A small, green-trim door sprouted up in April in an unlikely territory awash with mortgage lenders and commercial hotels on the Southside, quietly stating its presence just off Cerrillos Road.
Spreading good vegan vibes to all, Plant Base Cafe (1372 Vegas Verdes Drive, 365-2556) doesn’t deal in frills or gimmicks to satiate Santa Fe’s vegan community. True to its name, the new restaurant serves up meals inspired by and using only plant-based ingredients. That’s right—no meat, no dairy, no eggs, nothing that comes from our furry or feathered friends. And while vegan cuisine certainly isn’t new in Santa Fe or elsewehere, recognition for its complexity and value is. While more diners and restaurants delve into veganism and vegetarianism, the arrival of Santa Fe’s newest meat-free joint was only a matter of time.
“The culinary arts is coming around to it,” says head cook Thomas Conboy. “It’s a different system, so there’s an enormous number of options and an enormous variety of foodstuffs you can choose from.”
For those true vegans out there, Plant Base Cafe aligns with all the values: low-impact on the environment, health-conscious plant meals, cruelty-free from farm to table. Aside from Ras Rody’s much-loved Jamaican vegan food truck off Agua Fría Street, Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café and a smattering of mostly OK options at some of Santa Fe’s brick-and-mortar establishments, the plant-based food scene in Santa Fe has room for growth. Even the Root 66 vegan food truck is waiting out the pandemic sans service; Plant Base Cafe aims to occupy that niche. And the number of menu items at the up-and-coming eatery deserve some attention—almost every dish can be customized to your liking. With different protein, faux cheese and sauce options to choose from, for example, Conboy can craft over 140 unique calzones to satisfy anyone’s taste. And that’s just calzones.
Still, you might want to peruse the café’s menus, which are split across three main categories: American, Mexican and Italian. between them, Plant Base Cafe’s selections are almost as extensive as a phone book. In other words, making a selection might be tricky, but those who eschew meat and such will surely want to make return visits. For now, Conboy and crew only offer pick-up and delivery, but because of this, the packaging game is on point. Served in entirely compostable to-go containers, the food comes hot from the grills and packaged to be enjoyed out of the box—or for those fancy folks, easily transferred to a plate and eaten with real cutlery.
While the restaurant relies heavily on meat and dairy analogs, which it does well, part of us wanted the dishes to celebrate the great plant-based foods for what they are—so much more than just animal substitutes. Conboy also cites numerous vegan cheese options as a remarkable element.
“I have feta, I have blue cheese,” he tells SFR. “I have all the variety of hard whites, a cheddar that’s just remarkable.”
These faux cheeses, he explains, behave exactly like the real thing—that means melting—and someplace between that and the meat substitutes, a satisfying dining experience emerged. The chili con carne from fake meat brand Beyond in the Mexican lasagna ($18) gave the dish a lasting richness that other lasagna substitutes can never seem to convey appropriately. The portions of this entree also extended to not just one, but two leftover servings. The low-key star of the show, however, turned out to be a simple blue cheese wedge side salad. The blue cheese dressing had that savory tang with a creaminess one would expect from dairy. Paired with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and “bacon” bits, this crunchy, refreshing mélange was the perfect size for two to share.
For spice lovers, the Buffalo cauliflower wings ($12) don’t disappoint. Tender cauliflower florets fried in gluten-free batter serve as the vehicle for a chile kick that might force some to a glass of milk. Though the notorious Buffalo flavor didn’t take center stage, it was present enough to ensure that none of these addictive bites made it into leftover territory.
The oyster mushroom “chicken” sandwich wowed as well. Accented by arugula, gluten-free toast and queso fresco (one of 10 total cheese options), it was the kind of sandwich that puts a major onus on other delis and sandwicheries for not boasting better meat substitutes—though chicken-fiends beware: The chewy texture of the oyster mushroom, here dubbed “chickn,” is not a 1:1 version of actual chicken patties. Even so, well-seasoned fries added more bang to the dish, especially when considering Plant Base Cafe’s commitment to gluten-free, soy-free and organic ingredients. At $17, this sandwich obviously runs more than a fast food chicken-on-a-bun choice, but the experience of enjoying a battered mushroom patty is well worth the extra dollars alone. Countless other selections carry a similar gravitas. For the full picture, order online and witness the sheer variety of dipping sauces, protein bases, add-ons—you get the point.