Rascal’s: Delicious Vegan Food Downtown

Alice Bilyk/Daily Nexus

So, I’m not technically vegan – I mean, I try to shop vegan for environmental reasons and limit my consumption of animal products (which I think we should all try to do if we can , but that’s a different article), but, when not grocery shopping, I eat just about anything. However, one of my close friends is vegan and another is vegetarian, so we try many different vegan options and restaurants around Santa Barbara. Last year we heard about this little pop-up that does vegan Mexican fast food and we had to try it! The first time I visited, and every visit since, has been magical from start to finish.

First of all, the atmosphere! It is located in this beautiful lofty space at 18 E Cota Street, right next to Palace and Foxtail. Venus in Furs was once a bar owned by The Good Lion company which operated from the location, but is now exclusively staffed by Rascal’s. It looks like an elegant jungle garden – the definition of organized good vibes.

Let’s talk about food! Rascal’s has a 100% vegan menu which they update quite frequently, and they’re good at offering and labeling gluten-free options. The restaurant is open five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday. Since March 18, 2022, they have been offering a wide selection of vegan Mexican dishes from Wednesday to Saturday. Their tortillas and fries are made from scratch and are honestly some of the most delicious I’ve ever had.

Alice Bilyk/Daily Nexus

They currently offer the fries and salsa, wheat chicharrones, and spicy elote (topped with Taki’s, veganaise, almond parm, and cilantro) as small plates. For tacos, they offer tacos rajas (grilled pasilla peppers with onions and vegan cheese), tacos picadillo impossibles (impossible meat infused with guajillo, with carrots and potatoes), and tacos al pastor (seitan and fresh pineapple with coriander, onion and lime). In addition to the tacos, the menu offers two bowls – a salad option (greens, peppers, potatoes, quinoa, tomatoes, and tofu) and a bowl of oyster mushrooms and pinto beans (with cilantro, radish, and lime). Their main dishes include asada sopes (cheese, refried pinto beans, asada, lettuce, tofu, cashew cream), tempeh torta (tempeh with chipotle aioli, lettuce and tomato on a telera roll) and chicken burrito (chicken with seitan, beans, Spanish rice and pico de gallo).

For dessert they currently have a lemon cheesecake. They also offer a variety of agua frescas and soft drinks. Also, in terms of price, I wouldn’t call them expensive. Small plates are $6-8, everything else ranges from $12-16, and the portions are generous.

On Sundays, they serve their Burgertown menu, which consists mostly of waffle fries, a cheeseburger, and their weekly milkshake flavor. Note that their waffle fries are so delicious, I don’t know how they do it; my partner is gluten intolerant so the only thing he can have on the Burgertown menu is the waffle fries – they were more than enough to call this a hit outing.

From this current selection, my friends and I tried the fries and salsa, tacos rajas, tacos al pastor, sopes asada, specialty crunchwrap, and Burgertown menu. We marveled at their ability to replicate the taste and feel of meat so faithfully, especially in dishes like asada sopes and crunchwrap, in addition to the consistently delicious quality of the food. No matter what’s on the menu, we know it will be delicious. In previous menus, we have tasted delicious combinations like hibiscus flautas, blue corn potato tacos and chicharron chile verde tacos with nopales. I’m already dreaming of coming back, even if I was there just this weekend!

Rascals frequently does short-lived collaborations with other small establishments, such as Low Pigeon (@lowpigeon), Muni Wine (@muniwine), GoodStuffBakedTreats (@eatgoodstuffeveryday) and Coastal Coffee Collaborative (@coastalcoffeecollaborative), and offers specialty menu items , such as their vegan crunchwrap, vegan pizza, or occasional Sunday brunch menu.

I’m so glad they’re putting a ton of effort into building relationships with other local small businesses, as it creates a unique community of businesses with meaningful connections to this area! Restaurants and businesses that come together to collaborate are always, to me, an indicator of a thriving local food scene. They post their events and menus on their Instagram (@rascals_sb). They also recently started offering delivery on Grubhub!

For someone like me who loves to cook, sometimes I feel like the restaurants in Santa Barbara are too expensive for something you can make at home. Part of the magic at Rascal’s is that all of the dishes are so deliciously indulgent that it never crosses your mind that they’re vegan substitutes, and I don’t think their food is something you can easily reproduce at home.

In the past, Rascals, The Good Lion Company and Barbareño have collaborated to share the rent for this space, running Barb’s Pies, Venus in Furs Bar and Rascal’s from one location. However, since then Barbareno has dropped out, later followed by Venus in Furs. Now the space belongs exclusively to Rascal, and they are fighting to keep it. If I can recommend one restaurant in Santa Barbara, or go anywhere for a night out, it would be Rascal’s. The food is made with heart and skill, is always delicious, all in a beautiful space.

A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the March 31, 2022 edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Tanya S. Norvell