The Village keeps this gabled diner in North Park vegan, focusing on sushi and Mexican food.
One day at lunch, back when the gabled diner at 2611 El Cajon Boulevard was home to Anthem Vegan, I implored my dining companion: don’t trust the burrito. The menu was huge, and there were many other things worth ordering. But vegan tortillas, I assured him, are never good. Especially not when you’ve grown up eating the larded flour tortillas prevalent in San Diego Mexican restaurants. On that day, I was proven right.
2611 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
But, nearly three years later, I find myself eating those words. Anthem is long gone, but the new restaurant working out of the same location also happens to serve an all plant-based menu. Unlike its predecessor, The Village doesn’t have a menu offering a little bit of everything. It’s actually a bit more baffling than that: it specializes both in Mexican food and vegan sushi.
I kind of get it. Vegan sushi is having a moment, both locally and nationally, and if you look closely, vegan Mexican food is ascendant all around San Diego County.
Still, the two cuisines rely on entirely different approaches, and with a split focus I didn’t expect either cuisine to be done right, and at first my skepticism seemed to pan out.
Chile relleno stuffed with mashed potatoes instead of cheese doesn't really work.
A chile relleno dish replacing melted cheese with very dry, diary-free mashed potatoes proved a flop. Taco options replacing chorizo with soyrizo and al pastor with oyster mushroom fare better, presuming you’re a dedicated vegan and don’t expect meat in those fresh corn tortillas.
Organic spinach juice adds bright green color to the flour tortilla of this chipotle jackfruit burrito.
But it’s when I got to the Fire Me Up burrito that my attitude really changed for the better. It’s filled with rice, beans, grilled peppers and onions, cabbage, pico de gallo, and vegan sour cream. Baby jackfruit takes on the texture of shredded pork, stewed with enough chipotle sauce that you almost can’t tell it isn’t. Most impressive is that the odd, green flour tortilla wrapping this burrito is soft and elastic, proving it can be done without lard. Perhaps it’s the Village’s infusion of spinach juice, a product of the restaurant’s organic juice bar.
This raw "living roll" doesn't use rice, so technically it shouldn't be called sushi.
Checking out the sushi menu, I had similarly mixed results. A raw take on sushi called the Living Roll replaces sushi rice with cucumber, which proves quite photogenic, especially in contrast to vibrant colors of the mango, cabbage, and peppers wrapped within. But flavor-wise, it nearly caused my wife to swear off vegan sushi altogether. This particular roll might work better if the “sushi” label wasn’t applied to it, raising expectations.
A vegan tempura "crab" roll smothered in loads of sweet and spicy sauce
I had much better luck with the tempura crab roll. Built around a mushroom-based crab substitute, the crunchy roll gets asparagus, cucumber, and avocado inside, and each piece is topped with jalapeño, cilantro, and a trio of sauces: eel sauce, chipotle mayo, and sriracha. The crunch, sauce, and rice pulls everything together, returning some excitement to our perception of vegan sushi here.
Outdoor seating at vegan sushi and Mexican food restaurant, The Village
With astroturf, wood fencing, planters, and shade structures converting its ample parking lot to a comfortable and appealing outdoor dining room, The Village presents a much-needed uptown option for vegan sushi and Mexican food fans. Eventually, I hope it whittles down its menu to keep only its best parts. But when in doubt, trust the burritos.