After hitting Gilroy on our way to Monterey, we headed toward the coast. I was very surprised at how few vegan options there were to be found in this beautiful place. I always associate Cali with fresh, local produce as they are such a huge producer of such. I guess I should have realized this area is very seafood focused as there is a wharf and Cannery Row right there.
Two days into the trip, I was ready for something besides pasta and salad options. Don't get me wrong, they were delish and the sourdough bread was TDF. Can you say carb overload? But I wanted to sink my teeth into some more creative vegan fare.
My wish was granted when we finally made our long-anticipated stop at El Cantaro right there in Monterey. El Cantaro just opened their doors in May. We had been kayaking and our guide was kind enough to drop us right out front of the restaurant. When the van door opened, I sprinted inside I was so flipping excited.
There was another girl from Dallas taking a picture of this sign at the same time I was! She was equally excited to discover such a place.
We timed our visit just right. When we walked in there was only one person in line in front of us. The huge menu above the counter was all vegan! The open kitchen was clean and compact. Three friendly employees including the owner were happy to help. We grabbed the printed menu and sat down to try and choose from the great variety of Oaxacan style Mexican fare. The Oaxacan region is known for it's wide variety of cuisine and their creative uses of chocolate. Many of the traditional dishes include Oaxacan cheese, but this food didn't need any of that.
As we waited for our food, many more people started to arrive. The place was hopping. There were people of all ages. I saw a couple that must have been in their 60's, a young lady in her 20's and a family with young kids. I was excited to see such a variety of people supporting a new local vegan place. The owner is a Seventh Day Adventist who follow a diet emphasizing wholeness and health. This includes following a clean vegetarian diet. She wanted to open a place that offered lots of delicious options for people who believe in eating the same way.
Chile rellenos were one of my favorite non-vegan Mexican dishes, so that had to happen. These actually ended up being Fred's favorite of the bunch. I loved that the chile was big and substantial with thick meat on it. Often the chile to breading ratio is out of balance on rellenos, these were good! They had creamy vegan cheese in the middle. The breading was a bit heavy, but tasty. I loved the traditional thin red tomato sauce as well.
We chose the "beef" enchiladas so I could try their vegan meat. I was having a hard time deciding on green or red sauce, so they offered to put both on which ended up being a great call. They filling had a great texture. I couldn't decide which sauce I liked better, I was happy there was plenty of sauce on the enchiladas as I am a very saucy girl. The red sauce had a slight sweetness to it, which I suspect may have been a little chocolate which the Oaxacans are famous for using in many of their dishes. The green sauce was even yummier with a little more heat.
Fred ordered the Fish Baja Style Taco with the pineapple salsa. He opted for the pineapple salsa. The fresh flavors of the salsa and guacamole made me feel like I was at a Mexican taco stand at the beach. I loved the combo of the tart salsa with the creamy Baja Sauce.
I ordered one of their famous Crispy Potato Tacos. I wish I would have written this right when I ate it, because now I can't remember everything that was on it. What I do remember, however, the crispy potato tortilla was incredible! I must figure out how to create one of these for my cookbook. It was perfectly crunchy and held together very well. The fillings were delicious and there was a perfect amount of vegan cheese on top.
The service was great. The food is made fresh to order, but still came out pretty quickly. The staff members were all very friendly. They made a lot of great suggestions on what to try and seemed to truly enjoy serving us.
I had planned on going back the following day to try some of the more traditional Oaxacan dishes: Tlayudas, Negro Mole and tamales. Sadly, we got up a smidge late and didn't have time to completely fulfill my Mexican food fantasy before heading to the airport. But if you are in the Monterey area, you can fill yours! Bring your non-vegan friends too. They will love it.
791 Foam Street
Montery, CA 93940
Monday-Thursday and Sunday 10am - 9pm