I first visited Mexico in late 2018 and fell head over heels in love with the country. It’s an incredibly diverse place of lush jungles, mountains, deserts and beautiful coastlines, with vibrant modern cities coexisting alongside millennia-old civilisations and more than a smattering of stunning colonial towns. It also produces, in my opinion, some of the best food in the world, and is quickly gaining a reputation as a great food destination.
So when we decided to start our long term travel adventure, Mexico was an easy first stop. We decided to stop in on some friends and family in the USA first, and I booked the cheapest flights into Mexico, which just so happened to take us to Guadalajara.
I’d hate to admit it, but there wasn’t really any other reason why we decided to start our trip in Guadalajara. It was almost an accident, a convenient enough jumping-off point for the rest of the country. But I am so glad our journey took us there because it very quickly became apparent just how special a city it is. As Mexico’s second city it’s vibrant & cosmopolitan, with a very healthy student population, but on a much more manageable scale than sprawling Mexico City.
Guadalajara also has some of the best traditional vegan food I’ve ever had, and by traditional I mean proper good quality Mexican food. Yes, I love all food and don’t like to discriminate, but I often get a little disheartened about how vegan food seems to always be a homogenous mix of burgers, pizzas, curries or something in a bowl. So to visit a place famous for its cuisine and be able to experience that cuisine to the full, well, it blew my tiny little mind. So bravo Guadalajara, you are now forever in my heart, and if you are lucky enough to visit this amazing city, I’m sure it will end up in yours too.
Vegan Restaurants and Cafes
Located south of the city centre, near the lively Avenida Chapultepec Sur, is La Flaca. This was the first place we visited in Guadalajara and, boy, was it a good un. This incredibly cute and understated little Cocina serves plant-based versions of traditional Mexican, and specifically Guadalajaran, dishes so was the perfect introduction to our stay.
We ordered the Torta Ahogada – a sandwich soaked in a tomato-based sauce, literally meaning “drowned sandwich” – and enmoladas. Both dishes were absolutely delicious. The service here is great and there’s a lovely chilled out atmosphere, as well as a gorgeous resident dog to make your time here even more wonderful.
Lucuma is about 2 miles due east of the centre of Guadalajara in the Arcos Vallarta neighbourhood. It’s a weird one, supposedly a casual restaurant but the atmosphere felt quite prickly and stuffy. We were excited by the menu; a combination of standard classics (pizzas, burgers etc), some regional specialities and a few more creative offerings. By this point, I was starting to miss food from home so ordered a Hawaiian pizza, which was delicious. Steve ordered the Chapulina, basically stuffed potato skins, but there was so much going on with this dish it was all just a bit confusing, and not particularly tasty. We also ordered the raw lasagna and it was pretty underwhelming.
It’s also a little on the pricey side and we didn’t get the warmest of welcomes from the staff.
The Mercado Via Libertad is basically a hipster food court in the Americana district, south of the centre. It’s a lovely little spot, filled with a really nice variety of good quality eateries and bars, including the excellent El Vegano.
Like La Flaca, this place serves up all vegan versions of Mexican classic dishes. We ordered chile relleno (poblano chile stuffed with cheese), flautas (rolled stuffed and deep-fried tortillas) and torta ahogada, and all for only a shade over £8. Everything was amazing, particularly the creamy almond cheese that made the chile relleno pretty much to die for.
This was one of my favourite spots in the city for food. I could have happily spent an evening here supping cheap beer from one of the bars, enjoying the Mexican sunshine and eating delicious food.
When I dream about food (which I do a lot) then poutine and other varieties of loaded fries are pretty high up there. So when I found out that there was a whole cafe in Guadalajara that specialises in vegan and vegetarian poutine, well, I had to go.
We walked up from our hostel on Avenida Chapultepec Sur to Pinche Poutine but were devastated to find that it had shut for the holiday weekend. Ready to have a minor breakdown there on the side of the road, we were instead rescued by one of the owners, Chris, who appeared on the balcony above the store and offered to open up, just for us.
Once inside we were catered to amazingly. Chris made us his own personal recommendations – a tempeh burger for me and a plantain poutine-burrito for Steve, plus a special chocolate cashew matcha milkshake which was delicious. We had a lovely chat with Chris, and some of his regulars who later turned up, and just felt really lucky that we’d managed to have such a special experience.
La Selva Blanca
La Selva Blanca was recommended to us by our new friends that we’d met at Pinche Poutine. It’s a bit far west out of the city but easy enough to reach by public bus and is very much in a residential part of town.
