32 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY march 21-27, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Alfredo Estrada was born and raised in a Mexican family in Watsonville, and his family’s diet was mostly traditional Mexican food, especially featuring cuisine from Guadalajara, Jalisco, where his grandfather operated a taco stand. Tacos represented more than just flavor—for Estrada, they were community, especially in the year of his childhood he spent in Mexico. “In the evenings, everyone would go to the taco stand,” he says. “You would find the janitor of the building and the doctor from the building eating in the same spot. It brings people together.” That spirit never faded from Estrada’s memory, but eating meat did. About eight years ago, he found himself feeling just OK a lot of the time. He became a pescatarian, then fully vegan. He discovered a vibrant vegan Mexican food scene on trips to Mexico City. And he and his partner, Alessia Hernandez, started experimenting with vegan recipes in their home kitchen in Castroville. In December, Estrada left his work in construction and he and Hernandez went all in on a new concept: Fredo’s, a fully vegan taco truck. They offer five varieties, each for $3, from a pullout on Highway 1 at Molera Road in Castroville. There’s green chorizo, al pastor or asada, made from textured soy protein marinated in familiar spices; there’s an oyster mushroom option, packed with mushrooms as the base; and there’s a delicate yet nutty green chorizo, made from pumpkin seeds and chickpeas, with a texture and flavor bordering on tapenade—nothing trying to imitate meat. All are filling, but not dense, and all pack plenty of flavor. “Someone will say, ‘Your al pastor tastes like al pastor,’” Estrada says. “Well, technically al pastor is just a marinade. You can’t just grind up pork and it tastes like chorizo—it’s all in the chilies, spices. The flavor has nothing to do with animal products.” The team behind another taco truck in Salinas, Sabor Latin Fusion, has a similar philosophy—the marinades and toppings deliver flavor, not just the base. Proprietor David Estrada (no relation) added a Blue Zones-approved menu in 2022, but found the plantbased options didn’t sell as well. On March 14, he reintroduced a couple of vegetarian options that incorporate the same seasonings as his regular menu, hoping to minimize food waste. The mushroom al pastor option features the same tortilla, marinade, pineapple and cilantro as the classic. “The only thing that’s different is mushrooms instead of pork,” Estrada says. These mobile veggie offerings join El Cantaro, a fully vegan sitdown restaurant that opened in New Monterey in 2012, serving Mexican classics like pozole, mole, huaraches and tostadas with zero animal products. But the complexity is not missing. “It was little by little, trial and error, finding the right spices,” says Luvia Cruz, who co-owns El Cantaro with her husband, Hector Sandin. “We wanted to give vegan food a better taste. I remember going to vegan places and thinking, ‘It’s not good.’ We tried to make it better—in taste, and in texture.” Cruz and Sandin are Seventh Day Adventists, which is why their restaurant is closed on Saturdays for the Sabbath, and why they keep a vegan diet. The premise, Cruz says, is that God created people and people should keep themselves healthy. Back in 2011, I reported on a CDCfunded initiative to incorporate more veg options into food businesses serving farmworkers in an effort to address obesity, diabetes and other health conditions. At the time, it seemed like the only way to adjust taqueria and taco truck menus for the healthier was to disguise certain menu items, like ditching lard without telling anybody. Times are different now, with customers seeking out vegan options, and some willing to be persuaded. At Fredo’s, Estrada and Hernandez have found vegan customers willing to drive a great distance for the experience—like what Estrada’s grandfather used to offer, minus the meat. “We wanted to bring that out here, that street taco energy,” he says. Some customers, like a recent group of workers who were on a nearby construction job, stopped by expecting traditional tacos. “They said, “I never had anything like this, but I’m going to give it a try,’” Estrada says. They ate everything—and returned the next day. First course Alfredo Estrada opened Fredo’s Vegan Taco Truck in December and will start showing up at community events this spring in an effort to expand the business. Paws For A Cause…Friends of Community Animal Services is holding its Annual Paws For A Cause Fundraiser at Hofsas House Hotel on Saturday, March 23 from 4-7pm. Join them for an evening of fun, good food and local wines, all for a great cause. Tickets are $75 and can be reserved via email to k9tootr@fromtheheartdogtraining. com. San Carlos between 3rd and 4th, Carmel. 624-2745, hofsashouse.com. focas4animals.org. Breaking Boundaries…Don’t let the name fool you. Though it is their specialty, you can get more than the all-American favorite at American Burger. They now also serve pupusas, the traditional fare of the restaurant founders’ home country, El Salvador. Stop by and get your fill of cuisine from near and far. 738 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 373-7573,​ americanburgermonterey.com. Fully Baked…Nino and Marie Favaloro have launched a website for Isola Bella Baked Goods, their cottage style bakery business. They offer a full menu of traditional Sicilian baked goods and savory items, the recipes of which were passed down and inspired by family recipes, all custom made to order for delivery. 277-2523, isola-bella.net. Local Love…Pebble Beach Food & Wine is making a highly anticipated return after pausing for the pandemic, and to show appreciation for the people who reside in and around where this beloved epicurean event takes place, they are offering a locals’ discount. Use the promo code LOCALS and get 25-percent off tickets to the Tasting Pavilion Event on Sunday, April 7. pebblebeachfoodandwine.com. Two Times A Lady…The Santa Monica-based charcuterie board business Lady & Larder is now open in a Carmel Valley location. Order at least 24 hours before your event and they will make a masterpiece for you to pick up. They also have custom cheesecakes. What could be better? 9 Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley. ladyandlarder.com. Sauce It Up…Hump day just got a little more bearable with Altura Lounge’s Wednesday night pasta special. Break the week up with a delicious meal that shouldn’t break the bank. Each meal comes with a mixed green salad and garlic bread, all for an unbeatable $12.99, available from 4:308:30pm. 66 W. Alisal St., Salinas. By Jacqueline Weixel morsels Send a bite to eatanddrink@mcweekly.com “Someone will say, ‘Your al pastor tastes like al pastor.’” Eat + DrinK Daniel Dreifuss Veg Ahead A growing number of chefs offer vegan Mexican cuisine, proving the flavors go beyond meat. By Sara Rubin