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This Pacoima-Born Pozole Might Make You Go Vegan

All photos by Noe Adame.

All photos by Noe Adame.

Welcome to L.A. Taco’s Pozole Week! Every day this week, we are celebrating a different style of the hominy and meat stew that really hits the spot when it is cold out, and share some delicious spots in Los Angeles to try it. For our fourth day, we are celebrating a meat-free pozole in the Valley that just might be as good as its pork or chicken counterparts. Grab a bowl and join us.

ne can argue that the perfect time to gorge on some tamalitos and some pozole is after a long night of bad decisions and too many drinks. While this would be a perfect cure for la cruda, for me the next best time to indulge in these offerings of the gods was on a chilly Friday night after driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Northridge to the very edge of Sylmar. Traffic be damned as I had been preparing my paladar for this specific night.

As I pulled up to my destination, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of welcoming just by looking at the single-story, modest, and dimly-lit house decked out with string lights and a row of tables nicely spaced in conjunction with a variety of different chairs and bar stools. As I made my way up the driveway I was greeted by two familiar and much-beloved attacks on my senses. The overwhelming smell of deliciousness that awaited me and the gentle, almost serene sounds of a group of abuelitas sitting on the patio and having a conversation. I instantly felt at home! This is the backdrop you’ll be greeted with when you make your way to vegan pop-up Guayaba Kitchen. Guayaba Kitchen, started by Chef Wendy Centeno, has been doing its thing for the better part of almost a year now. First setting up in Pacoima by Laurel Canyon and Osborne Streets, but ultimately settling down in their personal home since the previous location was getting too crazy.

The origins of Guayaba Kitchen have a purposeful and rather personal beginning. When Wendy’s tía was diagnosed with cancer, she started researching for healthier, holistic, and plant-based recipes to make the ending stages of her life much more comforting. Since then, it has been a ten-year journey of plant-based cooking and consuming for her and her family.

Inspired by the Mexican custom of cenaduría, which is traditionally used to describe a location where dinner is served in the style of home-cooked meals, Wendy wanted to proudly show off some of her family's recipes originating from Colima, Mexico in a welcoming environment. Her regular menu includes a variety of tacos on homemade blue corn tortillas. I had been gleefully following her Instagram account for a few weeks and salivating over her roasted cauliflower con spicy mole colorado tacos; enchiladas dulces filled with vegan picadillo, walnuts, and plant-based cheeses; and most of all, her vegan chicharron, which she has renamed as Xicharron. As I documented all of the surroundings at the pop-up, I couldn't help but feel like I was at a relative’s house. The operation is basically a family affair with her partner Michael Centeno running the register and taking orders, various relatives scurrying in and out of the house with bowls and plates full of steaming hot food, and Wendy coming out every so often to check on orders and greet neighbors, friends, and relatives. It’s all a big family party and the best part of it is that everyone’s invited!

I had come to the realization that people were coming and going so fast that it never occurred to me that they might run out of that grub that I’d battled so hard to see and try for myself. I happily got in line and placed my order making sure I would be leaving with a pansa full of hot liquid gold. After receiving my plate I overheard that they had just sold out of pozole. Lucky me, but the more impressive part was that she had sold out in about an hour! Sucks for the rest that kept streaming in afterward.

I prepared my huge bowl of green mushroom pozole, which was carefully crafted with spices and herbs grown in Wendy’s backyard. I started with the usual, some chopped red onion, a couple of squeezed limes and topped with some chopped repollo for that familiar crunch. Witnessing a huge bowl of chili oil that was specially made for this occasion, I carefully drizzled it all over my bowl. Si no pica el chile, pues pa’ que sirve? (If the chile doesn't burn then what good is it?) I really wasn’t ready to taste what was to follow; I didn’t think a vegan pozole would ever taste like the real deal, much less, dare I say, better than any meat-based pozole I have ever had! Spicy, earthy, flavorful and best of all, piping hot—just the way I love it.

This foo’ was in heaven and didn’t want to be brought down, but I gladly came to my senses because I still had to taste the tamales de jackfruit colorado wrapped in banana leaves. Again, another hit with the bright green color on the outside and the nice red hue on the jackfruit. Another hit with this delicious, warm, and dare I say… esponjadito (fluffy) texture mass with an enchanting smell of masa. I swear, if I hadn’t known that this was jackfruit, I would have easily mistaken it for carne desebrada. I made sure to drizzle some salsa de molcajete, homemade of course but in reality, all the flavors already presented in the wrapped regalito de maiz was enough for me to enjoy! Some people will just never go full-on vegan, but I’m glad there are innovators in our communities making our familiar recipes with an earthen kick to them. It doesn’t hurt to try something you might not be interested in because you feel like it can’t replace the real thing. If anything, I’d bet that this Pacoima-born pozole will make you a believer in great-tasting food no matter how it’s made.

More pozole variations covered this week and where to find it in Los Angeles.

Green (Verde)

Pozole blanco (White)

Pozole rojo (Red)

Pozole taco

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