Mexican mainstay has healthier options on SW Side

October 13, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Beginning in Mexico-- specifically, in Little Village, where a neighborhood favorite has carved out a section of its menu exclusively for vegans.

It's pretty easy to find tacos al pastor and chicken enchiladas on the city's Southwest Side, but vegans are usually out of luck. Not at El Faro, where they've evolved the menu over the past decade to include plenty of tasty options for vegans and vegetarians.

For the past quarter century, Faro has been a mainstay in Little Village. But 10 years ago, the owners decided to carve out a significant part of their menu, intended exclusively for vegans.

"One, because of the nutrition; the benefits of it. Also, the clients. We have clients from all over the state. Even from out of state," said Jose Zavala, the owner of El Faro.

Naturally, a juice bar is the first priority, and El Faro blends up carrots, beets, you name it. But they also manage to go through as much soy as they do refried beans. When was the last time you saw bulgur wheat stir-fried with tofu at a Mexican joint?

Or soy chicken tacos cooked on a grill then served with nopales -- that is, cactus -- and chunky salsa? Their veggie torta Cubana is a vegetarian dream: refried beans, soy chorizo, soy chicken, soy bacon and an organic fried egg... all sandwiched between sturdy rolls with fiery chipotle sauce and mayo, plus tomato and red onion.

Zavala says devoting a quarter of his menu to vegan items isn't as hard as it would seem.

"Well it's not difficult because you already have the spices, that you use for our culture, Mexican food," Zavala said.

Panela cheese is grilled, then plated with peppers, onions and black beans, smothered in a smoky tomato-chile sauce. Zavala says customers have responded to the vegan options, and he says the combination of the meat-free menu with his regular items fit together seamlessly.

"We have organic egg, soy bacon, soy chicken, avocado, obviously. You gotta have avocado in a Mexican restaurant," said Zavala.

And good news for early birds or night owls: during the week, El Faro opens at 5 p.m., and stays open until 10 p.m.

El Faro Restaurant
3936 W. 31st St.

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