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LA-based pop-up Vuture Food brings its famed vegan 'junk food' to San Luis Obispo

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When you think about vegan food, you probably don't imagine the kind of carb-loaded fast food you'd crave after a night out at the bars with your friends. The kind that's greasy and juicy and bad for you in all the best ways.

But at Vuture Food, a Los Angeles-based pop-up restaurant that prides itself on serving up hot vegan "junk food," changing the world's perception of vegan food is the whole point.

JUNK FOOD Vuture Food is an LA-based pop-up restaurant that serves vegan "junk food" all over the U.S. Vuture stopped by SLO's Broad Street Public House on April 29, where they served up their famous imitation fried chicken sandwiches. - PHOTOS BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photos By Kasey Bubnash
  • JUNK FOOD Vuture Food is an LA-based pop-up restaurant that serves vegan "junk food" all over the U.S. Vuture stopped by SLO's Broad Street Public House on April 29, where they served up their famous imitation fried chicken sandwiches.

"What we're trying to do is spread kind of a broader aspect that vegan food doesn't just have to be wheatgrass shots and tree bark," said Vuture caterer Gomez, who goes by his last name, Gomez, and Gomez only.

Gomez is one of a handful of Vuture employees who travel all over the U.S. to show off the company's renowned chicken-inspired fried "chik'n" sandwiches, which are made with deep-fried soy patties, come with a variety of sauces and toppings, and are amazingly reminiscent of actual chicken sandwiches. On April 29, Vuture stopped in San Luis Obispo and set up shop outside Broad Street Public House, where hungry customers lined up by the dozens to get a taste of the plant-based grub.

I grabbed a beer—a refreshing kölsch that Broad Street Public House had on draft—and ordered what Gomez told me were some of the crowd favorites: The classic crispy chik'n sandwich, topped with pickles and housemade vegan ranch dressing; the mango habanero chik'n sandwich, slathered in sweet and spicy sauce that had a true kick; and the buffalo chicken fries, crisp ruffle-cut fries dripping with hot buffalo sauce and creamy vegan ranch.

A FOLLOWING Gomez, a Vuture caterer, takes orders as a line builds at Vuture Food's pop-up vegan junk food event in San Luis Obispo. - PHOTOS BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photos By Kasey Bubnash
  • A FOLLOWING Gomez, a Vuture caterer, takes orders as a line builds at Vuture Food's pop-up vegan junk food event in San Luis Obispo.

A disclaimer: I'm not a vegan because I personally don't think I could live without cheese. But I totally get the overall mission of plant-based eating. It's healthy, it's better for the planet, and I fully support all the motivated and kind-hearted vegans and vegetarians out there who are doing what they can to make the world a better place.

Even so, I'm generally skeptical of vegan and veggie products marketed as replacements to real meat and dairy. I've had vegan "cheese" that tasted like gelatinous nuts. I've had "bacon" tempeh that tasted like a smoked sponge. It's. Just. Not. The same.

But the instant I bit into Vuture's classic sandwich my worries dissolved. Gomez, who also doesn't consider himself vegan, was right.

"You don't have to be vegan to taste our food and go, 'Holy shit,'" he told me before the event.

SPICY Vuture's mango habanero fried chik'n sandwich—topped with lettuce, vegan ranch, and jalapeños—is a crowd favorite. - PHOTOS BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photos By Kasey Bubnash
  • SPICY Vuture's mango habanero fried chik'n sandwich—topped with lettuce, vegan ranch, and jalapeños—is a crowd favorite.

The soy patty is, of course, not quite identical to chicken in texture or flavor. But coated in Vuture's crispy, flavorful breading, slapped between two gorgeous burger buns, slathered with creamy ranch, and topped with vinegary pickles, the overall experience is remarkably similar to what you'd have at Popeyes or Chick-fil-A.

It's no wonder Vuture has more than 49,000 followers on Instagram and draws crowds of hundreds to some of its events, despite opening just recently in 2018. Before the Vuture crew hit San Luis Obispo, they'd made stops in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. After their trip through California, they'll head all the way to the East Coast and make their way through the South too.

They're aiming, Gomez said, for cities that might not have a lot of vegan options and a customer base that normally wouldn't be interested in branching away from meat and dairy products. The hope, he said, is that Vuture can expose all walks of life to the fun side of vegan food and illustrate all it could be. Veganism is the future, Gomez said, hence the name, "Vuture."

"So far," he said, "our following has grown exponentially since we kind of just stuck to that idea."

Fatimah Hassan is the first to admit that not all vegan products are created equal. Hassan, a vegan of four years and longtime vegetarian, said at the Vuture event on April 29 that she once had a vegan pizza with a crust that tasted like cardboard and marinara sauce that tasted strangely similar to Thousand Island dressing.

"It has to taste really good," she said, "and it has to taste like what people remembered when they ate it."

BEAN PIE, GET YOUR BEAN PIE Fatimah Hassan's vegan bean pies, which somehow contain all the warm buttery goodness of any traditional pie, stole the show at Vuture Food's pop-up event in San Luis Obispo on April 29. - PHOTOS BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photos By Kasey Bubnash
  • BEAN PIE, GET YOUR BEAN PIE Fatimah Hassan's vegan bean pies, which somehow contain all the warm buttery goodness of any traditional pie, stole the show at Vuture Food's pop-up event in San Luis Obispo on April 29.

That's what Vuture does with its chik'n sandwiches, and it's what Hassan does with her own food. Hassan runs a vegan pop-up shop in the Inland Empire area, Sistah Fatimah's Vegan Pies, and has been traveling around with Vuture for a few months.

Her first successful pie recipe was adapted from her mother's decades-old bean pie, which Hassan said she learned to make when she was just 4 years old. After struggling with chronic stomach problems for years, Hassan said eliminating meat and dairy helped tremendously. She decided she needed to make fun food that she could eat, and for others like her.

After perfecting her vegan bean pie, she tested it on her unsuspecting family. They were shocked to later learn that the pie they'd eaten lacked animal products entirely. Now she sells bean, butternut, and sweet potato pies, alongside vegan cheesecakes, cobblers, cakes, and cookies. It took her more than a year to get some of the recipes just right.

Hassan graciously gave me a strawberry cheesecake and bean pie to try out, and, honestly, I don't know how she did it. Both were absolutely delicious, but the bean pie in particular could have fooled me in a second. I would have never in a million years guessed that you could make such a delicious pie crust without butter. So I guess Hassan was right, too.

"You can eat healthy," she said, "and fun and tasty." Δ

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@newtimesslo.com.

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