$10 Lunch: Vegan Tacos De Papa, or Ceviche, at Pachamama

Vegan tacos de papa from Pachamama
Vegan tacos de papa from Pachamama Chris Malloy
As a restaurant, Pachamama is hard to capture in a neat description.

It’s vegan, but nothing like what that might lead you to imagine. It’s Mexican but also leans into broader Latin traditions as well as other styles that Puerto Rican chef Kevin Lebron has picked up in his long career, having cooked in places like La Grande Orange.

The menu at Pachamama, which traded the farmers’ market for its brick-and-mortar location at 4115 North 19th Avenue in the last days of summer, is small. Just this past week, Lebron and his wife, Maria — they're the co-owners and the restaurant's only workers — pared it down even further. Now, the menu stands at six items plus a special. They’re a product of the mind-meld between non-vegan Kevin and vegan Maria, whose diet and tastes inspire much of the menu.

The centerpiece of the menu is an order of tacos de papa. These potato tacos are, Lebron says, pretty much mashed potatoes in a taco. But they are cheffed up into something a little more.

An order brings three tacos for $9. They are hard-shell corn tortillas with all the crunch of tortilla chips, griddled long and shaped around a smashed potato with garlic. Chomp in, and it’s all dramatic shell wreckage and then the decadent glide of the hot potato. The potatoes are Yukon golds embellished with coconut milk. Though the shell-potato one-two steals the show, other touches provide small boosts on the edges, like a cashew-chipotle “crema” and smoked almonds.

I like the salsa that sidekicks this taco, which also happens to be available by the small tub for $5. Made from chile de arbol and almonds, it’s a really clean and light salsa, with some pretty unshy fruity notes, a bit of thickness, and a fast-building moderate heat.

Another item that caught my eye was the fish-less ceviche ($11) that spotlights hearts of palm. This isn’t the first marine-free ceviche to feature prominently on a local eatery’s menu (RIP Bri). The dish comes from Maria’s memories of growing up eating shrimp ceviche. She, of course, no longer eats shrimp. Big rounds of hearts of palm coated with lemon and lime and mixed with chopped tomatoes and celery provide a vague something of a fish-like texture.

click to enlarge Chips and a salsa made from chile de arbol and almonds. - CHRIS MALLOY
Chips and a salsa made from chile de arbol and almonds.
Chris Malloy
Jam in and heap your chips (which are only $1, by the way). The ceviche is a refreshing version, one with minimal citrus zing. On its own, it won’t fill you up, so order it as a side or to share with someone while you make tacos or a burrito the main event.

The Lebrons like to keep ingredients local. For instance, they recently ran a taco special featuring Southwest Mushrooms' oyster mushrooms with a Serrano salsa.

Open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Pachamama feels like something of an incubation space for cool vegan cooking. The Lebrons plan to open “a few different vegan concepts,” Kevin says. Right now, though, you can grab a solid lunch from their first.  
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy