Despite the obstacles, Rascal still serves vegan food in Santa Barbara

No animal products, ever. For Dalan Moreno, veganism is not just a food choice. It’s a lifestyle decision and the driving force behind Rascal’s, the mostly Mexican vegan cuisine it’s been serving in customer kitchens since 2018 after successful pop-ups in the Westside.

This has not been easy. Promoting vegan food in a world where the majority of people eat meat is a challenge, but finding funding and kitchens to work with is a constant battle. And this despite successful stints at Bibi Ji and Venus in Furs, where he remains today even though the wine bar closed a few weeks ago. (The owners of Venus in Furs have pledged to remain open to Rascal pop-ups until the lease expires.)

But the support from the social media-fueled grassroots community behind Rascal’s is immense. Last weekend, after posting on Instagram that the business was in trouble and might have to shut down, a flood of orders came in, over 1,500 likes on the original post and nearly 1,000 more on the reply of thanks. The party continues this Friday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., when Rascals and Venus in Furs organize an art exhibition for Adriana la Artista and Baby Moet.

While creating vegan foods was Moreno’s primary motivation, he is dedicated to making food accessible. “I often find vegan food to be expensive and inaccessible,” he said. “We want our food to be something people can afford.”

He’s also vigilant about authenticity, even making his own tortillas from scratch. Until recently, Moreno used a hand grinder he modified himself, but he was able to raise enough money to buy a traditional molino last month.

“I wanted this for a long time but couldn’t fund it, so I asked people for help on Instagram and we were able to make money in a day,” he explained. “We source the fresh corn, wash and prepare it, boil it and grind it ourselves through the molino.”

Most Americans think of tacos as meat-filled tortillas, but many other options are common in Mexican homes, including potatoes, nopals, calabacitas (squash and squash flowers), mushroom and avocado. The Rascal’s menu featured all of this and more, and is constantly rotating.

“We probably keep our menu for like six weeks and then change it up – I just get bored of doing the same things,” he said. “The only thing we really keep is elote” – a street corn dish that he covers with vegan mayonnaise, crushed chili-lime Takis and vegan parmesan cheese.

Vegetables aren’t the only stars. Moreno’s use of plant-based protein is a game-changer and opens the door to vegan versions of al pastor, picadillo, and more that fill tacos, tortas, sopes, and burritos. All in all, he’s one of the most exciting young chefs to watch in Santa Barbara, whether you love meat or hate it.

Credit: Courtesy

Rascal’s and Venus in Furs are hosting the “Heaven and Hell of Adriana La Artista and Baby Moet” Art Exhibit on Friday, March 18 from 6-9:30 p.m. at 18 E. Cota St. Follow Rascals on Instagram at @rascals_sb.

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Tanya S. Norvell