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Farm fresh: La Finca Bowls offers organic, locally sourced delights, with vegan options

La Finca’s signature bowl features herb chicken sliced over a bed of tricolor quinoa with veggies and a dairy- and nut-free pesto sauce. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. Consider the journey of Nathan Sauceda-Halliday and Mekela Kennedy, co-owners of the new restaurant La Finca Bowls in East Downtown.

Sauceda-Halliday and Kennedy were running a food truck in Puerto Rico in 2017 when Hurricane Maria rolled over the island, leaving its infrastructure devastated. The couple pulled up stakes and returned to New Mexico, where Sauceda-Halliday was born.

Undaunted, they opened a brick-and-mortar place at Broadway and Martin Luther King earlier this year. A couple months later, just as they were building a customer base, COVID-19 arrived, closing restaurants except for takeout and delivery.

All is not lost, though. Every week brings the restaurant business closer to reopening for dining in, albeit on a limited basis. Until then, you can try La Finca Bowls on a takeout basis, Monday through Friday until 6:00 p.m.

La Finca, Spanish for “the farm,” is in an orderly row of storefronts on the east side of Broadway. There was ample street parking available there on a recent Friday afternoon.

The menu emphasizes healthy eating with organic ingredients, locally sourced when possible. It’s a true rarity in Albuquerque: It has vegan and vegetarian options and is 100% gluten-free.

The four bowls featured on the menu are thoughtfully curated, each offering different colors, tastes and textures. For the signature La Finca Bowl ($10.50), sliced herb chicken breast is served amid a brightly colored patchwork of veggies over a bed of tricolor quinoa. The sweetness from the diced, roasted beets and roasted squash complements the acid from the cherry tomatoes, and the crunch from radish slices and crispy onions pairs well with the creamy, bright green avocado. Ribbons of dairy/nut-free pesto snake in and around the surface, bringing a garlicky snap to the dish. It’s a challenge to get everything into one bite, but it’s worth the effort.

The Farmer Bowl at La Finca consists of marinated skirt steak over a mix of wild rice and lentils with corn, beans and tomatoes. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The Farmer Bowl ($12) is like a deluxe backyard cookout in a box. Marinated skirt steak, sourced from a program that supports Native American ranchers, tastes like it just came off the grill. Accompanying the meat are kernels of sweet corn, beans, roasted squash and cherry tomatoes, all on a bed of wild rice and lentils. Creamy goat cheese and cilantro aioli help binds everything together in a tangy embrace.

As the name suggests, the Gardener Bowl ($9.50) is a vegetarian/vegan option. A colorful mosaic of vegetables over a bed of greens, it carries a lot more heft than your average salad, thanks to the roasted, quartered sweet potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. The sliced avocado is balanced by the concentrated brininess of the pickled green beans. It’s finished with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and a citrus vinaigrette dressing that brings a muted sour note to the dish.

A fourth bowl, the Fisherman ($13), features wild salmon over coconut rice, with mango, green papaya salad, edamame and ponzu.

There’s also a build-your-own-bowl option starting at $8 in which you pick a protein and sides. Premium extras such as avocado, green papaya salad and a sunny-side-up egg cost $1 extra. There are apparently enough combinations to add up to more than 1,700 different bowls.

Desserts include a rotating selection of cupcakes. The special on the day I visited – lemon cupcakes with passion fruit curd ($3.50) – was terrific, with a bright tropical flavor and none of the grittiness found in so many gluten-free baked goods. I wish I had taken home a box of them.

La Finca Bowls offers healthy eating that doesn’t feel like an act of penance. If it can weather this shutdown, it has a bright future.

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