R: When we came to this unique Mexican all-vegetarian eatery for dinner the first time, we recognized it was more than just a restaurant. The atmosphere is a relaxed combination of funky and avant garde with expressive art on the walls and music that ranges from hip hop to free style rap to spoken word. The walls themselves are a faux finished golden mustard color in the main dining area with multi colored sections in the music area. Still the underlying details were not immediately obvious.
Z: We knew this was a time to suspend all tradition about dining in the formal sense just before we entered. Seated at a small table just outside was an elderly woman in tattered clothing enjoying her heaping plate of food while tossing tidbits out to feed the birds that had gathered for a handout. She greeted us and went right on chattering to her hungry brood.
R: Intrepid that we are, we were not daunted by this first encounter. In we marched with our positive attitudes and walked down the inner corridor to a window where we were to place our order.
Z: Behind us was a blackboard listing some of their offerings. There were Gyoza Rolls with Salad, Glass Noodles, and Tofu rolled on a Wheat Wrap and fried. Also listed were Enchiladas with Rice and Beans and Red or Green Sauce, and Potato Tacos with Rice or Beans. Their special drinks included Horchata, Iced Pineapple Brew, Passionfruit Iced Tea, Jamaica Iced Tea, Vanilla Iced Chai, and a dessert of Cherry and Blueberry Cheesecake. There were other selections on the menu as well.
R: Priscilla, a 20-something with a bubbling personality, was very helpful and made several suggestions. She urged us to try the Mole Enchilada Plate and the Chipotle Bowl and said that vegan was no problem. Her enthusiastic description sold us instantly, and we nodded our heads in unison. She suggested we find a table, and she would bring our dinners when they were ready.
Z: Before we sat down, we decided to explore the many nooks and crannies that gave this place its avant garde quality. On one side of the central corridor is a large "dark" room with a few overstuffed couches and some small tables and chairs placed in no special arrangement. There was some light, but it was intentionally dim. A DJ named Paul played a variety of music and took great pleasure in scratching to get sounds no instrument can possibly make. We could have eaten here if we chose.
R: On the other side of the corridor and one step up was the "bright" room, with its sunny atmosphere. We definitely went for the "bright" room and sat down at a 50's-style dinette table with a light beige formica top that had banded aluminum around the sides.
Z: My dish, the Molé Enchilada Plate, arrived first. It looked great, smelled great, and invited us to plunge in with both our forks. There were three enchiladas filled with chunks of tofu, spinach, and diced tomatoes, and topped with a spicy, slightly sweet mole sauce. The final touch was a sprinkling of sesame seeds over the top. It was delicious! The dish came with rice and beans, and these, too, were extraordinary.
R: The beans were not refried as typically served in most Mexican restaurants. These were whole pinto beans that were seasoned so well that my fork was compelled to return to Zel's dish many times. The Spanish Rice, too, was a tasty side. Finally, after several minutes, my Chipotle Bowl arrived. It was worth waiting for! Served in a large bowl, this was hearty eating with a homemade quality we've not found in any Mexican Restaurant. The bottom layer was rice, topped with tomatoes, onions, sliced mushrooms, those wonderful pinto beans, and a generous serving of tofu chunks all bathed in a spicy chipotle sauce and topped with sliced onions.
Z: The corn tortillas served on the side were also a treat--thick and moist. My first impression of the steaming hot Chipotle Bowl was that it, too, had that homemade quality with flavor so good only Mama could cook like that. Though the spiciness was a bit gutsy, we enjoyed it thoroughly.
R: As we ate, we took a moment to appreciate the elements that make this place so unique. Though the ambience is genuinely ultra funky, it's really the people who create the atmosphere. At one table sat a couple playing scrabble while they ate. In a short while we heard a burst of joy expressed over a successful word play. At another table was a young man quietly reading a medical book while he downed his dinner. Seated next to us were two young couples with a one-year-old baby girl expressing herself in a variety of sound levels.
Z: On our second visit we were the only diners but there were other people in the "dark" room enjoying the music. Again, we chose the "bright" room and began with something to quench our thirst. I ordered Horchata, a sweetened rice drink spiced with cinnamon, and Reuben chose the Iced Pineapple Brew. Both were refreshing and a bit sweet for our sugar-free palates.
R: This time Sandy, another zesty personality, helped us with vegan suggestions. Zel ordered the Chimmiechangas while I chose the Chilaquilles. During our few minutes wait, we noticed the room had 5"-wide floorboards reminiscent of the floorboards on a ship deck. These were covered in a thick coat of orange shellac that was almost the same color as the mustard-colored walls.
Z: Our food arrived hot and aromatic. My Chimmiechanga plate had two fried whole-wheat tortillas filled with mashed potatoes and spinach and generously topped with fresh chopped tomatoes. For the side dishes, I chose the beans and salad. Those same wonderfully seasoned pinto beans we remembered were heaped next to a generous serving of lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and green onions.
R: My Chilaquilles consisted of sliced corn tortillas sauteed with green onions and mushrooms, and topped with a red sauce that tasted so good it deserved a more distinguished name. I had chosen the beans and fruit for my two sides. And, yes, I went nuts over those beans again and enjoyed the sweet, fresh chunks of mangos, pineapple, and cantaloupe. I was about half-way through when I remembered that I had ordered tofu with my Chilaquilles.
Z: No problem. Reuben reminded Sandy and soon she appeared with a bowl of tofu sauteed in lemon and another small bowl of additional red sauce. We also got to enjoy their red and green salsas served in those little black three-legged bowls so familiar in Mexican restaurants. Both salsas were mild enough to enjoy sprinkled freely on our dinners without burning our tongues.
R: Other specialties include breakfast items like Vegan Tofu Scramble, Sandwiches, Burritos, Quesadillas, Soups, Salads, Dinner Specialties, Juices and Coffees.
Z: I asked about the jars of dried herbs that line the shelves above the order window. I soon learned that if you come in with a headache, have trouble sleeping, or just need an energy boost, one or more of those herbs becomes a healing tea.R: This is definitely a place where anyone on a penny-pinching budget can enjoy a healthy, homemade meal, without going broke. Prices are extremely reasonable.
Z: Everything about Luna Tierra Sol Café stands out as singular, but we couldn't put our finger on the driving forces until our second visit when we learned that it truly isn't just a restaurant. On the back of their take-out menu is their mission statement. That says it all,
"Our mission is to provide healthy food for the people. To provide a space for artists to come and express themselves. To provide a place where community workshops and meetings take place. We are a worker owned business. In the process of trying to create an alternative, respectful work environment on a collective level. We believe in the promotion of culture and history. We believe in the betterment of our communities. We believe in being a community based business."
R: There you have it--a working cooperative in business for 6 years. Robert Lopez, an artist and musician himself, is the man with the original concept. He combines his efforts with those of four other core members of the coop, five employees, and two volunteers. They even do on-site catering.Z: We came for dinner and discovered a dedicated community.
Luna Tierra Sol Café
Reviewed August 2002