Review: A North County Vegan Food Pop-up Tasting Tour

Five years ago, Michelle May started Seva Foods, a line of healthy plant-based snacks that sold well. But they might have sold even better if she had a way to directly market her freeze-dried ice cream and coconut jerky to her fellow vegans.

When he couldn’t find a local vegan market or fair that happened regularly, he decided to create his own, Vegan Food Popup. Since he launched it in Encinitas in 2019 as a seasonal monthly event, it has grown into a weekly event that alternates between the cities of Encinitas and Vista. The Popup has grown from an initial 20 local vendors to nearly 50 food, product and service providers throughout Southern California. The events regularly draw crowds in the hundreds.

The wait for fresh vegan donuts at the Donuttery food truck takes around 40 minutes at Vegan Food Popup.

The wait for fresh vegan donuts at the Donuttery food truck takes around 40 minutes at Vegan Food Popup.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

“If you had told me four years ago that I would be doing something like this and that it would be really successful, I wouldn’t have believed you,” May said.

From her standpoint as an event producer, May said she hasn’t seen a huge growth in the number of people going vegan these days. But she has found that many of the people who visit the pop-up are not vegan and are interested in learning more about ways to eat healthier and contribute to a more sustainable planet.

“The number 1 factor for people to try vegan food is taste,” May said. “If you can meet that expectation, then people will be more open.”

So, as an omnivore and sustainability advocate, I decided to put May’s challenge to the test by visiting the Vegan Food Popup in both Encinitas and Vista and trying out many of the stalls. One thing I discovered on my visits was that vegan food is not cheap. Some items are twice as expensive as their non-vegan counterparts. But I also discovered so many delicious things that I can’t wait to buy again. Here are some of my favorites.

SeaCo Catch Fish Tacos

Vegan SeaCo Catch "fish" taco in vegan food popup.

SeaCo Catch a vegan “fish” taco at Vegan Food Popup.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

I’ve never found a battered fish taco I like as much as Rubio’s Original Fish Taco, but the year-old San Diego SeaCo Catch “fÿsh” taco has come surprisingly close. How close? SeaCo Catch’s fish taco won the judge’s choice of first place at the TKO Taco Festival at last year’s San Diego Food and Wine Festival, the first time in nine years that a vegan option has won first prize. What are they made of? Whole Food Coconut. The fillet has the same mild flavor and firm, flaky texture of haddock or cod, but SeaCo Catch’s taco is a bit hotter and more expensive than Rubio’s original taco. A single fish taco is $7 and a plate of two tacos is $13.

stone monkey

Vegan Bao Rolls from Stone Monkey at Vegan Food Popup.

Vegan Bao Rolls from Stone Monkey at Vegan Food Popup.

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This family-run vegan Chinese food stand opened at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in 2018. You usually have a line because everything is made to order, but it’s worth the wait. I tried two dishes that May recommended. The gua bao buns were fresh, richly sautéed, and had the texture and greasy taste of pork belly you expect (two buns for $6). The scallion noodles, a portion large enough for two, were smoky, spicy, and herbaceous ($10).

Tracy’s Real Food Cookies

Mom's Everything Cookies from Tracy's Real Foods in Vegan Food Popup.

Mom’s Everything Cookies from Tracy’s Real Foods in Vegan Food Popup.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tracy Childs adopted a vegan diet in 1990 and has been a local plant-based nutrition consultant, cookery teacher, and author ever since. When the pandemic disrupted her business, she and her husband, Steve Sarnoff, began making their own vegan packaged foods, including cheeses, crackers and candy. Her cheese and cheddar cheese board are tasty, but I loved her Mom’s Everything Cookies. These delicious and hearty cookies are made with oats, bananas, gluten-free oatmeal, almond flour, walnuts, organic chocolate chips, peanut butter, date sugar, and more. It’s hard to believe they are healthy because they are so good. And they’re so filling, half a cookie can satisfy your food cravings for a couple of hours. $12 for a 9-ounce bag or $20 for two.

Nomad Eats Classic Crunchwrap

The Classic Crunchwrap from Nomad Eats in Vegan Food Popup.

The Classic Crunchwrap from Nomad Eats in Vegan Food Popup.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

In 2012, Leucadia friends Jasmine Singh and Rebecca Newell started Nomad Eats, selling their vegan nacho sauce and spreads in jars. Today they are sold at Frazier Farms, Seaside Market and other specialty stores. At farmers’ markets and the Vegan Food Popup, they also sell their popular Crunchwraps, which are like grilled burritos shaped like flying saucers. The Classic Crunchwrap is stuffed with pulled pork-style shredded jackfruit carnitas, seasoned black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and lettuce and nacho “cheeze” sauce, which is made with potatoes, carrots, onions, cashews, coconut milk , jalapeños and other ingredients. $14.

Buddha Bowls of Local Roots Kombucha

Buddha Bowl Vegan Curry at Vegan Food Popup's new Vista location.

Buddha Bowl Vegan Curry at Vegan Food Popup’s new Vista location.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

On June 24, the Encinitas Vegan Food Popup expanded to Vista with its first bi-monthly event in the parking lot of Local Roots Kombucha. In addition to offering free parking and easy access to its kombucha tasting room and outdoor dining patio, Local Roots houses a vegan concession stand serving bowls, salads, meatballs, and noodle dishes. I tried the vegan yellow curry which was tasty and a bit spicy. It was made with potatoes, onions, kale, sunflower seeds, and other ingredients not described on the printed menu or known to the chefs. $15

Dinner Nachos and vegan burritos

Vegan nachos from Cena Vegan at Vegan Food Popup.

Vegan nachos from Cena Vegan at Vegan Food Popup.

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Founded in Los Angeles in 2015 by a trio of vegans who missed the authentic flavors of Mexican street food, Cena now hosts pop-up markets and street fairs throughout Southern California. It specializes in creating plant-based proteins that mimic the flavors and textures of roast beef, carnitas, birria, roast chicken, al pastor and barbecue. The burritos are great, but so is the nacho boat, with tortilla chips, choice of protein, beans, guacamole, salsa, and salsa. $10-$14.

Bonjour Pastry

Cookies and a croissant from Bonjour Patisserie at Vegan Food Popup in Vista.

Cookies and a croissant from Bonjour Patisserie at Vegan Food Popup in Vista.

(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Founded two years ago in Mission Valley by French-raised pastry chef Romain Morés and Damian Boy, this French patisserie makes vegan and non-vegan pastries that the duo sells primarily in downtown San Diego coffee shops. Morés Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies are crispy and surprisingly buttery, and their croissants are as light as if the dough had been rolled with hundreds of folded layers of Normandy butter. I will come back for more. The cookies cost $3 each. Croissants are $6.

When and where: Noon to 4 pm every other Saturday (next event on Saturday) at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas. 5-9 p.m. every other Friday (next event Aug. 5) at Local Roots Boochyard, 1430 Vantage Court, Vista

Admission and parking: Free. Events are dog and child friendly.

Online: veganfoodpopup.com

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