Weekend farmers’ markets have spawned a lot of success stories in the Albuquerque food scene, but none as conspicuous as Vegos, Elizabeth and Jonathan Bibiano’s vegan restaurant.
The Bibianos trotted out their vegan versions of New Mexican favorites at the Rail Yards in 2019. A food wagon followed.
I experienced that incarnation of Vegos in the spring of 2020. The tofu-based Nobody Calls Me Chicken sandwich and blazing Buffalo tenders were revelations. The Bibianos clearly understood that as much as vegan dining appeals to the conscience, representing a move away from the horrible conditions and significant environmental costs of factory farms, people aren’t going to embrace it unless the food tastes good.
After just one year, the food wagon’s success propelled the Bibianos to a brick-and-mortar location at the end of strip mall on Carlisle Boulevard just north of Comanche Road.
The small dining room decorated with ristras and shelves lined with knick-knacks holds seven tables. It’s a space geared as much for takeout as it is for dining in. During a recent lunchtime visit, a surpassingly friendly and knowledgeable woman worked the counter alone, while several cooks bustled around a kitchen that extends deeply behind the counter. A procession of people came in to pick up orders. It was only noon and the daily special had already sold out.
The menu consists of vegan versions of New Mexico comfort food. There are eight different burritos on offer ranging in price from $9.50 for the breakfast version to $15 for the El Jefe, a stuffed monster that weighs in at more than a pound, according to the menu. Meatiness is provided by red chile jackfruit, a tropical fruit with a shredded texture not unlike pulled pork, and seitan, a wheat gluten product whose sponginess makes it ideal for soaking spices and sauces.
The Breakfast Burrito, a hefty torpedo filled with diced potatoes, beans and scrambled tofu that resembles eggs in appearance and texture, is offered in a handheld version or one smothered in chile. The hearty, filling ingredients picked up a mild sting from the red chile. It’s a terrific way to start the day or override the lunchtime hunger pangs.
The green chile in a to-go order of Enchiladas ($12.50) was considerably hotter than the red chile. Filled with mix of black beans and red quinoa, the three enchiladas sat at the bottom of the takeout box under a layer of pinto beans, rice and diced veggies. There were perhaps too many beans in this, so next time I would order the one filled with calabacitas.
Lurking at the bottom of the burrito menu was something called a Loco Tostaritto ($14). A heavy, octagonal slab about the size of a frisbee, it’s comprised of two tostadas filled with the same black bean and red quinoa mix found in the enchiladas. This was my favorite thing on the menu, the guacamole, vegan sour cream and gooey vegan cheese oozing around the beans and seitan. I believe even the most devout meat eater would consider veganism after trying it.
Sides available include Elote ($4) and chips with salsa ($4), vegan queso ($5) or guacamole ($7). The elote is served as two pieces of corn on a metal tray, with garlic aioli, sliced almonds and cilantro. While not as creamy, the aioli manages to replicate the sharpness of the cotija cheese, mayo and sour cream mix common to the non-vegan version.
The Nobody Calls Me Chicken sandwiches ($11.50) are always available, and those with smaller appetites can find a couple of mini burritos for $5 each. With Christmas around the corner, Vegos is offering red chile and jackfruit tamales in packs of six, frozen for easy at-home prep.
The drinks menu features Stargazer Kombucha from Santa Fe, and there are four desserts ranging from Sopa Fries for $1.75 to Empanadas ($4) that are, remarkably, gluten-free.
Speaking of gluten-free dining, the menu helpfully has sections devoted to gluten-free and low-gluten items, something far too few area restaurants do.
With Vegos, the Bibianos have built on the legacy they established in the food truck world. Conscientious eating never tasted so good.