Chicana Vegana brings vegan Mexican food to downtown Fullerton
A new, pink marquee reading “Chicana” illuminates downtown Fullerton from above by nightfall.
Below, a brick-and-mortar restaurant is flanked by comic book images of a purple pig-tailed luchadora. Both announce a new culinary superheroine in town — Chicana Vegana — and she’s ready to serve up Mexican meals with a vegan twist.
“More people than we know are looking for what we have,” says Jasmine Hernandez, the 27-year-old owner of Chicana Vegana. “It’s pretty revolutionary food. If you can bring a friend and they won’t ever know that the food is vegan unless you tell them, that’s pretty revolutionary in many ways.”
With a soft opening slated for later this month, more patrons will be able satiate their appetite for change.
It’s been enough of a whirlwind for Hernandez to think about her business in such a way. She started Chicana Vegana just three years ago as a pop-up food tent right after turning vegan. It didn’t take long for her meatless California burritos and asada fries to become staples among a loyal and growing fan base at weekend parking lot food fests and counterculture events.
Soon Hernandez traded the pop-up tent for a food truck before letting the ink dry on a contract in January allowing her to turn Chicana Vegana into a brick-and-mortar restaurant with a prime location in downtown Fullerton.
The quick ascent is seemingly all the more unlikely given Hernandez’s own background.
A second-generation Chicana, she spent her Fullerton childhood growing up in the company of both her grandparents and great-grandparents. The kitchen routinely beckoned with the aroma of huevos con chorizo in the morning and carne con chile later in the day. But aside from occasionally making arroz or a pot of beans, Hernandez didn’t take to cooking much.
And then, she turned away from meat altogether as a teen in favor animal rights and veganism, something seen as a natural extension of her growing curiosity in social justice. Hernandez began as an off-and-on vegetarian before making a fuller and more lasting commitment to ditch all animal products, too, in her early 20s.
That’s when she developed a hunger for Mexican food that stayed faithful to the plant-based diet she adopted.
A revelation came at a vegan food festival on Fourth Street in Long Beach one year; a spot served up what Hernandez, and many others, craved.
“I remember being super excited because they had carne asada tacos,” she says. “I waited for hours because the tent was bombarded with people.”
For the times Hernandez couldn’t find vegan takes on her beloved Mexican food, she began experimenting in the kitchen herself.
After graduating from UCLA and working a full-time job, she quickly discovered a new talent for cooking in her spare time. Determined, Hernandez started her own pop-up, calling it Chicana Vegana, before becoming a weekend warrior feeding people at festivals, concerts and zine fests. The decision didn’t entail much financial risk, but was a lot of work — and it paid off.
“I don’t even know how I did it on some days,” she says, “but I was able to quit my day job and pursue this out of a tent.”
When the opportunity later came to turn Chicana Vegana into a food truck, Hernandez took it. The brightly decorated pink and purple lonchera she rented also came with an expanded menu of impossible burgers and taquitos while “Cali bae-ritos” and asada fries remained fan favorites.
The hustle entailed traveling to events in-and-around Southern California to serve plant-based Mexican specialties to the masses, a true labor of love.
“Because the food truck looks convenient on the outside, people assume that it’s easier for the cooks,” says Hernandez. “It’s harder. If your generator goes out, your whole restaurant is out. We enjoyed it while it lasted, but we were happy that another opportunity came in Fullerton.”
And it arrived just in time — or so it seemed, at first.
Hernandez had enlisted the help of her immediate family, who all followed her lead in turning vegan, throughout the Chicana Vegana experiment. When the lease on the food truck neared its end, they contemplated whether or not to continue until finding an available storefront in downtown Fullerton. The property owner loved the vision for the business as everything seemed to fall perfectly into place.
“We’re from here,” says Hernandez, who attended Fullerton College before transferring. “We feel like we belong.”
But as the kitchen readied to start cooking, the coronavirus pandemic turned the restaurant industry upside down. Hopes of a grand opening in May were delayed, if not dashed.
Hernandez didn’t let that deter her. Chicana Vegana’s been taking online orders and doing curb-side pickup since March. The Cali bae-rito remains an inspired, hefty take on the San Diego standard, with soy protein substitutes expertly seasoned to go along with golden fries wrapped inside a flour tortilla.
And its menu expanded to include more burger and taco options. Chicana Vegana even added dessert in the form of a sweet and spongy dairy-free tres leches cake topped with fresh strawberries slices.
“We’re not really a taqueria and not fully a burger parlor, but something in between,” she says. “As Chicanas, we have an American and a Mexican identity.”
That persona takes shape not just on the menu but in the form of the Chicana Vegana superheroine mural painted on the wall. It’s what gives the restaurant a fighting spirit, serving up good plant-based Mexican food, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Hernandez even muses that one day the character can make the leap into comic books or even an animated series on Adult Swim.
For now, getting the brick-and-mortar restaurant up-and-running is enough of a feat.
“We hope to serve all the communities that helped us succeed in the first place,” says Hernandez. “We’ll take it one day at a time.”
IF YOU GO
What: Chicana Vegana
Where: 113 East Commonwealth, Fullerton
Information: 714-519-3380; chicanavegana.com
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