In an industrial area full of strip clubs and bail bondsmen between I-15 and Las Vegas Boulevard lies a pink, blue and yellow building that houses Las Vegas’ one and only fully vegan (and partially gluten free) restaurant. Chef Mayra Trabulse’s Pura Vida Bakery and Bystro at 1236 Western Ave looks a little out of place in this neighborhood, and she clearly hasn’t set up shop where her target demographic is. But that’s okay, I suppose, because for now, her target demographic has little choice but to come to her.
If you’ve been reading my prior posts, like my recent review raving about the Oxtail Soup at Market Street Cafe you know I’m far from being vegetarian, much less vegan. So why would I bother with this cruelty free, animal free save the turkeys restaurant in an industrial wasteland? I had a discount voucher and I came in search of eating adventure. And in that regard, Pura Vida did not disappoint.We arrived mid-afternoon (with a reservation) and were seated immediately at a small, bright blue table just inside the door. The adventure began with the menus. We were given no less than four different menus, along with a detailed explanation of what we could and could not order off each of them. Then, as we were recovering from all that confusion, another menu arrived. It turns out that the first four menus were the “specials” menus. The final menu was the “regular” menu. This one, thankfully, required less explanation. My head was spinning, but I persevered.
I ordered one of their “Agua Frescas”, described as flavored water with essential oils. They offer different ones each day and today’s contained pomegranate juice and lime essential oil. It was dark purple in color, light in flavor and easy to drink, and tasted delicious. A great summer beverage! Things were looking up.
At the same time as my drink order, we also placed our food orders. I chose the Breakfast Wow! Puff, and my girlfriend chose the McNeil Bagel (I think that’s what it was called). My drink came out fairly quickly, but we had a lot of time to take in all the atmosphere as we awaited the arrival of our entrees.
The area around the entrance is a shrine to the restaurant itself. On the wall are numerous hand written love letters to the restaurant and Chef Mayra from her loyal customers. Numerous reviews and awards adorn the walls. The door is covered in stickers from the various websites that Pura Vida has been featured on. The interior of the restaurant is bursting with bright colors. There are flowers everywhere – both in artwork and in pots. There are certificates on the wall for each of the turkeys Pura Vida has saved from the slaughter. Up front is a glass and stainless bakery case full of baked goods for sale.
I took some snapshots, we chatted and I nursed my Agua Fresca. While we were waiting for our food to arrive we watched as a couple of businessmen came in for lunch, then gave up and left. We overheard them negotiating with the waitress, trying to find something that they could order and still have time to enjoy during their forty-five minute lunch break. That wasn’t happening. They were advised to call ahead next time.Our food arrived about an hour after we placed our order. It was beautifully presented, it was served hot, and it was full of flavor. Really amazing, delicious, lick your plate clean flavor. So many restaurants do vegetarian/vegan by simply replacing the meat in a standard dish with something else. Not Pura Vida. Chef Mayra is not a chef who caters to vegans, she’s a vegan who is also a chef – and it shows. She has designed a menu of great tasting dishes from within her chosen dietary restrictions, much like a talented artist might make a fabulous painting using only a few colors.
The Breakfast Wow Puff is a light and flaky puff pastry, covered with a delicious cheese-like sauce, and filled with tofu, onions, peppers, garlic and other spices. It was served with a small tin of the tastiest fresh-made salsa I have ever had, a fresh cucumber slice and orange slice. I devoured every bite. My girlfriend’s bagel sandwich was equally good, featuring an amazing soft chewy bagel with lettuce and tomato, more tofu and cheese-like sauce. The garnishes were similar, but also included a mildly spicy “vegan sausage” that, I must admit, I would choose over the meat-based sausages on offer at most breakfast joints.
Throughout the experience the waitress was extremely friendly and chatty. After our food arrived Chef Mayra emerged from the kitchen to chat as well. We complimented her food and made some small talk. As we talked, it quickly became clear that she doesn’t get a lot of omnivores. She assumed that we were vegan simply because we were eating in her restaurant, and I must admit it was a little awkward bursting her bubble. She handled the news well though, and we moved on to other friendly conversation. As we talked we learned that Pura Vida has a constantly evolving menu, depending on what is available locally and in season. This, I’m sure, is one of the reasons her food is so amazing. I just wish it didn’t take five menus to explain it.
If you are one of those know your food, vegan, cruelty free, gluten avoiding types, or are forced to dine with someone who is, then overlook the location and the idiosyncrasies and make your way to Pura Vida. I liked this quirky place, and even though I am not at all vegan, I plan to return. But I must offer some advice for those who dine here. Make reservations. Be patient (plan about two hours for a meal here). Try not to get overwhelmed by the menus or discouraged by the wait. Everything here is prepared from fresh ingredients, to order, and it takes time. The chef and the waitstaff are a bit disorganized, but they are very friendly, they mean well, and when your food makes it out of the kitchen it will have been worth the wait.
- Go when you have time to chill out and enjoy the conversations with staff, and your dining companions. It’s a nice place to just relax if you’re not in any hurry.
- Once you get to know the menu you can call your order in with your reservation, which should result in a quicker meal.
- If you are vegan, this is the restaurant for you. It is the only place in Las Vegas where nothing on the menu is off limits for vegans. And even better, the food is delicious.
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