucked inside of an eclectic food court a 10-minute walk from the Frida Kahlo museum, Aura Vegana offers a mix of veganized traditional Mexican fare (blue cornmeal tlacoyos topped with cashew cheese) and fusion cuisine (spirulina infused pasta dressed with macadamia nut Parmesan). The beet ravioli with shaved zucchini is incredible and worth a visit on its own. The restaurant and the surrounding food court are popular with locals and are especially busy on weekends.
Those looking to dine with locals should head over to Narciso Vegano in the Cuauhtemoc neighborhood, where the plant-filled front and back patios fill with workers from nearby offices during the busy lunch hours. The most popular item on the menu is the comida corrida, Mexico City’s version of a quick service lunch special. Beginning at 1:30pm, the restaurant dishes out an entrée, soup, and drink for only 89 pesos (about US$5) until the food runs out, typically between 3-4pm. The regular menu is available from 10am-5pm, and includes fun sandwiches such as the chile, mole, pozole (sweet plantain with mole sauce on a baguette) and a Mexican breakfast platter with scrambled tofu, beans, tortillas, and guacamole.
Fine dining connoisseurs should head to Polanco, where Vegan Inc. is located on the second floor of a surprisingly green and gorgeous shopping mall. The varied menu ranges from Buffalo cauliflower burgers to pesto pasta. To make your decision easier, peek up at the flat screen TVs, where professional photographs of the menu’s offerings showcase brilliantly colored plates topped with seeds, sprouts, fruit, and fresh flowers. Anyone with a sweet tooth would be wise to arrive early and order dessert BEFORE the entrée. Vegan Inc. only offers one dessert daily on weekdays (3-4 on weekends) and they run out early. This author witnessed an UBER Eats driver whisk off the last six slices of carrot cake in front of unsuspecting diners who had intended to order dessert after dinner.
Vegan brunch in Mexico City is still relatively rare and Vegan Inc. is one of the few places to find breakfast items. Each weekend, artfully-prepared breakfast dishes include pancakes, matcha fruit boles, and black mole enmoladas (similar to enchiladas but with black mole sauce instead of red chili sauce). Condesa’s Plan V offers breakfast every day, including Mexican and Western favorites such as chilaquiles (fried tortilla chips covered with salsa, cheese, and crema), waffles, and acai bowls topped with amaranth and fresh berries. One of the best executed breakfast items is the garbanzo and soy omelet, served a la Mexicana, with black beans, avocado, and warm tortillas.
Mexico City offers far too many excellent vegan options to fit into this article. Other notable mentions include Viko, a vegan taqueria hidden in an underground walkway at Pasaje Chapultepec; Forever Vegano (not to be confused with the previously mentioned Por Siempre Vegano, which means “forever vegan”), a semi-upscale restaurant serving hard-to find goodies like coconut ceviche and cashew-ricotta stuffed squash flower tempura; and Los Loosers, possibly the most famous vegan restaurant in the city that began as a bicycle delivery service and now attracts throngs of tourists drawn to their Japanese and Mexican fusion dishes (think Aztec ramen, al pastor noodles, and deep fried onion with guacamole).
With flight prices dropping to Mexico City and a growing acceptance of athleisure fashion, grab your favorite pair(s) of elastic waistband pants and run for the border to eat with no reservations!