Around town with Allison: Holy guacamole! Gracias Madre’s vegan galore

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After my Mission District piece, I’ve received many questions about one thing in particular: Gracias Madre. Side note: If you didn’t read my piece on the Mission District (you should), you’re really missing out on some good stuff. All of my vegan and vegetarian friends wanted me to tell them more about Gracias Madre, while my meat-eating friends freely expressed their skepticism with phrases such as, “What even is vegan Mexican food?” Regardless of your dietary preferences, I’m here to tell you all about the fine establishment that has won my heart.

This Mission District gem serves vegan Mexican food and uses fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. With two locations — one in the Mission and another in West Hollywood — Gracias Madre really showcases how delicious vegan food can be. As a vegetarian and lactose-intolerant individual, my options are pretty limited when it comes to going out to restaurants. If there are any vegetarian/vegan-friendly options, it’s probably a sad excuse for a salad. Although its dishes may be lacking in meat, one thing that Gracias Madre isn’t falling short in is flavor. Listen carefully — you heard it here first: Gracias Madre is the real deal.

After many failed attempts to plan a dinner together, my friend and I finally managed to visit Gracias Madre. It was a beautiful day in the city, the sun was out, people were roaming freely throughout the Mission and excitement was in the air (my friend’s excitement to finally be able to try Gracias Madre and my own excitement to share this amazing — maybe even life-changing — experience with her). Knowing that this is a pretty popular spot, we made sure to make a reservation online, which was a lot easier than we thought.

With indoor and outdoor seating, Gracias Madre really has the best of both worlds. The ambient lighting and homey decor really set the mood for this trendy spot. With heat lamps, a beautiful mural and fresh air, outdoor seating was perfect for this sunny day in the Mission. By this point, we had faced many obstacles: planning this dinner, getting to Gracias Madre on BART and finally being seated. But the real challenge came when trying to figure out what to order. Being the indecisive people that we are, choosing what to order is always a difficult task — especially when everything (and I mean everything) on the menu looks to die for!

Despite all of this indecisiveness, there was one thing that we could agree on getting, and that was the guacamole con totopos. We are both big fans of chips and guacamole. (I mean, who isn’t?) Mashed avocados, onions, chiles, cilantro and lime make the perfect pairing to homemade tortilla chips — and boy, were these chips thick. (Do I dare say thicc?) These chips packed the most satisfying crunch and only made us more excited for our entrees to come. After running through all the different scenarios of ordering one dish over the other and everything in between, we finally came to a consensus. Here’s the rundown on what we ordered:

Enchiladas con mole

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All I have to say is “holy mole!” One of their most popular dishes, the enchiladas con mole definitely packs a punch. This dish consists of rolled-up tortillas stuffed with potato and zucchini. With just the right amount of mole negro and crema, this dish left us craving more. This mole sauce was killer and really tied everything together. With the perfect mixture of potato-and-zucchini-to-sauce ratio, every bite was oh-so-satisfying. Sautéed greens and beans were served on the side, and if you know me, you would know that I love me some kale. Tossing pumpkin seeds on top of kale isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of sautéed greens, but man, does it make a difference.

Flautos de camote

Another popular dish, the flautos de camote, is composed of crispy tacos stuffed with sweet potato and caramelized onions. Finished with a generous topping of guacamole, pico de gallo and cashew cheese (yes, that’s cheese made from cashews), this dish really has it all. Don’t be fooled by the name, folks. Cashew cheese is actually super delicious, especially when it’s done right. After cutting into this dish with a fork and hearing the satisfying crunch of the tortilla, we could already tell it was going to be out of this world. The subtle sweetness of the sweet potato contrasted with the tang and creaminess from the guacamole and pico de gallo really made this dish something special.

What sets Gracias Madre apart from other places is that you can really taste the ingredients on their own. That all comes from the fact that Gracias Madre focuses on seasonal, fresh and local ingredients. This place leaves you feeling good after your meal instead of groggy and on the verge of passing out — food comas aren’t fun. Gracias Madre is so good that even your nonvegan/vegetarian friends will enjoy it. That’s right, skeptics, I’m calling you out — don’t knock it till you try it. Although the food is amazing, it’s definitely better when you enjoy it with some company. The next time you’re in the city, be sure to grab your friends (all of them) and check out Gracias Madre for some insanely satisfying Mexican food.

Allison Fong writes the weekly blog column on places and activities to try in and around Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected].