Vegan food by nature is colorful and creative. So, Viva Vegeria, San Antonio’s first vegan, gluten-free Tex-Mex restaurant, (which has for nearly ten years, been serving and preserving Latino food and culture with “artistic” plant-based cuisine), is no different. The colorful vegan restaurant was the dream of original founder and culinary chef Fred Garza-Guzman who tells me he was “kicked out of culinary school my last year because I refused to eat meat.” As a vegetarian (near-vegan) myself for most of my life, I consider that a badge of honor and a testament to the altruistic reason Garza-Guzman had become a passionate vegan: “I could see that people in the world were starving, the rainforest was being stolen (to raise) farm cattle. I wanted to do something to help mother nature. Even if it was small, I believed and believe it will make a difference,” he told me. Indeed, countless scientific studies back up the fact that a plant-based diet helps to dramatically promote environmental conservation efforts and improve human health (as well as saving innumerable animal lives) more than any other decision we can make as consumers. Garza-Guzman’s decision to become vegan was also important to his late grandmother Rosalie Garza, whom he says “found ways to cook me vegan food. At over 80 years old, she began experimenting with vegan cooking. She was a sweetheart!” Together, they shared a dream to “create a place where everyone could eat and come together despite dietary needs.” Sadly, the restaurant opened August of 2011, just a month after Rosalie passed away.
Originally located at 8407 Broadway, the restaurant received immediate good press concerning the nutritious gap it filled for vegans and the health minded. It was also noted for its colorful contribution to Latino culture by promoting the work of local artists whose work was displayed on walls and sold. When I visited, there were portraits of Ray Charles, a myriad of religious icons and iconography, Frida Kahlo, comic book heroes and Dia de los Muertos themed paintings displayed. They were also applauded for the positive impact on the community by offering healthy vegan meal preparation classes to the public.
In 2016, the restaurant relocated to 1422 Nogalitos, where there was more parking, an accessible entrance, a spacious interior, a large garden room that doubles as a meeting space and a tropical, pet-friendly outdoor patio area. That same year, Garza-Guzman sold the Viva Vegeria to restauranteur Bennie Gonzalez, a Piedras Negras, Mexico native who moved with his family to the US in 1971. Now owner of Viva Vegeria for nearly five years, Gonzalez too is passionate about a plant-based diet, saying it has improved his health and is helping him avoid the hereditary health problems that cut his father’s life short so he “can be around for his grandchildren.” He and his staff, chef Gabriela Estrada and restaurant manager Karime Flores, whom he calls “the heart and soul of the restaurant,” were exceptionally kind to me, sharing an assortment of their most popular fare for review – Tacos al Carbon with meat replacement, onions, green peppers; Chilaquiles with red and verde salsa; Charro beans and Mexican rice (exceptional with onions, green peppers and carrots); Vegan Mole Enchiladas made with peanut sauce; Mushroom Chicharrón Tacos filled with grilled portabella mushroom, white onions, cilantro, carrots and bright purple cabbage, was another favorite for me. Gonzalez was excited to tell me how the cheese is made for three varieties of nachos sold (Classic, Picadillo and Luchadora, which is loaded with protein, quinoa, kimchi). It includes “potatoes for texture, carrots for color,” he told me. Anyone interested in pursuing imaginative, healthy cooking should take note and visit for inspiration.
Tamales by the dozen, aquas frescas, topo chico, jarritos and kombucha and an assortment of cupcakes (churro-flavored, chocolate, pumpkin, pistachio and chocolate-peanut butter) are also available. Gonzalez says that brunch on Saturday and Sundays are the busiest days, with the Chilaquiles plates, which come with refried black beans and a cupcake of your choice, selling quickly. With downtown nearby, Gonzalez estimates 60% of customers are from outside of San Antonio, since noticing that many arrive by taxis from nearby downtown hotels.
A member of the Southtown Arts District, Viva Vegeria was selected by in 2018 as KSAT 12’s “SA Pick’s” for “Best Vegan Food” restaurant. They also received five stars from HappyCow, a national company reviewing vegan restaurants in order to “provide a guide to healthy vegetarian food, natural food stores, vegan-friendly options nearby, recipes, and travel.” With reason to be confident and Wi-Fi available, customers are asked to “support us with your reviews and photos” online. A “Shop Small – support small business” decal is on the entrance door, along with the various delivery methods available. BYOB customers are welcome, too.
Viva Vegeria is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so that Gonzalez can spend time with family who reside in Houston. Business Hours: Monday 11am-5pm, Thurs – 11am-5pm, Friday-Sat, 11am-8:30pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. http://www.myvegeria.com
Visit Viva Vegeria, 1422 Nogalitos Street, San Antonio, TX 78204. Phone 210-465-9233