No animal products, ever. For Dalan Moreno, veganism is not just a diet choice. It’s a lifestyle decision and the driving force behind Rascal’s, the mainly Mexican vegan cuisine he’s been serving out of guest kitchens since 2018 after successful pop-ups on the Westside.
It hasn’t been easy. Promoting vegan food in a world where the majority of folks eat meat is one challenge, but finding financing and kitchens to work in are a constant battle. That’s despite successful stints at Bibi Ji and Venus in Furs, where he remains today even though the wine bar actually closed a few weeks ago. (The owners of Venus in Furs have pledged to stay open for Rascal’s pop-ups until the lease expires.)
But the grassroots, social-media-powered community support behind Rascal’s is immense. Just last weekend, after posting on Instagram that the business was struggling and may have to close, a flood of orders came through, plus more than 1,500 likes on the original post and nearly 1,000 more on the thank-you response. The party continues this Friday, March 18, 6-9:30 p.m., when Rascals and Venus in Furs host an art exhibit for Adriana la Artista and Baby Moet.
While creating vegan food was Moreno’s main motivation, he’s dedicated to making food accessible. “I find a lot of time that vegan food is expensive and inaccessible,” he said. “We want our food to be something people can afford.”
He’s also vigilant on authenticity, even making his own tortillas from scratch. Until recently, Moreno was using a handheld grinder that he modified himself, but he was able to fundraise enough money to buy a traditional molino last month.
“I had been wanting this for a long time but couldn’t finance it, so I asked people on Instagram for help and we were able to make the money in one day,” he explained. “We’re sourcing fresh corn, washing and prepping it, boiling it, and grinding it through the molino ourselves.”
Most Americans consider tacos to be tortillas filled with meat, but plenty of other options are common in Mexican homes, including potatoes, nopales, calabacitas (squash and squash flowers), mushroom, and avocado. The Rascal’s menu has featured all those and more, and is constantly revolving.
“We probably keep our menu for about six weeks, and then we change it — I just get bored of making the same things,” he said. “The only thing we really keep is the elote” — a street corn dish that he covers in vegan mayo, crushed chili-lime Takis, and vegan parmesan.
Vegetables aren’t the only stars. Moreno’s use of plant-based proteins is game-changing and opens the door to vegan versions of al pastor, picadillo, and more, which fill up tacos, tortas, sopes, and burritos. Altogether, he’s one of the most exciting young chefs to follow in Santa Barbara, whether you love meat or hate it.
Rascal’s and Venus in Furs host the “Heaven and Hell art exhibit of Adriana La Artista and Baby Moet” on Friday, March 18, 6-9:30 p.m. at 18 E. Cota St. Follow Rascals on Instagram at @rascals_sb.
This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to sbcan.org/journalism_fund.