Only have a minute? Listen instead
McALLEN — María Cruz – Plant Based Cuisine is strange, but in a good way.
Located a stone’s throw away from McAllen’s Historic Business District, the plant-based restaurant feels like the type of establishment that would be found in Austin or San Antonio. In other words, it’s really nice.
The first thing I noticed upon walking inside the building was how nice it smelled. I would describe the scent as floral, whereas my girlfriend said that it smelled fruity. Regardless, it was a nice and inviting smell.
The music was also very inviting, with a good mix of 1960s (“California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & the Papas), ’80s (“Everything She Wants” by Wham!), and contemporary music (“Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd).
The dim lighting and wall decorations were a nice touch to the comfortable ambiance (except for a sign that said, “Eat fruit, not friends” with illustrations of a pig, a chicken and a cow; that just made me angry). Also, all the workers were infuriatingly nice.
We sat at a table against a wall with the phrase, “Be the change” above us in large letters, something that my girlfriend must be taking to heart as she continues to try to change my eating habits.
She, along with those who care about my well-being, wants me to start taking better care of myself and eat healthier. The Monitor, who pays for these meals, seemingly wants me to eat more interesting meals. My readers, who are the wisest and most reasonable people in the Rio Grande Valley, want me to eat crap (they’d probably choose a more vulgar word).
With all that taken into consideration, my girlfriend is wiser and better looking than everyone I just mentioned. So I will eat… (makes the sign of the cross) vegan.
A QR-code on the table prompted our phones to load the menu, which featured a wide array of meat alternative menu items.
The waitress brought us some small mason jars of ice water with cucumber slices inside. As I studied the menu, the waitress asked us what we’d like to drink. The restaurant offers coffee, lattes, aguas frescas, juices, teas, beer, wine and cocktails. My girlfriend ordered a combination of lemonade and hibiscus tea, which was ruby-red in color and the perfect combination of citrusy and floral.
I decided to try the butterfly tea, and I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was brewed with actual butterflies to fulfill my need to consume something that once lived. The drink was purple in color and just the right amount of sweetness. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered another to go.
When it is time to order our food, my girlfriend ordered the Valley salad, which includes bistec (soy), roasted chickpeas, rice, beet hummus, guacamole, carrots, cucumbers, limed red cabbage, sliced almonds, and chia seeds all served on top of spring mix. The salad comes with a creamy chipotle aioli, but she substituted that for a side of balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
I ordered the street tacos, which comes with six tacos de bistec (soy) with corn tortillas, which comes with sauteed onions, cilantro, fresh diced onions, limed red cabbage and salsa verde on the side.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve been forced to eat a meat alternative for the sake of The Monitor (refer to the time I spent an evening trying not to vomit while trying plant-based chorizo from Chipotle and KFC’s “Beyond Fried Chicken”). Unlike that time, I was very pleasantly surprised.
This was delicious and perfectly seasoned. In fact, if I hadn’t already known that the bistec was actually made with soy, I’d have had no idea. Say what you will about vegans, but the folks at María Cruz know how to make some damn good tacos de bistec. I cleaned my plate, and the clouds opened up and the Lord smiled at me and He let me know that everything is going to be alright.
This red-blooded carnivore was pleased beyond expectations, and I’d be happy to be forced to eat here again soon.
María Cruz – Plant Based Cuisine is located at 314 South 16th Street. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.