Naughty Vegan in Phoenix serves indulgent plant-based food | Phoenix New Times

Naughty Vegan puts a juicy spin on plant-based eats

“Vegan food should be naughty, delicious and bursting with flavor,” owners Paris Thornton and Cherrie Avina agree.
At Naughty Vegan, Paris Thornton and Cherrie Avina serve indulgent burgers, sliders and baskets that wouldn't look out of place at a typical diner.
At Naughty Vegan, Paris Thornton and Cherrie Avina serve indulgent burgers, sliders and baskets that wouldn't look out of place at a typical diner. Naughty Vegan
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Fifteen years ago, Naughty Vegan co-owners Paris Thornton and Cherrie Avina started Thanksgiving Day with the intention of enjoying a traditional meal. By the time dinner rolled around, they couldn’t eat anything.

The married couple decided to watch "Earthlings," a 2005 documentary that explores how animals are exploited across major industries, like food and clothing.

“That really threw Thanksgiving all the way off,” Thornton says. 

After that unusual holiday, the couple embraced veganism, which meant changing how they cook and eat.

Discontent with sticking to typical vegan fare, Thornton and Avina learned how to "veganize" their favorite foods, like burgers and pizza. They shared their creations with family and friends, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that they decided to take the leap and open Naughty Vegan.

Named after Thornton’s motto that “vegan food should be naughty, delicious and bursting with flavor,” Naughty Vegan’s menu features an indulgent selection of burgers, sliders and baskets inspired by the duo’s favorite cheat-day meals.

After starting with meal prep delivery in 2021, Naughty Vegan debuted on the Phoenix food truck and pop-up scene in 2022. Since then, it’s earned a steady stream of loyal followers, dubbed “Naughties,” and added catering.

Thornton says it's been incredible seeing a long-held dream come to fruition.

“Since I was 12, I wanted to be a chef and own my own restaurant," she says. "When COVID hit, I said, ‘I just want to put my efforts towards Naughty Vegan and make it happen.'"

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The Fishy Vish basket uses banana blossom in place of a standard white fish fillet.
Naughty Vegan

Creating the perfect bite

Naughty Vegan was born somewhat out of necessity. The couple struggled to find a reliable vegan spot serving food as juicy and delicious as its meat-laden counterparts.

“Oftentimes, the only vegan option is a salad or maybe some french fries. We wanted to be a place where people can really indulge in savory and delicious comfort food,” Avina says.

Before creating their menu, Thornton and Avina perfected their mock meats. They spent months experimenting with different ingredients to ensure they had something far from the dry, tough meat substitutes they were accustomed to eating.

“With plant-based cooking, it’s all about taste and texture. The taste can be great, but if the texture is wrong, people won’t like it,” Thornton says.

The burger patty recipe remains top-secret, but the pair often utilizes jackfruit for chicken and seafood items. For Avina’s favorite dish, the Fishy Vish basket, they settled on banana blossoms, a purple-skinned flower from the end of a banana fruit cluster.

After hand-breading the banana blossom, they fry it to a deep golden brown, the final product resembling a cod fillet. It’s served with a classic seafood boil mix of corn, potatoes, crab-less meat and vegan sausage.

“A lot of vegans will say the hardest thing to give up was cheese, but for me, it was seafood,” Avina says. “The Fishy Vish basket fills that seafood void that [vegans] desire.”

When coming up with new menu items, Thornton finds herself gravitating towards burgers.

“On any given day, I might turn to Cherrie and say, ‘I’ve got an idea for a burger that I want to try,'” Thornton says. “It's just us experimenting and seeing what we really like.”

The Jezebel burger, for example, came after Thornton craved a burger with smoky bacon. The burger’s combination of BBQ chips, fried onion strips and smoked vegan gouda helps mimic the savory bacon taste without animal products.

Other items stemmed from personal favorites. One of Naughty Vegan's first creations, the now-signature Basic B!tch, took inspiration from the Thousand Island-smeared burgers Thornton enjoyed growing up in southern California.

Similar to an In-N-Out burger, the Naughty Vegan version features sautéed onions, sweet pickles, lettuce, tomato and house-made “Naughty Sauce.” The tangy combo won over customers, quickly becoming a top-selling item and inspiring a larger version with an equally cheeky name: The Big B!tch.

Thornton still counts the Basic B!tch as her favorite menu item but adds that she might have a new favorite after she debuts some new creations. While she’s not yet ready to share exactly what they are, she describes them as “next level.”

“I think it’s really going to blow some people's minds, especially the vegan community,” she says.

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During the summer months, Naughty Vegan trades their outdoor tent for indoor kitchen takeovers at local bars and restaurants.
Naughty Vegan

What’s next?

Naughty Vegan’s summer season is typically slower than the rest of the year, but Thornton and Avina have a steady lineup of events over the next two months. Come September, they’ll start a residency at central Phoenix craft beer destination Roses by the Stairs Brewing.

The pair is also dreaming up new ways to connect with Phoenix’s burgeoning vegan community. Thornton and Avina lamented the closures of vegan restaurants like 24 Carrots and Pomegranate Cafe, and hope to start a new event to bolster support for the Valley’s plant-based restaurateurs.

Despite the closures, they’re optimistic about the future of vegan food in Phoenix, noting the public’s increasing willingness to try plant-based eats. While Thornton naturally wants to appeal to vegans, she is equally as excited when someone who isn’t vegan tastes their food and raves about it.

“I want to show people that vegan food can be absolutely delicious," Thornton says, "so it fills us with joy to know we’re changing people’s perception."

Naughty Vegan

1001 N. Central Ave., #110
July 13 and Aug. 10

Gracie's Tax Bar
711 N. Seventh Ave.
July 17 and Aug. 21
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