Vegan delis offering everything from plant-based pastrami to vegan meatball sandwiches are popping up across the country – including these three popular spots in Southern California.
Over the past decade, plant-based food options have skyrocketed, as innovative vegan chefs have dreamed up creative cuisine to match the steadily increasing demand for delicious and nutritious vegan options.
Delis and butchers, however, remained off the menu for vegans until just a few years ago, when “plant butchers” started opening across the country, from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City to Brooklyn. Serving vegan cold cuts, bratwurst, ground beef, and ribs, a trio of plant-based delis have opened in Southern California in the past couple of years.
Maciel’s Plant-Based Butcher Shop & Deli, Los Angeles
Maciel Bañales Luna and Joe Egender opened Maciel’s Plant-Based Butcher Shop & Deli in Los Angeles in 2022 with the goal of creating something familiar: the corner deli.
“It’s like any average neighborhood butcher shop that you find on the corner in any town or city, the only difference is it’s plant-based,” Egender says. “People can come in and buy their weekly meats, just like you would at any butcher.”
Acknowledging that the creation of vegan protein options like Impossible Meat represented an important accomplishment, Luna and Egender noted that many of these meat alternatives are overly processed and not entirely healthful. Their goal is to provide more nutritious and delicious vegan proteins that are locally sourced, housemade, and created with whole ingredients, little processing, and no preservatives.
As such, all of the plant-based meats at Maciel’s—pastrami, salami, turkey, bacon, chicharon, chorizo—are made daily in-house from whole ingredients like beans, chickpeas, beets, mushrooms, and lots of spices, emulating classic flavors.
“I have a background in nutrition, so I like to eat healthy,” Luna says. “We love animals, and we’re concerned about climate change. It was a combination of all the things that we care about the most.”
The menu was intentionally crafted so that the food would feel familiar for all customers, especially those who have limited experience creating meat-free meals. The menu spotlights classic options like breakfast burritos, a reuben sandwich, a chicken pesto melt, and the Californian, seven-grain sourdough stacked high with turkey, bacon, avocado, tomato, sprouts, gouda, mayo, and dijon.
Luna is originally from Mexico and dreams about opening a plant-based restaurant in Mexico City, so curating cultural food items like carne asada and Mexican adobo ribs was essential.
“What [people] eat is ingrained in them,” Egender says. “It’s part of your heritage, and it’s part of your ancestry. It’s not easy for people to change. The more that we find restaurants that are plant-based that are [from] different ethnicities and regions, the better, because it just brings more people into the fold.”
Although the pair has dealt with questions as to why they identify as butchers, they are secure in their practice and dedication to provide healthier, more sustainable and cruelty-free food options to customers.
“Meat doesn’t have a taste,” Egender says. “We give it flavor. We barbecue it. We season it. We give it herbs. We make the taste. We’re just making a similar taste using different ingredients. It makes perfect sense to us to create things that taste, look and smell similar to what we like, but to do it in a way that is sustainable for the planet and doesn’t hurt animals.”
The Plant Butchers, Long Beach
After noticing a lack of vegan deli options in Long Beach, Nia Campos decided to create one. She opened The Plant Butchers at the beginning of October 2023, where she veganizes traditional items and creates healthier vegan protein options.
“Veganism has, over the past 10 years, become trendy, but I have seen that trend swing toward overly processed meats,” Campos says. “It’s great that [those products] exist for a lot of reasons, but it is turning off a lot of people.”
Campos transforms jackfruit into fried chicken and mushrooms and walnuts into meatballs. She makes all the meats – like maple bacon, fried chicken, and roast beef – and cheeses, like mozzarella, brie, and cotija – in the store. Any meal can be completed with sides like mac and cheese and potato salad.
Like at a traditional deli, customers can select meats and cheeses to take home and incorporate into their own meals. They can also get made-to-order sandwiches and browse the curated vegan marketplace, which is stocked with snacks, pastas, sauces, sweets, and drinks from local businesses.
Although Campos has had a few customers mock the concept of plant butchery to her, she doesn’t mind.
“I personally love when those people come in, because then we get to show them how wrong they really are and how delicious plant-based food is,” Campos says with a laugh. “I love to give samples to people like that. We’ve had a few of those people turn into regular customers.”
Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, Palm Springs and Palm Desert
For decades, Tanya Petrovna has been experimenting and elevating plant-based foods. What grew from a ninth-grade report on animal mistreatment has blossomed into plant-based restaurants in both Palm Springs and Palm Desert, each complete with a deli and marketplace.
“Housemade tempeh can rule the world. We just need to give it a chance.”– Tanya Petrovna, Chef Tanya’s Kitchen
Petrovna isn’t trying to convert the world to veganism, but instead offers consumers a choice, filling her menu with vegan sandwiches, salads, burgers, and house-cut fries.
“I knew food could taste good, really good, without it,” Petrovna says, referring to animal products and byproducts. “I have to get others to know this. How can they know this if they don’t try it? If they don’t have a source to try it?”
With a background in biology, Petrovna brings a scientific perspective to her food composition. Because she understands the biological composition of foods like tempeh, a common vegetarian protein source derived from soybeans that has a trypsin inhibitor that makes it hard to digest, Petrovna knows how to transform it into its most digestible and delicious form. Her favorite item on the menu at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen is her original tempeh burger, one of the first dishes that inspired her to create her restaurant.
“Housemade tempeh can rule the world,” Petrovna says. “We just need to give it a chance.”
Providing vegan options should be a necessity for all restaurants, Petrovna says. If there’s a group of friends and one person is vegetarian, the group will go where that friend can eat. That’s why it’s important to provide not only a vegan option, she says, “but a delicious vegan option.”
“If [there is] a vegan option on the menu, which a lot of places have, and it tastes like crap, [it] perpetuates this myth,” Petrovna says. “That is also a main reason why I opened the restaurant: to debunk this myth about ‘rabbit food.’”