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It wasn’t very long ago that finding a vegan restaurant in Mexico City was like finding a friend on the city’s overcrowded metro during rush hour (read: impossible). In fact, until this decade there were no exclusively vegan eateries in Mexico’s bustling capital. This is not to suggest that vegan options weren’t available, but exploring the city as a vegan could be a tricky business, and veganism was a little-understood concept.

So unusual an idea it was, that journalist-cum-chef Mariana Blanco was often called a loser or perdedora by friends who found her animal-free and plant-rich lifestyle to be at odds with what they knew. So when she opened the first vegan restaurant in the city, and indeed the first in Latin America, she called it Los Loosers. For those eagle-eyed readers who have already spotted the misspelling, it is happily intentional: the double “o” represents the wheels of the bikes that were used to deliver the food across Mexico City.

Los Loosers, in fact, started not as a restaurant as such but as a delivery service. At a time before Uber Eats arrived in Mexico City, Blanco cleared space in her apartment, invested 6,000 pesos (US$320) in a bread oven and began taking orders for vegan hamburgers through Facebook. The burgers were delivered by bicycle far and wide across the megalopolis.

The food was popular, very popular, and in 2014, having not spent a peso on advertising, Blanco had enough customers and enough money to open a proper restaurant in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Four successful years later, they no longer offer deliveries because Blanco now sees the restaurant as being about “more than just food.” For this deeply passionate chef, eating is also about “feeding your soul.” It is the whole experience, from leaving your house, to coming to the restaurant and being part of the atmosphere. And quite an atmosphere this small and perpetually busy restaurant has.

We entered the beautifully designed eatery, which is decorated with a combination of accessories from Mexico and Asia, on a bustling Friday afternoon. The long central table was packed with young locals laughing and hungrily enjoying a mixture of tacos and ramen, while late 80s pop rock rang out from the speakers. On the menu were Mexican favorites like tacos al pastor, gorditas and sopes as well as Korean-style tacos and ramen, all made without animal products.

The Asian influence comes from Blanco’s love of the region. She recounts watching a Japanese cartoon as a child and recognizing herself in it. From there, her interest in Asia and Asian food only grew. She sees similarities in the cuisines too, explaining that they both use a lot of “lime, chile, soups and sauces,” meaning that they pair well together.

The meat eaters among our group swore that the tacos al pastor tasted much like the “real thing.”

Discussing the menu, Blanco told us proudly “they are all my recipes,” and with the menu changing week by week – the most popular options remain and new dishes are added – she has to innovate again and again. Ingredients are carefully selected from local producers whom Blanco visits personally before buying from them. On the day we stopped by the restaurant, she was excited by a delivery of yellow broad beans, reveling in the challenge of a new ingredient.

The food, which comes beautifully displayed, is packed with the type of flavor that you can only get from using the best ingredients. The meat eaters among our group swore that the tacos al pastor tasted much like the “real thing.” Blanco described how some customers come here without knowing it is a vegan restaurant and don’t even notice that there is no meat. The textures, the flavors and the presentation all serve to entice even the most ardent meat lovers.

Blanco’s passion and commitment to consciously sourced vegan food is clear. “For me, it is a type of mission,” she said, describing how she wants humans to view animals as equal rather than as inferior. Blanco explained that starting the restaurant was a “way of finding my own voice,” and since Los Loosers began in 2011 she has been invited to share her food globally, traveling to New York, London, Japan and South Korea for workshops and talks on ethical, vegan cuisine. Considering that she started out with just a 6,000-peso investment, the fact that this year the restaurant and Blanco were featured in the Forbes list of businesses changing the way business is done in Mexico is quite an achievement.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Los Loosers led the way in Mexico City’s vegan food boom. Nowadays, the options are seemingly endless; a quick Google search reveals some two-dozen or so vegan eateries in the central neighborhoods alone. Blanco pays little attention to this, however. “My only competition is with myself,” she told us, and it is clear that this 33-year-old has very high expectations of herself and her work, striving always to grow and expand.

Whether or not she’s aware of it, Blanco’s crusade into the unknown has led to big changes in the city’s culinary landscape. Vegans and non-vegans alike are searching out restaurants like hers that offer something different, something creative.

Whether you want an elegant sit-down vegan meal with wine or an animal-free, cruelty-free street food option, your options as a “looser” in Mexico City are only expanding.

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Susannah RiggMariana Blanco and Nikhol Esteras

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