Like many places in Mexico, the restaurant is on the ground floor of a family house, so on entering you immediately feel welcomed. There’s a small garden at the back and the whole setting is incredibly cute, calm and peaceful.
There’s something about La Selva Blanca that made me fall I love with it straight away. There’s a vibe of quality here, but without any kind of stuffiness. Aside from us, there was a family with children playing in the garden, plus a couple of people tapping away on laptops at tables. It just felt really, well, nice!
We ordered the breakfast plate – chilaquiles, sausage, tofu mexicano and beans – and mushroom aguachile, which was basically a veganised version of Mexican shrimp ceviche. Everything was delicious, incredibly fresh and tasty. There’s a great selection of drinks, including some locally brewed kombucha, and an amazing array of cakes, all baked in house. We splashed out on a blueberry new york cheesecake, something I’ve been craving ever since I went vegan nearly 15 years ago. It was amazing, taking this place to one of my most favourite food experiences ever. Trust me, if you ever find yourself in Guadalajara then you absolutely have to make time to visit La Selva Blanca.
All around Guadalajara there are hole-in-the-wall fondas offering quesadillas, enchiladas, huaraches and tacos “a su eleccion”; basically filled with meat & a sauce of your choice. Again, it’s one of those foodie experiences I thought I was missing out on, where you basically construct your own plate of delicious Mexican food based on your own preferences. So then we found La Garnacha, completely by accident. It’s basically a traditional and tiny Mexican fonda, but all the food is vegan.
All the food is fresh, made to order and absolutely delicious, as well as incredibly authentic and excellent value. We ordered 3 quesadillas al pastor and a plate of huaraches asada, as well as two huge mugs of hibiscus agua fresca to drink, all for £6.
Taqueria Calidad Vegano
While Guadalajara does really well at vegan restaurants and cafes, it does pretty badly at vegan street food. Getting tacos at a food stand is a bit of a unique Mexican experience and the one thing that bugs me most about travelling as a vegan is that I do sometimes feel like I’m missing out on those real cultural joys.
So thank goodness for Taqueria Calidad Vegano. It’s located in front of the Expiatorio Church and is open Saturdays and Sunday evenings only. It’s incredibly difficult to spot, though if you head to the square in front of the church and look for the green awning with the big queue, that’s probably it. They serve up twelve different taco fillings, made from mushrooms, soy, seitan and oats, plus homemade agua frescas. It’s incredibly cheap too – with a plate of three tacos and an agua costing around £2.50.
Eating and Drinking at Markets
In Guadalajara the main market, Mercado San Juan de Dios, is the biggest indoor market in Latin America, and completely overwhelming. It’s the kind of place where you can buy, well, pretty much anything, so if you’re self-catering and want to pick up some fresh fruit, veg, chiles or other traditional Mexican food then this is the place to go.
I’ll fully admit that we had dreams of being in Mexico, picking up tacos and gorditas from food stalls and fondas in markets and eating just like the locals. But in Mexico most of this “Comida Corrida” that you’ll find in the markets is heavily meat and fish focused, with very few (if any) options suitable for vegans.
Our go-to favourite anywhere in Mexico is a plate of chilaquiles (rojo or verde), but “sin pollo, huevo, queso o crema”. You may get offered some frijoles on the side but just beware that these might contain pork (cerdo). Other than that, look for a taco stall that’s making food fresh to order, and ask for potato (patata/papas), cactus (nopales), mushrooms (hongos/champinon) or any other vegetables that might be on offer. A favourite of ours is huitlacoche – basically corn fungus – which we’ve never known to contain any animal products and is a great example of traditional Mexican food.
Every region of Mexico also has its own speciality corn-based drink. In the state of Jalisco it’s Tejuino, made from fermented corn dough and flavoured with lime and salt. It’s absolutely delicious and a perfect refresher for a warm day. You can usually pick up a half litre for around 20 pesos (80p).
Health Food Shops & Grocery Stores
While we’ve had pretty good success finding vegan food in large supermarkets across Mexico, there aren’t many such big stores in the centre of Guadalajara. Most corner shops and mini markets will have good vegan basics, including dairy-free milk, dried soya chunks and a huge variety of beans.
Speciality shops are few and far between, and most health food shops in Mexico tend to focus on natural remedies, cosmetics and toiletries. We managed to find a very small selection of vegan cheeses and yoghurts in Tu Localito Ecologico and Organic Now.