Alebrije Mexican Grill & Tequilla Bar is an authentic Mexican restaurant and bar that opened just six months ago in Sanford (in the Winn Dixie Plaza). They specialize in fresh plant-powered ingredients through traditional Mexican cuisine and cocktails. Owner and operator Ericka Goycoolea invited us to Alebrije to sample several of their vast vegan options.
SALSA AND TORTILLA CHIPS
Once seated, we were quickly served a bowl of fresh tortilla chips and some of their housemade salsa. The salsa didn’t last long because my husband couldn’t get enough. It was fresh, well seasoned, and had a great texture. I should know because I attempted to make homemade salsa this past week and it looked nothing like this. If they sold this salsa in jars, we’d be first in line to purchase some.
GUACAMOLE WITH SALSA MACHA
Second up was their guacamole with a side of salsa macha. This was my first time ever trying salsa macha. It’s a sort of deep ruby red spicy sauce that is traditionally served directly on top of fresh guacamole, but at Alebrije they serve it on the side to accommodate guests who may not be as comfortable with spice as I am.
The guacamole was so fresh and flavorful, utilizing fresh herbs, citrus, and the most perfect avocados. It’s a mystery how some rare masters are able to select perfect avocados for recipes like this, but Ericka has seemed to master the art. The guac and salsa macha was served with fresh tortilla chips. When you come to Alebrije, order this!
Although traditionally elotes asado might be smothered in mayo and cotija cheese, Chef Ericka told us that another traditional way to enjoy this signature corn dish is simply with freshly squeezed lime and chili powder. The corn was charred to perfection which gave it not only a great texture but also a wonderful smokey flavor. This was yet another dish that was gone quickly because we could not get enough (hence the single corn cob in the photo, instead of the four cob pieces that came with it originally).
To veganize this dish, just let your server know and they will remove the non-vegan products.
Most of you reading this are probably familiar with the concept of ‘fajitas’. Alambre is a traditional dish reminiscent of fajitas including cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and asparagus served with the most pillowy corn tortillas I’ve ever had in my life. Let your server know to veganize this when you order.
Chef Ericka revealed to us that on Friday and Saturdays you can spot a tortilla master in the kitchen who comes in to make the coming week's fresh corn tortillas. Any tortillas that begin to dry up before they can grace a dish get converted into their delicious housemade tortilla chips.
As mentioned before, Chef Ericka has a talent for finding perfect avocados. No dish better highlights this than Alebrije’s avocado salad made with perfectly ripe avocado chunks, spinach, cilantro, onion, lime juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. It’s a lighter–yet somehow still decadent–salad that can be summed up in one word: fresh. As with most of the vegan options at Alebrije, this vegan dish is delicious as a dish not just “good for a vegan dish”. Plants are the star, and this one shines.
A queca, so I learned, is something similar to a quesadilla. It’s made with a thicker tortilla than their other dishes and browned until it gains a crispy texture and smokey scent. Our quecas with filled with flavorful mushrooms. We loved these and we also loved the price. At $4 a plate, these quecas are one of the cheapest items on the menu. I’d highly recommend this for foodies on a budget who want to experience Alebrije.
Ours, of course, came without cheese. To veganize, let your server know.
To wrap up the meal, Chef Ericka brought us a delicious ‘Carajillo’ crafted with Licor 43 and locally-made Wavelength Coffee espresso. Ericka is huge on sourcing her ingredients—especially her alcoholic beverages–from local businesses when possible. That’s why you won’t find Bud Light or Heineken in Alebrije, but you will find local coffee roasters and Orlando-based beers.
Ericka fondly told us stories of drinking this digestive after a large meal, as we had just had, back in Mexico. Every one of her meals and beverages has a story, down to the last drop.
ORDERING VEGAN AT ALEBRIJE
The vegan options at Alebrije are plentiful. You will find that the menu has several items with a green ‘V’ beside certain items. This indicates that these dishes are vegetarian or can be prepared vegetarian. If you are ordering vegan, please always specify. One you have, the wonderful Alebrije staff will be happy to take care of you!
A NOTE ON PLANT-FORWARD FOOD
In the dishes we tried, we noticed a lack of mock meats and cheeses. This is intentional. It’s part of Alebrije’s core philosophy that vegetables can stand on their own–that they are both delicious and nutritious. It’s about making food more plant-powered and honoring the way Mexican chefs have cooked their food for ages, not incorporating processed foods that don’t fit Chef Ericka’s culinary vision.
I think this is a brave and uncommon move for restaurants with vegan options, and I’m here for it! This is what I’d love to see more of in the future of the vegan scene… there will always be a time and a place for a Beyond Burger or Breyers Non-Dairy Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, but I hope that plant-forward dishes like these become staples at restaurants not online in Sanford, but across the nation.
IN CONCLUSION Our first visit to Alebrije was a positive experience! So many delicious vegan options in a fun atmosphere. We’ll be back with friends. Support local female-run restaurants by coming to Alebrije!